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Types of Cakes

Bundt vs Kugelhopf

Most foods are not invented, they evolve. The same holds true for bakeware. Food historians generally credit H. David Dalquist of Nordic Ware for creating the first aluminum pan called "bundt" in 1950. It was not a new invention. It was, rather, an economically produced aluminum version of a traditional European kugelhopf mold. Kugelhopf is similar in method and presentation to brioche, baba, Sally Lunn, and savarin, all popular from the 18th century forward.

The German word bundt relates to the word for band or bundle, and refers to the banded effect of the flutes (such as would be found in a wheat sheaf or straw wreath, tied at intervals with twine), and probably originated as a harvest celebration cake.

The earliest recipes for "Bunt" or "Bund" cake in America were published in Jewish-American cookbooks long before Mr. Dalquist's first bundt pan hit the market. It is probably no coincidence these recipe appear with ones for kugelhopf.  Kugelhopf is a yeast-based cake similar to French brioche. It is typically baked in a mold with a funnel-shaped center insert to achieve a tall, round, ring-shaped cake. "Kugel" means "round," in German.

Tom Webb of The Smithsonian says it's the icon cake of '60s comfort food, its creator and the company he co-founded all deserve a place beside our greatest treasures".


Angel Food Cake

Cake recipe calling only for the egg whites were known by different names like Silver Cake and Snow-drift cake.

The classic story behind the name "angel food cake" is that this dessert is so white, light, and fluffy it must be fit for angels. Who thought up this name? No one knows. We do know that cake recipes with the name "angel food" began showing up in American cookbooks sometime in the late nineteenth century [about the same time as mass-produced bakeware hit the popular market]. It may not be a coincidence that a proper angel food cake requires a special tube pan or cake mold. Some food historians speculate the Pennsylvania Dutch were probably the original makers and namers of angel food, though this connection has not been fully documented. In support of the theory, one of many culinary traditions introduced to America by the Pennsylvania Dutch was the cake mold, a special metal pan for creating festive cakes in unusual shapes. 


Devil's Food Cake

Culinary evidence confirms that recipes under the name "devil's food" is a turn of the [20th] century American invention. Red Devel Cake appears in the 1930s. (not a type-o it was spelled D-E-V-E-L)

What is chocolate cake?
In the first half of the 19th century the typical chocolate cake was a yellow or spice cake meant to accompany a chocolate beverage (hot chocolate, cocoa). Chocolate was not one of the cake's ingredients [Virginia Housewife, Mary Randolph (p. 173)].

In the second half of the 19th century the typical chocolate cake was either a white or yellow cake with chocolate icing or a cake made with chocolate. Recipes for rich, chocolate cakes similar to devil's food were fairly common in late 19th century cookbooks, but they were not named such. They were typically listed under the generic name "chocolate cake." Recipes for devil's food proliferated, sometimes with interesting and creative twists, in the first decades of the 20th century. There are several theories regarding the "devil's food" was selected for this delicious cake. None of these are "definitive."

Devil's food. A cake, muffin, or cookie made with dark chocolate, so called because it is supposedly so rich and delicious that it must be somewhat sinful, although the association is clearly made with humor. Its dark color contrasted with the snowy white of angel-food cake, an earlier confection. The first devil's food recipe appeared in 1900, after which recipes and references became frequent in cookbooks. The "red devil's food cake," given a reddish-brown color by the mixture of cocoa and baking soda, is post-World War II version of the standard devil's food cake."
---Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 111)

What is the difference between chocolate cake and devil's food?
This simple question has many answers, depending upon the period and cookbook. As noted above, the first 19th century American chocolate cake recipes were white/yellow cakes with chocolate icing. The addition of chocolate to the batter increased as the price of this ingredient declined, thus creating "chocolate cake" as we know it today. 20th century cookbooks often list chocolate cake and devils food on the same page. The most predominant difference between the two? Devil's food usually contains a greater proportion of chocolate. Fannie Farmer [1923] doubles the amount of chocolate required for her devil's food (4 ounces compared to 2 ounces for "regular" chocolate cake.). Irma S. Rombauer confirms: "When the larger amount of chocolate is used, it is a black, rich Devil's Food." (Joy of Cooking, 1931 p. 236)

Red Devil's Food

What makes this cake red? Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen tells us this chemical reaction occurs when combining alkaline (baking soda/powder) with acid (cocoa, buttermilk, vinegar). "Chemical leavening have effects on both flavor and color. Colors are affected conditions: browning reactions are enhanced, chocolate turns reddish, and blueberries turn green."


