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Cakes are broadly divided into several categories, based primarily on ingredients and cooking techniques.
Yeast cakes are the oldest, and are very similar to yeast breads. Such cakes are often very traditional in form, and include such pastries as babka and stollen.
Cheesecakes use mostly some form of cheese (often cream cheese, mascarpone, ricotta or the like), and have very little to no flour component (though it sometimes appears in the form of a (often sweetened) crust). Cheesecakes are also very old, with evidence of honey-sweetened cakes dating back to ancient Greece.
Sponge cakes are thought to be the first of the non-yeast-based cakes and rely primarily on trapped air in a protein matrix (generally of beaten eggs) to provide leavening, sometimes with a bit of baking powder or other chemical leaven added as insurance. Such cakes include the Italian/Jewish pan di Spagna and the French Génoise.
Butter cakes, including the pound cake and devil's food cake, rely on the combination of butter, eggs, and sometimes baking powder to provide both lift and a moist texture.
A large cake garnished with strawberriesBeyond these classifications, cakes can be classified based on their appropriate accompaniment (such as coffee cake), contents (e.g. fruitcake or flourless chocolate cake), or occasion (wedding cake, birthday cake, or Passover plava, a type of Jewish sponge cake sometimes made with matzo meal).
Cakes may be small and intended for individual consumption (for example madeleines and cupcakes). Larger cakes may be made with the intention of being sliced and served as part of a meal or social function. The cutting of a wedding cake constitutes a social ceremony in some cultures. The Ancient Roman marriage ritual of confarreatio originated in the sharing of a cake.
Particular types of cake may be associated with particular festivals, such as stollen (at Christmas), babka and simnel cake (at Easter), or mooncake.
Some varieties of cake are widely available in the form of cake mixes, wherein some of the ingredients (usually flour, sugar, flavoring, baking powder, and sometimes some form of fat) are premixed, and the cook needs add only a few extra ingredients, usually eggs, water, and sometimes vegetable oil or butter. Such mixes are available under a number of brand names, including Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, and Pillsbury; while the diversity of represented styles is limited, cake mixes do provide an easy and readily available homemade option for cooks who are not accomplished bakers.