The SPOT.ph Guide to Cake

opera cake wildflour, strawberry cake m bakery, cake guide in metro manila
PHOTO BY m bakery, facebook / wildflour restaurant

(SPOT.ph) From birthdays and weddings to Christmas and Valentine’s Day, no Filipino celebration is complete without cake as centerpiece. Whether it's a simple rectangular chiffon cake or a triple-tiered number with lots of buttercream and fondant, it’s sure to add to the festivities. And with so many kinds of cakes to choose from, everyone—even the most adamant sweets hater—is bound to like something out there.

But what exactly is cake? If we go by dictionary definition, a cake is any sweet food made with a mixture of flour, eggs, a type of fat like oil or butter, and sugar. This basic combination can be enhanced with your choice of flavorings and mixins like fruits, vanilla extract, chocolate, and coffee. 

Although cakes are generally agreed to contain a type of fat in them, some kinds of cakes actually contain little to no fat. Called unshortened cakes (as opposed to shortened cakes, which do contain fat), these can range from angel food cake which has zero fat to sponge cakes whose only fat source comes from egg yolks. Cakes can also differ based on the type of frosting and filling.

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Also read: The SPOT.ph Guide to Must-Try Cakes in Manila

Here's what you need to know about cake and the best cake spots in Manila:

The Origins of Cake

Lots of food historians agree that Ancient Egyptians were the first to have a type of cake, although at that time, they were more similar to sweetened bread with honey, nuts, and dried fruits. Some also believe that Ancient Greeks were some of the first to make cakes, baking round or moon shaped cakes sweetened with honey to symbolize the moon as offerings to Artemis, the moon goddess. The Romans also have their own version of fruitcakes with dried fruit and nuts.

However, the word cake is of Viking origin, coming from the Norse word kaak (or now in modern Icelandic, kaka). Kaaks or kaka pretty much referred to any baked sweet that was round and kind of lumpy.

Mid-17th Century Europe meanwhile is credited as the birthplace of the modern cake, which is usually round and covered with icing. This is because of advances in technology like more reliable ovens, the creation of food molds, and availability of ingredients with refined sugar. The first icings were made by boiling fine sugar, egg whites, and flavorings. When this icing cooled, it formed a hard, glossy (ice-like!) glaze—hence, icing. These cakes were then topped with dried fruit like raisins. 

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While baking soda dates back to ancient civilizations, it was not until the mid-19th Century that Europe and the U.S. started using it (and baking powder) in regular cooking. Bakers during this time started to use baking powder in their cakes instead of yeast. Also, buttercream started replacing the traditional boiled icing. Thanks to these discoveries, plus advancements in oven technology which allowed bakers to be more precise with baking time and temperatures, bakers could start experimenting with different kinds of batters, resulting in the invention of the layer cake

Why do we blow candles on a cake for our birthday? This tradition dates back to an 18th Century German celebration called Kinderfeste. On the morning of a child’s birthday, they will receive a cake with lighted candles equal to the child’s age plus one—this extra candle was called the light of life, representing another full life lived. Just like in modern times, the birthday celebrant makes a wish before blowing the candles, and keeps the wish to themselves so it comes true.

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Know Your Slice: The Different Kinds of Cake

We’ve certainly come a long way from the flatbread-like cakes of ancient times. Now, you can customize your cake to your heart’s desire, from the base to the frosting, filling, and flavor. 

Cake Bases

First, the base. Cake bases can be categorized into three types. There are shortened cakes which have eggs, flour, milk, as well as high amounts of fat which can be butter (in which case it can be called a butter cake) or oil. An example of shortened cakes are pound cakes which are usually baked in a loaf form or bundt pan. They are white and dense with a tight grain and elastic crumb, thanks to the large amounts of butter and egg in them. 

pound cake
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There’s also the yellow cake, a popular type of vanilla-flavored cake (or cake base) that gets its distinctive golden hue from whole eggs and butter—which also makes this cake extra rich and dense. White cake is a variation of the yellow cake, except it only uses egg whites for its pure white color. Its distinct white hue makes it a favorite base for wedding cakes or funfetti cakes. 

On the darker end of the spectrum is the classic chocolate cake, which can be made with butter or oil as the fat and get its characteristic chocolate flavor from the addition of cocoa powder and/or melted chocolate. A specific subtype (and the more “evil” counterpart of the yellow cake) is the devil’s food cake. Traditionally the devil’s food cake uses unsweetened chocolate baking squares as well as piping hot coffee or boiling water for the cake’s distinct fudginess and dark mahogany, almost black color. 

