Here at BBC Good Food, we wholeheartedly share our readers’ passion for a beautifully baked cake. The satisfaction of pulling the steaming finished product from the oven after beginning with a table of raw, basic ingredients is hard to beat. They quite rightly mark out celebrations, and provide sugary comfort when we most need it. For all the weird and wonderful variants, we believe there are a handful of staples we always go back to, so we put together a list of failsafe, classic cakes.
Ladylike and regal, this layered light-coloured sponge filled with fresh fruit or jam and cream is perfect in its simplicity. An all-in-one method can be used for the basic sponge, using caster sugar, butter, eggs, self-raising flour and sometimes milk and baking powder too. Bake it in two tins then leave to cool. Whip up some double cream for the filling, although some people may prefer buttercream. Spread on a layer of good quality jam or conserve- strawberry or raspberry is traditional- or make it extra-special with fresh fruit. This simple recipe can form the base of an iced birthday or wedding cake, or works well in cupcake form.
Despite its somewhat Mediterranean-sounding name, the origins of this cake are firmly English. It’s typically a super-fine but firm sponge loaf, and is the ultimate companion for a cup of tea. For its trademark texture, creaming together butter and sugar with an electric whisk before beating in the eggs is a good way of ensuring a finish that’s light-as-a-feather. Replacing some of the flour with ground almonds will have a similar effect. The best thing about a madeira cake? It’s extremely versatile nature means it’s a great foundation- add cherries or another fruit, cocoa or use it as a trifle sponge.
Staple of the coffee morning and organic cafés, the carrot cake is an ever-popular bake. Its unique ingredient makes for an extremely moist sponge with great texture. It works really well with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg- but go easy with the quantities. The best topping for a carrot cake is a creamy, peaked buttercream icing, or use cream cheese sweetened up with some icing sugar. It has also inspired a new wave of vegetable-based cakes, with courgettes being another great ingredient- plus it’s a perfect way to use up a garden glut.
The ultimate way to finish a madeira or simple sponge is by transforming it into a lemon drizzle. This cake is the most popular on our site, and it’s exceptionally easy to make. Simply create the sponge loaf with lemon zest to flavour, and then finish off with a sugar syrup made from lemon zest and juice, caster sugar and water. Drizzle it over the top of the loaf and leave to set- the crunchy, slightly crystalised effect of the topping combined with the soft sponge is a marriage made in bakery heaven. You can use any citrus fruit in place of lemon- orange works particularly well, but make sure you add plenty of sugar to balance out sourness if you’re using more tart lime. Best served with a dollop of cream.
Many paths can be followed when it comes to a fruitcake. A really dense cake, tightly packed with booze-soaked raisins, barely feels like a sponge at all, instead being a syrupy and sticky slice. Such a cake is best leveled out with thick traditional icing and marzipan, as with a Christmas cake. A lighter fruitcake can be achieved by using fruits like sultanas, apricots and cherries in smaller quantities. It’s also a great storecupboard bake- this version uses up nuts, dried fruit and leftover fruit and vegetables. It’s also a blank canvas for showing off your icing skills. Ice a cake with white ready-to-roll icing using our video guide and then use coloured icing and pens to create your own designs.
A cake guaranteed to disappear as soon as you cut the first slice, this bake is sticky, gooey, dark and rich. The sponge itself is extremely moist- this can be achieved by using soured cream, and muscovado in place of a finer, white caster sugar. As you would a brownie, add melted chocolate- this is the trick to achieving that really squidgy finish. An American spin on this cake would finish it with white, angel frosting to contrast with the super-dark sponge. A thicker chocolate frosting is preferred by some, and if you’re making cupcakes a simple melted chocolate finish can be used to create striking patterns.
This chequered, marzipan-coated cake block – so named in honour of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter marrying Prince Louis of Battenberg – is a kitsch beauty. When cut, its cross section displays a distinctive two by two pattern of bright pink and yellow sponge, adjoined by apricot jam. The yellow sponge is traditionally flavoured with almond extract, ground almonds and vanilla, while adding a healthy shake of pink food colouring creates its rosier companion. It is finished off by being neatly rolled in marzipan and served in slices alongside a pot of tea. You can flavour it with chocolate or coffee if you fancy a change.
You can find more classic cakes in our collection.