cake

Baking and baked goods are a perennial source of US/UK miscommunication—in large part because most of our current baking/eating habits were only invented after the split between American and British English. We eat different baked goods with newish names and we often use the same old words in different new ways. 

While I've written many posts that have mentioned cake (see links below), I've come to feel the need for a much bigger one about cake. This one has been several (very busy) months in the making.

cake itself

The word cake came into English from Old Norse (or another Scandinavian source) in around the 13th century. Way back then it was a word for a round loaf of bread that was a bit flattened by having been turned over while baking. These days we associate it more with sweet baked goods, usually (but not necessarily) those leavened with something other than yeast. But its round, bready roots come through in things like (Scottish) oatcake (which refers to something more like modern crackers than like modern cakes) and northwestern England's barm cakes, one of the many regional names for the kinds of bread rolls with which you might make a sandwich (in the American sense). Later, cake came to mean any round, flattened food, and thus we have fish cakes and crab cakes and rice cakes and the like. 

People only started using cake as a mass noun referring to the substance (rather than the loaf as a whole) in the 16th century, and from then it increasingly referred to fancy or sweet bread-like things. 

Cake v dessert/pudding

Many Americans would think of cake as a rather normal dessert. But those who've watched the Great British (orig. AmE) Bake Off (GBBO) will have seen that cake and dessert are treated as different things. Such is the case in English culture (at least) more generally. Cake is something you'd have with coffee or tea as a break, not something you'd immediately think of preparing for the final course of a meal. (Though you will find the occasional cake on a UK dessert menu.) As we've already seen in the dessert/pudding post, puddings are another matter. Some look and feel like cakes (e.g., my fave sticky toffee pudding), but are not usually considered cakes in BrE. (Please do go to the pudding post, linked above, if you want to comment on puddings.)

Cake(s) as sweet baked snacks

On the other hand, in certain contexts, all sorts of things can loosely count as cake in England that would not be so called in AmE. Say you went to a coffee shop with your friend. If you were English you might ask them "Which cake do you want?" And your English friend might say "A (orig. AmE) brownie" or "The apple turnover, please" or "The carrot cake, please". If you were American, and you wanted the brownie or the turnover, you'd probably answer that question with "I'm not in the mood for cake, but I'd like that brownie/apple turnover." For Americans, cakes are cakes and other baked goods are other baked goods. For the English, cake can be an umbrella term for sweet baked goods eaten in the situations where one usually eats cakes in the narrower sense. (NB: I'm saying English rather than British because not enough Scottish or Welsh people have offered to buy me cake in coffee shops. More fieldwork needed.)

If I were Americanly asking someone which thing they wanted in the coffee shop, I'd probably say "Which kind of cake do you want?" because "which cake" doesn't really sound right in AmE, where it more usually refers to a big thing that you slice and not an individual serving of it. If a BrE speaker had a cake with their tea, it would fit on a small plate (under which the server will have inexplicably placed a paper napkin as if it's a doily, rendering the napkin useless—a coffee-shop peeve of mine). If an American had a cake with their coffee, they'd be an incredible glutton, eating enough for a dozen people.

AmE snack cake refers to the overly processed small cakes that are packaged for putting in lunch boxes. Twinkies are a famous example, but there are lots of other kinds as well (here's a guide). You can get such individually wrapped cakes in the UK too, e.g. Cadbury Mini Rolls are pretty much the equivalent of a Hostess Ho-Ho and the Mr Kipling brand offers a variety of such products, but I don't know of a generic BrE term for them. But again, we'd call them a snack cake but probably not a cake.

Types of cake

A very noticeable thing if you watch GBBO is the constant reference to sponge. Americans can use the term sponge cake (emphasis on the cake) but don't use it often because that's the prototypical cake type—and you don't need to specify the most typical type. (I've discussed the psycholinguistic concept of prototypes here.) It'd be like saying cloth shirt—almost redundant. 

[Update: see the comments for some more-informed American takes on sponge, which seem to indicate that for AmE sponge is a method (making with egg whites, not butter) and for BrE it's a result (a spongy texture). This fits beautifully with other examples of Americans naming things in reference to the form of the ingredients (pre-assembly) and British using names relating to the form of the result. See previous discussions of mashed potato(es) and scrambled egg(s) and burgers and hot dogs for other examples.]