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chocolate cake base
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Tangentially related to the Devil’s Food Cake is the red velvet cake—which is a cross between the former and another type of cake called a velvet cake, named for its soft and velvety crumb. Sometime in the early 20th Century, a recipe called the “Velvet Cocoa Cake” came about, which combined devil’s food cake and velvet cake, trading the traditional chocolate squares for unsweetened cocoa. Buttermilk was also added to the recipe as it drifted to the South of the United States, and as most cocoa powder during that time was raw and unprocessed, the acidic cocoa and the acidic buttermilk combined to create an even more velvety-soft cake with its distinct reddish-brown hue. Nowadays, though, cocoa powder uses roasted, processed beans so it’s almost impossible to get the red-velvet color naturally—most bakeries now use red food coloring.

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The opposite of the batter type or shortened cakes are the foam type or unshortened cakes which use little to no fat. Instead, these cakes depend on introducing as much air as possible into the cake, usually by whipping egg whites, to create height. Because of this, they are usually also lighter than shortened cakes.

A popular type of unshortened cake is the fluffy sponge cake. This cake uses whole eggs, but the whites are whipped to incorporate air, and make it soft and light. Because of its short ingredient list—usually just flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and sometimes baking powder—it’s a quick and easy cake base for snack cakes like jelly rolls or Swiss rolls. Its loose crumb also makes it the traditional cake base for tres leches, allowing your milk mixture to really soak into the cake. 

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An angel cake is a popular variant of sponge cake, but this time, only egg whites are used—whipped to incorporate air into the batter, and create a heavenly, cloudlike cake. It also has a pristine white interior and chewy, light-brown exterior. Because of its pure looks and vanilla-sweet flavor, it is said to be the type of cake angels would love—hence the name.

The third type of cake base is the chiffon cake, which combines elements of shortened and unshortened cakes. This kind of cake uses a kind of fat, usually vegetable oil, as well as whole eggs, but the egg whites are separated from the yolks and beaten before being incorporated into the batter to give this cake a fluffier texture like a sponge cake, but a rich flavor like a pound cake. 

Cake Frostings

Cake frostings have also come a long way from the boiled icing of early Europe. Nowadays, icings can be as thin and delicate or as thick and rich as you desire. 

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Buttercream frosting is one of the most popular types of icing, as it’s relatively simple to make and easy to spread. There are many variations of buttercream, but the most basic, American buttercream, only requires you to cream butter and confectioner’s sugar together. Swiss buttercream is slightly more complicated as it requires you to whip cooked egg whites and sugar into stiff peaks before slowly incorporating butter, then sugar and flavoring, resulting in a silky smooth, pure white buttercream perfect for piping. Italian meringue buttercream meanwhile is perhaps the least sweet of all buttercreams, but is lighter and airier thanks to meringue. It’s also the most stable buttercream, making it the perfect icing to make in warmer environments (like here in Manila!).

buttercream
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Cakes like carrot and red velvet can also be made with cream cheese frosting, which has a base of cream cheese (and often, butter for added richness) for tangy, creamy results.

Foam icing is a fluffier type of frosting, thanks to a meringue made out of whipped egg whites. A popular flavor of foam icing is marshmallow fluff because of its fluffy, cloud-like look. It can also be torched (like how you would marshmallows at a campfire) to give it color and a slightly toasty taste.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum is the fudge frosting, which is traditionally chocolate flavored. This frosting has a thick and heavy consistency that hardens to a sticky fudge when it cools on cake. A basic recipe for fudge icing involves mixing sugar, cocoa powder or chocolate bars, and vanilla in a bowl then adding melted butter. Milk is then whisked into the mixture until the desired consistency is achieved. 

Another kind of icing you would most likely encounter when ordering a chocolate cake is a ganache. This most basic form of this rich, chocolate-y, sauce-like frosting is made by simmering cream then pouring this hot cream over chopped chocolate until it’s melted and fully incorporated. Aside from frosting, ganache can be used as filling, too. 

ganache frosting
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For wedding cakes and other grandly decorated cakes, most bakeries use fondant icing. Fondant is usually rolled into thin sheets, then draped over a cake to create a smooth surface perfect for decorating. Fondant can also be sculpted to create figures like rolled flowers, shapes, and even animals and people. This icing usually only contains sugar and water, plus sometimes cream of tartar so understandably, some people find it bland, boring or too sugary. Luckily, you can usually simply scrape off fondant from a cake before eating it.

Do you remember the piped, candy-hard flowers on your childhood birthday cake? They are most likely made from royal icing. Royal icing hardens when it cools, making it a great icing for decorating cakes and even sugar cookies and gingerbread houses. This is thanks to meringue powder or egg white powder, which also gives this icing its distinct glossy look. 

