Cake hysteria has hit the nation once more. The latest series of the Great British Bake Off is in full flow and everyone is eager to whip out their wooden spoons and mixing bowls.
Over the years we Brits have been spoilt with a variety of cakes, but where did baking all start? Well, we decided to find out…
The first bakers to flaunt their baking skills were the ancient Egyptians. It wasn’t cake so much back then, but closer to what we would now recognise as bread, concocted using some fat, egg and honey. The honey was used to leave a sweet taste in people’s mouths.
Throughout the Middle Ages, a similarly bready version of cake to that enjoyed in ancient Egypt was the luxury baked good of choice. However, only the wealthy in society could afford cake, while the poor cracked their teeth on rye and black barley bread.
Ovens had yet to become a standard feature in homes, and those who could afford to eat cake were likely to have enough pennies in their pockets to afford to keep a member of staff whose only job was to bake.
Baking cake doesn’t always go to plan though; over-cooking and burning cake is still a common occurrence in kitchens today. However, unlike now, the poor gained a little from the mishap when they were handed the blackened cast-offs of the rich. Needless to say, bread and cake were not the delicious desserts we all know and love, unless you were lucky enough to have several bags full of lovely money!
15th / 16th Century
When you think of spices, what’re the first to pop into your head? Cinnamon or ginger perhaps? Both spices arrived in Britain in the 15th and 16th centuries, introducing an exciting twist to the baked goods game.
Bakers were able to fully express the robust flavours in cakes and other desserts; bringing the treats closer to what we know today.
Cinnamon is a fantastic spice. Baking cinnamon is a ground, powdered substance that once cooked produces a distinctive and warming flavour; making it the perfect addition to many winter recipes.
Ginger is a primary component that can be found in various forms, including: whole fresh roots, dried roots, powdered ginger, crystallised ginger and pickled ginger. Nowadays the form commonly recommended for baking is dried, as it works well with puddings, flapjacks and fruit cakes.
Unfortunately for the ordinary civilians on the street, new spices were extremely expensive and so baking with these ingredients was a rarity.
This really was the age of technology. Cake baking was at the height of popularity and ingredients became much more affordable and accessible thanks to the advancements made in the transport industry, as well as the introduction of mass machinery.
The impact from the industrial revolution on Manchester in particular was massive; because of this the city has its very own cake. You’ve all heard of the Manchester Tart….right?
Flash forward to the light, fluffy, super tasty and beautifully decorated cakes of today. We now enjoy the culmination of years of technological advancements that have not only resulted in the production of baking powder but the invention of the baker’s best friend, the Kitchen Aid.
Yeast and raising agents such as self-raising flour help our cakes to rise, but before this bakers had to rely on their skill and knowledge of the available ingredients if their cakes were to rise. This meant that baking a simple sponge cake was a long and complex process that required bakers to have a keen eye for detail and a great instinct for timings.
Baking has come on leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings in ancient Egypt, with affordable equipment and ingredients available to anyone who wishes to whip up a sweet or savoury baked dish!