Cakes are definitely one of the most sumptuous desserts ever invented by man. The term cake itself has a long history. In fact, it has a Viking origin from the Old Norse kaka. The said term describes cake in general particularly a mixture of several basic ingredients including flour, eggs, butter, milk, and fat. As years went by together with the changes of eating patterns and influences of different countries, cakes were developed into better and tastier desserts. Flavours were then started to be incorporated like chocolate, fruits like strawberries, and even cheese.
It is hard to determine which single country have started cake making but it is more likely to be traced to European countries because they have been the centre of cakes ever since. However, the western influence has not stopped cake making in the Asian part of the world. You may have noticed that China, Japan, and the Philippine Islands among others have their own versions of cake that are a lot different from the known fluffy and buttery ones in Europe and America. Asia, as you may know, is famous for moon cakes and rice cakes.
Though baking was not seen as evident in the remains of the ancient West, it is however discovered that the Egyptians were the ones who started the process of baking. Historians noted that the said culture had a specific, true skill in baking. On the other hand, the Greeks also had something to offer as they created their very own first version of cheesecakes while the Romans created fruitcakes with raisins, nuts, and other fruits. These early creations truly means that even at the earliest of time, people were already into desserts and sweets.
Now, if you are quite curious as to when did moulds started to be utilized, it was in the mid-17th century. Such moulds were used of course to form different shapes and heights of cakes. Improvements in cake making became highly noticeable when in the 19th century baking powder and bicarbonate of soda were used as raising agents. These two replaced the traditional yeast as a leavening agent making it even easier to bake cakes.
In the present times, there are now various methods in cake making. Also, with over literally thousands of varieties, there is just so much to choose from. With this abundance, almost any occasion and even at an ordinary day, cakes are eaten.
Celebration Cake Varieties
Knowing the different varieties of cake is a very broad discussion. Usually, people will try to distinguish cakes according to ingredients. At times, they would also tend to identify cakes according to occasions. Since there is a very wide scope of cake varieties, let us just discuss the four main divisions.
- Sponge Cakes- Tracing the genealogy and history of cakes, historians think that a sponge cake is one of the earliest types of cakes. Sponge cakes make use of egg white or rising agents like baking soda to make sure that the cakes will reach a certain level of fluffiness. A lot of people prefer sponge cakes more than any other variety of cake because its sweetness is usually at a level that it does not become too sweet. Types of sponge cakes are Swiss rolls and Jelly Rolls.
- Yeast Cakes- these cakes are considered as the prime and most traditional variety. Such cakes are characterized with a similarity to another baked good— yeast bread. The common yeast cakes these days arestollen and babka. Stollen is a traditional German cake. It is shaped into a loaf, much like bread. It is mostly baked during the Christmas holidays. The earliest Stollen was made of oats, water, and flour only but as years went by, the aforementioned ingredients were replaced. The recent and more common Stollen is like the traditional fruitcake because it also contains dried fruit, nuts, and spices. On the other hand, Babka or Bobka for some countries is another common form of yeast cake usually baked every Easter Sunday. Having this kind of cake on the said day is already a form of tradition for some countries like Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovakia, Belarus, and Western Russia. Almost the same with the German Stollen, the delicate Babka from Western Russia and Eastern Poland has a fruit filling, like raisins. Sometimes, if the maker wants it, rum is also added. On the other hand the Jewish version of Babka has chocolate or cinnamon filling instead of fruits.
- Butter Cakes- from the name itself, butter cake’s main ingredient is of course butter. This type of cake. To help the cake rise, bakers make use of baking soda or powdered instant yeast. Different types of butter cakes are also available for baking. There’s the traditional white butter cake and yellow butter cake. These two are basically alike except that the yellow variety only consists of egg yolk as opposed to the white type that has whole eggs. On the other hand, other bakers were able to make their own version of butter cakes like the classic vanilla butter cake which has become a popular choice nowadays.
- Cheesecakes- Even though these mouth-watering desserts have a name “cake” at the end of it, they are not really considered as cakes but are referred to as pies with custard. The crust of cheesecakes is usually made of biscuits or cracker mixed with butter, some sugar, and drops of vanilla. On the other hand, others make cheesecakes with crusts that are based on flour and yeast. Fillings are mostly made of cream cheese and whipped cream and of course with toppings of different fruit variations. Blueberries are an all-time favourite together with raspberries and strawberries. Making a cheesecake is like painting; it will depend on you which colour and base to use.
