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I recall the first time I went to a bakery to custom order a cake, I was asked what kind of base I wanted. I had come to realize that I knew nothing of cakes besides all the delicious flavors they have to offer. I decided to find out what the difference between cake bases are.
As a general rule, there are two main types of cake: a butter cake and a sponge cake. Butter cakes contain more ingredients and have a denser texture compared to sponge cakes. The light and airy nature of sponge cakes comes from beaten eggs and contains no extra raising agents.
I decided to dive in a little further to figure out if there are more differences between a butter cake and a sponge cake than just their texture and ingredient count. It turns out, there are!
Butter Cake and Sponge Cake: Similarities and Differences
|Sponge Cake||Butter Cake|
|Light and airy||Moist and Dense|
|Contains no fats (butter, oil, etc.)||Contains butter|
|Contains no raising agents||Uses either baking powder or baking soda|
|Gains height from egg whipping||Technique requires creaming butter|
What makes a cake a sponge cake?
When I am having a sponge cake for dessert, I imagine eating a sugary cloud of delight. A sponge cake is light and airy with a shocking reason why!
Surprisingly, sponge cakes contain no raising agents such as baking powder or baking soda. As mind-boggling as that sounds, the reason for their height and airiness is because of the way the eggs are used as a substitute for raising agents.
When you beat eggs or egg whites with a stand mixer or hand mixer, a lot of air is introduced which causes the egg mixture to foam up and thicken into a soft meringue.
So if sponge cakes do not contain raising agents, what ingredients do they have? The answer is quite simple:
- Eggs/Egg Whites
As the eggs are being whipped by a mixer on high speed, sugar is added to help fully incorporate it. No one likes to have crunchy sugar in their batter!
When the egg mixture has achieved a stiff and foam-like appearance, flour is very gently folded in. If you mix in the flour aggressively, all of your hard work and patience is crumbled as the result will be a deflated egg mixture.
The best tool that I’ve found to sift my flour is a Battery Operated Electric Flour Sifter For Baking. This wonderful tool automates all of my sifting needs in the kitchen! It has a 4-cup capacity and is washable. What else do you need in an automatic sifter? You can check out this Electric Flour Sifter on Amazon!
One of the biggest tips to achieving a perfect sponge cake is to gently fold the flour into your egg mixture instead of thoroughly mixing.
The goal of a sponge cake is to have the airiness of the whipped egg whites give your cake height and to help achieve a light texture. When aggressively mixing flour in, this will cause your egg mixture to deflate which results in a flat cake.
When baking a sponge cake, they are usually baked in a cake pan that is NOT a non-stick pan. With this in mind, you need to properly grease your pan with butter before pouring it into your batter.
If you want to learn How to Properly Grease a Glass Cake Pan, I’ve written an article not too long ago that you can check out here!
What makes a cake a butter cake?
We all know that the secret to a delicious dish is butter, right? For a butter cake, it’s not only delicious but an absolute necessity!
Butter cakes are generally dense and contain more essential ingredients compared to a sponge cake. They make a great base for frosted cakes because of their heftiness compared to sponge cakes which are delicate.
Depending on what recipe you are using, butter cakes use these main ingredients:
- Baking Powder or Baking Soda
With so many ingredients going into your stunning creation, we need to give it some help! In this case, using a raising agent is required or your cake will be a flat slab. This cake is already on the denser side so it needs some assistance with either baking powder or baking soda.
I have made hundreds of cakes in my lifetime and the majority of them were butter cakes. I can say that the most important aspect of making a butter cake is creaming your butter.
What is creaming your butter? When you add butter and sugar into your mixing bowl, these two ingredients are creamed as you mix. When they are thoroughly combined, the result is a decadent and creamy texture.
Because butter cakes have a high-fat content, just greasing a cake pan alone won’t be enough to make sure your cake comes out of the pan in one piece. The best way to ensure even baking is by using parchment paper.
*By the way, if you are interested in knowing how to get Stuck Parchment Off of Your Cake and how to Prevent It, I recently wrote an article about Removing Stuck Parchment Paper, which you can find here!
Check out this video I found for making a great looking butter cake below:
Sponge Cake Vs Pound Cake
Lemon Pound Cake with Frosting
As a whole, pound cakes contain butter and are denser than sponge cakes. The airiness of the sponge cake is achieved through the vigorous whisking of eggs while pound cakes go the traditional route of creaming butter.
One of the most common butter cakes is pound cakes. Taking its name literally, pound cakes are traditionally made by using a pound of each ingredient: butter, flour, eggs, and sugar. This melody of ingredients makes a moist yet dense cake, which is often eaten as is or with a light sugar glaze.
Sponge cakes greatly differ from pound cakes because of their textures. The goal of a sponge cake is to be light and airy which is achieved through vigorous egg whisking and lack of ingredients (see “What makes a cake a sponge cake?” above.)
Sponge Cake Vs Chiffon Cake
As a whole, a chiffon cake is the hybrid middle ground of butter cakes and sponge cakes. It contains the light, airiness of a sponge cake but contains a fat element that relates to butter cakes.
Notice how I didn’t actually use the word butter to relate it to butter cake. That’s because chiffon cakes actually use vegetable oil! The reason chiffon cakes use vegetable oil instead of butter is that it is much easier to incorporate air into liquid oil.
Just like butter cakes, chiffon cakes will use a raising agent such as baking powder or baking soda to help achieve the extra lift that comes from the whipped eggs and egg whites. This is needed due to the heaviness of the added vegetable oil.