But BrE speakers are more likely to call it sponge than to call it sponge cake, if that's the kind of cake they're talking about. A Victoria sponge (aka Victoria sandwich) is a two-layer cake with jam (and often cream) in the middle (no icing/frosting on top)—a very common cake in England. On GBBO they talk about lots of different types of sponge, like genoise or joconde, but that's specialist jargon that you don't tend to hear elsewhere. If you want more about those, see this Wikipedia entry.

from Meg Rivers Bakers

A reason that BrE speakers need to talk about sponge is that it's not necessarily the default cake type. Fruit cakes are very traditional and (get ready for a shocker, Americans) even loved in England. You cannot imagine my disappointment the first time I was handed a slice of English wedding cake and discovered it wasn't a nice, white sponge cake like I was expecting, but a fruit cake as in the photo to the left. When I got married in England, I had to insist that one of our cake's layers was not fruit. I didn't care what it was, as long as it wasn't fruitcake. 

(A note on spelling: AmE prefers fruitcake and BrE goes both ways: fruit cake or fruitcake.)

The traditional English Christmas cake is also a fruit cake. This has been adopted to a small degree in the US, where there is some tradition of giving fruitcakes as Christmas gifts. (When/where I was a kid, the local Lions Club sold them as Christmastime fundraiser. It seems they still do in New Zealand.) But Americans also have the tradition of mocking fruitcakes as the worst cake and the worst gift, starting with Johnny Carson in 1973: "The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other." American fruitcakes are generally unfrosted/uniced, whereas English Christmas cakes have white royal icing (see link) and decoration.

American wedding cakes are often made of white cake, which is a kind of sponge made with only the whites of the egg (here's a recipe—notice how it Americanly never uses the word sponge). Americans also talk about yellow cake, where the yolks are left in. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting is a well-known combination. I could link to another recipe, but I'll instead show a picture of a very typical American cake mix—these, like many things, come in many more varieties in the US than in the UK. 

While there aren't as many cake mixes in the UK, there are a lot of long-life ready-made cakes in boxes. (Something that surprised me when I moved to England.) The popularity of one supermarket chain's Colin the Caterpillar cake (the birthday cake for one side of my UK family) gave rise to the 'generification' of the caterpillar cake, which gave rise to lawsuits and news stories last year. (Click on the last link for pictures.)

Another cake type I've tweeted about a lot is coffee cake:

Other US cake types include (links are to Wikipedia):

  • angel food cake (a very light sponge made with egg whites and cream of tartar—an ingredient that seems to show up in US baking a lot more than UK baking)  
  • devil's food cake, which would probably be called chocolate fudge cake in BrE
  • pound cake, which isn't necessarily American, but it's much more common in the US—and thus shows up nearly seven times as much in AmE as BrE in the GloWbE corpus.

On the UK side, one runs into lemon drizzle cake a lot, while in the US one mostly gets lemon cake or lemon bars.

Image from Wikipedia
No discussion of the BrE meaning of cake is complete without mention of the Jaffa cake, which Americans would call a cookie. It is a little disc of sponge cake with a bit of orange jam/[AmE] jelly on top and dark chocolate on top of that. [I'd originally written BrE jelly/AmE gelatin here, which it might well be, but I went with what Wikipedia said.] There was a famous court case about whether such things should be taxed, since there is (or was?) VAT ('value-added tax', approximately AmE sales tax) on chocolate-covered (BrE) biscuits (AmE cookies), which are a luxury item, but no VAT on cakes, which are, apparently, a necessity. Part of the decision to label them as cakes was based on the appraisal that cakes go hard when they get stale, whereas (British) biscuits go soft when they're stale (thus demonstrating a main difference between BrE biscuit and AmE cookie).

cake accoutrements & shapes

The utensil with which you lift a slice of cake is a cake slice (BrE 1810s) or a cake server (AmE ?1890s).

The shape of a cake depends on what you bake it in—in AmE a cake pan and in BrE a cake tin. Into the pan/tin you put AmE cake batter or BrE cake mixture. BrE reserves batter for really thin mixtures (and British cakes often seem to have thicker mixtures than American ones).



Ring-shaped cakes made in fluted pans/tins are common in Europe, but it's in the US that they came to be known as Bundt cakes, after the trademarked name of a pan sold by the Nordic Ware company. (See Wikipedia for more.) 

