The origin of…Cake

“A party without cake is just a meeting.” Julia Child

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A long time ago, cakes were very different from what we now know as cake. The Egyptians made dessert breads sweetened with honey. For a long time, there was no clear distinction between cake and bread. The early “cakes” were flat and dense but were served as sweet treats. The Roman poet Ovid mentions having a cake on his and his brother´s birthday in the book Tristia (“The same day of the year saw both our birthdays: one day celebrated with both our offering of cakes.” Book TIV.X:1-40). Romans probably added yeast as a leavener to make the sweet bread lighter and softer which made it more like cake than bread.
The first cakes as precursors of how we know cake now, were baked in Europe in the middle of the 17th century. This is when refined sugar became more available and thanks to the advance in technology more reliable ovens were made. Also molds (cake hoops) were introduced for the shaping of the cake. By the middle of the 18th century beaten eggs instead of yeast were used as a raising instrument.  The invention of baking powder in 1843 by Alfred Bird made baking an airy cake much easier and quicker.

In Asia there are various types of cakes made of rice, such as nian gao in China, tteok in Korea, mochi in Japan and kue lapis in Indonesia, all of which are made of glutinous rice.
The link between cake and bread can still be found in the various languages. For example, in Mexico a torta is a kind of sandwich, while in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and some other Latin-American countries it is a big cake. And think of the English gingerbread  and bananabread.
Also in Italy, where you have panetone, pandoro and panforte that are different types of cake in which you can see the word pane, or bread in Italian. Back in the Middle Ages, white bread was for the rich while the common people only had enough money for dark bread. Sweet breads were known as royal bread or golden bread and were eaten by nobility (the latter is the meaning of pandoro).

Cake:
1. a sweet baked food made from a mixture of flour, sugar, and other ingredients (such as eggs and butter)
2. a mixture of food that has been shaped into a ball or a flat round shape and baked or fried
3. something that is shaped like a rectangular block (source: Merriam Webster)

The English word cake comes from 13th century old Norse kaka, meaning cake, from Proto-Germanic *kakǭ (cake) from Protoindoeuropean *gog (ball-shaped object).
The Dutch taart and Italian torta come from Old French torte or tarte, from Latin tortus, meaning twisted/folded over ( cakes were turned over once while cooking).
The Spanish pastel comes from Latin pastellus, diminutive of pasta, meaning paste.

Cake in other languages:
Dutch: taart
Spanish: el pastel
Italian: la torta

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1 reply »

  1. Now cake is used in many other descriptions like cake face. That’s when women or men lol put too many layers of make up on with many colors. Like a cake.

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