Apple Sauce Cakes
Culinary evidence places apple sauce cake (cookies, muffins, breads) in the twentieth century. Why? They are cakes of convenience rather than tradition. Presumably, applesauce cake is a direct descendant of light (baking soda) 19th century spiced fruit cakes made with fresh or dried apples. These cakes, in turn, descended from traditional Medieval European fruitcake recipes. Apple sauce dates to the Middle Ages. Cake is ancient. Where & when did these two collide? Modern times. World War I era apple sauce cakes were promoted as patriotic (less butter, sugar, eggs). Primary evidence confirms this recipe's economy. A leftover cookbook circa 1911 gives the home-cook permission to use chicken or rendered beef fat in lieu of butter. These early recipes employed applesauce for flavor and texture. Apple sauce cookies happened during WWII. A logical convenient iteration of grandma's cake.

Post-war homemakers viewed applesauce cakes as reminders of hard times and grandma's kitchen. They moved on. Family cook book pages, splattered with ingredients, stuck together. Recipes closed? Not exactly. In the late 20th century, applesauce cakes were re-purposed as healthy (less cholesterol, low-fat) alternatives to traditional cakes. Like an old friend, apple sauce cake tolerates new ideas and quirky innovations. Oatmeal, dried fruits, nuts, refined sugar substitutes and chocolate (cocoa, chips) are common variations celebrating a central theme.

What is the difference between cake and other types of cakes?
Gateaux is a French word for cake. It generally denotes items made with delicate ingredients which are best consumed soon after the confection is made. Cakes can last much longer, some even improving with age (fruit cake). Torte is the German word for cake, with similar properties. When tortes are multi-layered and fancifully decorated they are closer to gateaux EXCEPT for the fact they can last quite nicely for several days.

Cake vs Gateau

Although both terms can be used for savory preparations (meat cakes or vegetable gateaux) their main use is for sweet baked goods. Cakes can be large or small, plain or fancy, light or rich. Gateau is generally used for fancy, but light or rich, often with fresh decoration, such as fresh fruit or whipped cream. Whereas a cake may remain fresh for several days after baking or even improve with keeping, a gateau usually includes fresh decoration or ingredients that do not keep well, such as fresh fruit or whipped cream. 

Genoise is one of several types of sponge cake. According to the food historians, this cake was "invented in the early 19th century. Genoise is a type of sponge cake, but is not to be confused with Genoa cake, which is really a type of light fruit cake.

The Genoa Connection
Presumably, these recipes are connected with the Italian city of the same name. This busy trading port served as one of several crossroads for importing/exporting foods from Arab countries throughout Europe. These included ingredients generally found in Geneoise: almonds, currants, raisins, citrus and spices.

Sponge Cake

Sponge cake is a cake based on flour (usually wheat flour), sugar, and eggs, sometimes leavened with baking powder which has a firm, yet well aerated structure, similar to a sea sponge. A sponge cake may be produced by the batter method or the foam method.

Cake made using the batter method is known as a butter or pound cake in the U.S.  Foam cakes are cakes with very little (if any) fatty material such as butter, oil or shortening, and which are leavened primarily by the air that is beaten into the egg whites that they contain. Examples of foam cakes are angel food cake, meringue and chiffon cake.

Texas Sheet Cake

Food historians have not quite determined the true history of the Texas sheet cake. They do, however, confirm chocolate cake & brownie-type desserts are early 20th century recipes. That's when the price of chocolate declined to the point where it was readily available to general public. What was considered an expensive treat was now a common cooking ingredient.