Sheet cakes also seem to be an AmE invention—these are unlayered, frosted (and often decorated) sponge cakes made in a rectangular pan. People talked about them a bit more after Tina Fey went onto Saturday Night Live to propose "sheet caking" as a method of dealing with far-right demonstrations.

(I must say, though, that her sheet cake seems tall enough that it must be layered.)  

In BrE I've seen a sheet cake referred to as a tray bake, but tray bake is used for all sorts of things that are baked in a low, rectangular pan/tin/tray, including the things Americans would call bar cookies. (For past posts about cookies, see here.)

I've written before about AmE cupcake v BrE fairy cake. In BrE today, cupcake has been imported for bigger, fancier ones.

[Late addition, 27 Dec]: I'd thought I'd written here about BrE loaf cakes v American quick breads, but my memory played tricks on me—I must have been remembering writing about it in The Prodigal Tongue. In the book, I use two banana bread recipes as illustration of how many levels AmE and BrE can differ on, and one of the differences is that at one point in the British recipe, the banana bread is called "the cake". Many sweet, loaf-shaped things that Americans bake and might well slice and butter (banana bread, zucchini (BrE courgette) bread, pumpkin bread, ) turn up as [ingredient] loaf cake in UK coffee shops. (When transferred to BrE cake status, they often have icing drizzled over.) Here's a bit of what I wrote in The Prodigal Tongue:

American baking has a traditional category called quick breads, that is, breads leavened without yeast. Quick breads include banana bread, zucchini (= UK courgette) bread, and my mother’s famous pumpkin bread, as well as American biscuits (which look a bit like British scones, but don’t feel or taste like them) and what the British call American-style muffins, including blueberry muffins and bran muffins (though they’ve proved so popular in the UK that the American-style is usually left off these days). In an American cookbook, these recipes are located in the bread chapter. Banana breads and blueberry muffins are relatively new to Britain, and they came over without the larger quick bread category. They thus fell into the cake category.

This isn't the only American baked good that gets re-classified in BrE. When I've made snickerdoodles  for UK folk, I've been congratulated on my "little cakes". (The way I make them—with cream of tartar—gives them a nice cakey texture.) While the cake category is broad in BrE, it's the cookie category that's broad in AmE.

cake expressions

a piece of cake comes from AmE in the 1960s and means 'easy'. BrE has borrowed it and added a more vulgar version: a piece of piss.

that takes the cake (AmE 1830s) versus that takes the biscuit (BrE 1880s)  = 'it is the best/it wins' (though these days it's mostly used ironically to indicate something that "wins" at being the worst).

off one's cake (BrE informal)  = deranged [1880s]; extremely intoxicated [1980s]

bake sale (AmE 1890s) v cake stall (BrE 1600s, but then a more formal business) v cake sale (now more BrE than AmE, but Irish & AmE evidence precedes BrE evidence) = selling donated baked goods as a fundraiser

more links

Before commenting on this post with comments suggesting or asking questions about other baked goods, please see these past blog posts. Comments are welcome on those old posts—conversations on this blog keep on going.

baked goods (misc., includes the usual suspects)

(more on) cookie, (more on) biscuit

icing & frosting

pudding

molasses, treacle, golden syrup, caramel, toffee (and see the comments there for more on gingerbread)

types of: flour, cream, milk, eggs (that last one's less baking orient(at)ed)

bake-off

candy & sweets


P.S. It's the time of year when I declare the US>UK and UK>US Words of the Year and nominations have been very, very thin this year. Please let me know if you have any nominations for these categories!

68 comments

  1. Cream of tartar isn't specific to angel-food cakes; it's a chemical enhancer for anything made with whipped egg whites. (It reacts chemically with the albumin and makes a more stable foam that stiffens faster. Same trick as using a copper bowl when whipping by hand.) Thus, it's also commonly in meringues, especially when fresh egg whites (rather than powdered) are being used. Vegans like to make sponge cakes with "aqua faba", the water drained off of a can of chick peas, which contains proteins that can be whipped into a foam.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was no claim here that cream of tartar is only in angel food cakes!

      Delete
  2. When I as an AmE speaker think of "cake", the uncountable noun, I think of amounts of the stuff you make with the Betty Crocker cake mix. In other words, the antonym to "frosting".