Putting It Together: Some Popular Cake Categories

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While you pretty much make a cake with any cake base + frosting combination you desire, there are some that form fairly traditional kinds of cake. Take Chocolate cake for example—as the name implies, basic versions have layers of chocolate cake base and a chocolate fudge or ganache frosting. We’ve also already discussed the denser devil’s food cake and its distant cousin, the red velvet cake.

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A special kind of chocolate cake is the black forest cake, a cake of German origins that is actually popular locally thanks to versions from local bakeshops like Red Ribbon and Goldilocks. This cake immediately takes the spotlight whenever it’s on the table, with layers of chocolate sponge soaked in cherry syrup then topped with whipped cream, shaved chocolate, and cherries.

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Another popular cake is caramel cake. In the local food scene, two home bakeries have become synonymous with caramel cake: Estrel’s and Pasteleria Costa Brava. The version from Estrel’s has been around for over 70 years, and its light and fluffy sponge cake and velvety caramel icing comes with beautiful buttercream flowers and a delicate, lace pattern iced on the side of the cake. Costa Brava’s version looks simpler but is no less decadent, with a soft sponge cake and a delicately balanced, creamy caramel icing.

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Mocha is also a crowd-favorite category, especially for coffee and chocolate lovers. Homegrown bakery Indulge Patisserie makes a classic Mocha Cake (P1,200) with soft layers of mocha chiffon and smooth mocha buttercream.

Cakes with fresh fruit (not to be confused with the Christmas staple that is fruitcake), such as strawberry or mango shortcake, are also a popular choice. Amelia's Recipes makes a mean Strawberry Shortcake (P2,800) with layers of light chiffon and strawberry cream topped with fresh strawberries. This is only seasonal though so better get it when you find it on the menu. Mango is also a local favorite—Sainte Anne Cakes Manila is relatively new in the food scene, but they quickly took mango lovers’ hearts with their Mango Shortcake (starts at P1,850) with layers of sponge cake, light chantilly cream, and mangoes. It’s then topped with even more juicy ripe mangoes shaped to look like an intricate flower.

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strawberry shortcake
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Not a lot of people would choose to have a carrot cake but for some, this vegetable-based cake is surprisingly a favorite. Whether this is your favorite kind of cake or you’re open to giving it a shot, Wildflour’s version is a must try. This cake looks dense at first glance but it actually boasts of a moist, open crumb. The tangy cream-cheese frosting is silky smooth, and really delivers as the proverbial icing on the cake. 

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carrot cake
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Root crop or vegetable? Whichever it is, ube is a classic Pinoy flavor that has also made its way to cakes. Cara Mia’s popular version, the Ube Cake (P880) is pretty much what it says on the tin, if not better, with layers of ube chiffon, ube halaya filling, and airy ube-flavored whipped cream.

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cara mia
PHOTO BY Cara Mia

Some cakes are more quintessentially Filipino. Take the brazo de mercedes which is a light and fluffy roll cake made with a soft and fluffy meringue and a decadent egg yolk-based custard in the middle. Some bakeries make a frozen version of this cake for an icy, sweet treat—a pioneer of this is Dimpy’s. Their brazo de mercedes is rectangular rather than rolled with layers of vanilla ice cream, a cloud-like meringue, and a buttery crust. 

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brazo de mercedes in manila
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Another cake that a lot of Filipinos go nuts over is the sans rival. This dessert takes its name from the French dessert Gâteau le Sans Rival, and it’s surely a cake without rival with layers of chewy dacquoise or meringue with nuts (usually cashews), rich French buttercream, and even more nuts. A popular version of this cake is Chef Jill Sandique’s Pistachio Sansrival (P1,500)—and for good reason. This luscious cake stands out immediately with its earthy green hue thanks to pistachios, and has layers of airy meringue balanced out by a smooth and creamy butter frosting.

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sans rival
PHOTO BY Facebook/Mary Grace Cafe 

Note, too, that while most cakes are round or rectangular layered desserts, you'll sometimes also find versions that are rolled—i.e., swiss roll (also called jelly roll) cakes. They can also come as loaf cakes that make for fuss-free serving. And then of course you've got their smaller counterparts, cupcakes.

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Where to Get Cakes in Metro Manila

Now that you’re equipped with pretty much everything you need to know about cakes, the next question is: Where should you get a cake in the Metro? Luckily for you, the local food landscape is rich with excellent cake makers, from established franchises to home bakers.

