What's the Difference Between Snack Cake and Snacking Cake? (Please, Tell Us)

Aren't all cakes technically snacks? We investigate.

Photo: Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Over the years, we've developed hundreds of cake recipes — honey cakes, German chocolate cakes, cocoa and Coca-Cola-flavored bundt cake, cannabis-infused olive oil citrus cake — so we'd like to think we're pretty well-versed in the cake world. However, after reading Melissa Clark's New York Times article, "Three Snacking Cakes to Change Your Afternoon," we discovered that snacking cake and snack cake are apparently different styles of cake, and we had no idea what the difference was. A heated debate ensued: Are they really the same thing? Is it wrong — or worse, unjust — to lump snack cakes and snacking cakes into the same category? Naturally, we launched a full-fledged investigation.

The comments section of Melissa Clark's piece has some pretty strong opinions, though no real clarity is provided. One reader likened snack cake to "a more developed brownie," and describes it as "simple ingredients, one bowl mixing, cut into a square, and eat with a cold glass of milk." Another wrote, "the term 'snacking cakes' usually refers to a smaller, more informal cake. Usually baked in a single tin (e.g. a 9 x 9-inch square or an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan) and ideal for an afternoon tea or coffee."

And yet, someone else put snack cake in the same category as petit fours, Hostess cakes, and leftover cake. So they … kind of sound like the same thing? Though Google has a wide discrepancy in search results between the two — the number of search results for "snacking cake" is utterly dwarfed by the number of hits for "snack cake."

At this point, after many back-and-forths in Slack and general screams of frustration, we knew we had to pull out the big guns. So we reached out to our network of bakers and pastry chefs for their expert thoughts. They all had opinions ... though now we have more questions than when we began.

Rebecca Masson, Pastry Chef/Owner at Fluff Bake Bar

Her stance: "We can all agree any cake can be a snack. But not every cake is a snacking cake."

"Snacking cake vs. snack cake: We can all agree any cake can be a snack. But not every cake is a snacking cake. Like leftover birthday cake for breakfast is definitely a snack cake.

Snacking cakes are traditionally a sheet cake with little to no icing. A powdered sugar-based icing, not like a buttercream you might find on a cake. Lighter and [more] airy than a bar, brownie, or blondie. More cake-like. You can pick it up and eat it with your hands. Something like Texas sheet cake would be considered a snacking cake. Much simpler to bake and consume.

For me, it doesn't matter what kind of cake it is... as long as it's good cake."

Chris Wilkins, Founder of the Former Root Baking Co.

His stance: It depends on the time of day you baked the cake.

"To me, the main difference is when they're baked. A snack cake is typically baked in the morning and can be eaten later. Snacking cake is baked and eaten in the afternoon. A snacking cake is the mid-day bit of luxury that gets you through the day and makes you feel good — that's the whole point of the frosting. A snack cake is smaller, much like a financier or madeleine, but really, they're interchangeable because any little cake can be gussied up for an afternoon treat."

Bobbie Lloyd, Chief Baking Officer at Magnolia Bakery

Her stance: There's no difference!

Lloyd says she believes the terms are interchangeable — she recalls her mom making a chocolate snack cake with chocolate fudge icing in a 9 x 13-inch pan when she grew up, and they would snack on it during the week. The term comes from the ease of taking a small piece to snack on.

In short, we still don't know how to distinguish snack cake from snacking cake. And perhaps we never will. But at the very least, we can all agree that having cake for a snack is definitely a good idea.

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