Impact Hub Vienna is turning 8!  We have curated some amazing cake recipes for you.  However, as we were searching the internet and cookbooks to find the best recipes, we realized we didn’t know the origins of Birthday Cake.

The Surprising History of Birthday Cake

According to Reader’s Digest, the origins of birthday celebrations are in the ancient world.  More specifically, the Ancient Egyptians.  “They believed when pharaohs were crowned, they became gods, so their coronation day was a pretty big deal.  That was their “birth” as a god,” Reader’s Digest writes.

One can only imagine the level of lavishness of the food at those celebrations.

However, modern birthday cakes have their origin in this part of the world, specifically Germany.  Reader’s Digest writes children in eighteenth century Germany would receive a cake on the morning of their birthday, called Kinderfeste, and then would not eat it until after dinner. I would call this a more intense version of the marshmallow test.

As with any form of dessert across Europe at the time, money and ingredients limited access.  Which means only the wealthy children had Kinderfeste.  According to Reader’s Digest, birthday celebrations and cakes did not become popular until the Industrial Revolution because of the cost.  The Industrial Revolution brought the beginnings of automated production, the burgeoning middle class with disposable income, and the opening of trade routes across the planet.  All three factors coalesced into more people being able to celebrate birthdays with cake. Which is awesome.

Cake Before and After

Okay, we just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about modern cake invented in the Industrial Revolution and cake before.  I learned this all from Great British Bake Off when Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc chatted with various food historians in England’s far flung manor houses.

Cake prior to advances made in the Industrial Revolution were made of flour, yeast, honey, dried fruit, and nuts.  Think Kugelhopf.  However, bakers cultivated yeast by leaving the flour and water in a bowl.  Alternatively, cakes could also be tortes, which is a flatter cake made with no leavening agent.  Think Sacher Torte.  Baking Powder was not invented until 1843 by Alfred Bird and then we started using that to make cake.   Which is how we get the lighter fluffier cakes.  Think Black Forest Cake or Lemon Poppy Seed Cake.  Or any of the light and eggy French cakes or any cake which Mary Berry has ever made.

The proliferation of refined sugar also made cakes different.  Sugar combined with eggs to form airy peaks and create more rise in a cake. The same could not be accomplished with honey or beetroot sugar.  This results in a lighter, airier cake with a soft crumb and an even texture.  I am pretty sure I just quoted something Paul Hollywood says in every cake episode of Great British Bake Off.

We Have Dessert, Now Let’s Light it on Fire

Birthday candles also have their origin in the ancient world.  This time we have the Ancient Greeks to thank, according to Reader’s Digest.  They used to bake moon shaped cakes as an offering to Artemis. They would light candles on the cakes to imitate the light of the moon.

Again, the modern incarnation of the tradition originates in Germany.  According to Reader’s Digest, the Kinderfeste cake would have candles to equal the age of the child plus one extra, called the light of life.  Reader’s Digest says the candles burnt all day and the child would blow all the candles out after dinner.

The Good Stuff

We baked a cake last year. It was vegan.  And it was delicious.  You should check out our recipe, which we made especially for you, the Impact Hub Vienna community.

However, if vegan coconut cake is not your thing, and we understand, we found some other recipes for you.  However, it is hard to tick all the boxes of vegan, gluten free, or seasonal all in one cake.  We found the best recipes in all those categories for you.

While our cake is vegan, some people like chocolate better than coconut.  This recipe even comes with an extraordinarily indulgent frosting. Avocado is the fat used in the recipe and in the frosting in place of butter.  This one is also gluten free, because they use a pre-made gluten free flour blend.  If you do not like eating gluten free things you can substitute regular or cake flour instead.

The best gluten free cake I have found is from Nigella Lawson.  Her recipe for clementine almond cake is soft and moist.  This is one of my favourite cakes and the one I make for myself.  You can frost this with orange cream cheese icing.  The batter is thick and tastes bitter, so don’t try to eat it before you bake it.  Once baked, the sweetness from the almonds, the clementine juice, and the actual sugar make cake heaven.

It is currently cherry season.  I cannot go into a grocery store without seeing the glossy dark red, slightly sour fruit.  Really, we just chose this for the frosting and filling.  Also, because who doesn’t want a three-layer birthday cake covered with chocolate ganache, cherries, chocolate chips, and cherry frosting?

Don’t forget…

If you want to enjoy cake in a party atmosphere with all of us at Impact Hub Vienna, don’t forget that it is our birthday party on today. See you there!

Photo Credit – Header Image: Photo by Audrey Fretz on Unsplash