Sixteenth- to Nineteenth-Century Cakes

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Heavy, bread-like cakes made from dense mixtures and often still leavened with yeast continued to be made well into the eighteenth century in England. In France, lighter cakes were developing simultaneously, beginning in the sixteenth century with brioche, perceived at the time as more of a sweet product than a bread. Yeast-risen cakes such as the Gugelhupf, sweeter and richer than brioche, and the baba, originally similar to a Gugelhupf (now lighter) and soaked with rum syrup, remained popular. See baba au rhum and gugelhupf. During the eighteenth century in France and Italy, meringues, sponge cakes made with whole or separated eggs, and cake batters based on soft butter or with melted butter added to sponge mixtures became widespread. See meringue and sponge cake. By the mid-nineteenth century, both baking soda and baking powder ushered in an era of American creativity in the development of cake recipes, and chemically leavened butter cakes, devil’s food cake, and many others began to appear. See chemical leaveners. Angel food, a cake of American origin made from only whipped egg whites, sugar, and flour, is the symbol of the nineteenth century’s search for lightness and delicacy in cakes. See angel food cake.