Cakes come in many shapes and sizes; cake has been around for a very long time.
The history of cake is a history full of progress through the ages. Today, cake is one of the most popular choices for dessert in many countries, but it hasn’t always been what it is today. In its earliest form, cake was a sweetened form of bread.
Ancient people often shaped it round for religious reasons, to symbolize the cyclical nature of life. The round shape was also used to symbolize the sun and the moon. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans are the most famous cultures to have developed cakes. The Greeks created cheesecake and the Greeks and Romans both ate fruitcakes. Medieval Europeans were the first to use cake hoops to make cake. By the 18th century, bakers used well beaten eggs instead of yeast to provide rise and leaven the cake. At this time also, the French began eating dessert at the end of the evening meal.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that cakes became much easier to make. Baking soda and baking powder were invented and ovens began having more temperature-controlled heating. Cakes became even more popular and the ability to bake a delicious cake was a talent.
Since the discovery of flour, people everywhere eat cake. Every country has its own types of cakes. With the creation of baking soda, baking powder, and even pre-made cake mixes, baking a tasty cake is within everyone’s reach.
The term “cake” has a long history. The word itself is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse word “kaka”.
Although clear examples of the difference between cake and bread are easy to find, the precise classification has always been elusive. For example, banana bread may be properly considered either a quick bread or a cake.
The Greeks invented beer as a leavener, frying fritters in olive oil, and cheesecakes using goat’s milk. In ancient Rome, basic bread dough was sometimes enriched with butter, eggs, and honey, which produced a sweet and cake-like baked good. Latin poet Ovid refers to the birthday of him and his brother with party and cake in his first book of exile, Tristia.
Early cakes in England were also essentially bread: the most obvious differences between a “cake” and “bread” were the round, flat shape of the cakes, and the cooking method, which turned cakes over once while cooking, while bread was left upright throughout the baking process.
Sponge cakes, leavened with beaten eggs, originated during the Renaissance, possibly in Spain
The history of the nuptial pastry, though, is even stranger than these modern rituals suggests. In ancient Rome, marriages were sealed when the groom smashed a barley cake over the bride’s head. (Luckily, tiaras were not fashionable then.) In medieval England, newlyweds smooched over a pile of buns, supposedly ensuring a prosperous future. Unmarried guests sometimes took home a little piece of cake to tuck under their pillow.
Perhaps this was preferable to eating it. One early British recipe for “Bride’s Pye” mixed cockscombs, lamb testicles, sweetbreads, oysters and (mercifully) plenty of spices. Another version called for boiled calf’s feet.
By the mid sixteenth century, though, sugar was becoming plentiful in England. The more refined the sugar, the whiter it was. Pure white icing soon became a wedding cake staple. Not only did the colour allude to the bride’s virginity, as Carol Wilson points out in her Gastronomic article “Wedding Cake: A Slice of History,” but the whiteness was “a status symbol, a display of the family’s wealth.”
Later, tiered cakes, with their cement-like supports of decorative dried icing, also advertised affluence. Formal wedding cakes became bigger and more elaborate through the Victorian age. In 1947, when Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) wed Prince Philip, the cake weighed 500 pounds.