Birthdays are celebrated with a birthday cake everywhere around the world! So I'll be taking it upon myself to put our own Anges spin on traditional birthday cakes worldwide using the original cakes as inspiration that will reflect our own "internationality" right here in London. This is a "work-in-progress" blog post for now as I'll keep updating it as I work my way down the list!
To start the journey...
A traditional American birthday cake is basically a pound cake, or sponge cake, with frosting! Simples! Lots of traditional recipes feature a plain vanilla "yellow cake" with either a chocolate, cream cheese or vanilla frosting. I have taken the Americana theme much more literally upon a customer's request and put together a two tier birthday cake bonanza featuring favourite classic American treats - baked buttermilk doughnuts, Oreos, pretzels and popcorn! It's all red, white and blue (with yellow sponge layers too!).
Initially I thought that a traditional English Birthday Cake must be Victoria Sponge. But no, the hint is in the name. A Victoria sponge cake - or rather a Victoria Sandwich - was made for Queen Victoria (my fave queen) and isn't really a traditional birthday cake. It can sometimes be very tricky to answer such a question definitely as traditions change over the years, so to avoid going into too much detail I will just pick a cake that was once used to celebrate birthdays. So a traditional English Birthday Cake is again...a sponge cake covered in icing. Umm...as dull as that sounds it does offer me plenty of creative license so I can't wait to whip it up!
There doesn’t seem to a single Birthday Cake that holds the title of a traditional French Birthday Cake. One such cake that is commonly baked as a Birthday Cake is the The Fraiser Torte which nowadays is a sponge cake with strawberries - either topped or sandwiched - with cream.
The Frasier Torte's closest French-English translation is Strawberry Cake. While its history is unclear we can defer a couple of things from the origins of its ingredients. To start with the garden strawberry didn’t arrive in France until 1714 when Amédeé François Frézier brought several plants back from Chile and it wasn’t until 1740 they started to be grown in any sort of quantity following crossbreeding. Secondly the pre-cursor to modern cakes weren’t baked in Europe until the mid-17th Century when advances in technology (e.g more reliable ovens) and improved ingredient availability, namely refined sugar permitted their development.
I first learnt how to make a classic Fraiser Torte while learning the art of French Cuisine in Paris, but again I find it quite old-fashioned. Watch this space!
Picking an Italian Cake that is typically served on birthdays has proven difficult; there are many different types of birthday cakes served throughout Italy varying with towns and regions. Perhaps one of the most beloved is the Italian Rum Cake, very similar to the celebratory Cassata Sicilian Cake and is loosely classified as a Cassata Cake.
The Italian Rum cake, also known just as a Birthday Cake, generally consists of three or four layers of sponge cake soaked in a rum flavoured mixture, filled with vanilla and chocolate pasty cream (pasticciera) and topped with whipped cream icing and garnished with nuts – often almonds which began to be imported into Italy roughly the same time as refined sugar became widely available. Some versions involve covering the cake with a shell of marzipan, pink and green pastel icing and candied fruit, especially citrus fruits grown in the various Italian regions.
Traditionally, in Spain the birthday was not celebrated; rather, it was the "santo", or saint´s day, that was the day one celebrated becoming a year older. These celebrations were minimal compared to what they have become in recent years.
The Spanish didn’t traditionally celebrate birthdays with much enthusiasm. It was more common to celebrate getting a year older on Saint’s Day or “santo.” Nowadays Saint’s Day is less celebrated and birthdays more so. While there isn’t a specific birthday cake used in Spain there are some which are noticeably popular, for example Pastel de chocolate or simply Chocolate Cake and Tarta de Santiago. As the Spanish Chocolate cake is essentially just a chocolate cake (although it would appear Sainsbury’s decided to add some orange and olive oil to a chocolate cake and call it a Spanish Cake…basically just babble) I am going to propose the latter.
Tarta de Santiage literal translation is Cake of St. James. It originated in Galicia during Middle Ages. It is in an important cake in fact; in 2010 the EU gave it a protected geographical indication (PGI) to signify its status as a regional specialty. The cakes most noticeable feature in its traditional form is the Cross of Saint James (cruz de Santiago) and us suppose to contain at least 33% almonds. The Official Journal of the European Union given a laconic description of how the cake should be made:
“A traditional Galician cake made using almonds, sugar and eggs as described in Section 3.3 of this document.
— Shape: round with a dusting of icing sugar showing, as a distinguishing mark, the Cross of the Order of Santiago.
— Aroma: that of egg yolk and almonds.
— Colour: white on the surface, due to the decorative dusting of icing sugar and golden inside.
— Taste: that of almonds.
— Texture: spongy and granulated.
