The term “cake” has a long history. The word itself is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse word “kaka”.
The ancient Greeks called cake πλακοῦς (plakous), which was derived from the word for “flat”, πλακόεις (plakoeis). It was baked using flour mixed with eggs, milk, nuts and honey. They also had a cake called “satura”, which was a flat heavy cake. During the Roman period, the name for cake became “placenta” which was derived from the Greek term. A placenta was baked on a pastry base or inside a pastry case.
The Greeks invented beer as a leavener, frying fritters in olive oil, and cheesecakes using goat’s milk. In ancient Rome, basic bread dough was sometimes enriched with butter, eggs, and honey, which produced a sweet and cake-like baked good. Latin poet Ovid refers his and his brother’s birthday party and cake in his first book of exile, Tristia.
Early cakes in England were also essentially bread: the most obvious differences between a “cake” and “bread” were the round, flat shape of the cakes, and the cooking method, which turned cakes over once while cooking, while bread was left upright throughout the baking process.
Sponge cakes, leavened with beaten eggs, originated during the Renaissance, possibly in Spain.
Cake is a form of sweet dessert that is typically baked. In their oldest forms, cakes were modifications of breads, but cakes now cover a wide range of preparations that can be simple or elaborate, and that share features with other desserts such as pastries, meringues, custards, and pies.
Typical cake ingredients are flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil or margarine, a liquid, and leavening agents, such as baking soda or baking powder. Common additional ingredients and flavourings include dried, candied, or fresh fruit, nuts, cocoa, and extracts such as vanilla, with numerous substitutions for the primary ingredients. Cakes can also be filled with fruit preserves, nuts or dessert sauces (like pastry cream), iced with buttercream or other icings, and decorated with marzipan, piped borders, or candied fruit.
Cake is often served as a celebratory dish on ceremonial occasions, such as weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays. There are countless cake recipes; some are bread-like, some are rich and elaborate, and many are centuries old. Cake making is no longer a complicated procedure; while at one time considerable labor went into cake making (particularly the whisking of egg foams), baking equipment and directions have been simplified so that even the most amateur cook may bake a cake.