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Amazing Cake Facts

Did You Know?...

  • ...That a cake is a form of sweet dessert that is typically baked.

  • ...That in its oldest forms, cakes are modifications of breads but now cover a wide range of preparations that can be simple or elaborate and share features with other desserts such as pastries, meringues, custards and pies.

  • ...That typical cake ingredients are flour, sugar, eggs, and butter or oil, with some recipes also requiring additional liquid (for example milk or water) and leavening agents (such as yeast or baking powder). Common additional flavorings include dried, candied or fresh fruit, nuts, cocoa or extracts, and numerous substitutions for the primary ingredients are possible. Cakes can also be filled with fruit preserves or dessert sauces (like pastry cream), iced with butter cream or other icings, and decorated with marzipan, piped borders, or candied fruit.

  • ...That a cake is often served as a celebratory dish on ceremonial occasions, for example weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays.

  • ...That there are countless cake recipes; some are bread-like, some 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.

Cake History

  • ...That the term "cake" has a long history. The word itself is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse word "kaka".

  • ...That although clear examples of the difference between cake and bread are easy to find, the precise classification has always been elusive. For example, banana bread may be properly considered either a quick bread or a cake.

  • ...That the Greeks invent beer as a leavener, frying fritters in olive oil, and cheesecakes using goat's milk.

  • ...That in ancient Rome, basic bread dough is sometimes enriched with butter, eggs, and honey, which produces a sweet and cake-like baked good. Latin poet Ovid refers to the birthday of him and his brother with party and cake in his first book of exile, Tristia.

  • ...That early cakes in England are also essentially bread: the most obvious differences between a "cake" and "bread" are the round, flat shape of the cakes, and the cooking method, which turns cakes over once while cooking, while bread is left upright throughout the baking process.

  • …That sponge cakes, leavened with beaten eggs, originate during the Renaissance, possibly in Spain.

The advent of 'cake in a box'

  • …That during the Great Depression, there is a surplus of molasses and the need to provide easily made food to millions of economically depressed people in the US.

  • …That one company patents a cake-bread mix in order to deal with this economic situation, and thereby establishes the first line of cake in a box. In so doing, cake as it is known today becomes a mass-produced good rather than a home- or bakery-made specialty.

  • …That later, during the post-war boom, other American companies (notably General Mills) develop this idea further, marketing cake mix on the principle of convenience, especially to housewives.

  • …That when sales drops heavily in the 1950s, marketers discover that the cake in a box render the cake-making function of housewives relatively dispiriting. This is a time when women, retire from the war-time labor force, and in a critical ideological period in American history, are confined to the domestic sphere and oriented towards the freshly blossoming consumerism in the US. In order to compensate for this situation, the marketing psychologist Ernest Dichter ushers in the solution to the cake mix problem: frosting.

  • …That deprived of the creativity involved in making their own cake, within consumerist culture, housewives and other in-home cake makers can compensate by cake decoration inspired by, among other things, photographs in magazines of elaborately decorated cakes.

  • …That ever since, cake in a box has become a staple of supermarkets, and is complemented with frosting in a can.

Cake Varieties

  • …That cakes are broadly divided into several categories, based primarily on ingredients and cooking techniques.

  • …That yeast cakes are the oldest and are very similar to yeast breads. Such cakes are often very traditional in form, and include such pastries as babka and stollen.

  • …That Cheesecakes, despite their name, aren't really cakes at all. Cheesecakes are in fact custard pies, with a filling made mostly of some form of cheese (often cream cheese, mascarpone, ricotta, or the like), and have very little flour added, although a flour-based or graham cracker crust may be used. Cheesecakes are also very old, with evidence of honey-sweetened cakes dating back to ancient Greece.

  • …That sponge cakes are thought to be the first of the non-yeast-based cakes and rely primarily on trapped air in a protein matrix (generally of beaten eggs) to provide leavening, sometimes with a bit of baking powder or other chemical leaven added as insurance. Such cakes include the Italian/Jewish pan di Spagna and the French Génoise. Highly decorated sponge cakes with lavish toppings are sometimes called gateau; the French word for cake.

  • …That butter cakes, including the pound cake and devil's food cake, rely on the combination of butter, eggs, and sometimes baking powder or bicarbonate of soda to provide both lift and a moist texture.

  • …That beyond these classifications, cakes can be classified based on their appropriate accompaniment (such as coffee cake) and contents (e.g. fruitcake or flourless chocolate cake).

