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Let Them Eat Cake: The History of Cake

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Let Them Eat Cake: The History of CakeEat My Globe by Simon Majumdar
00:00 / 01:04

Cake Notes

In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, delves into the history of cake. It is a story that takes us back to the times of the Mesopotamians and the ancient Egyptians, where cakes have been used not just as food for the living but also for the afterlife; through the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans, where “Placenta” cakes abound; through the Middle Ages, the 18th century and the 19th century, when cakes went from being hefty to being whisked and light; and right through to the present day. And, of course, this story takes us back to the origins of the birthday cake, wedding cake, Christmas cake, and yes, even the fruitcake. It’s a story that is both fascinating and mouth-watering. So, tune in now.

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Hey April.


Yeah, Simon.


My Christmas cake has recently gone missing.




Yes. I have reported it stollen.


Ugh! Simon. No.


Hee hee. Okay.



Hi everybody. This is Simon Majumdar.

And, welcome to a brand-new episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.

And, on today’s episode, we are going to take you back in time into the history of cake. A story that takes us back to the times of the Mesopotamians and the ancient Egyptians, through the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Middle Ages, the 18th century and the 19th century, and right through to the present day. It’s a story that is both fascinating and I am pretty sure will certainly want to make me crave a cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg – mmm, Battenberg.

And, don’t worry. If you don’t know that particular cake, we will talk about it and all types of cake goodness later in the episode.

I can hardly wait. So, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Before we move on, let me say that “Cakes: A Global History” by Nicola Humble has been on constant standby during the writing of this episode, and while I have done plenty of research myself, it has been useful to have this book along for the ride.

As always, let’s begin with definitions. That way, we can be sure of what we are actually talking about.

Let’s start with the origins of the word “cake,” which is believed to have come from the Old Norse term, “Kaka” or “Kaka.” This later became the word “cake” in the English language. An early definition of cake from 1398 shows that it is


Some brede is bake and tornyd and wende [turned] at fyre and is called . . . a cake.”

End quote.

The modern definition of cake is not much more different but a bit narrower. Our friends at Merriam-Webster defines “Cake” in three ways. First,


a sweet baked food made from a dough or thick batter usually containing flour and sugar and often shortening, eggs, and a raising agent (such as baking powder).”

End quote.

They then, as I said, gave two other definitions. The second is,


a bread like food made from a dough or batter that is usually fried or baked in small flat shapes and is often unleavened.”

End quote.

And the third definition is,


a flattened usually round mass of food that is baked or fried.”

End quote.

Now, while the first definition might be the one that we will look at primarily, the second and third definitions will be ones that will definitely be useful along the way. Because, as we shall see over history, the style of cake has changed from one that was primarily made with flattened grains sweetened with honey, to the present day, where it is primarily one that is made with beaten eggs, flour, a rising agent and sugar.

Before we get started, I just wanted to point out that while the East Asian and Southeast Asian traditions of cakes are delicious – such as mooncakes, and the various rice cakes like the kutsinta, bibingka and puto in the Philippines, and the Kue Lapis in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and more – this episode will focus on the history of the quote, “western,” cake due to time limitations.

Okay, so let’s start with the Mesopotamians, shall we?

According to Cathy K. Kaufman, author of “Cooking in Ancient Civilizations,” the city of Ur – which existed between 3800 BCE and 450 BCE and was located in present day Tell el-Muqayyar in Iraq – had a form of cake, called “Palace Cake,” that involved dates. It included,


1 sila of butter, 1/3 sila of white cheese, 3 sila of first-quality dates, and 1/3 sila of raisins.”

End quote.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds rather appealing to me. And, according to Kaufman, the word “sila,” was just a little bit more than 3 cups.

And the ancient Egyptians were a remarkable people who were well known for baking. By around 2000 BCE, they were known to be using cakes both to preserve food and as a way of honoring the dead who would need food to feed them on their way to the afterlife.

