I wish I were just talking about vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, marble, white cakes…. That’s already a lot of different types of cake to choose from.
No, the types of cake I’m talking about here are butter cakes, sponge cakes, high ratio cakes, genoise cakes, Angel food cakes, and more. Cakes are classified by what goes into them and how they’re mixed. Something I never knew about until I started ratio baking and had to know how to put the ingredients together.
I’m still experimenting with cake, so I’ll just be talking about the pound cake, high ratio cake, and sponge cake.
The pound cake is a type of butter cake simply because it contains butter. So why not talk about butter cakes? Mostly because I haven’t really done much to explore them. But really because the ratio for cakes is 1:1:1:1 (one part eggs to one part sugar to one part butter to one part flour).
When all the ingredients weigh the same, you essentially have a pound cake. I haven’t tried using a pound of everything yet, but it sounds like a lot of cake. If you use the basic 1:1:1:1 ratio, it’s really easy to measure everything, and the cake batter is ready within minutes. Note: if you want to make a chocolate cake, substitute some cocoa powder in for some flour.
Pound cake is dense, though. I imagine it must also be quite heavy if you use a pound for everything. The typical mixing method is creaming where the butter and sugar are creamed together first. I’m not sure if it actually does anything truly noticeable, but I prefer trying to lighten it up by using the foaming method of whisking the eggs and sugar first. At least, the first cake I made using the foaming method wasn’t quite as heavy as the one I made using the creaming method.
I enjoy a pound cake every once in awhile. They’re not too sweet, but neither are they bready. It’s a nice balance, as well as really easy to make.
High Ratio Cakes
If you make a cake using the standard ratio, you won’t get a cake like the ones in a bakery or grocery store. If you’re a little puzzled by that, don’t worry. I was, too.
Turns out there’s something called high ratio cakes, and these are the ones you’re more likely to find in a bakery. These are the sweeter, more tender cakes you’re probably looking for. After all, they’re called high ratio because they contain a higher ratio of sugar. That must be why sugar is usually the first listed ingredient.
High ratio cakes are a little more complicated and require a bit of math. There are three ratios to remember here, so forget about the 1:1:1:1.
The weight of the eggs must equal the weight of the butter (fat).
The weight of the sugar should equal the wight of the flour, but the sugar should ideally be a little more than the flour. As far as I can tell, the rule of thumb is within 20%. So, if I have 200g of sugar, I’ll usually measure out around 190g of flour.
The weight of the eggs plus liquid (I usually use milk) should equal the weight of the sugar.
Okay, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Though my mom’s expression when I told her all of this said otherwise. Sorry, Mom.
I start with the eggs and butter. I make sure they weight approximately the same. Then I take a calculator because I don’t trust myself with basic math and multiply the weight of the eggs by 2 to get the weight of the flour and sugar. The sugar should weight about twice as much as the eggs and the flour should be just a little less than the sugar. Now to measure out the liquid. It’s not complicated, I promise. The weight of the liquid plus the eggs equals the sugar, so the liquid should weigh about the same as the eggs!
One thing to remember is to use the exact same unit of measurement for everything, dry and wet ingredients. I prefer to use grams.
Still with me? I hope so. High ratio cakes are a little more complicated and require some math to get the ratios right, but they’re definitely sweeter and have been my preferred cake lately. For chocolate cakes, include the cocoa powder in with the flour. I always measure out the cocoa first (somewhere around 35g when using 2 eggs is what I like) and then add the flour on top of it.
I’ve found that creaming the butter and sugar, adding the eggs one yolk at a time, and adding the liquid and dry ingredients alternately yields a lighter, moister cake.
And if you’re wondering about using different kinds of liquids, check out my recipe for Knock You Over the Head With Lemon Cupcakes that use lemon juice.
Did you know sponge cakes don’t have butter or any other kind of fat? They’re based completely on eggs, sugar, and flour, though some sponge cakes (like the genoise) do add a bit of butter. But sponge cakes typically don’t use butter. They also depend on the foaming mixing method as leavening like baking soda and baking powder are usually not used, which is why they’ll also sometimes be called foam cakes and sponge cakes will get lumped into being a butter cake if it has butter. Though what a sponge cake is varies across countries. Anyways, for sponge/foam cakes you want to make sure those eggs are sufficiently whipped.
We’re returning now to the 1:1:1:1 ratio, but it really should be 1:1:1 here. The eggs, sugar, and flour should weigh about the same.
It’s pretty easy to make. Whip the eggs until they’re light and fluffy and soft peaks form. Add in the sugar and whip well. Add the flour and whip until it’s all well mixed. That’s it!
So far, I’ve only made them into cupcakes, though making a cake is still on my agenda, at some point. They are sticky, but beautifully light and not too sweet.
They also remind me of the sponge cakes my grandma would get from Chinatown. They were always in an overly large cupcake form, so cupcake sponge cakes have a special place in my heart.
Now I’d like to know: have I scared you out of trying ratio baking, or is it something you’d like to try? Honestly, once you get past the math and can remember the ratios, it’s a lot of fun and the sky is the limit.