The word cake has a long history. It’s of Viking origin, a version of kaka, an Old Norse word, which dates it to the late 8th century. It refers to a confection of baked flour sweetened with honey or sugar, mixed with eggs and sometimes milk and fat. The resultant mixture has a porous texture thanks to it rising during the cooking process, but the line between cake, biscuit, and bun is a blurred one, although they all relate back to bread eventually.

The European Influence

Europe and countries that have felt its influence have always had cake playing a central role in diets, more specifically in places where English is the main language. There isn’t actually a word in any other language that means the same as the English one! Gateaux and tortes in Continental Europe contain higher amounts of butter, chocolate, and eggs, generally lean more towards pastry. Confectionary like baba and kulich from Central and Eastern Europe are also not exactly cake.

The Eastern Perspective

Although certain countries in Asia have adopted Western-styled cakes to a certain degree, like Japan’s kasutera, their version of this desert doesn’t have much in common with what we know it to be. Good examples of this are the moon and rice cakes native to the Philippines.

How Cake Has Changed Over Time

The remains of Ancient Swiss lake villages, inhabited between 5 000 and 500 BCE, revealed crude cakes made from roughly crushed grains which were then moistened, compacted, and cooked on hot stones. These are regarded as types of unleavened bread, and are precursors to the modern baked products we enjoy today. And, like other ancient elements of human history like gambling, for example, a lot has changed since then! The six-sided Mesopotamian dice dated to roughly 3 000 BCE don’t have much in common with the dice games that online casinos NZ and the rest of the world offers these days!

It turns out that the Ancient Egyptians weren’t just great mathematicians, architects, and masters of agriculture. They were also the first culture to evidence real baking skills, sweetening bread mixtures with honey. The Ancient Greeks enjoyed a kind of cheesecake, and we have the Ancient Romans to thank for fruitcakes. These recipes eventually made their way over to 14th century Britain, where Chaucer mentions huge cakes being made for noteworthy occasions. He describes one as being made with 13kgs of flour, butter, cream, currants, eggs, honey and various spices.

Cake hoops or pan moulds have been used in the baking process since at least the middle of the 17th century, and the results were usually consumed along with sweet wine or tea. Big banquets would have had elegantly decorated cakes forming part of the display, but these may not have been meant for eating back then By the middle of the 19th century, however, the French introduced a separate sweet course at the end of the meal, which would usually include gateaux.

The 19th century was a blessing to bakers, thanks in part to the raising agent bicarbonate of soda, created in the 1840s. This replaced yeast, providing additional leavening power and required less effort. The temperature controlled oven brings us up to today, since this technological breakthrough has made baking a breeze.

Anna Jones

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