The ancient Egyptians often prepared their cakes in two copper moulds designed to hold two wheat flatbreads. The moulds would be first pre-heated. Then, the flatbreads would be stuffed with honey and milk and placed together in this tight-fitting mould. It would then be placed on slightly wet dough. As the air escaped, it would create a vacuum. That was the perfect way of keeping it safe for the journey to the afterlife – a purpose the Egyptians considered all important.

The ancient Greeks also created cakes for their gods and goddesses. The name of these particular cakes was collectively known as “Plakous,” which meant “flat.” This dovetails with Merriam Webster’s third definition of cake, which, if you recall, is “a flattened usually round mass of food that is baked or fried.” I am told that some of the plakous was similar to the modern-day equivalent of Turkish “Baklava.”

They also produced cakes for home use. These would have been made of a variety of grain flours, fruits and sesame seeds. As Nathalie Choubineh puts it in her work, “Sacred Cakes in Ancient Greece


The cakes could be made from different sorts of wheat or barley flours, combined with additional ingredients particularly cheese, herbs, fruits, and sesame seeds, and filled or decorated with fruits and nuts.”

End quote.

While it’s usually hard to find ancient cakes in archeology, it is still possible to find one as seen in an Egyptian cake found in 1913 in the tomb of Pepi’Onkh. More commonly seen, however, are plenty of representations of the cake in sculpture, mosaics and in writings. For example, Greek writings refer to a type of cake known as “Elaphos,” a cake in the shape of a deer presented to the goddess Artemis for whom the deer was a sacred symbol.

In ancient Rome, the ancient Greek cake called “Plakous” became the ancient Roman cake called “Placenta.” Now, before you go, eiw, it’s not what you’re thinking. The Roman placenta cake was a flat cake.

Second century CE writer Cato the Elder says that the placenta cake is based on layered “tracta,” which are made from “prime groats” or spelt and flour kneaded together.  Robert Sietsema described “tracta” as


Twice as thick as Greek phyllo.”

End quote.

Cato then goes on to describe the placenta cake as tracta layered with a mixture of sheep’s cheese and honey. These were offered by the citizens to the god, Jupiter, although it was probably eaten by the priests and people afterwards.

In his book, “De Agri Cultura,” Cato further names a number of other types of placenta cakes. For example, the “Libum,” a cake featuring cheese and mixed with flour and egg, is described by Alan Davidson in his “Oxford Companion to Food” as being close to like our modern-day cheesecake. Another ancient Roman cake is the “Satura,” which was a flat and hefty cake made with barley, nuts, seeds, raisins and wine, and from which our current word, “saturate,” is related.

In England, by the time of the 9th century CE, we have one of the most famous – but probably apocryphal – stories in British history. In 878 CE, Alfred – known as the Great – was believed to have moved to the swampland of England to a place known as Athelney to escape the surprise attack of Viking King Guthrum. It was there that he was able to formulate his comeback. One day, while in hiding, he was given a task to do. He was asked by a lady to watch the cakes – really a sort of bread – on the fire. So taken was Alfred with his comeback plan that he neglected his role and burned the cakes – much to the annoyance of the lady in charge of supper. The lady was apparently miffed. But mind you, his battle after that turned out to be a victory. Hurrah. So, Britain is still around but no thanks to the cake.

Around the Middle Ages, which is between the years 500 and 1500 CE, only rich people really ate cakes. But by the 14th century CE or the 1300s, Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the great English poets of the Middle Ages, began to talk about cakes. Here is a quote from the Pardoner’s Tales, one of the tales from “A Canterbury Tale.”


318         Thou beel amy, thou Pardoner,” he sayde,

319         “Telle us som myrthe or japes right anon.”
“It shal be doon,” quod he, “by Seint Ronyon!

321         But first,” quod he, “heere at this alestake

322         I wol bothe drynke and eten of a cake.”

End quote.