    As someone who studied international relations in the '00s, though, when I hear "yellowcake" I'm as likely to think of uranium as anything sweet.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Piece of cake is of course originally RAF slang from 1940's

    https://notoneoffbritishisms.com/2015/04/30/a-piece-of-cake/

    Little Egret

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is a comment-catching comment.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Then there is a cake of soap. Not much used as a term these days, it would appear but I'm sure I was brought up to use the term.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My apologies for detracting from the appetizing parts of the discussion, but this mention of cakes of soap reminds me of urinal cakes, which I imagine our hostess has not encountered very often.

      A very quick Google search seems to indicate that this term is common on both sides of the Atlantic.

      Delete
  6. It amused me the first time I heard that Americans don't usually like fruit cake. My mother used to make a wonderful fruit cake which I liked so much that when I went back to university after breaks, she'd give me a quantity.

    It slightly annoys me that Tesco only stock their iced fruit cake around this time of year. They do do Dundee cake the rest of the year, but that's not as rich.

    ReplyDelete
  7. (Fruitcake lover here.) When I read your comment about American wedding cakes being sponge, I thought "That wouldn't do for sending pieces out to people", then I wondered "Is that even still a 'thing'?" I found this: https://www.magpiewedding.com/vintage-weddings/wedding-memories-sending-cake-post/ and it seems some people still do it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely not done in US! We do freeze the top layer for eating on an anniversary.

      Delete
    2. I mentioned above taking pieces of fruit cake back with me at university. I couldn't get to visit my sister for Christmas this year, so she posted me a large piece of her Christmas cake last week. (Haven't tried it yet; too much food this weekend.)

      Traditionally (at least in our family) the Christmas cake, as well as being iced, would have ornaments on top - robins, snowmen, holly and the like. And the icing would be crunchingly hard.

      Delete
    3. My father always decorated our cake (but with water icing so it didn't go too hard), until he began to lose manual dexterity. We had a cute robin (old even then) perched on a log with a spring for his legs; the spring eventually broke. I tried icing the cake for a while, but was nowhere near as good at it as Dad. Now I just decorate the marzipan with dried fruits.

      Delete
  8. Ah, yes, coffee cake. I was shocked to learn that the British put coffee in their coffee cake. Who ever heard of such a thing? And I'm still throwing people in my village into shock by bringing my American version of coffee cake to bake sales and explaining that it has no coffee in it. I've learned to call it American coffee cakes, and I've created a few local addicts. I've also managed to offend at least one person, who must've thought I was making fun of her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Coffee-and-walnut cake is lush! You should try it, if you haven't already.

      Delete
    2. Slightly surprised at the surprise, given that there's a precedent right in BrE: teacakes, which don't contain tea any more than coffee cake would contain coffee.

      And, given that "coffee cake" in the AmE sense is just referring to the accompanying beverage, it embraces a huge range of potential baked goods -- although the default in Starbucks and their ilk is the crumb-cake type that Lynneguist shared.

      Within my German-from-Russia heritage, "coffee cake" was the typical English word used to describe what we called "kuchen," which literally just meant "cake" but in our context means a pie-like pastry made with a sweet-roll crust and filled with custard and fruit. In our family, the archetypal kuchen was prune (and the reason I love prunes to this day, very weird anymore), but any fruit will do. Link contains way more detail than reasonable people would want ;).

      Delete
  9. I've added bits about jelly v jam in Jaffa cakes, loaf cakes v quick breads (and my snickerdoodles) and a call for WotY nominations on the morning after. (Just letting the commenters know!)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm pretty sure the fruitcake in the picture has fondant on it, not royal icing. If you were to make a half-inch (or quarter of an inch) layer of royal icing, people would lose their teeth trying to eat it. Fondant is rolled out and used to create a smooth thick layer, on top of which usually more elaborate decorations (sometimes made of royal icing, which is piped, not rolled out) take place. Or maybe it's just another dialectal difference.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The middle layer of a jaffa cake is jelly (pectin as the setting agent) - https://www.ocado.com/products/mcvitie-s-jaffa-cakes-triple-pack-13546011

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that confuses things, since pectin is what I think of as setting jam, not jelly! Maybe this is a rare case of the word 'jelly' being appropriate in both AmE and BrE.