Wildflour

salted chocolate cake wildflour
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Wildflour does almost everything excellently from rice bowls, sandwiches and Western brunch fare to freshly baked bread and pastries. Another thing they’re amazing at is their cakes. Let us introduce you to their divine Salted Chocolate Cake (P300/three-layer slice, P1,200/mini, P2,000/two-layer whole, P3,000/three-layer whole) which hits that right balance of salty and sweet, with a robust chocolate cake base and a rich and buttery caramel icing. 

See a list of Wildflour branches. For delivery orders, visit Wildflour To-Go's website. For more information, check out Wildflour Restaurant's Facebook page.

M Bakery

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This popular New York-born bakery has certainly established themselves as a staple of the sweet-toothed Filipino crowd since they first opened their local outpost in BGC in 2018. While popular for their Banana Pudding and cupcakes with the distinct swirl, they also have a superb line of cakes. Their Red Velvet Cake (starts at P2,000) features three layers of a light and airy chocolate cake with your choice between smooth vanilla icing or tart cream cheese frosting. 

M Bakery is at LG/F Unit #23, 5th Avenue corner 28th Street, One Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City and 2/F Power Plant Mall, Rockwell, Makati City. For more information, check out M Bakery PH's Facebook page.

Workshop 

Hazelnut Chocolate Cake from Workshop
PHOTO BY The Grid
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Starting as an outpost inside (the now closed) Le Petit Souffle in SM Megamall, Workshop now has its own space inside The Grid Food Market. If you want a real showstopper of a cake, the 17-Layer Chocolate Cake (P2,400/whole) is a must-order. Just as its name suggests, this tower of a cake features a whopping 17 layers of fudgy chocolate cake and Valrhona Araguani 72% dark chocolate ganache, and is topped with a dark chocolate mirror glaze. Surprisingly, the result isn’t too cloyingly sweet, but rather well-balanced with dark, complex notes. This is pretty much the cake for the most hardcore of chocoholics. 

Workshop is at Stall 20 The Grid Food Market, R2 Power Plant Mall, Rockwell, Makati City. For more information, check out Workshop PH's Facebook page.

Nono’s

nono's
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Nono’s isn’t just a go-to for hearty comfort food—it’s also a must-visit when it comes to excellent cakes. After all, this is also the brainchild of Chef Baba Ibazeta-Benedicto who is also behind local favorite dessert place Classic Confections. At Nono’s, you can still find Classic Confection’s signature Nono’s Chocolate Oblivion (P175/slice), a cult-favorite for a reason. With layers of flourless chocolate cake, whipped chocolate cream, and walnut praline, plus a surprise crust of chopped candied walnuts, it’s a delight for all the senses.

See a list of Nono's branches. For more information, log on to Nono’s Facebook page.

Mary Grace Cafe

mary grace
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A favorite of the Titas of Manila because of their homey interiors and excellent selection of baked goods and merienda fare, Mary Grace Cafe has also become top-of-mind when it comes to cakes, from decadent chocolate cakes to nutty sans rival. Their Strawberry Shortcake (starts at P278/slice) is a stunning number with layers of sponge cake, whipped cream, and juicy strawberries, all frosted in more whipped cream and topped with more strawberries. 

For orders, visit Mary Grace Café's website. For more information, check out Mary Grace Café's Facebook page.

Vizco’s

vizco's
PHOTO BY Facebook/Vizco's Restaurant and Cake Shop
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No trip to Baguio is complete without a visit to Vizco’s for their famous Strawberry Cake with strawberry sponge cake layered generously with whipped cream studded with fresh strawberries, and topped with even more glazed strawberries. So we were understandably delighted to find out that Vizco’s was opening two branches in Metro Manila last November 21, 2021. Today, Vizco’s has three branches in Metro Manila, so there’s no need to travel far for your strawberry shortcake fix. 

Vizco’s is at UGF SM Megamall Bldg A, Ortigas, Pasig City, UG/F The Annex, SM City North EDSA, Bago Bantay, Quezon City, and G/F SM City Grand Central, Rizal Avenue Extension, East Grace Park, Caloocan City.

Butternut Bakery

butternut bakery
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Relatively newer to the scene than the other bakeries on this list, Butternut Bakery was quick to establish themselves as a must-try spot for cakes that are a feast for the eyes and taste buds. Their Ube Chiffon with Ube Halaya Filling (P1,300) is a stunner, thanks to buttercream blooms piped on top of the cake. What’s inside is also a treat, with layers of ube chiffon and a rich and thick ube halaya filling.

For orders, visit Butternut Bakery’s website. For more information, check out Butternut Bakery Manila's Facebook page.

Also read:
For The New Baker: These Are Our Easiest Cake Recipes
Chocolate Mirror Cake Recipe

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