Or in modern English, if you can’t understand,


                  Thou fair friend (rascal), thou Pardoner,” he said,

                  “Tell us some mirth or comic tales right away.”
                  “It shall be done,” said he, “by Saint Ronyon!
                  But first,” said he, “here at this ale stake (tavern sign)
                  I will both drink and eat of a cake.”

End quote.

And by the 16th century, we begin to see the first – as far as we know – recipe for a form of sponge cake appearing in Gervase Markham’s “The English Hous-Wifes.” Markham’s recipe uses eggs and then beats them for an hour – their arms must have been so tired – to allow the air to get into the mixture. He refers to this cake as “Bisket bread.”


To make Bisket bread, take a pound of fine flower, and a pound of sugar finely beaten and searsed, and mix them together; Then take eight eggs and put foure yelkes & beate them very well together; then strow in your flower and sagar as you are beating of it, by a little at once, it will take very neere an hours beating; then take halfe an ounce of Anisseedes and let them be dried and rubbed very cleane, and put them in; then rub your Bisket pans with cold sweet butter as thinne as you can, and so put it in, and bake it in an oven: But if you would have thinne Cakes, then take fruit dishes and rub them in like sort with butter, and so bake your Cakes on them, and when they are almost bak’t, turne them, and thrust them downe close with your hand. Some to this Bisket bread will adde a little Cream and a few Coriander seedes cleane rubd, and it is not amisse, but excellent good also.”

End quote.

Some cakes do add yeast, which might make it more like a bread. This would include cakes like “Bara Brith” in Wales, whichI have to say I had many times because I had a Welsh grandmother, or “Kugelhopf” in Germany.

It was Italian chefs who first came up with the idea of whisking cakes so that they could get more air into the batter. For example, Bartolomeo Scappi, who cooked for popes during the Renaissance, wrote in his 1570 cookbook called, “Opera,” where he referenced his techniques for whisking eggs. These Italian chefs often worked in England and France so they brought their techniques with them. This did not include yeast in their fruit cakes and, by the 18th century, yeast had become pretty much forgotten in those cakes as they favored adding beaten eggs instead. And, as you can see from Gervase Markham’s recipe, it takes nearly an hour of beating to achieve the desired results.

Starting from around the 1600s, culinary advancements started to come out of France including the publication of “Le Patisssier Francois” by La Varenne in 1653, which contained the detailed methods and recipes for various cakes, including the petit fours or small ornate cakes. Chefs like Marie-Antoine Carême, who lived from 1784 to 1833, created styles like the Croquembouche, meaning “crunch in the mouth,” and is a towering display of éclair-like pastries that was as much designed to entertain as it was to tickle the palette. We did a quick story on Carême in our episode on Escoffier. He was a fascinating fellow so please do go and check out that episode.

In the UK, baking cakes became very popular with the general populace in the 18thcentury with the publication of cookbooks like Hannah Glasse’s “The Art of Cookery,” which had a section on cakes that included recipes like Pound Cake, Saffron Cake, and Plumb Cake. At the same time, ovens became more affordable so that shopkeepers and merchants started owning them. Ovens in smaller homes also became more commonplace. And in the US, by the mid-1800s, it became customary for Americans to bake in iron stoves, which also became a commonplace appliance in their kitchens.

Let’s talk about cake ingredients for a minute and go back in time for a bit.

By the 17th century, the sort of ingredients that we now know as being part of cake baking were present. A lot of these ingredients were brought into places like England, Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, Italy and the German States through the system we now know as the “Columbian Exchange.” I have talked about this a lot in previous podcast episodes and have had one interview when we specifically talked about it with Dr Carla Pestana of UCLA. It was coined by Professor Alfred W. Crosby in his 1972 book, “The Columbian Exchange.”

