Let’s start with a brief history of cake – where did it all begin?
Did you know…the word cake, dates back to the 13th century. It is derived from the old Norse word of ‘kaka’.
The first cakes date back to ancient times, but these had more of a bread-like texture, sweetened with honey, with the addition of nuts and dried fruit.
In the middle of the 19th century, cakes as we know them today were introduced, made with extra refined white flour and baking powder.
The humble Victoria Sandwich Cake (a layer of filling, such as jam or soft cream, sandwiched between 2 layers of sponge) dates back to the 19th century, and was a popular Victorian treat, named after Queen Victoria.
The first known recipe for it (see below) appears in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861).
INGREDIENTS – 4 eggs; their weight in pounded sugar, butter, and flour; 1/4 saltspoonful of salt, a layer of any kind of jam or marmalade.
Mode.—Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour and pounded sugar; stir these ingredients well together, and add the eggs, which should be previously thoroughly whisked. When the mixture has been well beaten for about 10 minutes, butter a Yorkshire-pudding tin, pour in the batter, and bake it in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. Let it cool, spread one half of the cake with a layer of nice preserve, place over it the other half of the cake, press the pieces slightly together, and then cut it into long finger-pieces; pile them in crossbars on a glass dish, and serve.
Average cost, 1s. 3d.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.
So how did these simple cakes start to evolve into today’s more elaborate creations?
In Victorian times a white wedding cakes was seen as a symbol of wealth and status, since they required the use of the finest, most refined sugar. The whiter the cake, the higher the wealth and status.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s wedding cake in 1840 was decorated with pure white Royal Icing. It weighed nearly 300lb and was described as “consisting of the most exquisite compounds of all the rich things with which the most expensive cakes can be composed, mingled and mixed together into delightful harmony by the most elaborate science of the confectioner.”
A piece of their wedding cake sold, by auction, at Christie’s, for £1500 in 2016.
The Royal Family continued with this tradition of elaborately decorated wedding cakes, something that Eddie Spence knows only too well. His 71 year career started out as an apprentice, aged 14, with world renowned Mackie’s, in his home town of Edinburgh, where he helped to make one of the Queen and Prince Philip’s wedding cakes in 1947. Since then, he has decorated numerous cakes for the Royal Family, including many wedding and jubilee cakes. He is known as the ‘King of Royal Icing’, and finally hung up his icing bag when he retired in 2018.
Eddie decorated this cake for the Queen’s Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1997.
However, Eddie’s favourite bake was a stunning golden carriage cake for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee that looked just like the Queen’s own Gold State Coach.
Whilst some people still favour the more traditional, Royal Iced cakes, in more recent years, cake decorations have taken on a whole new life of their own, with many different techniques and materials on offer!
Intricate sugar flowers and hand modelled decorations are hugely popular, along with clean lines, rather than the very detailed piping.
Celebration cakes have also followed these trends. I receive lots of requests to make cakes themed around hobbies, interests, occupations etc…
The world of cake, however, is continually changing and evolving. Boundaries are being pushed, and cakes are becoming so much more.
When is a cake not a cake?
When it looks like something completely different!
Illusion cakes are fast becoming my most popular requests. Standard shaped sponges are carved and turned into 3d models and replicas of everyday objects and animals!
And yes, they really are all cakes!!
But it doesn’t stop there….even wedding cakes are trying to fool us! My most popular designs in recent months, and going forward into 2019/20 weddings are rustic ‘tree’ style cakes….
But what happens when cake decorators are challenged even further?
Cake artists are really starting to push the boundaries of cake, with the seemingly impossible being achieved.
From huge, life sized animals to super realistic human sculptures, the sky is the limit.
This is always very evident at the Cake International Show, held at the NEC in Birmingham. It is the highlight of the year for many a cake maker, from the hobby baker to the international superstars of the cake world!
There will be future blogs giving more insight into the show, but below are some of last years amazing exhibits….
I had the privilege of being involved in the largest collaborative display at the event, named ‘Peach Life’, which was inspired by the books of Roald Dahl.
The largest piece in the display was this huge BFG cake, crafted by Nicola Bradshaw.
My contribution to the display was this model of Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also featured in the show brochure!
Below is a time lapse video showing the ‘making of Augustus’ – just excuse my head which keeps popping into shot!!! I am new to video!!
See more of last year’s show here
You might even stumble across some of me in there!!
So, as you can see, cakes have come a long way since Medieval times!
I wonder where the future will take us……? Watch this space!
In the meantime, if you would like to order your own ‘extreme’ cake for a celebration, click below to get in touch!