      Delete
    2. There's different types of (british) jelly. There's the one set by gelatin (or vegetarian alternatives) that is traditional at parties served with ice cream (known as jello in the US, I believe). But there's also jellies which are made along similar lines to jam, but which only use the juice of the fruit, not its pulp. You cook up the fruit along with some water, then strain through a jelly bag. Bring the liquid to the boil, add sugar, and set like you do jams. They can be sweet (e.g. bramble jelly made with blackberries) or savoury (redcurrant jelly, for example, which is served alongside meats).

      Delete
    3. True. AmE has the 'juice of the fruit, not of the pulp, set with pectin' type, e.g. grape jelly.

      Delete
  12. Thank you for the interesting post. Another difference (I think!) that I was reminded off after the sheet cake section is 'roll cake' for what I (BrE) would call a Swiss roll or perhaps a roulade. I remember reading 'roll cake' in a webcomic (by an American writer) and being pretty confused initially.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know 'roll cake', but I do know 'cake roll'. I had had it in my notes and then didn't add it to the post. I might do it yet!

      Delete
  13. Such an interesting post! Last night I baked cranberry-pecan quick bread, which I (AmE) would never call "cake" because it's baked in *loaf* pans.

    I am surprised to see "sponge cake" called the U.S. prototype, because I've always understood it to be a subset. "Baking Illustrated" (2004, Massachusetts) assigns sponge cake its own category: "Ideally, sponge cake is lighter than the standard butter-based layer cake, with a springy texture that stands up to fillings and/or glazes." The classic American sponge cake uses only eggs, not baking powder, for leavening, and is often baked in a tube pan. Boston Cream Pie, which isn't a pie at all, is an example of a sponge cake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I can see AmE using 'sponge cake' for subtypes of 'sponge' because that's when it's worth mentioning that it's sponge. But any spongey cake would be called 'sponge' in BrE—and so anything Americans would use as 'birthday cake' (not including 'ice cream cake'--I didn't even go there) counts as 'sponge' from that perspective, as far as I can tell.

      Delete
    2. The no-fat sponge cake is definitely a thing here - often it is used as the base for what we call a "Swiss roll" - a flat, thin cake which is spread with jam (and perhaps cream) and then rolled up. Yule logs - using chocolate or chestnut-based icing - are also made this way, but they are filled and covered in icing which is marked with a fork to resemble tree bark.

      Lynne - ice cream cakes! I hadn't thought of them for years..... The classic here was Arctic Roll, a cylinder of vanilla ice cream covered in a thin layer of jam and then sponge cake.... I wonder if one can still buy it.

      Delete
    3. Definitely seems like "sponge" is a broader category in BrE than AmE. In my (Western New England but influenced by TV from both sides of the pond) I'd say the classic "birthday cake", whether yellow or white or chocolate, is usually a butter cake (although in my youth these were often made with shortening). A sponge has to be leavened solely by an egg foam, and is made by a totally different procedure and is of course much lighter in density. The BrE usage seems to be more concerned with the resulting texture.

      Bakers talk about various named "methods" as a shorthand for the process used to prepare something; there's the souffle method, the genoise method, the creaming method (used for both pound cakes and cookies), the muffin or quickbread method (used for both sweet and savory cakes and breads), and even the "reverse creaming" method. A professional recipe for a yellow cake batter might just give the (proportions of) ingredients and the words "creaming method".

      Delete
    4. Why a professional recipe? Surely most recipes would - if necessary, the cookery book might have an overview of the various methods (rubbing-in, creaming, all-in-one, etc) but then wouldn't spell them out again. I do remember reading somewhere that American cookery books are more apt to spell things out than British ones.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous: I think you've hit the nail on a familiar head. We've seen before in the posts on 'burgers' and on 'mashed potato(es)' that AmE tends to be more intent on naming things based on the processes in making them and BrE more on the result. (For those who are interested in those, please use the search function on the web version of the blog—it's a pain to put links in comments!)

      Delete
    6. I've added an update with links to the related posts in the post now. Thanks, Anonymous!

      Delete
    7. @Mrs Redboots: typically, a home recipe would spell out the details because there would only be one recipe of a particular type. Variations for flavorings etc. would be written as addenda ("for vanilla extract substitute mint flavoring and add four or five drops of green food coloring if desired").

      Delete
  14. Growing up in the Philadelphia region, if you said we were having "sponge cake," I would expect angel food cake. I'm guessing because of the look and consistency?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I grew up in St. Louis and on Long Island, and I'd have felt the same way.