Sheet vs. Sheath cake?
Food historians ponder this linguistic puzzle. It appears somewhere in middle of the 20th century the terms sheet and sheath were interposed. A survey of historic culinary sources confirm recipes for Sheath/Sheet Cake in the American South are quite similar. They are generally rich, chocolate-based cakes slathered with equally rich icing.

"When it comes to desserts, Texans have plenty to brag about. From such delights as Texas Sheet Cake and Buttermilk Pie to sweet favorites like Peach Cobbler and German Chocolate Cake, the Lone Star State's signature desserts are as remarkable as the state itself.

Victorian Sandwich Cakes

Culinary evidence confirms sandwich cakes originated in the 19th century. Essentially composed of sponge cake filled with jams or soft creams, these were popular Victorian tea treats. Like so many popular English desserts, they descended from Renaissance-era trifles. Tipsy cake is a version with alcohol.

"A sandwich cake is a sponge cake consisting of a layer of filling, such as cream or jam, sandwiched between two layers of sponge....Victoria cake."
---An A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 300)

Tipsy Parson

Tipsy Parson (aka Tipsy Cake, Tipsy Pudding) descends from Renaissance-era English Trifle. This particular multi-layered sponge cake and cream dessert is soaked in alcohol (brandy, sherry, etc.). The "tipsy" refers to what might happen to the diner who eats too much of it! None of our sources offer explanation regarding the "parson" portion of the name.

Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake takes two meanings in the culinary world. The earlier one, descending from Chiffon Pie is mostly lost to history. Food historians generally credit Harry Baker, a Los Angeles insurance salesman, for the "invention" of the iconic 1940s confection that was promoted as "The first new cake in 100 years."

As the story goes, Mr. Baker "invented" this cake by subsituting salad oil for butter in his angel food cake recipe. He sold the formula to General Mills in the late 1940s. The corporate version of this cake, promoting General Mill's products (flour & salad oil) debuted in 1947. Recipes proliferated. Was Mr. Baker's idea truly revolutionary? Possibly, probably. We find no print evidence of salad-oil angel cakes predating his 1920s claim. We think, based on primary evidence, his recipe was inspired by popular salad oil cakes actively promoted by savvy corporate marketers. Until evidenced to the contrary, the Harry Baker legend lives on.

Our survey of cookbooks and magazine/newspaper articles confirms Chiffon cake was aggressively promoted from the late 1940s to early 1960s. New recipes were introduced two or three times monthly in the New York Times Sunday Magazine section commencing February 1949. This survey also reveals other companies took advantage of the chiffon cake craze. An ad titled "Ever make a cake with Mazola?" published by Corn Products Refining Company (New York Times, March 27, 1947, SM p. 41) states "This is the new "Shadow cake. You'll love its rich chocolate flavor, its wonderful texture. Like the famous "Chiffon" cake, it is easy to make with Mazola, the pure golden oil that "make so many good things...better"."

Betty Crocker played a part in the notorious rise of one very expensive cake--Chiffon, heralded as "the first new cake in 100 years!" Before 1948, cakes were traditionally classified as either butter or sponge. The first dessert the Brown Derby ever served was a cake made by a former bond salesman named Harry Baker. It was a fluffy, golden cake, neither angel food nor sponge, but infinately lighter and more delicious than either. For almost twenty years Baker baked these cakes for the Derby, refusing to divulge the secret of its recipe. Almost twenty years passed before Baker went public with the recipe, timing the sale of his secret of the lifting of wartime restrictions. After reading the Fortune magazine citation of Betty Crocker as the second most popular woman in America, he decided to pay her a visit. Rumors of Baker's Hollywood mystery cake preceded him. Upon his arrival in Minneapolis, intrigued General Mills executives offered him free run of Betty's kitchens...Once samples of his cake had earned the Betty Crocker seal of approval, negotiations began. However, General Mills would not strike a deal until the secret ingredient was revealed. With that, Baker exposed his cake for what it was: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, five egg yolks, a cup of egg whites, lemon rind, cream of tartar, and, instead of shortening, cooking oil. While Baker contemplated what he would do with the large (undisclosed) sum, Betty's staffers got to work. Behind closed doors, General Mills' food chemists and home economists fine tuned Baker's somewhat unstable recipe for eleven months. Finally, in 1948, the recipe for Betty Crocker's Orange Chiffon Cake debuted in Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies' Home Journal, and McCall's. The Minneapolis Tribune and others broke the news under the headline Mystery Cake--Secred Ingredient X Revealed for Baking Mammoth Chiffon...General Mills conducted market research on the Chiffon Cake and concluded it a success."
---Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food, Susan Marks [Simon & Schuster:New York] 2005 (p. 158-162)