He began to look at how the Western nations and the colonized nations in Latin America, India, Africa, etc. were responsible for the arrival of certain commodities to Europe – so, things like potatoes from Peru, and chocolate and vanilla from Mexico. Once in Europe, these items then became grown or produced there. As part of the Columbian Exchange system, Europeans brought enslaved Africans to their colonized nations in the Americas and the Caribbean, and they also brought sugar, rice, etc. to their colonies, also to be grown or produced by the enslaved that they have taken from Africa. In due course, the “Columbian Exchange” system began to have an effect on how we eat as diets changed and farmers began to have opportunities for income as they began to expand their crop variety.

Perhaps the most noticeable today is in the rise in the consumption of sugar. Now, I have done an episode about sugar in Season 3 Episode 9, which would give you its full history. And I do recommend you go and listen to that – after you have listened to this one, of course. But, here is a very, very brief history.

Sugar originated and was first domesticated in New Guinea, where people would suck on the sugar cane to get sweetness. It was some 2000 years later that it was sent to India and the Philippines. By the time of the 1st Crusades – which was around 1096 to 1099 – sugar was being produced across the Arabic world and was soon discovered by the folks from the western world, particularly the Spanish and the Portuguese, who began to grow it on the Canary Islands. At the time, sugar was once for the enjoyment of the super wealthy only. In 1226, for example, British royalty Henry III declared that he was going to get three pounds of sugar which would be an exorbitant amount. While Henry VIII had sugar, grown in Cyprus, and kept under lock and key by his yeomen guard. And, Queen Elizabeth the 1st was supposed to have teeth blackened by sugar.Ugh.

The Columbian Exchange really began in 1492, when Columbus’ ships first landed in the Americas. And sugar remained a luxury commodity until the higher crop yields made it affordable and easily accessible. And for purposes of today’s episode, as ovens in home kitchens became more popular, as I mentioned earlier, sugar also became affordable around the 1800s, and that affordability helped lead to the popularity of cakes.

The cost of flour also started to drop around the same time. In the early 1800s, machines were invented to better produce flour and by the late 1800s, with advances in technology, flour became affordable. Shortly thereafter, bleaching flour became common. Now, bleaching flour is now illegal in the UK and Europe, but is something that is still allowed in the United States. My suggestion is, if you are in the US, always look for “unbleached” flour, which is marked on the packet. People might also see “Self-Raising Flour.” This is flour to which a leavening agent has already been added.

Which brings us to bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.

Perhaps one of the most important elements to come to cake making was the arrival of bicarbonate of soda – also known as baking soda – and, baking powder. Bicarbonate of Soda – whose chemical number is, I am told, NaHCO3. . .


. . . who knows – was first discovered back in the 1790s by Nicholas Leblanc. It was not until 1846 that brothers in law, John Dwight and Austin Church, started using bicarbonate of soda in baking. They created the company that manufactured and distributed baking soda. That company has since produced a line for its baking soda that we still know today – Arm & Hammer.

During those days, to leaven their cakes, people used baking soda with sour milk for baking. But, this method did not provide the precision needed for baking because it was hard to gauge the levels of acidity in the sour milk so cakes did not necessarily turn out well. Luckily, in the late 1840s, a British chemist called Alfred Bird was the first to take baking soda and create baking powder. By adding the bicarbonate of soda to cream of tartare, it became a more stable substance.

Both Bicarbonate of Soda and Baking Powder are similar in that they are used as leavening agents for cakes, which stopped someone having to beat the cake for a ridiculous period of time – remember, Gervase Markham having you or rather your servants beat a cake for up to an hour? Basically, Bicarbonate of Soda needs to be added to a cake in which there is already an acidic agent. Whereas Baking Powder already has that acidic agent – as I mentioned Cream of Tartare – added to it meaning that it is easier to use.

These ingredients are generally used in four types of cake making. These types of cake making include, according to Alan Davidson’s “The Oxford Companion to Food,” the “whisking” method for cakes like sponges, the “creaming” method for cakes like the Victoria Sandwich cake, the “rubbing in” method for cakes like the Rock Cakes, and the “melting” method for cakes like Parkins. Oh, I love Parkins. But we’ll get on to that later.

