American Classic Cakes

American bakers have developed their own canon of home-style cakes. From red velvet cake to bundt and coffee cake, the American classic is typically decadent. Haven’t you tried one yet?

American favourites

Fittingly, for a culture that’s comprised of people with global origins, American classic cakes come from all over the world. Scandinavian – style coffee-cake – topped with a crunchy streusel of butter, sugar, flour and sometimes nuts – sits alongside the caramelly Spanish Tres Leches (Three Milks) cake. And they’ve all earned their place in the American baking book. If you haven’t discovered these classics yet, it’s time we got started!

We can only fit in one of our very favourite recipes here, but there’s lots more to try out – just look online for recipes.

Red velvet cake

Red Velvet cake is a gory red creation – usually a cocoa sponge, coloured with red food dye. (You can buy packet sponge mixes all over America, and indeed online, to recreate this one.)

Angel food cake

For a less indulgent treat, try an Angel Food Cake. It’s a feather-light sponge that is made with egg whites, flour, sugar, and flavourings – great for dieters.

Devil’s food cake

By contrast, Devil’s Food Cake is a devilishly sinful creation made with sour cream and cocoa.

Still on the subject of sponge, we couldn’t ignore the cupcake. Though it’s actually English (it’s first mentioned in an English cookbook – 1828, Eliza Leslie), the cupcake has taken America by storm. American bakeries have a homestyle version:

Whoopie pie

It’s a sweet speciality that was invented by the Pennsylvanian Amish community. This recipe turns the cupcake on its head. It’s two small, biscuity, domed cakes sandwiched with buttercream icing.

American-style coffee cake

This originates from Scandinavia (where it is a yeasted cake), but popular all over America, so we think it deserves a mention in this section – and if you haven’t tried one before, it’s time you did. The coffee cake is a firm sponge studded with nuts, fruit, or nothing. For some unfathomable reason, this ‘coffee cake’ doesn’t actually contain coffee…so we assume the intention is that you settle down and eat a slice with a lovely hot cup of your favourite americano or espresso! Its crowning glory is a crumble-style topping, which you rub together and sprinkle over just before sliding it into the oven. If you like this, look up cinnamon rolls – another Scandinavian recipe which has become a favourite in America thanks to the country’s rich heritage.

We’ve got a great English Coffee and Walnut Cake Recipe to try, but for this version we suggest sprinkling over some chips after baking to get a pretty finish. This recipe makes enough for a 20cm tin (a size that’s widely available).

For this coffee streusel cake you will need:

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 280ml whole milk
  • 350g (12oz) Demerara sugar
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 450g (1lb) plain cake flour
  • 3tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 150g (5oz) blueberries fresh or frozen

For the streusel:

  • 175g (6oz) Demerara sugar
  • 100g (4oz) unsalted butter
  • 75g (3oz) plain flour
  • 75g (3oz) chopped nuts (optional)

To make:

Preheat the oven to 175ºC and line a 20cm square tin with baking paper. Melt the butter in a microwave or saucepan and leave to cool a bit. In a jug, whisk the milk and lemon juice and set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a bowl and stir in the blueberries. Return to the milk and add the warm butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and thick. Fold in the flour mixture, then scrape it all into your prepared tin. For the streusel: put the sugar, butter and flour in a bowl and rub with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the nuts and sprinkle it all over the cake. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly. Cool on a wire rack.

Keen for more?

For great American Classic Cake Recipes, we can recommend books written by Martha Stewart, Dorie Greenspan, Beatrice Ojakangas, and America’s Test Kitchen.

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