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A brief history of cakes


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Zeynab
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« on: September 02, 2007, 06:26:17 pm »

 BismEm


(If you are in a hurry to explore the various cake recipes and wanna skip its history, scroll down to the end of this page and click the link)


The terms "cake" and "yummy" are synonymous and no one ever forgets that.  The 18th century French Queen, Marie Antionette, was the only spoilt brat who literally forgot the difference between cakes and bread Smiley  Just before the French revolution when the country was being ravaged by an onslaught of poverty and a handful of French aristocrats were rolling in their riches, a palace spokespeson told the Queen that the common subjects couldn't find bread to eat.  "If they don't have bread, why don't they eat cakes?"  was the staggering response.  I guess it's not right to love cakes that much ... Smiley

On a more serious note ..

The history of cake dates back to ancient times. The first cakes were very different from the ones we see today. They were more bread-like and sweetened with honey. Nuts and dried fruits were often added. According to the food historians, the ancient Egyptians were the first to show evidence of advanced baking skills.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the English word 'cake' back to the 13th century. It is a derivation of 'kaka', an old Scandanavian word.  These medieval European bakers often made fruitcakes and gingerbread which could last for many months.

The most primitive peoples in the world began making cakes shortly after they discovered flour. In medieval England, the cakes that were described in writings were not cakes in the conventional sense. They were described as flour-based sweet foods as opposed to the description of breads, which were just flour-based foods without sweetening.

The terms "bread" and "cake" are of Anglo Saxon origin.  Cakes were usually baked for special occasions because they were made with the finest and most expensive ingredients available to the cook. The wealthier you were, the more likely you might consume cake on a more frequent basis.

Food historians say that the precursors of modern cakes (round ones with icing) were first baked in Europe sometime in the mid-17th century. This is due to advancement in technology,  better ovens and variety of food molds.

The icing sugar also began being used on cakes around the mid 17th century.  The first icing was a boiled composition of the finest available sugar, egg whites and  flavorings. This icing was poured on the cake. The cake was then returned to the oven for a while. When removed the icing cooled quickly to form a hard, glossy [ice-like] covering. Many cakes made at this time still contained dried fruits (raisins, currants, citrons).  And yeast was used as a substitute for baking powder.

Baking powder began being used in cake batters as late as the mid-19th century.  Thus, it was not until then that cake as we know it today arrived on the scene, made with refined white flour and baking powder.  Butter cream frostings with different flavours also began replacing the old boiled sugar icings.

Today cakes are made with various kinds of refined flour, self-raising flour, shortening, sugar or sweeteners, eggs, milk, flavouring and baking powder.  In health food recipes, refined cooking oil is often used instead of shortening.  There are literally thousands of cake recipes today.  Even those that are many centuries old have still been retained.

In the modern times, baking utensils, ingredients and directions have been so perfected and simplified that even the amateur cook may easily become and expert baker.  To name just a few out the hundreds of different cakes baked presently:

Angel food cake
Apple cake
Black Forest cake
Butter cake
Carrot cake
Caramel Cake
Cheesecake
Chocolate cake
Chiffon cake
Coffee Cake
Cupcake
Date and walnut loaf
Devil's food cake
Fruit cake
German chocolate cake
Honey cake
Lemon cake
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Pound cake
Sponge cake
Vanilla cake


A short story of the Christmas cake



Christmas cake is an English tradition that began as plum porridge. People ate the porridge on Christmas Eve (day before Christmas) using it to line their stomachs after a day of fasting. Soon dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture, and eventually it turned into Christmas pudding.

In the 16th century, oatmeal porridge was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped hold the mixture together and came to be known as the boiled plum cake.

Richer families that had ovens began making fruit cakes with marzipan (an almond sugar paste) using seasonal dried fruit and spices.  This cake became known as "Christmas cake."

Christmas cakes are made in many different ways, but generally they are variations of classic fruitcakes. They can be light, dark, moist, dry, heavy, spongy etc. They are made  with frosting, glazing, a dusting of confectioner's sugar or plain.

All Christmas cakes are made in advance and have a long shelf life.  Many make them in November, keeping the cake upside down in an airtight container.  Here's an awkard joke linked with the Christmas cake.  In Japan it's was an expression to call women over the age of 25 "Christmas cake," meaning that they are out of season as the cake is after December 25th.

In the Philippines Christmas cake is a yellow pound cake with nuts, much like the traditional fruitcake.

In most Christmas cakes, alcohol is used like brandy, sherry or whisky.  Therefore, Muslims must be very careful about selecting such seasonal cakes from bakeries.  If we wish to eat the Christmas fruitcake, it would be best to bake it at home, making sure we use all Halal ingredients.  Except for the alcohol, all other ingredients used in Christmas cake are Halal. 


Old history of Wedding cake



The history of the wedding cake starts in a somewhat hilarious manner.  The wedding cake has been part of the marriage ceremony ever since medieval times. The Romans followed the tradition of having a wedding cake 1900 years ago.  Originally wedding cakes were made of wheat which was a symbol of fertility and prosperity. As a custom or ritual, the wedding cake would be thrown at the bride.  Among the Romans, the groom would eat part of it and break the rest over the bride's head.  This would be taken as a sign of good fortune, long and happy life, and many children.  Since that was a very male dominated society, history also tells us that breaking the cake or bread symbolized the breaking of the bride's virginal state and the dominance of the groom over her.  As the wedding cake evolved into the larger, modern version, it became physically impractical to properly break the cake over the bride's head. Not to mention that it was a stupid tradition to begin with.  The tradition disappeared fairly quickly, though there were still reports in Scotland, as late as the 19th century, of breaking an oatcake over the bride's head. It was also reported that in Northern Scotland, friends of the bride would put a napkin over her head and then proceed to pour a basket of bread over her!

