Treacle cake is a moist baked dessert made with treacle, a molasses-like syrup. It is most common in British cuisine, but can be made and enjoyed by cooks anywhere treacle is available. Most cake recipes call for black treacle, which is slightly bitter and very pungent. The resulting cake is usually dark and dense, and is often compared to spice cake or gingerbread.
There are two primary types of treacle: dark and light. Dark treacle, also called black treacle, is the most common in cakes and usually has the color and consistency of molasses. Many cooks use treacle and molasses interchangeably, though treacle usually has a slightly more pungent, almost licorice scent and flavor. Light treacle, or “golden syrup” as it is more commonly known, is much paler and does not usually work as well in cakes. It is sweet, but does not carry much in the way of a defined flavor.
In most treacle cake recipes, black treacle is the primary wet ingredient. Baking cakes and breads usually requires an even balance of wet to dry ingredients in order to create a batter. Treacle cake often is as simple as flour, sugar, butter, and a bit of water or milk. Cooks commonly add spices as well, particularly ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.
Many cooks will also add whole oats. Oats make the cake more hearty, as well as giving the batter a stiffer, more substantial texture. Most treacle cake is exceptionally moist, and drier ingredients like oats help it hold together.
Moistness and stickiness are two of the characteristic qualities of most treacle cake preparations. The confection is usually baked in a pan and is often cut into square pieces for serving. Treacle cake can be frosted, but is often served plain. It is delicious straight out of the oven, though many cooks have found that making treacle cake a few days in advance — that is, letting it sit for a time before serving — intensifies the flavors and improves the texture.
Treacle cake is sometimes confused with treacle tart or treacle pudding, which are wholly different dessert foods. A tart is often served as a sort of treacle pie, with a crust that is filled with custard made from golden syrup. Puddings, on the other hand, are often little more than sponge cakes drenched in golden syrup, then baked to attain a crystallized, sweet crust. All three are desserts, and all three use treacle as a primary ingredient. How they are made, taste, and look could not be more different, however.