These four main divisions started it all. From them, thousands of cakes have been created and are enjoyed even up to this day. For homemakers who do not have the time to bake cakes the traditional way, a lot of food manufacturers have made cake mixes. Usually, every mix is complete with flour, flavouring, and all other basic cake ingredients and all you have to do is add egg, water and milk depending on the package instructions. Whilst this is popular to a lot of consumers, many professional bakers still stick to the traditional cake making process.
Cakes are often described according to their shapes. Some are as basic as a rectangular cake but in the recent times, you can make any cake with whatever shape you desire. In fact, Louis Vuitton totes-shaped cakes are a common favourite for women these days. The basic cake shapes that are still followed by bakers these days are the following:
- Bundt cake - this type of cake shape is named so because it is baked from a bundt pan that is uniquely shaped into a ridged ring.
- Balls - although still a cake, cake balls are somewhat smaller cakes formed in rounded shapes that measure about 2 inches in width. Cake balls are richer in consistency as they are created with full-baked cake crumbs added with icing and shaped afterwards. Decorative but edible beads and pearls are sometimes added to make them more attractive.
- Cupcake – cupcakes are smaller cakes in cup shapes. They are usually created with a size perfectly fit for one person only. A lot of variations of cupcakes have now emerged. From the simple chocolate cupcake, to grand gourmet cupcakes, anyone can now enjoy this delightful cake. Although cupcake is a favourite snack for cake lovers, this type is now incorporated in celebration cakes like weddings and birthdays added with a single mother cake.
- Layer - layer cakes are simply a rectangular or circular cake in different layers with filling in between. The totality of the cake is covered in a sweet frosting that will match if not compliment the cake’s flavour. This shape is commonly seen in wedding cakes.
- Sheet – this type of cakes is just a simple one layer cake that is baked in a wide and rectangular pan. Oftentimes, it is decorated and covered with a tasty frosting and icing. Birthday cakes are often baked in this shape as it is easy for bakers and pastry chefs to add designs.
- Roll – a type of sponge cake that is soft and rolled perfectly with filling of different flavours. Almost every country has its own version of a roll.
We all celebrate our birthdays each year and we do make sure that each year we have at least a cake to celebrate it with. Other than birthdays, cakes are also one of the major highlights in other special occasions like engagement parties, weddings, Christenings, graduation and victory parties among others.
Birthday cakes and Wedding Cakes basically started in the 15th century when the German bakers and cake shop owners thought of making cakes for special occasions. However, at that time, birthday and wedding cakes were only made available to the rich and other aristocrat members of the society. In addition to the wedding cake’s history, it was in the 17th century when a specific pie was made for a bride and people called it a bride’s pie. It was filled with different types of sweet breads. However, in the late 19th century, wedding cakes became more popular and more appropriate in look.
Celebration cakes were generally given birth with people’s high affinity for events and parties. As time went by and there became a lot of occasions to celebrate, cakes were created as highlights of parties. Nowadays, there is almost no celebration without a cake; even just a cupcake.
Cake Decorations and Presentations
Cakes are almost never complete without the right frosting and décor. Even shapes and the overall look of cakes can now vary according to preference. Basically, cake decoration makes use of sugar and icing of different colours and mixes. It seems now that cake making has turned into a very intricate art. It is an art because it takes a great eye, imagination, and handwork in order to create a cake that is not just impeccable to the palate but pleasing to the eyes as well. Cake artists, pastry chefs, and cake designers are the ones who are considered as experts when it comes to decoration and presentation of cakes. Most of them took years of studying and practice while others have spent a lot of time studying on magazines and books that teach the said art form.
If you are into cake decorating, there is no basic rule to follow except to make sure that your icing or frosting would blend in the cake itself in terms of texture and taste. For example, if you are planning to make use of sponge cakes, you have to pair it with a type of frosting and icing that would not bear too much weight as the cake is lighter and less sturdy. On the other hand, when it comes to heavy frostings, you have to pair them with heavy and rich type of cakes like a butter cake. In general, there are three types of cake decorating methods. These are the Lambeth, Australian, and Wilton Methods.
- Lambeth Method - derived from the a popular style by Joseph Lambert, this method is realized through using a lot of elaborate piping to be able to have beautiful results of 3-D designs like flowers and leaves. Because this method is so complexly creative, a lot of cake decorators prefer to make use of this especially on wedding cakes with additional accents of fresh flowers and other decorations.
- Australian Method - This method obviously began in Australia. It was the time of British colonization when the English colonizers brought with them several cooking and baking techniques including the Lambeth Method of cake decorating. What the Australians did was they did not adopt the said method right away. They made experiments with the Lambeth Method and successfully came up with a new one which also features complex piping. However, they incorporated the method of curtaining on the cake. Curtaining is quite hard to achieve for some decorators but those who are well versed with this method, they use beads, edible pearls, or little candies in order to achieve the ideal design.
