the appetizer:

A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions from Cultures Near and Far by Krystina Castella, includes excerpts and recipes like Let's Talk Cake: From Fruitcakes to Funnel Cakes; Upside-Down Pumpkin-Plantain Cake; Potica (Nut Roll); and Kolache.


Let's Talk Cake 
From Fruitcakes to Funnel Cakes

by Krystina Castella

Battenberg cake
Battenberg cake


The way I see it, every cake has a family tree. The roots are the cakes that led to the creation of a basic recipe. The master recipe is the trunk. The branches are all the offspring of the master recipe. Branches evolve, seeds drop, and new recipes grow, traveling far from the trunk with new ingredients and preparation methods. In order to make sense of cakes' relationships to each other, we can categorize them by how they are prepared and their essential ingredients. Here are the cake classifications for the adventurous epicurean in you to explore.

Butter Cakes

Melt-in-your-mouth butter cakes are also sometimes called raised cakes or shortened cakes. Butter heightens the natural flavor of the cakes, while also yielding a creamy yellow color. They are made by creaming butter and sugar until they yield a fluffy mixture, then adding a leavener such as baking powder. They are often paired with fruit, whether flavored with extracts, juices, or zests or served alongside fresh fruit or fruit sauces. Pound cakes are a type of butter cake.

Examples: Canadian quatre quarts (page 54 of the book), English Battenberg cake (page 142)


Cheesecakes are creamy and dense. Depending on the locale, they are made with many types of cheese, from cream cheese to cottage cheese, feta, quark, and goat's milk cheese. Crusts (if they have one) range from graham cracker to cookie, phyllo, or shortbread. Some New York cheesecakes are baked; others are not. Different ingredients may be included, from fruits and nuts to candies and chocolate. They are traditionally made in a springform pan.

Examples: Catalan cheesecake (page 198), Japanese baked cheesecake (page 278), New York cheesecake (page 38)

Chiffon Cakes

Like foam cakes, chiffons get their volume from the air beaten into their eggs. The difference is that they contain oil, which makes them very moist.

Example: Venezuelan orange-chocolate chiffon cake (page 89)


Doughnuts are small cakes usually cooked by being deep-fried or baked. The dough is usually sweet and leavened by yeast or baking powder. Often they are round, and they contain any number of fillings, from jellies to custards.

Examples: American buttermilk doughnuts (page 44), Mexican churros (page 78), Peruvian picarones (page 95)

South African souskluitjie
South African souskluitjie


Dessert dumplings are small balls or strips of sweet dough that are traditionally cooked by being boiled or steamed, though they can also be baked or poached. Dumplings are sometimes filled with fruit or served with a sauce.

Examples: Indian gulab jamun (page 252), South African souskluitjie (page 219)

Flat Cakes

Some flat cakes are flat because they don't contain a leavener, while others are simply cooked in thin layers. They range widely in texture, from light crepes to hearty pancakes. Though they can be among the finest of cakes, they can also be among the most primitive, and many are still common in regions of the world where baking ovens are not common.

Examples: American apple stack (page 40), Caribbean johnnycake (page 71), Indian malpuas (page 246), Korean hwajeon (page 273), Palestinian qatayef (page 237)

Foam Cakes

These airy, lightly textured cakes require skill and patience. Although they aren't always easy to make, there is a big reward: they are virtually fat free. These cakes are leavened (raised) by having air bubbles beaten into either whole or separated eggs. The bubbles expand while baking. They include sponge cakes and meringues.

Example: American angel food cake (page 34)


Fritters are pieces of fruits, vegetables, edible flowers, or other ingredients that are dipped in batter and then fried into a cake. The batter is different in different cultures. French beignets are made with choux pastry, Thai mung-bean fritters are made with a rice flour and fruit and vegetable coconut milk batter, and Malian fruit fritters and vegetable fritters are made with a thick flour-based batter.

Examples: Malian fruit and vegetable fritters (page 214), Thai three chums cake (page 294)


Fruitcakes are butter cakes or yeast cakes made with dried or candied fruits and nuts. The batter or dough is usually sharply spiced. They range in texture from the dense Italian panforte, which has just enough batter to hold together the heavy ingredients, to the Italian panettone, a light and bready yeast cake. They are often soaked in rum, brandy, or sugar syrup and wrapped and left to mellow for several weeks.

Examples: German stollen (page 122), Irish simnel cake (page 150), Italian panforte (page 186) and panettone (page 188), Scottish Dundee cake (page 146), Trinidadian black cake (page 63)

Cherokee wild huckleberry cake
Cherokee wild huckleberry cake

Honey Cakes

Honey cakes are sweetened with honey instead of or in addition to sugar. They can be yeast cakes, butter cakes, or foam cakes. Middle Eastern honey cakes are often flavored with just honey; sometimes they are soaked in a honey syrup for additional flavor. European honey cakes are often sharply spiced to create gingerbread-like cakes.

Examples: Cherokee wild huckleberry cake (page 42), Iranian baklava (page 235), Israeli honey cake (page 227)

Ice Cream Cakes

Ice cream cakes either are made entirely of ice cream or combine cake and ice cream. They often have a crunchy crust or center of crushed cookies.

Examples: French Norwegian omelette (page 109), Italian cassata gelato (page 196), Thai mango-lychee ice cream cake (page 292)


A meringue cake is a type of foam cake made with egg whites—no yolks or any other kind of fat. Meringue can also be prepared as a topping for another kind of cake, as in the French Norwegian omelette (page 109).

