It’s one of the most famous quotes in history. At some point around 1789, when being told that her French subjects had no bread, Marie-Antoinette (bride of France’s King Louis XVI) supposedly sniffed, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”—“Let them eat cake.”
Whether she really said it or not, it was that attitude which became one of the tipping points of the French Revolution.
Ironically her suggestion is what the ‘peasants’ are doing in USA at present where the rich are eating organic steel cut oats ( which would have been traditionally horse feed) and the lower socio economic strata are stuffing themselves with sugary treats and cakes.
As Yuval Noah points out in his latest book Homo Deus, currently many times more people will die of obesity than terrorism.
Other countries may not each as much cake as the US. Still, the world probably eats between 50 and 100 million cakes a day.
Cake is part of our celebrations but also our daily life and we say easy things are ‘a piece of cake’. We speak of something fabulous being the ‘icing on the cake’. The Koreans have a proverb that says ‘give an extra piece of cake to your step child’. Sometimes we say ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too.’
Well maybe sometimes you can………..
Q: What happens when no one comes to your birthday party?
A: You can have your cake and eat it too.
Haha. Basically we all LOVE cake. If you are a fan of the Great British Bake Off then do watch this hysterical spoof video that my nephew shared with me.
Thoughts of cake always remind me of the great British tradition of high tea and if you have seen Downton Abbey you would have seen that in all its glory.
For some reason the sight of the tiered serving is just so much more exciting than if the plates were paid out side by side. It is just that tiny bit of exotic.
High tea is the stuff of childhood memories and my generation grew up reading Enid Blyton whose stories always had the most delectable tea times. There is also a very poignant poem by Rupert Brooke, one of the soldiers/ war poets who wrote nostalgically of homesickness and asks in The Old Vicarage:
“Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?”
So back from high tea to cake itself—here are some fun facts about cake:
- According to the food historians, the ancient Egyptians were the first culture to show evidence of advanced baking skills. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the English word cake back to the 13th century. .
- It is believed that the first actual birthday cake was made in Germany in the Middle Ages. The Germans would celebrate children’s birthdays with cake, calling the celebration Kinderfest. (as an aside Happy Birthday To You is the most recognized song the world over and has an interesting history involving lawsuits and such.)
- The world’s oldest oven was discovered in Croatia in 2014 dating back 6500 years ago. The Ancient Egyptians baked bread using yeast, which they had previously been using to brew beer. Bread baking began in Ancient Greece around 600 BC, leading to the invention of enclosed ovens.
- Cakes were called “plakous” by the Greeks, from the word for “flat.” These cakes were usually combinations of nuts and honey. During the Roman period, the name for cake (derived from the Greek term) became “placenta.” Placentae were baked on a pastry base or inside a pastry case. In ancient Rome, basic bread dough was sometimes enriched with butter, eggs, and honey, which produced a sweet and cake-like baked good.
- The candles were lit to make them glow like the moon, a popular symbol associated with Artemis. Many ancient cultures also believed that smoke carried their prayers to the heavens. Today’s tradition of making wishes before blowing out your birthday candles may have started with that belief
- The earliest extant description of what is now often called a cupcake was in 1796, when a recipe for “a light cake to bake in small cups” was written in American Cookery by Amelia Simmons
- The first person to put a recipe for “brownies” in a cookbook was Fanny Farmer, who adapted her cookie recipe to be baked in a rectangular pan, in the 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook
- “It was in November 1883 that Mambally Bapu made the first cake in India at Thalassery in his Royal Biscuit Factory founded in 1880,” said P M Sankaran, president, BAKE. There was only one bakery other than this in the country then. That was in West Bengal and only catered to the British.
- India is probably the only place where you can buy ‘cooker cake mix’ for which you don’t need to have an oven.
- Many countries have slight variations of their own traditional cake and of course the UK indulges in philosophical debates on the nature of cake and its identity.
- The most famous cake in the Bombay-Pune belt has to be Kayani’s sponge cake. It is rich and sinful even by itself and you can make it even better (worse?!) by soaking it in pineapple juice and then making it the base of a decadent trifle pudding.
Here are some photos of cakes baked by yours truly for various occasions, mostly birthdays but also congratulations and welcome back.
But the grand finale is this cake. I did not bake it but I asked for the message written on it 🙂
At a recent gender and rights workshop one young man revealed that beyond a certain age they are discouraged from cutting cake for their birthday because it’s considered ‘not manly’! He said that young men punch each other instead of wishing happy birthday. Of course they cannot hug or hold hands or touch in any way for fear of being ‘labelled’ gay. And of course they don’t exchange gifts. So in fact they prefer not to let men friends know when it’s their birthday. Some other young men in the group agreed vigorously.
I found this depressing on so many levels! Intimacy is denied, simple pleasures of celebration are blocked out and worst of all—expressions of affection are getting tied up with acts of violence. Any wonder that we live in the kind of society we do?!
So I decided that we were going get a cake and have this young man cut it and we sang and celebrated and I hope he has this happy memory with him for good.
What better way to destroy toxic masculinity than one cake at a time?!
Let us ALL eat this cake!