      Delete
  15. Thinking about UK snack cakes reminds me of 'fancies', particularly fondant fancies - like a little individual iced cake. Mr Kipling is the UK snack cake king

    ReplyDelete
  16. I wrote a long comment and Google ate it! Let's try again, and this time I'll copy my text before trying to post. I do wish, by the way, and this is nothing Lynne can do anything about, we could still get email notifications of comments. OH well..

    Anyway, Devils food cake is certainly a thing over here; my aunt used to have a wonderful recipe for it, which my mother (still baking in her 90s) used to make. Haven't had it for years.....

    Fruit cake: the traditional Christmas and wedding cake tends to be a dark fruit cake; our family has always preferred a Dundee cake, which is lighter (and one of the few cakes my old oven would cook). As we are not great icing lovers, it is usually topped with nuts, even for the festive season.

    I understand a pound cake to be a cake made with two or three eggs and their weight in butter, sugar and flour, made by the creaming method; this, to me, is an ordinary sponge cake! I don't quite know what the difference is.

    Mr Kipling, his advertisers tell us, bakes "exceedingly good cakes" (and some of them are, indeed, delicious); I think I would refer to them as cakes, or as whatever they are called on the packet...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops, should have specified BrE, elderly, London/South East!

      Delete
    2. It's good to see you again, Mrs Redboots. As usual, I (similar demographic, south west England) agree with you.
      I consulted Google for their definition of Victoria sponge, and found an inset on 'Queque' which defined a sponge cake as made from eggwhites, flour and sugar. However the BBC Good Food recipe for Victoria Sponge uses 4 whole eggs, 200g each of caster sugar, butter, and self-raising flour, along with some baking powder! So it jolly well ought to rise. I may try it myself.
      I made a very rich Christmas cake this year, using a recipe from Bettys teashops - the marzipan and fondant icing almost seem less 'rich' than the cake. It's possible I may be the only one to eat it, as younger members of the family don't like it.
      For my parents' birthdays this autumn I made a Dundee cake for each of them - there is just enough space to fit 90 almonds on the top of an 8-inch cake. Yummy!

      Delete
    3. The distinctive feature of pound cake is that it has a very dense texture with almost no air in it. It's very rich, and I've never seen it flavored, iced, or frosted; I think of it as a specific type, rather than a category. (AmE, middle-aged, Colorado)

      Delete
  17. This has made some sense of a comment from a co-worker (I'm British, living/working in the US) who told me he "doesn't eat cake," and yet I've seen him eat pastries and doughnuts! I'm still confused why he makes a dietary distinction between one type of sweet, carby, bad-for-you food an another, but at least I understand what is going on lignuistically now

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Because they don't really taste similar at all? Donuts and pastries both get significant flavor from browning/maillard reaction which most AmE cake doesn't really have. I mean, I'd eat cake if it was put in front of me, but I find it pretty bland generally speaking and would definitely prefer something like a donut or pastry.

      Delete
    2. Agreed about the taste differences. But there are also texture differences to consider. I don't care for most (AmE) cakes because of the taste and because the texture(s) leave me with an uncomfortable feeling in my mouth and throat.

      That said, pastry donuts – which I love – don't love me back; cake donuts – which are only slightly better than (AmE) cake as far as my mouth and throat are concerned – settle just fine in my tummy. So, whenever there are free doughnuts at the office, I have to make a choice: happy mouth/unhappy tummy, less-than-happy mouth/not-unhappy tummy, or facing intrusive questions/insensitive comments [I used to struggle with trying to gain weight; middle age has cured me of the issue!] about my abstention.

      Delete
  18. Is cake tin really so uncommonly used in the US? That's the default way of calling it in my family at least, so that surprised me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had to go read the original post to see what any sort of tin would have to do with cake, that is, to see what a cake tin might be. I was picturing something you store a cake in. A cooking/baking pan would definitely not be a tin, I would say. (Life long American with no British ancestry.)

      Delete
  19. Lynnequist, you have nailed it! Clearly you did a lot of fieldwork to research the variety of cakes offered in English shops and cafes (you might find the Scottish shops have an equally good selection; don't miss the strawberry tarts in the summer).
    I do agree about the napkin placed UNDER the cake - presumably to prevent it from falling off the plate - a small paper doily would surely be cheaper than a paper napkin, and would allow the customer to have a clean napkin.
    Another feature of cake shops that I remember from the (ahem!) 1960s; bakeries where cream cakes (pastries with whipped cream filling) were sold along with bread and other baked goods often had an area with tables where one could have afternoon tea/coffee - but if you ordered cream cakes you had to be very careful to specify 'fresh cream' or a rather nasty imitation cream version would be provided. In those days, doilies were used of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes - "shaving cream" we used to call that nasty artificial cream, back in the day. To this day if I buy a cream [BrE]doughnut/donut[AmE] in the supermarket (which I very rarely do, but it has been known!) I worry lest it turn out to be "shaving cream"!

