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Cake Glossary: A Glossary Of The Different Cake Types

Page 6: Cake Glossary N To R

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  Red Velvet Cake
Originally a Southern favorite, velvet cake has become very popular nationwide. Is it the bright red food color? This cake, from chef Art Smith, is available at
Nougat is a confection made from ground hazelnuts, sugar, and chocolate. Depending on the recipe, cocoa butter, milk powder, powdered sugar and vanilla may also be added. Like marzipan, nougat is eaten as candy as well as a filling for cakes, cookies and pastries.


A layered cake of chocolate, espresso and almonds. Thin layers of a delicate almond sponge called joconde, are sandwiched with layers of chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream and topped with a chocolate glaze. The recipe was created by pâtissier Louis Clichy, who called it the Clichy; but it was later popularized by the Parisian pâtissèrie Dalloyau as the Opera Cake. There are many variations of the recipe, some having seven or more layers (14 total of cake and ganache), some far fewer (including Dalloyau’s). Modern versions include pistachio and green tea riffs.


  Opera Cake
Espresso lovers should check out an Opera Cake. This one can be purchased from
Pandoro is a sweet yeast bread from the Verona area of Italy, typically baked in a star-shaped mold with eight points and dusted with powdered sugar. Unlike panettone, it is a simpler bread, not filled with candied fruits. The name, pan d’oro or “golden bread,” refers to the yellow color achieved from white flour, butter and eggs. Originally, such delicacies were enjoyed only by the wealthy; the poor could only afford black bread, made from unrefined flour.


Star-shaped pandoro. Photo courtesy Sam’s Club.
Panettone is a medieval Italian Christmas yeast bread, filled with candied fruits and raisins. Panettone, a Milanese specialty, is tall, dome-shaped and airy, in contrast to the other famous Christmas bread, panforte, which is is short and dense (although there is a less common, flat version of panettone). The name means “large loaf” in Italian. While the origins of a sweet leavened bread date back to Roman times, and a tall, leavened fruitcake can be seen in a 16th century painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the first known mention of panettone with Christmas is found in the 18th century writings of Pietro Verri, who refers to it as “pane di tono,” (luxury bread).

The dough is cured for several days (like sourdough), giving the cake its distinctive fluffiness. Raisins, candied orange peel, citron and lemon zest, are added dry; some modern versions add chocolate (which was not available when the recipe originated); others are plain. The classic Panettone accompaniment is a sweet hot beverage or a sweet wine such as spumante or moscato; but any dessert wine will do. Some Italians add a side of crema di mascarpone, a cream made from mascarpone cheese, eggs, and amaretto (or you can substitute zabaglione). The other popular Italian Christmas bread is panforte, below.


Panettone, a yeast bread filled with candied fruits and raisins. Photo courtesy Maison Kayser.
Panforte, or “strong bread” in Italian (so-called due to the strong spices—it was originally called spiced bread with honey), originated as a holiday bread in 12th century Siena, Italy, baked by nuns. A large, round, flat torte with a dense, sticky texture, panforte is a mixture of candied fruit, almonds, spices and sometimes cocoa, bound with a sugar and honey boiled syrup. The pan is lined with communion wafers. The result is an Italian version of English fruitcake. It is enjoyed by the family and given as gifts, like panettone (see above), and is now enjoyed year-round as dessert, with a glass of vin santo, a sweet dessert wine. Read more about panforte in our review of Sophia’s Gluten-Free Panforte.


Panforte, an Italian fruitcake. Photo by Melody Lan | THE NIBBLE.
A lady finger and vanilla genoise cake topped with a variety of fresh tropical fruits.


A dessert originating in New Zealand or Australia (both claim credit), named after the ballerina Anna Pavlova. A meringue circle is filled with fresh fruit and topped with whipped cream. One story says that the dessert was designed after a tutu worn by Pavlova, the meringue being the skirt and the kiwi and strawberry representing a rose decoration. Today, any variety of berries and fresh fruits are used, and some recipes include chocolate decor as well. Read more about the Pavlova in our review of Pav Lites Pavlovas.


A pavlova can be individual sized or a multi-portion “cake.” Photo courtesy
Alternating layers of vanilla génoise and sliced poached pears, typically without Pear William eau de vie. The version in the photo is layered with pear Bavarian mousse and pear chunks, topped with a caramel glaze and sliced toasted almonds. The correct name is Pear William, not Pear Williams. It is named for the Williams pear, known as the Bartlett pear in the U.S.


Pear William cake. Photo courtesy
Pronounced pen-OO-chay after the Italian panucci, penuche is a confection based on brown sugar. There is penuche fudge, and for cakes, penuche frosting. To make it, melt 1/2 cup butter; stir in 1 cup brown sugar and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture pulls away from the sides and bottom of the pan, then boil for two minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup milk; heat to boiling and remove from heat. Stir in 2-1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar. Beat smooth with electric beaters. Spread quickly onto cake; the frosting will set immediately.


