A basic flour mixture serves as the foundation for sweet and rich cakes and what are known as little cakes, called cookies, and their savoury cousins being quick-breads and yeast breads. Basic ingredients for made-from-scratch cake recipes often include flour, sweetener (sugar), fat (butter, vegetable oil), liquid (milk), leavening agent (steam, beaten eggs, baking powder and/or baking soda), and flavourings (salt, vanilla extract). Cakes can also be purchased ready-made or baked with packaged mixes that come ready to be combined with water, eggs and vegetable oil.
Cakes lend themselves to limitless variations depending on the proportion of their ingredients, the way they are mixed, flavourings added to the basic ingredients, the shapes of the pans used in baking, and cooling and storing methods. Any number of fillings, frosting and final decorations can be chosen to make every cake unique and an artistic expression of its maker.
When chemical leavening (baking powder and baking soda), was discovered in Europe in the mid-19th century, it became possible to replace some of the egg in the pound cake with liquids like milk, giving rise to the present day American Butter Cake. The Chiffon Cake, a cross between the old-style European Sponge Cake (with beaten egg white) and the American Butter Cake (with the addition of chemical leavening) was the invention of an American aptly named Harry Baker, a Los Angeles insurance salesman.
HOW CAKES ARE MADE AND FROM WHAT….?
Cakes are made from various combinations of refined flour, some form of shortening, sweetening, eggs, milk, leavening agent, and flavouring. There are literally thousands of cakes recipes (some are bread-like and some rich and elaborate) and many are centuries old. Cake making is no longer a complicated procedure.
Baking utensils and directions have been so perfected and simplified that even the amateur cook May easily become and expert baker. There are five basic types of cake, depending on the substance used for leavening. 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.
Bread and cake were somewhat interchangeable words with the term “cake” being used for smaller breads. The earliest examples were found among the remains of Neolithic villages where archaeologists discovered simple cakes made from crushed grains, moistened, compacted and probably cooked on a hot stone. Today’s version of this early cake would be oatcakes, though now we think of them more as a biscuit or cookie.
Cakes were called “plakous” by the Greeks, from the word for “flat.” These cakes were usually combinations of nuts and honey. They also had a cake called “satura,” which was a flat heavy cake.
During the Roman period, the name for cake (derived from the Greek term) became “placenta.” They were also called “libum” by the Romans, and were primarily used as an offering to their gods. Placenta was more like a cheesecake, baked on a pastry base, or sometimes inside a pastry case. The terms “bread” and “cake” became interchangeable as years went by. The words themselves are of Anglo Saxon origin, and it’s probable that the term cake was used for the smaller breads. 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. By the middle of the 18th century, yeast had fallen into disuse as a raising agent for cakes in favor of beaten eggs. Once as much air as possible had been beaten in, the mixture would be poured into moulds, often very elaborate creations, but sometimes as simple as two tin hoops, set on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. It is from these cake hoops that our modern cake pans developed. Cakes were considered a symbol of wellbeing by early American cooks on the east coast, with each region of the country having their own favourites.
CAKES IN GERMANY:
German national Karl Fredrich Von Rumohr mentioned combinations of chocolate cake and sour fruit in his Essence of Cookery : “In many German towns, pastry and cake ‘factories’ have risen from the ruins of the art of true housekeeping. I have seen cakes emerging from these places with layers of tart fruit, chocolate, vanilla, almond paste, sour preserves and insipid sweetness.” (Barbara Yeomans translation [Prospect Books:London] 1993 (p. 131). He does not provide a recipe for these items. While the ingredients and general method of Black Forest Cake can be traced through hundreds of years, food historians generally agree this recipe belongs to the 20th century. We find no evidence of anything close to Black Forest Cake, as we know it today, in our small collection of 19th-20th century German-American cooking texts. The earliest recipes we find are dated 1960s.
“Black Forest Gateau. Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte in German, a baroque confection of layers of chocolate cake, interspersed with whipped cream and stoned, cooked, sweetened sour cherries. The cake layers are often sprinkled with kirsch, and the whole is covered with whipped cream and decorated with chocolate curls. This confection is not one which has a long history. It has been suggested that is was created in the 1930s in Berlin, but firm evidence is elusive. What is certain is that in the last decade of the 20th century it made a triumphant entry into the dessert course of restaurants in Britain (and no doubt elsewhere) and reigned for a time as top favourite’.”
—Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 80)
“Black Forest gateau. A chocolate cake Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, made in Bavaria during the summer. The fame of this rich gateau has risen since the early years’ of the 20th century.”
Larousse Gastronomique, Completely Revised and Updated, [Clarkson Potter:New York] 2001 (p. 120)
The main downside to baking a cake is the time it will take you – and if your skills are actually up to the standard you think they’re. Your guests could be just as impressed with a ready-made cake.
Many large shopping stores now offer a large range of budget cakes, that although do not offer the designs of the cakes so you see on television – could be better suited to your budget. An easy way of impressing family is a cake with an fondant photo on top – available in most stores. You take in a picture, and they print it on fondant or rice paper using food colors. This would be impossible to replicate at home.
With the availability of cheap cakes in stores – making a small cake is hardly worth the time. Features such as the fondant printing are unavailable at home, and if you want a luxury unique cake – the buying of the specialty tools, may mean it is still cheaper to use a dedicated cake store.