Examples: Pavlova (page 302), Swiss vacherin (page 113)

Milk Cakes

Western milk cakes are simply cakes that rely heavily on milk products, whether condensed or evaporated milk, sour cream, heavy cream, or even coconut milk. Indian milk cakes are made with fresh and dned mIlk products, especially paneer, a local cheese, and border on candy in texture and flavor. They come in hundreds of varieties.

Examples: Indian kalakand (page 248), Nicaraguan tres leches cake (page 80), Sri Lankan hot milk sponge cake (page 255)

Chinese mooncakes
Chinese mooncakes


Mooncakes, of Chinese origin, can now be found across Asia, from Korea to Indonesia, as well as in any city with a large Asian population. These baked pastries contain a range of fillings, from pastes of lotus seed, taro, mung bean, and red bean to glutinous rice, jellies, ice cream, chocolate, walnuts, and lychees. The crust is traditionally embossed with symbols, patterns, or characters.

Examples: Chinese mooncakes (page 260), Taiwanese pineapple cakes (page 266)


These are rustic cakes prepared with oats in addition to or instead of flour. They are common in the cold climates of northern Europe.

Example: Faroe Islands hazelnut oatcake (page 169)


Pastry cakes, also called simply pastries, are made with buttery, light, and flaky pastry dough. The dough is made from flour, fat (butter), and liquid (water or milk), with or without eggs. Phyllo was one of the first pastry doughs. The pastry dough may form the crust of a cake, as in the case of a cheesecake, or the entire cake, as in the case of fried dough.

Examples: Austrian strudel (page 123), French croquembouche (page 99), Moroccan m'hanncha (page 210)

West Indian calabaza pudding cake
West Indian calabaza pudding cake

Quick Breads

Though they are called breads, quick breads can be cakes. They use a fast-acting leavener, such as baking powder or baking soda, that allows them to be baked immediately upon being mixed. They are an alternative to yeast cakes. Most cakes, in fact, are quick breads.

Examples: Greek vasilopita (page 202), West Indian calabaza pudding cake (page 64)

Rice Cakes

Rice cakes are made either of whole grain rice or of rice flour, instead of or in addition to wheat flour.

Examples: Bolognese rice cake (page 194), Chinese nian gao (page 258), Nepali carrot-rice cake (page 254)


The term shortbread is short for shortening bread. It describes a cake or cookie made with a large amount of shortening.

Examples: American strawberry shortcake (page 35), Welsh cakes (page 148)

Sponge Cakes

This type of foam cake is traditionally made with whole eggs but no other fat, although some contemporary recipes contain a little additional fat. It has a spongy texture, hence the name. Roll cakes are made from sponge cakes.

Examples: Genoise sponge cake (page 108), Japanese kasutera (page 280), Swiss rolls (page 116)


Tarts are a kind of pie baked in a pastry shell, with or without a pastry top. They may contain jellies, custards, fruits, or any other kind of filling.

Example: Portuguese pasteis de nata (page 201)

Marta Rocha torte
Marta Rocha torte


Torte is the German word for cake, though it is now used to describe a moist cake made with many eggs and, traditionally, ground or grated nuts and bread crumbs.

Examples: Hungarian Dobos torte (page 172), Austrian Sachertorte (page 126), Brazilian Marta Rocha torte (page 86)


A trifle is a cake (often a sponge cake) soaked in a syrup or liqueur and filled or topped with custard, cream, or reserves.

Example: English zabaglione cream-berry trifle (page 140)

Yeast Cakes

Yeast cakes, as you might imagine, use yeast as a leavener. These cakes have a breadlike texture.

Examples: Austrian kugelhopf (page 127), Italian panettone (page 188), New Orleans king cake (page 50), Swedish Lucia cats (page 158)


Cake Artists

Art is the center of my life, I feel lucky to be surrounded and inspired by creatives: people who are constantly envisioning and inventing the future. And I am constantly amazed at how many of these people choose cake as a means of expression.

There are two types of cake artists. First are the creative cake makers, who invent recipes, bake, sculpt, and decorate cakes that are pieces of art. The pastry bag is their paintbrush, and flour, sugar, butter, and other edible ingredients their palette. They find inspiration not only in traditional places, such as crafts stores, supermarkets, and ethnic groceries, but also the world around them. Nature provides new designs for chocolate leaves; the trim of a gown provides details for the next wedding cake; the rise of a new cultural trend offers ideas for a cake that has never before been seen or eaten. A toolbox filled with colorful sugars, candies, star tips, and cookie cutters, along with lots and lots of practice, is all they need to create edible art that makes cake lovers smile—or even swoon.

The second type of cake artists includes fine artists, functional artists, illustrators, and crafters who make art about cake. Fine artists create conceptual pieces that make us think about our relationship to cake and all of the emotions surrounding it. In galleries I've seen lifesize plywood sculptures with stacks of layers jutting out like cake layers and gold-studded snack cakes gridded to pattern an entire room, floor to ceiling. On the streets I've seen graffiti artists leave their mark with a quirky stencil illustration and their tag—"cake." Animators post videos on YouTube with titles like Cakey! The Cake from Outer Space. Collage artists work with retro images of cakes, placing them in a context where they become giant sand castles. Painters elevate doughnuts and glasses of milk through still-life compositions that reveal a fresh take on these everyday pleasures. Crafters use their skills to blow glass layer cakes, knit cupcakes, felt slices of cakes, and make clay Black Forest cake jewelry. And of course there are those lucky illustrators who have their own greeting card business or who design for a large manufacturer and spend all their time drawing and painting cakes, all day, every day, in as many ways as they can imagine. For these and so many other thinkers and makers, cake is the perfect artistic medium to explore.


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This page created May 2011