Seven fascinating facts about cake

The Food Programme has been exploring the world of baking. Cultural historian of cake, Professor Nicola Humble, has written a book on cake tracing our current passion back to Elizabethan days, called 'Cake: A Global History'.

Nicola has pulled together seven fascinating facts about cake that may surprise you...

1. Icing used to be spread on cakes with a feather.

2. Before the whisk was invented, people used to whisk egg whites with a bundle of twigs or squeeze them through a sponge.

3. The earliest ‘cakes’ were flat compact discs of grain, squished together and dried (think rice cakes). The sort of cakes most British people would recognise as cakes rather than sweetened bread only appear in the early eighteenth century: before that all cakes were raised with yeast.

4. The first tiered wedding cake was made for the wedding of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter (also named Victoria) in 1858. Queen Victoria’s own wedding cake, eighteen years earlier, was three yards wide [2.7 m] and weighted 300 pounds [136 kg] but had only a single tier. Girls used to put pieces of wedding cake under their pillows to dream of their future husband. At weddings in the eighteenth century small pieces of the cake were passed through the wedding ring before being handed out to the bride’s unmarried friends so they could then put them under their pillow.

5. Christmas cake is a fairly modern invention: it replaced the much older Twelfth Cake in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Twelfth Cake was eaten at the feast of Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season. All over Europe in the middle ages people celebrated by hiding a bean in a cake. The person who got the slice with the bean was King for the feast, and led the company in drinking games.

6. The global fashion for cupcakes started in the year 2000 after an episode of the TV show Sex and the City showed its characters queuing for them at New York’s Magnolia Bakery.

7. For over a thousand years the Chinese have celebrated the mid-Autumn festival with round moon cakes. Legend has it that during rebellions against the Mongol rulers in the fourteenth century, messages were hidden inside the cakes.

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