The Evolution of the Celebration Cake

Cake, Glorious Cake!

Part 1 of 2

Anniversary Cakes date back to time immemorial. The ancient Egyptians were the first to show evidence of advanced baking skills, while the ancient Greeks made round or moon shaped honey cakes or bread and took it to the temple of Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon.
A later tradition of cakes started in Germany in the middle Ages. Sweetened bread dough made in the shape of baby Jesus, in swaddling cloth, was used to commemorate his birthday, later evolving into the Christmas cake. This special creation later re-emerged in Germany as a Kinder Fest or birthday celebration for a young child. Germans also baked another special kind of cake, baked in layers, called Geburtstagtorten. This was sweeter than the coarse and bread like cake that was usually made at that time.

In medieval times people in England would place symbolic objects like coins, rings and thimbles in the batter of the cake.

It was believed that those who found the coin would be wealthy, while the unlucky finder of the thimble would never marry. If the cake fell while baking it was considered to be a bad omen and signified bad luck for the person in the coming year.

Around the middle of 17th century, Europeans made considerable advancements in the art of making cakes. They began to make the precursor to the modern cakes of today. This was mainly due to the development of technology that made ovens more reliable, a wide range of diverse and complex food moulds and refined sugar to make icing. Round cake hoops were developed of wood or metal to shape and mould the cakes. The first icing used on cakes was made from a boiled concoction of the finest available sugar, egg whites and flavouring. In those days icing was poured on the cake, which was then put back into the oven for a while. When the cake was taken out, the icing cooled quickly to form a hard glossy ice-like covering.

Moulded cakes and fancy icings reached their zenith in Victorian times. The art of baking cakes continued to develop and improve but it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the cake we know of today developed. The taste and appearance of the cake was enhanced with extra-refined white flour and the use of baking powder instead of yeast.

Images from Womans Realm Supplement of the late fifties

Part Two

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