That is, of course, if you want to spend your time dealing with these four methods at all. In 1933, the first cake mix was released by a Pittsburgh molasses maker named P. Duff & Sons. It allowed people at home to take its mixture that included the company’s own molasses, dehydrated flour and other ingredients, that would then lead to gingerbread.

By 1947, there were nearly 200 companies selling cake mixes around the USA. Although, according to the online encyclopedia developed by the Minnesota Historical Society called MNopedia, bakers were often disappointed with what they received. Indeed, back then, some of the cake mixes even had soap in them to make the consistency lighter.

In the late 1940s, a marketer named Ernest Dichter was asked by the General Mills company to research how cake mix sales could improve. Based on his interview of customers, he determined that the cake mixes were kinda too simple and made consumers quote, “feel too self indulgent.” End quote. In response to Dichter’s research, General Mills allowed consumers to add their own eggs to the cake mixes. And the rest is history.

Now, this brings us to frosting and icing. This is often a way in which cakes, whether they are made from scratch or from a mix, can be made to look special.

The first use of frosting or icing came in the 1600s and likely started in the homes of the wealthy. A 1655 recipe by a Rebecca Price instructed her cook to


‘frost’ the newly-baked cake over with the white of an egg beaten together with rosewater ‘and strew fine Sugar upon it, and then set it again into the Oven that it may Ice.”

End quote.

Which shows both the frosting and the icing of a cake in one.

I should point out that one of my chums from the Food Network, Mr. Duff Goldman, has an amazing ability to make cakes look so extraordinary. He achieves much of this by his use of icing and frosting.

I should have had him on, but since he was on a while ago on Season 6 Episode 9, I thought it was better just to text him for some thoughts.

The difference between icing and frosting, he tells me, is that


Frosting is fluffy. . .

Actually, I can’t even do this as a. . . I can’t even do an impression so I’m not going to.



Frosting is fluffy and airy like buttercream, cream cheese frosting, 7-minute frosting. Icing is thin and sets up like a donut glaze or Royal Icing or poured fondant.”

End quote.

So, there you go. An answer from one of today’s most legendary bakers.

But before we go on to how cakes have been associated with such important periods in life, such as birthdays, weddings and Christmas, let’s take a short break.


Okay. Now, the use of cakes at birthdays has an ancient history. The ancient Greeks, while not using them to celebrate birthdays, did come up with the idea of decorating their cakes with candles. Cakes with candles would be presented to the moon and to the hunt goddess, Artemis, once a month. The idea was to make their cakes shine like the moon.

In the 15th century, we have stories of birthday cakes with candles stemming from a German feast called “Kinderfest.” In this feast to ward off evil spirits, kids would get a cake with candles corresponding to their age plus one for the future year ahead. Ilike that.  They believed that the candles conveyed their wishes to God. This feast became truly popular around the time of the Industrial Revolution, when cake ingredients became more affordable.

In the Spring of 1746, a German Count by the name of “Ludwig Von Zinzendorf,” had a great party to celebrate his birthday.


[T]here was a Cake as large as any Oven could be found to bake it, and Holes made in the Cake according to the Years of the Person’s Age, every one having a Candle stuck into it, and one in the Middle.

End quote.

So, there you go.

German immigrants to colonial Pennsylvania first brought the Kinderfest traditions over to the United States.

Meanwhile, in 1893, in Louisville, Kentucky, sisters Patti Smith Hill and Mary Jane Hill composed a song called, “Good Morning to You,” a song to welcome children to school. It goes a little something like this:


Good morning to you

Good morning to you,

Good morning, dear children

Good Morning to All.”

End quote.

But soon, the “Good Morning to You” song changed lyrics to be the most frequently song sung in the English language. The tune of “Good Morning to You” was what we now use when singing Happy Birthday.