Coffeecake (also sometimes known as Kuchen or Gugelhupf) was not invented. It evolved from ancient honey cakes to simple French galettes to medieval fruitcakes to sweet yeast rolls to Danish, cakes made with coffee to mass-produced pre-packaged treats originated in Northern/Central Europe sometime in the 17th century. These countries were already known for their traditional for sweet yeast breads. When coffee was introduced to Europe these cakes were a natural accompaniment. German, Dutch, and Scandinavian immigrants brought their coffee cake recipes with them to America.
The first coffee cake-type foods were more like bread than cake. They were simple concoctions of yeast, flour, eggs, sugar, nuts, dried fruit and sweet spices. Over time, coffee cake recipes changed. Sugared fruit, cheese, yogurt and other creamy fillings are often used in today's American coffee cake recipes.

Scandinavians were perhaps more responsible than anyone else for making America as coffee-break-conscious as it is, and for perfecting the kind of food that goes well with coffee. it was in the kitchens where there was always a pot brewing on the back of the stove that Scandinavian hospitality and coffee became synonymous. The term coffee klatch became part of the language, and its original meaning--a moment that combined gossip with coffee drinking--was changed to define the American version of England's tea, a mid-morning or mid-afternoon gathering at which to imbibe and ingest.

Cola Cakes

Our survey of historic culinary sources confirms American cooks began using soft drinks in recipes in dawning decades of the 20th century. It is difficult to determine whether these recipes originated in corporate test kitchens or customer's homes. We do know, however, food manufacturers have a reputation for being ingenious marketers.

Newspaper articles confirms this genre of cake making belongs to the South. Both Coca Cola (Atlanta) and Dr. Pepper/7UP (Dallas) are southern-based companies. Our sources do not confirm the exact person/place/date for the genesis of these cakes. Most generically refer to the cake as "traditional" or "grandma's." How did they start? If one goes with the "community cookbook" theory, then our hunch is that the recipe was invented (by accident or on purpose) by an employee of said company.

The earliest print reference we have for cola cakes dates to the mid-1950s.

Dirt & Mud Desserts

Food historians generally agree these two rich chocolate desserts are late twentieth century stars supported by a cast of historic recipes. Pudding and cake combinations are nothing new. There seems to be some controversy regarding the history of this particular dessert. Also sometimes known as "Mississippi Mud Cake/pie, Louisiana Mud Pie," many food historians trace this dessert to the 1970s and when it hit mainstream restaurants. The name may belong to the 1970s, and the popularity to the 1980s, but the recipe is certainly older. 

So, who really invented this delicious dessert? We don't know. We do know from primary culinary sources that double-fudge recipes of all kinds and textures proliferated in the early decades of the 20th century. Some were promoted by food companies, many were concocted by creative home cooks, and the balance were crafted by innovative chefs. The standard ingredients of Mississippi mud cake/pie indicate this recipe was "invented" (for lack of a better term) by post WWII home cooks. Why? They are simple items found in most supermarkets assembled without the aid of special equipment. Print evidence places this recipe in the heart of the deep American south.

