To misquote Monty Python what have the Ancient Egyptians ever done for us? Well, they’ve given us cake for a start! Roman and Greek history records cake-making but according to food historians it’s the early Egyptians who were the first skilled bakers.
We’ve come a long way from there; what the Egyptians – and even mediaeval Europeans – called cake wouldn’t be recognisable to us as such today.
Although the Egyptians wouldn’t even have called it cake; that’s a word that has been used in Britain since the thirteenth century, and is a derivation of the old Norse word, kaka.
The first cakes bore a strong similarity to bread. The Romans sometimes added egg or butter, and sweetened the dough with honey, sometimes including nuts or dried fruit.
The richer you were, it seems, the more often you could eat cake, and they frequently formed part of banquets. In 14th century Britain , Chaucer writes of immense cakes made
for special occasions. He records one that was made with 13 kilograms of flour and contained butter, cream, eggs, spices, currants and honey. A prime feature of a cake was its shape: round and flat. Shaped by hand into a ball, the dough naturally relaxed out to a circular shape. By the seventeenth century, cake hoops were
being used to cook the cake. Made of wood or tin, these ensured the cake kept a neat round shape. Cake in Ritual
Around the world, cakes have played a central role in people’s worship and rituals, with the circular shape symbolising the cyclical nature of the seasons and life. The Chinese offered
up round cakes at harvest time to honour their moon goddess, Heng O; Russians traditionally made blini, thin round cakes, to pay their respects to a god; and the ancient Celts, on the first
day of Spring, rolled cakes down a hill hoping to persuade the sun to keep on rotating. Even today, at any special event, there is likely to be a cake of some sort involved in the celebration, but now let’s get back to how...
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