We all appreciate a good cake, but do we truly know the power it has held in society over time? From saving the Saxons at the brink of invasion, to reigniting a nation's love for baking, we’ve rounded up the greatest moments in baking history.
Burnt cakes save the Saxons and teach Alfred the Great an important lesson
Alfred the Great would never have become such a Saxon legend if it wasn’t for his burning of the cake. In 878, when Prince Alfred was still young, the Saxons were fighting a great battle against the Viking invaders. During this battle, young Alfred and his army were surrounded and forced to hide in the Somerset swamps. After many days of hiding, with no food, Alfred stumbled upon a woman baking cakes made with oats. Alfred’s stomach growled and all he could think about was eating the cakes. The old woman, however, asked him simply to keep watch over her cakes. Should he complete this task, she would in return give him some to eat. Settled by the warm fire, Alfred kept watch but as the weariness of the battle settled into his bones, he fell asleep. When he awoke, all he could smell was burning from the burnt cakes. When the old woman came back, Alfred begged for forgiveness for failing in his task. Alfred was shocked when the old woman just laughed at the fact that ‘even a Prince’ could burn oatcakes. Alfred was shocked, not having realised she knew who he was. She explained that his apology, manners and kindness could only be those of a Prince and that she knew that one day he would go on to achieve great things. She advised Alfred that just as she could remake her cakes, his kingdom could be won again. This insight showed him that it was time to fight again, to rebuild whilst maintaining his kind nature towards others. Alfred created an army afresh who managed to intercept the Vikings, meaning they could no longer reach their boats and a truce was formed. The old woman? She was never seen again. And oatcakes? Think we'll pass for the sponge variety!
In 1943, baking powder is discovered
When you think of cake ingredients, you probably think about butter, eggs, sugar and flour, with very little thought given to the humble baking powder. However, the invention of baking powder was a momentous scientific discovery in cake baking history, marking the beginning of the light fluffy sponges we now know and love. Prior to the discovery of baking powder, bakers primarily used yeast to help bakes rise, with varying success and the cakes were left with a sour aftertaste. The use of baking powder meant that the volume of the cake could be increased, making it lighter in overall texture. Rather sweetly, Alfred Bird who discovered baking powder had done so in an attempt to find a solution for his wife, who could not eat eggs or yeast. In 1985, Henry Jones combined the science behind baking powder and combined it with flour, leading to self-raising flour and ensuring we never suffered from flat cakes again.
In 2010, the Great British Bake Off launches, reigniting the countries love for baking
Whilst home-baked cakes may have been all the rage in the 1950s, with the increase in convenience foods, cake baking had begun to fall off the radar. That was until the Great British Bake Off launched onto televisions, capturing the nations' hearts (and tummies) and reigniting the country's love of baking. The television show featured 12 amateur bakers who competed in weekly baking challenges, judged originally by the Queen of Cake Mary Berry, as well as Paul Hollywood. The bakers competed in tests incorporating creativity and technical skills whilst showing their unique flair, all in the hope of being crowned the winner, with one such test involving making the highly skilled croquembouche. The nation followed suit, with the sales of cake ribbon increasing over 3000% when the show was aired, as well as spikes in sales of baking equipment and ingredients. 9 years later and the show is still going strong, with spin-offs such as Bake Off: the Professionals.
But the real greatest moments in baking history?
Cakes may well have saved nations, led to scientific discoveries and well-loved competitions, but the real greatest moments in baking history are those we share with our loved ones. It’s the child’s wide eyes at the sight of their cake at their first birthday, it’s the squeal of joy when a surprise cake is delivered to your office. It’s getting a slice of cake wrapped in a napkin at a children’s birthday party. The greatest moments are in the couple momentously cutting the cake together for the first time, and potentially that same cake being used to mark the christening of their first child. The greatest moments in baking are when you are a child and get told you can lick the bowl, or when the house smells of delicious batter being baked fresh in the oven. The greatest moments are eating the cookie dough before it has been cooked, or laughing at the wonky birthday cake covered in sprinkles. The real great moments lie in magical cakes to celebrate magical moments, cakes to be shared amongst loved ones.