And which one can stand up to your favorite frosting?

By Annie Campbell
April 10, 2019
Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Stylist: Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland; Food Styling: Sarah Epperson

Have you ever arrived at the cake mix section of the baking aisle only to realize you have no idea which kind of cake you actually want?

When you’re on the hunt for a classic vanilla cake, you’ll likely encounter “Classic White,” “Butter Golden,” “French Vanilla,” and everything in between. So what’s the difference, and which one do you really want as your birthday cake this year? We’re here to help.

WATCH: How to Make Watercolor Cake

To start, note that both white and yellow cakes are vanilla cakes. Subtle differences in the flours and fats determine which cake is better suited for certain frostings (or even certain occasions).

French vanilla cake is also a vanilla cake, but with a more distinct flavor. The “French” part of the name doesn’t signify where the vanilla came from, as it does with Madagascar vanilla or Tahitian vanilla. It actually just refers to the flavor of a vanilla custard (aka the classic French way of making ice cream from cream and egg yolks). French vanilla cake mimics a custard flavor by including egg yolks in the batter, making it a yellow cake.

What is yellow cake?

Yellow cake doesn’t get its golden hue from food dyes, but from the vibrant color of egg yolks. This cake uses whole eggs rather than separated egg whites, which makes the cake rich and tender. The fat in yellow cake is usually solid butter rather than a combo of butter and shortening, which also enhances the sunny shade.

Yellow cakes typically call for all-purpose flour, which gives the batter a thicker, denser structure. The extra fat added from the egg yolks also contributes to the cake’s texture, making it moister and a bit denser than a white cake. Yolks give the cake a mild custard flavor which holds up exceptionally well to chocolate or cream cheese frostings.

Try our: Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Heather Chadduck

What is white cake?

Pure white and cloud-like, white cake can be both a sophisticated, layered wedding cake or a perfect blank canvas for a funfetti cake.

Unlike yellow cake, white cake typically uses all egg whites, no yolks. This means less fat and more sponginess. White cake recipes might also call for a combination of butter and shortening to tone down the yellow hue of a pure butter cake.

White cake traditionally calls for cake flour rather than all-purpose, which makes for a thinner batter and a lighter cake. Cake flour is bleached for a pure white color and has a lower protein content, which reduces the amount of gluten that forms inside. Using cake flour, you’ll achieve a good rise from the cake and a very light, fine crumb in the structure.

Try our: Mrs. Billett's White Cake

Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Stylist: Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland; Food Styling: Sarah Epperson

What about regular vanilla cake?

If the cake doesn’t specify if it’s white or yellow, look at the ingredient list to see if it calls for whole eggs or just egg whites. This will give you a better idea of the texture and flavor to expect of the final baked cake.

Try our: Classic Birthday Cake

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