In Medieval England, the wedding cake was described as a bread which was a flour-based food without sweetening. The breads were included in many celebratory feasts of the day, not just at weddings.  There are, however, stories of a custom involving stacking small buns in a large pile in front of the newlyweds. Stacked as high as possible the idea was to to make it difficult for the newlyweds to kiss one another over the top. If the bride and groom were able to kiss over the tall stack, it was thought to symbolize a lifetime of prosperity. Eventually, the idea of stacking them neatly and frosting them together was adopted as a more convenient option.

Early cakes were simple single-tiered plum cakes, with some variations. There was also an unusual notion of sleeping with a piece of wedding cake underneath one's pillow which dates back as far as the 17th century and quite probably forms the basis for the tradition of giving cake as a gift. Legend has it that sleepers will dream of their future spouses if a piece of wedding cake is under their pillow. In the late 18th century this notion led to the curious tradition in which brides would pass tiny crumbs of wedding cake through their rings and then distribute them to guests who could, in turn, place them under their pillows. The custom was curtailed when brides began to get superstitious about taking their rings off after the ceremony.




Pound cake









Medieval bakers



Caramel pudding cake



Orange marmalade cake



Okay, now are you looking for a cake recipe site?   Simply check RECIPES 4 CAKE which contains scores of cake recipes .. literally.  You just have to browse and pick the one you want .. just check the ingredients carefully to make sure it's Halal. 
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Heba E. Husseyn
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2007, 03:05:06 am »

Actually I was really keen to find a certain cake recipe fast, and I thought I'll go thru the cake history later.  But your input is so fantastic, that one paragraph at a time, I read the whole of it before coming to the end to click on the cakes' site for recipes.  And that site is so vast, I'm still looking for the one I need.  I'm sure it's there but I have to search more.  I'm looking for the recipe of caramel cake, the one with soft sticky caramelly icing that simply drips over the cake and doesn't harden.  I was told it's an old English aristocratic recipe and they prefer to keep it secret Smiley  If I don't find it in this site, then I think this rumour is true.  They do really wanna keep it secret.  Let's see if I can get it. 

Thanks for this great and very professional work, dear sister!
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« Reply #2 on: September 04, 2007, 03:25:53 am »

yeah, I'm also intrigued by this soft caramel frosting.  It's most suitable on a plain yellow pound cake.  I haven't yet tried it but have checked several recipes of this frosting.  You can take a look at the following:

Caramel icing from Astray Recipes

Several caramel frosting recipes from Cooks.com
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« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2007, 02:48:43 pm »

Hummm, went thru these sites.  Never knew there were so many ways of preparing caramel toppings.  But u know, these seem to be like opaque icings on the harder side.  Almost all of these recipes use both sugar or brown sugar plus icing sugar.  The icing sugar would neither keep it soft nor transparent. I'm looking more for a honey-like look and consistency.
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« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2007, 03:24:00 pm »

OK .. got ya point.  Apparently u r looking for a plain regualar caramel to be poured and spread over the cake.  The method of making the plain traditional caramel is by melting just sugar (nothing added) in a saucepan.  Keep stirring and cooking till it turns brown.  It always does.  You don't necessarily have to use brown sugar.  However, this kinda caramel cannot be used to spread on cakes or pastries.  It hardens too quickly.  Caramel with this method of preparation can ony be used for making the traditional caramel custard dessert which I've made very often.  Though I've never made the kind of caramel topping for cakes as you suggested, I would figure out it can be acquired as follows.

In all the recipes in the links I gave, they use milk and icing sugar which as you correctly said will turn the icing hard and opaque.  And that's why they termed it as 'frosting' in almost all those recipes.

I would advise that you omit both these ingredients.  First prepare a somewhat thick syrup with plain sugar and water.  You can take the measurements for sugar and water from anyone of those recipes.  The standard measurement is about 1 cup full sugar and one-quarter of less cup of water.  Let the syrup boil for a while on low heat and add a couple of teaspoons of cooking oil.  I prefer this to butter or margarine.   In the meantime prepare a little caramel without water as described above, by melting about 2 teaspoons of sugar in a small saucepan till it browns.  When done, add just a teaspoon of it to the syrup.  The purpose of this is to give a brown color to the preparation.  Keep stirring and cooking the syrup and caramel mixture till it turns smooth, of a suitable consistency to be poured or spread over the cake.  But you'll have to allow it to cool and after cooling it turns thicker and stickier.  So make sure that when you remove it from the cooker, it's still quite fluid. 

This is the only way you can get the brown color in this kind of icing, and it should look transparent.  I admit, it might not be too easy.  Caramel is a tricky food decoration.

Just sugar and water syrup seldom turns brown if left like that.  E.g. I've often made syrup while preparing apricot stew.  My remember, my father loved apricot stew made with dried apricots, and indeed it's delicious.  So, I would first prepare the syrup.  When it came to a bubbling boil, I would add the dried apricots.  The brown color of dried apricots would turn the syrup brown too.  Similarly, I've also made syrup while preparing 'gulab jamuns.'  In this, almost all of the syrup get soaked into the gulab jamuns.  So one doesn't have to bother about color. 
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