Now, the one thing you might have to think again though when someone asks you if you would like a bit of birthday cake however is that cake that is blown upon has almost 1400% as many bacteria as that that has not been blown upon. So, I have warned you.

So next, let’s look at the history of wedding cakes. They have a fascinating history too. Apparently, in ancient Rome, a cake made of barley would be taken by the groom and rather unceremoniously smacked over the bride’s head. If I did that at my wedding, I am pretty sure there would not have been a marriage.

According to Abigail Tucker’s Smithsonian Magazine article, this may well have been preferable to the British idea of a “Bride’s Pye.”


One early British recipe for ‘Bride’s Pye’ mixed cockscombs, lamb testicles, sweetbreads, oysters and (mercifully) plenty of spices. Another version called for boiled calf’s feet.”

End quote.

I like sweetbreads, allergic to oysters, but I am not sure I like the rest of it in a Bride’s Pye.

As I mentioned earlier, while sugar became more affordable in the 1800s, it was around the time of the mid-16th century that sugar started to become more abundant. And, refining the sugar made it white. The trend back then was to show the whiter the cake the more virginal the nature of the bride. Also, because sugar was still expensive in the mid-16th century, the white wedding cake also signaled the wealth of the family. This led to wedding cakes becoming very white in design.

By 1840, when Queen Victoria married the love of her life, Prince Albert, their wedding cake was a stunning 300 lb. 3-layer cake that measured 10 feet wide and was nearly 14 inches high. This was an homage of Queen Victoria to the French cakes, such as those I have mentioned earlier by Marie Antoine Careme. The French pastry chefs had left France during the revolution and began to make their home in London where they were being given much love by the British upper classes. The fact that Queen Victoria had this amazing tiered cake with very white icing and topped with mini statuettes was something that everybody wanted to copy. Or at least began to aspire towards.

Now, what made the wedding cake begin to rise in multi tiers though can be more difficult to explain. One of the theories that some people have is that a baker named William Rich worked close to the St Brides church on Fleet Street, in London. I’ve been to that many, many times. When wanting to marry his sweetheart, he decided to use the muti-tiered spire of the church as a template. His style supposedly caught on, and when Queen Victoria had this tiered cake for her wedding to Prince Albert, this soon began to be copied by everyone. It’s a good tale, but perhaps just that, just a tale. The truth is though, that perhaps, we will never know.

Okay. Now, let’s talk about Christmas cakes.

I have touched on some Christmas pudding on our episode on the History of Christmas Food. But there are also a few other Christmas cakes around the world such as Italy’s Panettone and Germany’s Stollen. They are both part of the family of cakes known as fruitcake. But, they are more like, as Jeffrey Miller describes them in an article for PBS, quote, “fruited bread.” Whereas British and American fruitcakes are more like cakes as we know them. So, let’s talk about fruitcake.

Ancient Romans used to make something similar to an energy bar made with barley, honey, wine, pomegranates seeds, nuts and dried grapes. But the modern fruitcake dates back to the Middle Ages. English colonists took the fruitcake to the now-United States. Also, as Christmas care packages, as you will, the British sent fruitcakes to their relatives in the American colonies. These had to last the long voyage from England to the American east coast. In the period before refrigeration, the fruitcake’s shelf life contributed to its popularity.

Its shelf life is definitely legendary. Fidelia, a beloved matriarch of a family originally from Berkey, Ohio baked a fruitcake in 1878. She intended it to age for a year just in time for the holidays. However, she passed before the holidays came around. Fidelia’s family decided to not eat it but to keep it in her honor with an obituary that said


She lived, not for self, but for her family. No service was too great that was for the food of those around her.”

End quote.

Now, Fidelia’s children, then grandchildren, then great grandchildren, and now great great grandchildren have kept the fruitcake. One great grandchild who had a bite described it as quote, “trashed wheat.” But at 145 years old, that fruitcake deserves a little break.