Apple cake with penuche frosting. Get the recipe at Une Gamin Dans La
Persipan is a less expensive substitution for marzipan, made from ground apricot and/or peach kernels. The word is a combination of persicus, Latin for peach, and marzipan. Persipan may also have some ground almonds, the traditional ingredient of marzipan, in the recipe. The sugar content is higher than marzipan (up to 60%) to offset the bitterness of the ingredients. Persipan is somewhat stiffer than marzipan and is used almost exclusively in baking.


Persipan. Photo courtesy
A petit four (pronounced petty-fore) is a tiny cake served at the end of a meal with coffee—often after other desserts. The words are French for “small oven” but mean “small baked pastries.” There are many varieties of petit four; the most familiar in the U.S. is a one-inch-square layered sponge cake, filled with butter cream and iced in a variety of colored fondants, often with tiny roses or other piped embellishments. In France, this style is not common; and there are confections which can be included on a petit fours plate that are not baked at all (e.g. glazed or chocolate-dipped fruit, marzipan, chocolates and nut clusters).

There are two styles of petit-fours: glacée (iced) and sec (dry). Petit-fours glacées or frais (fresh) include filled and/or iced petit-fours, miniature babas, miniature éclairs, tiny iced cakes and tartlets. Petit fours secs include small cookies, macaroons, madeleines, meringues, palmiers and tuiles. The words mignardises (min-yar-DEEZ), from the French for “preciousness,” and friandises (free-yon-DEEZ), from the French for “delicate,” are often used instead of petit fours.


  Petit Fours
Typical American-style petit-fours from
Piñata cake, a concept that originated in the U.K. and is also popular in Australia. We also found it in Germany, called surprise cake. When you cut into what appears to be a conventional layer cake, candies spill out. A four-layer cake is recommended to have enough room for lots of candy to tumble out. Here"™s more about piñata cake.


A piñata cake from Dr. Oetker.
Pronounced poe-VEET-suh, povitica is a traditional Eastern European cake popular in Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia; it is also called potica (poh-TEET-sah), depending on the country. It is a variation of Russian-origin babka, a delightful yeast cake. Povitica has more butter (and in some recipes, cream cheese), making it more rich and dense than babka.


Chocolate povitica, a Top Pick Of The Week (read the review). Photo courtesy Strawberry Hill Farms.
The rich, dense, buttery pound cake was developed in England in the 1700s. The name comes from the simple fact that the recipe contained one pound each of butter, eggs, flour and sugar. Today, different extracts, liqueurs, flavorings such as chocolate, and additives such as chocolate chips and candied fruits are used to make many varieties of pound cake. Beyond the early flavorings—almond, lemon, orange and vanilla—pound cakes can be found today in cappuccino, chocolate, key lime, raspberry and anything else that appeals to the public. Read our review of Pound Cakes By Jane.
  Pound Cake
Pound cake. Photo courtesy American Egg Board. Get the recipe.
See confectioners’ sugar.


A white layer cake with caramel frosting.

A cake with roots in the Southern U.S. Originally made from beets or beet juice and cocoa (and the best recipes still are), the cake yields a reddish brown color with a mild chocolate flavor. Today’s recipes made with red food coloring can be a florid red. A thick white frosting is traditional. Today, many recipes use red food color instead of beets, which leaves a rosy red and arresting color but a more bland flavor and texture. A light-textured chocolate layer-type cake with a deep reddish brown color.


  Red Velvet Cake
The recipe for this Red Velvet Cake with a coconut pecan icing can be found in Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations, by Nancie McDermott.
The French word for what some Americans call a “jelly roll,” but much more. Baked in a sheet pan (jelly roll pan), this light and delicate sponge cake is rolled with and filled with buttercream, fruit or fruit puree, ganache, jam, lemon curd, nuts, whipped cream, etc. The bûche de Noël is a roulade.


Pumpkin roulade. Photo courtesy Golden Blossom Honey.
A cake of the American South, this sponge cake is made with 10 to 12 eggs in jelly roll pans. The layers are filled and frosted with a frosting flavored with orange and lemon juices (and in some recipes, the zest).

A pure white, hard icing made from egg whites and confectioner’s sugar; sometimes lemon juice is added. Royal icing hardens to a thin, flat, smooth layer and is used on gingerbread, large, decorated cookies and a variety of cakes, including wedding cakes. The hard matte surface is preferred for complicated lettering and decorations on cookies, but it does not offer much flavor beyond sugary sweetness.


Royal icing on a wedding cake. Photo courtesy David Cakes Of Distinction.
A rum-soaked sponge cake or pound cake. There are numerous recipes for the cake assembly; it can be filled with buttercream, whipped cream or custard; fruit such as sliced strawberries can be added. Or, it can be a plain loaf or bundt. One of our favorite recipes uses a boiled chocolate icing with pressed sliced almonds around the sides. The only constant is the rum-soaked sponge, which makes it a cake cousin to baba au rhum. Some bakers use a rum-flavored sugar syrup for a milder effect.

The king of rum cakes is this gourmet version by The Great Spirits Baking Company (read our review), a NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week. It uses Pyrat rum, one of the finest brands of sipping rum, instead of an average or or below-average rum.

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  Rum Cake
Rum bundt cake. Photo courtesy of Great Spirits Baking Company.
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Last Updated  Apr 2018

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