layer cake —the home cook’s dessert showpiece—consists of two or more sponge or butter cake rounds with icing, jelly, or cream between the layers. After chemical leaveners, improved ovens, and tools became widely available around 1870, cooks began to create an astonishing array of layer cakes. See chemical leaveners. Sponge, pound, and butter cakes were used to form the layers, with flavors as varied as rosewater, vanilla, chocolate, spice, fruit, and carrot. See pound cake and sponge cake.
Recipes for mille-feuille, puff pastry with jelly or cream between the layers, were described in cookbooks in seventeenth-century France and eighteenth-century England, foreshadowing the layering of cakes. See pastry, puff. “Jelly cakes” first appeared in the 1830 edition of Eliza Leslie’s Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. The cake batter was initially baked on griddles like pancakes but later was spread in shallow jelly cake pans or made into thicker cakes that were baked and then cut horizontally after cooling. Jelly cakes became enormously popular; in 1891, 600 competitors entered the Illinois State Fair Jelly Cake competition. The winner caused a controversy by using Angel Food Cake for her layers. See angel food cake.