Yes, it’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling, the days are getter shorter, and my birthday is on the horizon. Gone are the days when I’d look forward to birthdays with childish glee. As each year passes, a birthday signifies that another has slipped away like water. Don’t get me wrong – my life is good. I have cause to celebrate that every day. As each birthday comes, however, it just reminds me just how quickly time passes. Thinking about that reminds me of my mother-in-law. She quite aptly said, “joy you life”. She is right about that – even with her ethnic translation. It also reminds me of my diabetic father that never let a chance to eat some cake slip by him. In his memory (and to enjoy my life as my mother-in-law recommends), I am eating cake.
History of Cake
It is not clear who made the first cake, but whoever that person was, thank you from the bottom of my heart! It’s thought that the Egyptians were the first to serve cake, even though they were more bread-like in appearance and sweetened with honey. With the discovery of flour, it was game on. Most primitive peoples made flour-based sweet foods that they baked for special occasions. Because the ingredients used were expensive and hard to come by, the wealthiest people were more likely to consume these sweet treats.
Greeks, of course, can be credited for the discovery of many things in the world of baking. They invented using beer as a leavening agent, frying fritters in olive oil, and goat’s milk to make cheesecake. As far as cakes go, Greeks served cakes called “plakous” which were combinations of nuts and honey. They also had a cake called “satura” – a flat and heavy cake.
One of the most relevant steps towards today’s cake version came by the middle of the 18th century. Brilliant bakers decided to beat eggs and use them as a raising agent instead of yeast. With as much air as possible beaten into the eggs, they were mixed with all the other ingredients and then poured into simple hoop molds. These hoops are from where our modern-day cake pans originate.
Cakes took another leap forward during the Industrial Revolution where baking ingredients became much more affordable and readily available. The invention of baking soda and baking powder changed the face of cake making. During the Great Depression, the surplus of molasses and the need to provide food to millions of people resulted in the development of the cake mix. During the post-war boom, companies like General Mills marketed this idea further for convenience. We all know how well that went for them.
What about birthdays?
Rumor has it that the first birthday cake originated in Germany in the Middle Ages. During the 15th century, Germans would celebrate children’s birthdays with cake – a celebration called Kinderfest. The original ones served did not look like today’s birthday cake but rather a dense, bread-like product. The bakeries, seeing that children probably were not impressed by bread, introduced one-layer cakes for birthdays. (Up until then, cakes were only for weddings.) Voila! The birthday cake is born!
What about candles? You can’t have a cake without candles. Well, thank you, Greeks! Legend has it that the addition of candles on cakes started in Ancient Greece. Moon-shaped cakes made for the Goddess of the Moon, Artemis, were decorated with lit candles to honor her birth on the sixth day of every lunar month.
That brings us to today’s cake situation. The global cake market size projections are estimated to reach USD 55.78 billion by 2027. It is estimated that the world eats between 50 and 100 million cakes each day. (Perhaps Marie Antoinette could see the future when she offered to “let them eat cake”?) With literally thousands of cakes to choose from, I’m not surprised. This vast choice makes my cake consumption decision that much harder. What cake should I eat for my birthday?
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet? – Shakespeare
As Shakespeare aptly put it, it does not matter what is in the name – in this case of the cake – each cake is something sweet and delicious that we cannot help but love.
The word itself originates from an old Norse word meaning cake – kaka. All cakes are a sweeter food usually made from flour, sugar, eggs, a liquid, fat, and a leavening agent. Additional ingredients can change the flavor, and cakes, more often than not, are baked. Simple or elaborate, they are a central component of celebrations and special occasions.
According to historians, the oldest known cake in the world is Linzer Torte. Named after the city it came from, Linz, this Austrian cake features a lattice design on the top. Chocolate cake is the most favorite flavor for a cake in the world. Why? So many different types with so many possible levels of richness, of course. Chocolate cake can be a simple layered cake or a more decadent molten one. Other favorite flavors include vanilla or yellow cake, carrot cake, lemon cake, and red velvet.
What about design? Some of the other top choices include Pavlova, Napoléon, Sachertorte, Black Forest, Cheesecake, Honey Cake, Cassata, and Molten Chocolate Cake. Which to choose? Perhaps I should try each one and then decide? Or maybe, I will make a new favorite.
Finishing with Some Interesting Fun Facts
Do you know that Scotland is known as the land of cakes? How about that Vienna has been the cake capital of the world since the days of Lenin? Perhaps, Germany commonly begins their meal with a fruit tart or pastry (maybe we should adopt this custom here in Canada)? How about which country bakes the most cakes? If you are wondering, France comes first, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom.
Do you know some of the most famous cake makers? The top three are Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes), Gaston Lenôtre, and Buddy Valastro (The Cake Boss). Duff Goldman is the richest.
Do you realize how much people are willing to pay for cakes? The most expensive cake ever sold cost USD 75 million. Commissioned to celebrate a birthday and engagement in the United Arab Emirates, the design included over 4,000 diamonds. Coming in second place was a cake created in Chester, England that sold for USD 52.7 million. Over 4,000 diamonds were once again used to decorate this eight-tiered cake for the National Gay Wedding Show. Third place goes to a pirate ten-layer cake decorated with treasure chests full of gems and jewelry for a meager USD 35 million.
Last fun fact – my birthday cake will probably run in the neighborhood at USD 15. I’ve got a ways to go before I make it to the top ten list. Happy birthday to me regardless!