History of Birthday Cake
Origin of Birthday Cakes dates back to ancient times but the cake of then was very different from what we have today. The word cake is said to have coined as early as 13th century and is said to have derived from kaka- an Old Norse word.
Definition of Birthday Cake
In Western culture Birthday Cake is defined as a pastry or dessert served to a person on his or her birthday. Birthday cakes are usually decorated with persons name and carry a message of congratulations. Candles equal to the number of years a person has been alive are also placed on the cake. There is also a tradition to place one extra candle to bring good luck. Birthday cakes are usually spongy and the most popular flavour in cakes is chocolate.
Birthday Cake History
History of Birthday Cake can be traced back to the ancient Greeks who made round or moon shaped honey cakes or bread and took it to the temple of Artemis -the Goddess of Moon. Some scholars, however, believe that the tradition of Birthday cake started in Germany in Middle Ages. Sweetened bread dough was given the shape of baby Jesus in swaddling cloth and was used to commemorate his birthday. This special birthday cake later reemerged in Germany as a Kinderfest or the birthday celebrations of a young child. Germans also baked another special kind of a cake called Geburtstagorten as it was baked in layers. This was sweeter that the coarse and bread like cake that were usually made at that time.
Why is Birthday Cake Round?
In earlier times, Birthday cakes were mostly round in shape. Scholars associate religious beliefs and technical compulsions for the same. Greeks offered round shape cake to the Goddess of Moon - Artemis as it signified moon. They even placed candles on the cake to make the cake glow like the moon.
Some scholars opine that cake in the ancient world has association with the annual cycles. Round shapes of cakes were preferred as these represented the cyclical nature of life. Most specifically, the sun and moon.
Technical reason given for the roundness of the cake is that most cakes we know off advanced from the bread. In ancient times breads and cakes were made by hand. Typically, these were fashioned into round balls and baked on hearthstones or in low, shallow pans. Hence, these naturally relaxed into round shapes. With the progress of times baking pans of various shapes were developed and today we see cakes in imaginative shapes and sizes.
Tradition of Putting Candles on Birthday Cake
Tradition of placing candles on Birthday cake is attributed to early Greeks, who used place lit candles on cakes to make them glow like the moon. Greeks used to take the cake to the temple of Artemis-the Goddess of Moon. Some scholars say that candles were placed on the cake because people believe that the smoke of the candle carried their wishes and prayers to Gods who lived in the skies. Others believe that the custom originated in Germany where people used to place a large candle in the centre of the cake to symbolize the light of life.
In present times too, people place candles on Birthday cakes and a silent wish is made before blowing out the candle. It is believed that blowing out all candles in one breath means the wish will come true and the person with enjoy good luck in the coming year. Some also smear out the name of the person before slicing of the cake to bring good luck.
Traditions and Superstitious Beliefs Related to Birthday Cake
In medieval times people of England used to place symbolic objects like coins, rings and thimbles in the batter of the cake. It was believed that those who found coin in the cake would be wealthy while the unlucky finder of the thimble would never marry. Wedding was signified for the person who found the slice of cake with ring. Even today some people follow the tradition and place small figures, fake coins and small candies inside the cake.
If the cake fell while baking it was considered to be a bad omen and signified bad luck for the person in the coming year.
Technical Advancement in Making of Birthday Cake
In the beginning the cakes used to be similar to bread. They were sweetened with honey and enhanced with nuts and dry fruits. According to food historians, ancient Egyptians were the first to show evidence of advanced baking skills. Medieval European bakers used to make fruitcakes and gingerbread that could last for months. Around the middle of 17th century, Europeans had made considerable advancement in the art of making cakes. They began to make what can be called precursor to modern cakes that were round and had icing. This was mainly due to the development of technology that made available reliable ovens, food moulds and refined sugar. At that time cake hoops - which were round wooden or metal moulds for shaping cakes were placed on flat pans to effect the shape.
First icing that was used in cakes were usually a boiled composition of finest available sugar, egg whites and flavors. Then icing used to be poured on the cake and then the cake was put back into the oven for a while. When the cake was taken out, the icing cooled quickly to form a hard glossy ice-like covering. Mouled cakes and fancy ices reached their zenith in Victorian times.
With the time, the art of baking cakes kept progressing and it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the cake we know of today developed. Taste and appearance of the cake was enhanced with extra-refined white flour and the use of baking powder instead of yeast.