      Delete
    2. Mind you, I knew someone at university who had a medical problem which meant real cream made him ill. I was once in a restaurant with him and he asked if a particular dessert was served with real cream.

      "Of course," came the reply.

      "In that case, I can't have it."

      Delete
    3. Your throwaway comment about strawberry tarts (mmm) brings up another good point about the word "cake" -- In the UK, the broader category of "cake" includes a variety of small pies, tartlets, etc. that Americans would never imagine including as cakes. Those strawberry tarts, for instance, and mince pies.

      Delete
    4. From the post: "For the English, cake can be an umbrella term for sweet baked goods eaten in the situations where one usually eats cakes in the narrower sense." See the section on 'cake(s) as sweet baked goods"

      Delete
  20. As far as cake expressions go, don't forget cakewalk.

    Also: I believe the official name of Hostess in the US is Hostess Cakes. At least the company website reads hostesscakes.com.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually looking at the website hostesscakes.com shows it to be Hostess and Hostess Brands as the brand and company names, no cakes, despite it's presence in the URL. Could be hostess.com was already taken. (It's definitely in use by another company in the present.)

      Delete
  21. For expressions using 'cake', I love the Wodehousian 'making a cake of yourself' (fool of yourself). I try to bring it into conversation as often as possible 😂

    ReplyDelete
  22. Another difference, which I'm sure has been mentioned before, is that on this side of the Atlantic (UK) we measure ingredients by weight, whereas in the US you measure by volume. We have scales, indeed, people have quite strong preference which sort they prefer, scales with weights, a single bowl mounted above a spring, or an electronic one. In the US, I think you measure everything in cups and many kitchens won't even contain a set of scales. Although I've picked up that they come in standard sizes, that does seem a bit rough and ready to us.

    It also means that recipes are difficult to convert. For one thing, the weight of a specific volume of an ingredient varies from one ingredient to another.

    We do have little measuring spoons here. They usually come as a set of four on a chain, 2.5 mll, 5 mll, 10 mll and 15 mll, referred to as half a teaspoon, a teaspoon, a dessert spoon and a tablespoon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most serious bakers in the US, and maybe even serious cooks, will have a scale in their kitchen. The inaccuracies of volume-based measurement are known to a lot of American cooks, as are the solutions. Partly because of the international reach of the internet, I increasingly see US cooking websites citing measurements with both volume and weight based units (though I'm never sure if they just did an automatic conversion or actually tested the weight version).

      Our measuring spoons follow the same conventions as yours.

      Delete
    2. I agree, Paul; I've noticed that weight measurements and scales have become much more common in the US over the last 20 years or so. I suspect it's because today's electronic models take up so little space and are so much easier to use than analog ones were -- and can be had for only $20 or so. To the question of automatic conversion, King Arthur Baking has a great chart, although of course it's designed for King Arthur products. I've used it to convert older volume-based recipes, with some adjustment if I'm using other brands of flour and such.

      Delete
    3. Our measuring spoons are quarter teaspoon, half teaspoon, teaspoon and tablespoon. No dessert spoon. I believe a teaspoon is still 5 ml, though. A tablespoon is 3 teaspoons.

      Delete
  23. There's also the use of 'fruitcake' in the UK to denote a crazy person...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was just going to post that! But instinctively I would write that as one word, whereas I would write the actual cake as two separate words...

      Delete
    2. 'Fruitcake' to mean a crazy person may be used in Britain, but that's a borrowing from AmE, shortened from the phrase 'nutty as a fruitcake'. It probably passed into BrE during WWII, as it was noted as soldier's slang (OED). You can read about it more at Green's Dictionary of Slang, which has its first AmE citatoin in 1911 (the 'nutty as... phrase goes back to 1890s at least) and its first BrE citation in the 1980s. https://greensdictofslang.com/entry/ihh2ppa

      Delete
    3. *citation!