  • …That some varieties of cake are widely available in the form of cake mixes, wherein some of the ingredients (usually flour, sugar, flavoring, baking powder, and sometimes some form of fat) are premixed, and the cook needs to add only a few extra ingredients, usually eggs, water, and sometimes vegetable oil or butter. While the diversity of represented styles is limited, cake mixes do provide an easy and readily available homemade option for cooks who are not accomplished bakers.

Special-purpose cakes

  • …That cakes may be classified according to the occasion for which they are intended. For example, wedding cakes, birthday cakes, cakes for first communion, Christmas cakes, Halloween cakes, and Passover plava (a type of sponge cake sometimes made with matzo meal) are all identified primarily according to the celebration they are intended to accompany. The cutting of a wedding cake constitutes a social ceremony in some cultures. The Ancient Roman marriage ritual of confarreatio originated in the sharing of a cake.

  • …That particular types of cake may be associated with particular festivals, such as stollen or chocolate log (at Christmas), babka and simnel cake (at Easter), or mooncake. There has been a long tradition of decorating an iced cake at Christmas time; other cakes associated with Christmas include chocolate log and mince pies.

Shapes

  • …That cakes are frequently described according to their physical form. Cakes may be small and intended for individual consumption. Larger cakes may be made with the intention of being sliced and served as part of a meal or social function.

  • …That common shapes include: Bundt cakes; Cake balls; Conical, such as the Kransekake; Cupcakes and madeleines, which are both sized for a single person; Layer cakes, frequently baked in a springform pan and decorated; Sheet cakes, simple, flat, rectangular cakes baked in sheet pans; and, Swiss rolls.

Cake flour

  • …That special cake flour with a high starch-to-gluten ratio is made from fine-textured, soft, low-protein wheat. It is strongly bleached, and compared to all-purpose flour, cake flour tends to result in cakes with a lighter, less dense texture. Therefore, it is frequently specified or preferred in cakes meant to be soft, light, and/or bright white, such as angel food cake.

  • …That if cake flour is called for, a substitute can be made by replacing a small percentage of all-purpose flour with cornstarch or removing two tablespoons from each cup of all-purpose flour. Some recipes explicitly specify or permit all-purpose flour, notably where a firmer or denser cake texture is desired.

Cake decorating

  • …That a finished cake is often enhanced by covering it with icing, or frosting, and toppings such as sprinkles, which are also known as "jimmies" in certain parts of the United States and "hundreds and thousands" in the United Kingdom.

  • …That frosting is usually made from powdered (icing) sugar, sometimes a fat of some sort, milk or cream, and often flavorings such as vanilla extract or cocoa powder.

  • …That some decorators use a rolled fondant icing.

  • …That commercial bakeries tend to use lard for the fat, and often whip the lard to introduce air bubbles. This makes the icing light and spreadable.

  • …That home bakers either use lard, butter, margarine, or some combination thereof. Sprinkles are small firm pieces of sugar and oils that are colored with food coloring.

  • …That in the late 20th century, new cake decorating products became available to the public. These include several specialized sprinkles and even methods to print pictures and transfer the image onto a cake.

  • …That special tools are needed for more complex cake decorating, such as piping bags or syringes, and various piping tips. To use a piping bag or syringe, a piping tip is attached to the bag or syringe using a coupler. The bag or syringe is partially filled with icing which is sometimes colored. Using different piping tips and various techniques, a cake decorator can make many different designs. Basic decorating tips include open star, closed star, basketweave, round, drop flower, leaf, multi, petal, and specialty tips.

  • …That royal icing, marzipan (or a less sweet version, known as almond paste), fondant icing (also known as sugarpaste), and buttercream are used as covering icings and to create decorations. Floral sugarcraft or wired sugar flowers are an important part of cake decoration.

  • …That cakes for special occasions, such as wedding cakes, are traditionally rich fruit cakes or occasionally Madeira cakes, that are covered with marzipan and iced using royal icing or sugar-paste. They are finished with piped borders (made with royal icing) and adorned with a piped message, wired sugar flowers, hand-formed fondant flowers, marzipan fruit, piped flowers, or crystallized fruits or flowers such as grapes or violets.



Did You Know?…

  • …that West Virginia is also known for a wide range of outdoor recreational opportunities, including skiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and hunting?
    Read more Did You Know...US State Facts

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