- Wilton Method - this method is regarded as the most common and famous amongst the three basic methods. Basically, the Wilton way is different because it makes use of buttercream frosting unlike the two previous methods which both use royal icing. In the essence, buttercream is heavier and crude compared to royal icing. On the other hand, the Wilton method also incorporates cake decorating by starting with the cake itself. Pastry chefs and cake makers usually make use of what they call as Wilton cake pans. If in the earlier years cakes were only either round or rectangular, you can create any shape you like with the said pans. Examples are Barbie doll cakes which are now preferred by debutantes and other female birthday celebrants. The skirts and dresses of the doll cakes are decorated and created the Wilton way by making use of a funnel shaped mould with a whole at the center where a doll’s torso and head is inserted in it making the funnel the dress and skirt. There are other cake pans to choose from as the Wilton Company now tries to cater every single cake need of everyone.
Eating a cake is probably the best part for some of us who are not inclined to baking but for the serious cake designers and makers, the time they spend in religiously making and decorating every single cake is the best and most fun. The eating is just, well, an added bonus.
Simple shapes such as stars and flowers in frosting or butter icing are a great way to make a design even more special. Have a look at the video for tips on creating perfect roses for example.
Famous Celebration Cakes
Although there are thousands of cakes already created and over hundreds each year added to the long list, there are still those noteworthy cakes that remain as the most famous and favourites of many. Most of the cakes are from Europe and Northern America.
- Angel Food Cake- United States
- Apple Cake- Estonia
- Aranygaluska- Hungary or Romania
- Bakewell Tart- United Kingdom
- Baiser Apple Cake- Denmark
- Banana Cake- United States
- Banitsa Cake with Feta- Bulgaria
- Battenberg Cake- United Kingdom
- Baumkuchen- Germany
- Banoffee Pie- United States
- Bebinca- India
- Black Forest Cake- Germany
- Bohemian Kolatschen- Czech Republic
- Buccellato- Sicily
- Bundt Cake- United States
- Butter Cake- United Kingdom
- Butterfly Cake- United Kingdom
- Caramel Cream Gateau- Germany
- Cheesecake- Greece
- Cherry Cream Cake- Germany
- Chiffon Cake- United States
- Chocolate Cake
- Ciambellone- Italy
- Coffee Cake- Germany
- Cream Cake- Netherlands
- Dacquoise- France
- Devil’s Food Cake- United States
- Dobos Cake- Hungary
- Fruit Cake- Italy
- Jelly Flan- Lithuania
- Lagkage- Denmark
- Mantecada- Northern Spain
- Mooncake- China
- Red Bean Cake- Japan
- Tiramisu- Italy
These are just 35 of over hundreds of favorited cakes from among Europe and the rest of the world. Considered as the most favourite dessert by many people, cakes make ordinary days turn into something extra special. With every birthday, wedding and any other celebration, cakes have become a symbol of merriment and festivity. If not for these flavoursome and scrumptious dessert, the said celebrations would have not been complete.
If you want to start baking cakes of your own or if you are one of the many who has been enjoying this activity, you have to make sure that you are well prepared. Nothing beats a cake which has a complete amount of ingredients and lots of dedication in making it. You have to make sure that the ingredients are well-measured. Also, use flour that is fresh and far from expiry. Leftover flours can be utilized as long as they were stored in a properly sealed container. A set of good quality non-stick Springform cake pans is essential to keep things simple, and the addition of a KitchenAid stand mixer to your kitchen will speed things up (not to mention keep the heart of your home looking fabulous too!).
Keep in mind that aside from the ingredients, you also have to make sure that your tools in baking are all prepared and suitable for the cake that you are planning to bake. Shine and grease your pans for better cake results. Other than that, double check your ovens beforehand if they are functioning well. Make sure that you preheat the oven to an appropriate level. Remember that too much heat can cause the center of the cake to rise too much. In the process of baking, check your cakes using a skewer to prick their center. If it comes out with a few crumbs, and no sticky goo then you can be certain that it is already cooked otherwise, keep it cooking. Lastly, store leftover cakes in the fridge but well wrapped or under cake savers.
And, my favorite celebration cake? A huge pile of these simple vanilla cup-cakes.
Whether you are a starter or already an expert, do not be afraid to experiment here and there when it comes to baking cakes. Who knows, you might just formulate a new cake recipe that will become the ultimate favourite of the 21stcentury! Happy baking!