Saturday, August 11, 2012

All Yellow Cakes Compared, with Numbers

I am a big, big dork. In addition to the whole Doctor Who/Skyrim thing, I have a degree in math, with a focus on statistics, and a minor in biology. Like I said, a big dork.

On to the cake. As far as I can tell, Yellow Cake is a cake mix term. I can't find any reference to Yellow Cake in my James Beard or 1975 Joy of Cooking. I think yellow cake has evolved from two historical cakes: 1234 cake and Golden Cake. This is just a theory, as I'm not a historian.

1234 cake is named from its recipe: 1 cup butter, 1 cup milk, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, possibly self-rising, and 4 eggs. It was obviously easy to remember, and wasn't dependent on standard measuring cups. If you substitute egg whites for the whole eggs, you get a White Cake, again a traditional recipe.

Golden Cake is similar to 1234 cake but usually has added or only egg yolks.

Both of these evolved from the very old English Pound Cake, which called for a pound each of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs.

I've mentioned before how much I like the post All Yellow Cakes Compared from Cookie Madness. The observational nature of it appeals to my science geekiness. But as math is superior to science (xkcd: Purity demonstrates the superiority complex math people have), I felt a need to make the comparison even more dorky (please do not take my statement of superiority seriously). And yes, I did this for fun.

I used the recipes from Anna's Yellow Cake post, plus several I have that I feel confident about or consider to be authoritative. Since every recipe yields a different size of cake, I adjusted the amounts as if they are all going to make the same size cake, using the same amount of flour (I've explained the math at the end).

ATK Fluffy101.8104.
Bible Downy101.4104.605.71.010.5
Bible Butter101.41013.505.7110.5
Perfect Golden101.28.14.305.30.99.8
Perfect Buttermilk101.611.
Egg Beater102.01483.060.812.8
Carole Walter101.812.
2 Egg Cake101.38.842.52.50.911.9
Pound Cake101.49.786.36.3010.9

For my food science, I read CookWise (BakeWise is at the library), On Food and Cooking, and The Cake Bible.

Our two standards are pound cake (10 ounces each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs) and 1234 cake (10 ounces flour, sugar, and liquids, and 4 ounces butter and eggs). Because the 1234 cake has fewer eggs, it has milk added to make up the difference, in terms of liquid.

It is my guess that the additional liquid in some cakes makes the cake feel damp. Almost every cake has more liquid than sugar. The Egg Beater recipe seems to break that rule, but I suspect the water from the large amount of butter helps with that, as butter is 20% water.

The remaining differences are butter or fat and eggs. Most of the cakes fall between the pound cake and the 1234 cake. You could probably guess about the texture from these amounts: fluffy or dense. One recipe that stands out is the Butter Cake from The Cake Bible. Wow!

After seeing this, I'm not surprised that I like the BakeWise recipe so much. That said, I'm now interested to try the Egg Beater recipe.

Now for the math. Run away if you're not interested :-)

For each recipe, I multiplied the amount of each ingredient times the inverse of the amount of flour (the ingredient I was using to standardize) times 10 (the ounces of flour in my standard). Thus,

I adjusted = I * 1/flour (oz) * 10 (oz)

I calculated the fat by the formula

fat (oz) = oil (cups) * 7 oz/cup + 0.8 * butter (oz) + 0.4 * cream (oz)

using the value that oil is 7 ounces per cup, butter is 80% butterfat, and cream is 40% butterfat.

I calculated the liquid by the formula

liquid (oz) = milk (cups) * 8 oz/cup + egg whites * 1.25 (oz) + egg yolks * 0.5 (oz)

using the weights from King Arthur. The recipes use milk, buttermilk, cream, or a mixture of cream and water.

On my summary table, I rounded to one decimal place. And I know I was sloppy in using butter and fat interchangeably. I was trying to be accessible. :-)


  1. I forgot to mention. I got the HTML for the table from

  2. Very useful comparisons. Good to keep in mind when choosing frosting/icing, so a rich frosting with a relatively low sugar would pair well with something lighter, like the 1234, while the pound cake goes well with low fat fruit toppings/glazes.

  3. Not that your blog entries weren't already entertaining and informative. I think this one sets your blog apart as truly one for a cake conosieur and baker. Nicely done! NERD! (And I saw that with the utmost respect for a fellow Nerd.)(BTW... I will try not to be too offended about the math being superior to science comment.. But I concede,.. you might be right. Since most science takes a mathametical evaluation or analysis to come to any conclusion on.

  4. Thank you so much. That means a lot.