Mississippi Mud
A very dense chocolate pie that takes its name from the thick mud along the banks of the Mississippi River. According to Nathalie Dupree in New Southern Cooking (1986), the top is what she calls "Mississippi Mud Cake" should be "cracked and dry-looking like Mississippi mud in the hot, dry summer." It does, however, seem to be of fairly recent origin; according to Mississippi-born food authority Craig Claiborne, writing in 1987, "I never heard of a Mississippi mud pie or Mississippi mud cake until I moved North."
---Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 207)

Dirt Cake

According to newspaper and magazine articles, a recipe called "dirt cake" seems to have originated in the Midwest sometime in the 1980s. The earliest mention we find of a recipe specifically called "Dirt Cake" was printed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette [newspaper], June 15, 1988 in a recipe exchange column. This article references a local reader who sent in a recipe for "Kansas Dirt Cake."


Earthquake Cakes

The earliest print reference we find to Earthquake Cake was published in review of Vivande Porta Via, a box-lunch caterer stationed at San Francisco International Airport. It is described thusly: "Earthquake cake, a flour-less chocolate cake with a cracked top." ("At the Nation's Table: San Francisco," Jeanette Ferrary, New York Times, January 20, 1988 p. C3). The chef-owner(s) were Carlos and Lisa Middione. How was it named? "One of Middione's devoted clients was overheard saying "You don't think they're going to sell that cake, do you? It look as if it's been in an earthquake." And thus, the cake was named."---"Lasting Temptation of Chocolate," Leslie Deddell, Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, February 14, 1990 (p. D1)

This cake is perfectly period correct. Born in a time when decadent chocolate desserts were 'to die for.' Flour-less Chocolate Souffle cakes exploded into Molten Lava Cakes and (Mississippi) Mud Cake made cracked tops fashionable. Box-mix earthquake cakes , on the other hand, were actually inspired by a real earthquake.

Ice Box Cake (aka Refrigerator Cake)

Our survey of historic cookbooks confirms ice box recipes (cakes, pies, cookies) became popular in the 1920s. Cakes were promoted as festive party fare (they were easy to make and pretty to present); cookies as convenience items (think: slice and bake). As technology progressed and America became electrified, Ice Box items were renamed Refrigerator. Mainstream cookbooks generally made the name switch in the late 1930s/early 1940s. Recipes also evolved...from homemade cake and filling to box mixes with brand-name ingredients. Nabisco's Famous Wafer chocolate cake is an excellent example of corporate promotion capitalizing on a trendy recipe.

Who invented the Ice Box Cake?
History does not record this person. Culinary experts agree most recipes evolve from extant formulas. Such is the case with Ice Box Cake. This rich confection descends from 19th century ice cream bombes which descended from Colonial Era Charlottes which descended from Renaissance-era Trifles. Notes here:

"Icebox cake is an adaptation of either a charlotte or Bavarian cream, or a mixture of both. It always calls for whipped cream in some form and frequently for butter. Nuts are often added and the mould is either decorated or put together with some sort of a cake mixture, as macaroons, sponge cake, angel cake, or lady fingers. In any case the dessert is so extremely rich that it should be served only in small quantities in a meal containing very little fat."
---Ida Bailey Allen's Modern Cook Book, Ida Baily Allen [Garden City:New York] 1924 (p. 602)


Individually portioned confections have a long and venerable history. Diminutive iterations of popular traditional baked goods are particularly enjoyed when portability and ease of service is appreciated. Cookies, tea cakes, petite fours, and cupcakes all spring from the basic same idea. Commercially packaged "personal size" cupcakes appeared after World War I. 

There seem to be two theories about the origin of recipes titled "cupcake:"

1. The name comes from the amount of ingredients used to make the cake (a cupful of flour, a cupful of butter, cupful of sugar etc.).
---This is very similar to how pound cake was named. In fact, the recipes for cup cakes and pound cakes include pretty much the same ingredients and would have produced similar results.

2. These cakes were originally baked in cups.
---Old cookbooks also sometimes mention baking cakes in small cups. These cups may very well have been earthenware tea cups or other small clay baking pans. These would easily accomodate baking, level oven heat, and produce individual-sized cakes. This is not the same thing as contemporary metal cupcake pans, enabling cooks to bake a dozen small cakes in one fell culinary swoop.

Which is true?