Now, before we go, I do want to talk about the types of cake that I like, because this is my show, and the comfort they bring.

But first, I wanted just to touch on one other subject: Marie Antoinette. She lived from 1755 to 1793, and was the queen and consort of Louis XVI from 1774 to 1793. She is famous for many things, and for our purposes, for supposedly saying,


Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!

End quote.

Which, when literally translated to English, is “Let them eat brioche!” but which we now commonly translate to, “Let them eat cake!”

She supposedly made this statement when she was told that her people did not have bread. The supposed statement showed that she was clueless to the poverty and hardships her people suffered while she lived extravagantly.

However, she never, as far as we know, said anything of the kind.

It is a story that has been around for a long time. Another royal, Mary Thérèse, a Spanish princess who married Louis XIV in 1660 has been said to have said something similar. Marie-Thérèse was supposed to have said, let them eat


Le Croute de Pate.”

End quote.

That is, the fatty end of a pâté.

And, in 1766,the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau included the let them eat pâté story in his work, “Confessions.” He attributed the words to “a great princess,” which would have been around the time when Marie Antoinette was still a child and certainly would not have been “great” at that time.

So, if nothing else, that’s something you can take away with you.

But before we end this episode, I wanted to share with you the top five of my favourite cakes. I should start this though by saying that I am a big fan of baking shows on television. Shows like “The Great British Baking Show” and the shows that star my good pal, Duff Goldman. It is these that I look to when I am settled in bed, with a nice slice of Battenburg or a Victoria Cream Sponge. Oh. And, I think where cakes have such a fun and special place in our hearts.

So, here we go. Okay.

Number 5) Eccles Cakes. These are cakes that, as the name suggests, are from Eccles in Lancashire. I find these perfect with a cup of tea, but also perfect with, as St John’s restaurant in London does it, a slice of Lancashire cheese. Oh.

Number 4) I’m getting very hungry as I say all these ‘cause these are all the cakes I really like. A Victoria Cream Sponge. A light-as-air cake that is filled with a layer of jam and cream. This reminds me of a classic British summer.

Now, the one we talked about.

Battenberg Cake. Also known as a Domino Cake or a Church Window Cake or a Neapolitan Roll. The story goes that this cake was designed by Queen Victoria’s bakers as the welcome of Prince Louis of Battenberg to the Royal Family, by way of his marriage to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, also known as Victoria. It takes its name by the checkerboard design which is meant to symbolize four princes of Battenberg. I always liked this cake. Initially because I loved the checkerboard like appearance it had when you cut it in to pieces. I still like it for that. But, I also do love the softness of the cake too. Mmm mmm mmm.

Okay. A UK Christmas Cake. Now, this cake is dense and heavy, and I remember when my late mother used to make ours starting in August or September. Yep, a good Christmas cake takes that long. It is filled with raisins, currants and other fruits and then topped with marzipan and icing. I would look forward to every Christmas when this cake was brought out by my mother, whose face would be filled with joy at having finished it.

And number 1) Parkin. This would be another cake of my youth. A cake made for the 5th of November, the night we call “Bonfire Night” in England – a holiday based on a 17th century failed attempt by people that included a gentleman called Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament. It is now celebrated by fireworks and snacks taken while watching a huge bonfire with a “Guy” on top of the fire. This cake is filled with ginger and is dark brown with the amount of ginger and golden syrup in it. I’m still trying to find a good version here, but I still sit and dream about it. Oh, yes, I do.

Well, that seems like a good place to finish this history of cakes. But, why don’t you let me know what your own top five will be.

Ok, we’ll see you next week, folks.



Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.

And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to join us on Patreon, subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider.

Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar. We’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know About Food.


The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions.”

[Ring sound]

We would also like thank Sybil Villanueva for all of her help both with the editing of this transcript and essential help with the research.

Publication Date: December 11, 2023

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