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Cake History

Cake dates back to ancient times. The first cakes were very different from what we eat 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 culture to show evidence of advanced baking skills.  The precursors of modern cakes (round ones with icing) were first baked in Europe sometime in the mid-17th century. This is due primarily to advances in technology - - like reliable ovens, manufacturing food molds, and the availability of ingredients - - like refined sugar. 

The first icings were usually a boiled composition of the finest available sugar, egg whites and sometimes flavorings. This icing was poured on the cake. The cake was then returned to the oven. When removed the icing cooled quickly to form a hard, glossy, ice-like covering. Many cakes made at this time still contained dried fruits.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that cake as we know it today --made with extra refined white flour and baking powder instead of yeast-- arrived on the scene.

Why are cakes round?
Food historians offer several theories. Each depends upon period, culture and cuisine. Generally, the round cakes we know today descended from ancient bread. Ancient breads and cakes were made by hand. They were typically fashioned into round balls and baked on hearthstones or in low, shallow pans. These products naturally relaxed into rounded shapes. By the 17th century, cake hoops, made from from metal or wood, were placed on flat pans to effect the shape. As time progressed, baking pans in various shapes and sizes, became readily available to the general public. Fancy Iced moulded cakes  reached their peak in Victorian times.
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Symbolism of round cakes
Round shapes generally symbolize the cyclical nature of life. Most specifically, the sun and moon. In today's world, people traditionally serve cakes at holidays, birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions. The tradition of eating cake on ceremonial occasions has its basis in ancient ritual. Cakes, in the ancient world, had ties with the annual cycle, and people used them as offerings to the gods and spirits who exercised their powers at particular times of the year. 

The Birthday Cake

The Birthday Cake has been an integral part of the birthday celebrations in western European countries since the middle of the 19th century, which extended to Western Culture.  Certain rituals and traditions, such as singing of birthday songs, associated with birthday cakes are common to many Western cultures. The Western tradition of adding lit candles to the top of a birthday cake originates in 18th-century Germany. However, the intertwining of cakes and birthday celebrations stretch back to the Ancient Romans.

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In the 15th century, bakeries in Germany conceived the idea of marketing one-layer cakes for customers' birthdays as well as for only their weddings, and thus the modern birthday cake was born. During the 17th century, the birthday cake took on more or less its contemporary form. However, these elaborate cakes, which possessed many aspects of contemporary cakes -- multiple layers, icing, and decorations--were only available to the very wealthy.

The phrase "Happy Birthday" did not appear on birthday cakes until the song "Happy Birthday to You" was popularized in the early 1900s.

Wedding cake

A wedding cake is the traditional cake served at wedding receptions following dinner. In some parts of England, the wedding cake is served at a wedding breakfast, on the morning following the ceremony.  In modern Western culture, the cake is usually on display and served to guests at the reception. Traditionally, wedding cakes were made to bring good luck to all guests and the couple. Modernly however, they are more of a centerpiece to the wedding and are not always even served to the guests. Some cakes are built with only a single edible tier for the bride and groom to share.

The contemporary wedding cake has grown out of many traditions. One of the first traditions began in Ancient Rome where bread was broken over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple. 

During the mid-17th century to the beginning of the 19th century, the “bride's pie” was served at most weddings. Guests were expected to have a piece out of politeness, it was considered very rude and bad luck not to eat the bride’s pie.

In the 17th century, two cakes were made, one for the bride and one for the groom. The groom's cake eventually died out and the bride's cake turned into the main cake for the event.  In the early 19th century, when the bride’s cakes were becoming more popular, sugar was coincidentally becoming easier to obtain. The more refined and whiter sugars were still very expensive therefore only the wealthy families could afford to have a very pure white frosting,  this showed the wealth and the social status of the family.  When Queen Victoria used white icing on her cake it gained a new title, royal icing.

The modern wedding cake as we know it now originated at the wedding of  Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, in 1882; his wedding cake was the first to actually be completely edible.  Pillars between the cake tiers did not begin to appear until about 20 years later. The pillars were very poorly made from broomsticks covered in icing. The tiers represented prosperity and were a status symbol because only wealthy families could afford to include them in the cake. It was a groundbreaking innovation for wedding cakes at the time.

The cake was originally intended to be distributed among the guests by only the bride because consuming the cake would ensure fertility.   As weddings grew and the number of guests increased this task became a joint venture, the groom needed to help cut the growing cake and distribute it among their guests. Layers of cakes began to pile up and the icing would need to support the weight of the cake making is very difficult for one person to cut. The groom would assist the bride in this process. Once this tradition began the bride and groom would share a piece of cake before distributing it to the guests to symbolize their union and their promise to forever provide for each other.

 The wedding cake is also surrounded by superstitions.  In a traditional American wedding, maidens would be invited to pull ribbons that are attached to the bottom layer of the wedding cake. Out of all the ribbons, only one contains a charm or a ring, and whoever gets the charm will be the next person to marry. In other countries, the wedding cake is broken over the bride’s head to ensure fertility and bring good fortune to the couple.