How Cakes Work


Cakes Around the World
The tiramisu is an Italian cake made with ladyfinger biscuits, mascarpone cheese, cocoa and coffee. Eugene Mymrin/Getty Images
The tiramisu is an Italian cake made with ladyfinger biscuits, mascarpone cheese, cocoa and coffee. Eugene Mymrin/Getty Images

Just about every region in the world has some version of a cake. North America is particularly fond of cakes. In fact, the Indian pound cake was developed soon after Europeans settled, and incorporates corn meal into the recipe. Later, enslaved African-Americans created several cakes now known for being ubiquitously Southern, such as the Lady Baltimore Cake, the pound cake and the coconut cake. Many of these bakers had a working understanding of ingredients seldom used in the United States until that point, such as coconut.

The Boston area, in particular, is credited with the development of the classic chocolate layer cake, at the encouragement of chocolate companies who hired women to develop new uses for the ingredient [source: Martyris]. Strawberry shortcake is a seasonal favorite that made its way over from the Old World. Today, it pairs sponge cake (or sweetened biscuits) with berries and whipped topping [source: Marks]. The Dole pineapple company helped to propel its product into popularity via a 1926 contest calling for use of the fruit in a recipe. Of the tens of thousands of recipes submitted, 2,600 were variations on pineapple upside-down cake, still a beloved confection today [source: Avey].

Meanwhile, a small poll in Great Britain recently showed that the Victoria sponge cake is the favorite (or should we say, favourite?) cake to bake (although chocolate cake was the favorite to eat) [source: Sunday Express]. A traditional tea-time dessert, the Victoria sponge— named for Queen Victoria — is a standard two-layer cake, except it uses a fruit jam for a filling in place of icing [source: Berry].

Italians developed tiramisu, which layers lady fingers dipped in coffee with sweetened mascarpone cheese and cocoa. The Pavlova (named for the ballerina Anna Pavlova), is so beloved that New Zealand and Australia have fought bitterly over its country of origin. It turns out that the fruit-topped meringue emerged in New Zealand in 1927, much to the chagrin of proud Aussies everywhere [source: Li].

In South Africa, people love malva pudding, a very sweet pudding served with a sauce, while Latin Americans like tres leches, a sponge cake soaked in three milks: condensed, evaporated and whole milk. In Japan, there is a special treat called dorayaki, which consists of two pancakes with a filling of anko (sweet red bean paste) inside.

With thousands of cake recipes worldwide, we could go on ad nauseam about the variations of the beloved dessert. The beauty of cake is that the sky is the limit.