      The AmE source presumably helps explain why it's one word.

      Delete

  24. Happy New Year, Lynne, from Newark, New Jersey !

    I live in the Portugese/Brazilian neighborhood, and they have two varieties of 'fruitcake'. First in 'bolo rei' - 'king cake' - a big circle made from 'Danish pastry' dough, and lots of big pieces of candied fruits, including whole oranges and pineapple slices.\

    The other has small pieces of candied fruit - no nuts - in a loaf cake made of rich 'yellow cake' batter (cf the cake mix box pictured.)

    This is known as 'bolo inglese' - 'English cake'
    (Apologies if I messed up the Portugese spelling.)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Maybe this is a dumb question, but what is fruit cake? Is it the same product in both countries? My recollection of the few times I encountered it in my life in America (which goes to show how unpopular it is) is that it was diced/minced fruit jammed together into a loaf without any bread/dough. However, when I pull up pictures on google image search, it shows what I would call "fruit bread," i.e., brown quick bread with pieces of fruit suspended in it. My German-heritage family also had "stollen," which is white quick bread with fruit suspended in it, but I would never think to call that "fruit cake."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's one recipe:

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/grannys_cake_88424

      Couldn't get stollen this past Christmas. Must be because of Brexit.

      Delete
    2. Incidentally, I don't think I've come across the term "quick bread" before. I'd never think of bread as a type of cake.

      Delete
    3. I find it rather odd, too, because the stollens I've encountered have all been pretty obviously yeast-based -- reflected in both UK and US recipes. And, as Lynne notes, the American "quick breads" is typically defined as made without yeast, i.e. leavened with some combination of baking powder and baking soda. (Linda Civitello's Baking Powder Wars provides an entertaining history of the rise (ahem) of quick quick breads in the US, which were seen as miraculous in the days before commercially standardized yeasts became available.)

      But, getting back to fruitcake: "jammed together into a loaf without any bread/dough" does kinda describe a few fruitcakes I've encountered, typically made from cheap, poor-quality ingredients -- usually the nastiest of glaceed fruit and stale nuts, without proper soaking and aging. I don't think there's such a thing as a good, cheap fruitcake: good nuts, alcohol, and glaceed fruit are expensive, plus soaking and aging take time and space. But a few excellent fruitcakes are available in the US by mail order: The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky makes marvelous bourbon fruitcake, and the Texas company Collin Street Bakery makes a slightly less-expensive that, in good Texas Baptist tradition, has no alcohol (but manages to be pretty good anyway).

      Delete
  26. Although I enjoyed the 2019 novel "Ducks, Newburyport" by Lucy Ellmann (who was born in the US, but has lived in the UK since she was a teen), I was constantly distracted by certain little linguistic and cultural oddities. The narrator, who is from Massachusetts and lives in Ohio, uses some jarring Briticisms which Ellmann's American editor really should have caught. Plus, she makes pies and cakes for restaurants, and her specialty, constantly discussed, is a lemon drizzle cake: ok, fine, it's set in 2017 and any American with a keen interest in food could have been exposed to "lemon drizzles" by celebrity chefs and the Great British Bake-Off. But it kept bugging me, because it's presented as something perfectly normal and local, which it is: as a *lemon glaze cake* or a *glazed pound cake*. If it were something more foreign it would be more believable for her to use the British name, but it just didn't ring true to me in the context, which was not that of an urban foodie trying to put on airs. (The lists of foods in the book even go a little overboard in trying to sound uber-Midwestern.) Plus, the book was first published in Britain, and I'm afraid British readers will simply assume that "lemon drizzle cake" is a standard menu item in Ohio.

    ReplyDelete
  27. It is more of a cake than a quick bread - butter, sugar, eggs, flour made into a cake mix by the creaming method (I usually substitute prune puree for the butter, as it makes for a moister, less fatty, cake) with dried fruit stirred into it. This is the recipe I usually use: https://mrsredbootsfood.blogspot.com/2014/05/dundee-cake.html

    ReplyDelete
  28. I have tried to reply several times, with singular lack of success (do let me know if it posts multiple times, and I can delete the surplus). Fruit cake is basic cake (not bread) with dried fruit in it. I use this recipe: https://mrsredbootsfood.blogspot.com/2014/05/dundee-cake.html

    ReplyDelete

The book!

View by topic

Twitter

Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)