What is the Difference Between White Cake and Yellow Cake?

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Not that I’ve run the statistics or anything, but I would hazard a guess that this question is one of the more frequently asked by home cooks and bakers, especially those who use boxed cake mixes. And while I love baking from scratch and don’t use them, I have often wondered this myself. What is the difference between white cake and yellow cake? I decided to find out.

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{White Cake}

Well, not to sound too obvious, but first there’s the color of the cake. White cake really is white, and yellow cake really does have a yellowish hue. But I’m pretty sure they were created then named for their appearance. So the question really becomes, what makes the white cake white and what makes the yellow cake yellow.

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{Yellow Cake}

And the answer is eggs. White cake has only egg whites while yellow cake contains whole eggs, and it’s the yolks that give the cake its yellow tint.

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Beyond that, other differences include:
* White cake is made with cake flour, whereas yellow cake uses all-purpose flour.
* White cake has a very light, almost sponge cake-like texture, whereas yellow cake has a moister and denser texture.
* White cake has a very thin, liquidy batter while yellow cake has a thicker batter.
* Yellow cake is more prevalent and tasted more familiar – most standard cakes are yellow cakes. Wedding cakes are frequently white cakes though.
And that’s pretty much it! The flavor between the two was quite similar, the differences were mainly color and texture.

You’re probably noticing that my white cupcakes browned on the top and don’t look too white. I don’t know why. They certainly weren’t overcooked, the texture was wonderful. It really bugged me, but then I frosted them and it didn’t matter anyway. At least that’s how I will choose to see it. :)

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Sources:
White Cupcakes — Can You Stay for Dinner?
Yellow Cupcakes — adapted from Simply Scratch
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting — The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila

Ingredients:
WHITE CUPCAKES:
1 cup cake flour
½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
5 tbs unsalted butter, softened but still cool

YELLOW CUPCAKES:
1-1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 whole eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup half and half
1 tsp real vanilla extract

FROSTING:
1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (1 1/2) sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs vanilla extract

Directions:
WHITE CUPCAKES:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cup standard size cupcake tin with paper liners. Spritz each with nonstick cooking spray.
Lightly whisk milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract in large glass measuring cup.
Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand electric mixer and add butter; beating at low speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no large clumps of flour.
Add 3/4 of the milk mixture to the crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 20 seconds longer at low speed.
Evenly distribute the batter in the cupcake tin. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cupcakes from the pan carefully and let them cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
Makes 12 standard cupcakes.

YELLOW CUPCAKES:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a standard 12 muffin pan with liners.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.
In a medium bowl use an electric mixer to blend together the stick of butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add one egg in at a time and blend well after each one.
Next add in half of the dry ingredients, blend. Then half of the half and half, blend. Then repeat with the rest of the dry ingredients and half and half, mix until incorporated.
Add in the vanilla extract and blend to combine.
Divide the batter among the twelve cupcake liners and bake in a preheated oven for 18-20 minutes. Once baked, remove and let cool completely before frosting.
Makes 12 standard cupcakes.

FROSTING:
Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and blend until combined. Add the powdered sugar in 1/4 cup increments until combined.
Add the salt and vanilla and continue beating until frosting is thick and smooth.
Spread or pipe onto the cupcakes.
This will make enough frosting for all 24 cupcakes.

8 Responses to What is the Difference Between White Cake and Yellow Cake?

  1. Dang, Julie, I wish I lived close enough to eat your cast offs. Those cupcakes look yummy.

  2. Linda Tatsapaugh

    Thank you for clarifying! I’ve been wondering about the difference for awhile.

  3. If a recipe calls for 4 large eggs, can you just use the 4 egg whites to make it a white cake? Or do I have to adjust anything else?

    • Texan New Yorker

      I haven’t tried that trick myself, but I’m thinking you may need 1 extra egg white to make the batter work. Cakes are basically ratios of flour to liquid to fat that depend on weight, and of course egg whites will be lighter than whole eggs. If you have a kitchen scale you can test this out by weighing the whole eggs then cracking enough egg whites into a bowl to match that same weight. If not then I would just use 5 egg whites instead of the 4 whole eggs as a rule of thumb. As you can see by the recipes I used, the white cupcakes called for 3 egg whites and the yellow cupcakes called for 2 whole eggs, and both batters made exactly the same amount of cupcakes.

      And as far as making it white cake with the one egg whites for eggs substitution, *technically* you use cake flour to make it a white cake, but if you used all-purpose plus the egg whites, I can’t imagine anyone would really notice. :)

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