The obvious answer to the question What is the difference between yellow cake and white cake? is right there in the colors. But what accounts for the yellow tinge (or lack thereof), and how much are these two classic cakes alike?
Vanilla Cake: White or Yellow?
Remember when vanilla was so…vanilla? As much as we love a rich, dense, fudgy chocolate cake, sometimes we all crave something lighter. And vanilla is not basic (at least not in a bad way). It’s subtle, but nuanced (especially when you get into different types of vanilla extract). It’s versatile. And it takes two main forms when it comes to cake: white and yellow. So what really is the difference between the two?
The Eggs Have It
It’s mostly in the wet ingredients, namely: eggs. Those shelled ovals make almost all the difference between white and yellow cakes. White cake uses only, or almost all, egg whites. Yellow cakes get their color and more custardy flavor from using whole eggs, including the yolks (sometimes extra).
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Let’s have it confirmed by Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of many revered baking cookbooks, including “The Cake Bible,” which won two James Beard Awards in Baking and Desserts, and Book of the Year, 1989. In that aptly named book, Rose mentions that the her White Velvet Cake is “identical to All Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake except that each 2 egg yolks are replaced by 1 1/2 whites.”
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Angel Food and Sponge Cake?
When it comes to the dry ingredients, white cake also tends to call for cake flour, which includes corn starch, while a classic yellow cake requires bleached all-purpose flour. And white cake usually has a thin, liquidy batter while yellow cake batter is thicker and plusher (thanks to the richer egg yolks).
Andie Mitchell, author of the “Eating in the Middle” cookbook, is one of many bakers to extol the virtues of both yellow and white cakes, with their subtle, and not-so-subtle distinctions. “The thing is, there’s such a gentle texture, a light and lovely subtlety between white and yellow cake. But once your tongue meets this kind of sweet cream distinction, you’ll never be able to forget,” she writes in “The Very Best White and Yellow Cakes” on andiemitchell.com. “Both are rounded and rich in a smooth, creamy way. They should be moist. Soft and tender. Scented like a vanilla bean whipped with butter,” Mitchell says.
Related Reading: How to Line Every Cake Pan with Parchment
Can You Use Yellow Cake and White Cake Interchangeably?
We’ve established that the flavors of both cakes are similar (vanilla), and that the difference is in both the color and texture. White cakes are more delicate, cloud-like, and spongy, often used as wedding cakes, Wallace says. Mitchell agrees. They both believe white cakes pair well with whipped white frosting, versus a heavier, richer buttercream frosting.
Yellow cakes are more prevalent in all other uses, as they’re moister, denser, and sturdier, bakers say. These sunny cakes hold up well with chocolate frosting or other, louder flavors, but also stand alone deliciously with just their vanilla flavor. But there’s no reason you can’t experiment as you please.
If using boxed cake mix, according to Leaf.tv, you can add 3 whole eggs and 1/3 cup of vegetable oil to boxed white cake mix to make it yellow. (Add 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and you have a chocolate cake, but we digress.)
Related Reading: 5 Ways to Make Boxed Cake Mix Taste Homemade
Yellow and White Cake Recipes
Try some of these sweet stunners for your next birthday or other celebration.
This is a bit of a labor-intensive, four-layer cake, but it’s really special. Reserve this recipe for a particularly momentous birthday, anniversary, or other special occasion. True to white-cake tradition, it uses egg whites for the batter and cake flour. And it’s ethereal. Get our White Cake with Lemon-Lime Curd Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting recipe.
These cupcakes are a hybrid of both yellow and white cake varieties, using cake flour like you do for white cakes, but two egg whites and two whole eggs, so there’s a little yellow, custardy quality in there too. You can top these babies with all manner of frostings, from a rich chocolate sour cream or ganache icing to tangy cream cheese frosting. It’s pictured with a salted caramel buttercream. Get our Vanilla Bean Cupcake recipe.
This single cake layer is quietly impressive, and not your average yellow cake either. In addition to three whole eggs and all-purpose flour (plus vanilla and butter in the batter), it includes buttermilk and honey, and doesn’t need anything but powdered sugar to shine. Get the Milk and Honey Cake recipe.
There’s no mistaking this snow white cake, but it’s great for all seasons, most holidays, and other celebrations. It requires eight egg whites for the batter, but regular all-purpose flour instead of cake flour. And it crams in so much coconutty goodness. Get our Christmas Coconut Cake recipe.
This cake does call for cake flour, but it ups the custard factor with whole eggs plus egg yolks. Then there are all those additions: chocolate chips, caramel sauce, and bananas, though you can match it up with any frosting and filling you like. Get our Moist Yellow Cake recipe.
You do need some specialized equipment for this recipe (a whipping siphon is essential), but as for ingredients, you only need a box of Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake mix. Through the magic of microwave technology, you’ll get an ultra-fluffy cake in just one minute. Consider it a cheffy mug cake of sorts. Get the Modernist Cuisine Microwave Yellow Cake recipe.
Strawberries, cake, and whipped cream, oh my. And that’s not all. There’s a mascarpone cheese and heavy cream filling too. Get our Whipped Cream Strawberry Cake recipe.
And heads-up—if you cut cake in wedges, you’re technically doing it wrong. So learn how to cut cake the right way. But first…
Related Video: How to Frost a Cake Like a Pro
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