Presentation: there are two basic presentations: with and without a base. Each of them comes in different sizes.
3.3. Raw materials (for processed products only):
The ingredients used to make Tarta de Santiago (without a base or excluding the base) are:
— high-quality almonds, which must account for at least 33 % of the total weight of the mix. These almonds must have a fat content of more than 50 % measured in the untrimmed product. This specification is generally met by Mediterranean almond varieties (including the varieties ‘Comuna’, ‘Marcona’, ‘Mollar’ ‘Largueta’ and ‘Planeta’), which are the varieties normally used,EN 16.9.2009 Official Journal of the European Union C 223/23
— refined sugar (sucrose), which must account for at least 33 % of the total weight of the mix,
— eggs, which must account for at least 25 % of the total weight of the mix,
— lemon zest and icing sugar, sweet wine, brandy or grape marc, depending on the recipe used.
For the cake with a base, the latter must not account for more than 25 % of the weight of the cake and may be made of:
— puff pastry made from wheat, butter, water and salt, or
— shortcrust pastry made from wheat flour, butter, refined sugar (sucrose), whole eggs, milk and salt.”
I somehow don’t think my version will be compliant.
Germany is big on birthdays and have many traditions, for example, on someone’s 18th birthday it is customary to crack eggs over the head! Germans are also very fond of cake and consume it often especially with coffee after a meal. Perhaps one the most famous cakes baked for birthday celebrations is the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, which directly translates to Black Forest Cherry Torte, and is commonly called a Black Forest gateau. It takes its name from a liquor in Black Forest Region known as Schwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser) which is distilled from tart cherries
Authentic Black Forest cakes to be officially as such must include kirsch, - or “Kirschwasser” in German - a liquor distilled from tart cherries, however many international interpretations omit it. The cake is made from three to five layers of chocolate cake with cherries and whipped cream between each layer. The cake is then covered with whipped cream, maraschino cherries or black cherries and chocolate shavings. It also happens to be a cake I personally detest so this will be quite the challenge!
Sweden has a large appetite for birthday cakes. The type of cake served at a birthday celebration changes throughout the seasons depending on the type of different ingredients that could be found.
One of the most popular cakes to serve at a birthday party is a Princesstårta, or Princess Cake. The first recipe appeared in the 1948 version of 'Prinsessornas kokbook' which was part of a four volume series with many additions written by a home economics teacher called Jenny Akerstrom. Akerstrom was highly regarded and taught the Swedish princesses Martha, Astrid and Margaretha, daughers of Prince Carl. It is said that her royal students were so fond of her cake that it became famous and was subsequently given a royal stamp of approval.
A princess cake has a sponge base, sometimes multiple layers, and is filled with whipped cream, topped with a large serving of vanilla custard and covered with a thin layer green marzipan. Modern adaptations include a layer of jam. Woohoo...so simple I've literally got free reign again!
Pavlova cake was named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova during her tour of Australia during the 1920’s. The cake is extremely popular for birthdays in Australia and New Zealand with both countries laying claim to its invention. It’s unlikely an agreement will be reached as desserts made with meringue and covered with cream were made well before any claim was raised to its invention.
The cake is made using a meringue base with a soft and like interior comparable in texture to marshmallows. It is then topped whipped cream and then with fruit such as strawberries, kiwifruit and passion fruit.
There is no definitive Irish birthday cake. Seemingly the most popular type uses a Madeira cake as the base. A Maderia cake is a sponge cake that is firmer than a traditional English sponge yet light in texture. A popular Madeira cake recipe used for birthday celebrations is made with citrus peel, stem ginger and sultanas. Maderia cake was named after the Portuguese Maderia wine, which was frequently served with the cake.
Another type of Irish cake that I'm particularly fond of and make frequently is a Guinness Chocolate cake. Cannot wait to get boozy.
The Japanese celebrate birthdays now quite similarly to how we do in England…with cake! The Japanese food scene is every evolving and very fast paced and they have an appetite for Western style cakes with their own twists. One cake that has become increasingly popular to serve on birthday is the Japanese strawberry shortcake. It is a layered sponge, filled with strawberry and whipped cream and covered with whipped cream frosting.
As I am such a massive fan of Japanese Matcha green tea, I'll be making my own version of a Japanese birthday cake pairing Matcha with strawberries.
This is hilarious - I've lived my entire childhood in Kuwait and not once had this cake. Nope, never even heard of it! Apparently Google says it's a light dairy free cake flavoured with saffron, rosewater, green cardamom and sesame seeds. I get the flavour profile, it's prevalent across Kuwaiti cuisine, and Middle Eastern cuisine in general and apparently the cakes are similar in shape to bundt cakes or doughnuts.
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