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Edi-Mology: Cake

Closeup of Cake
Edi-mology is a new featurette on CakeSpy, designed to explore the etymology and meanings of the terminology behind the baked goods we all love so much. One thing is for sure: this hunger for knowledge can sure give you an appetite for baked goods!

Today's lesson: CAKE


Cake: [keyk] noun a sweet, baked, breadlike food, made with or without shortening, and usually containing flour, sugar, baking powder or soda, eggs, and liquid flavoring. (source: dictionary.com)
Baby Cakes at Black Hound
This sweet term came to us circa the year 1230 from Old Norse kaka "cake," from the West Germanic "kokon-", from the Proto-Indo-European base "gag-" or "gog-", which meant "something round, lump of something." 
Surprise, surprise: Cake is not related to the Latin coquere ("to cook") as formerly supposed. Replaced its Olde English cognate (cognate = two words that have a common origin), coecel
Originally (until c.1420) it meant "a flat, round loaf of bread." (source: etymoline.com)
Of course, if you're wondering how it made the leap from referring to a flat, round loaf of bread to the delicious confection that we call cake today, here's a little excerpt from Foodtimeline.org:


According to the food historians, the precursors of modern cakes (round ones with icing) were first baked in Europe sometime in the mid-17th century. This is due to primarily to advances in technology (more reliable ovens, manufacture/availability of food molds) and ingredient availability (refined sugar)....The first icing were usually a boiled composition of the finest available sugar, egg whites and [sometimes] flavorings...It was not until the middle of the 19th century that cake as we know it today (made with extra refined white flour and baking powder instead of yeast) arrived on the scene...Butter-cream frostings (using butter, cream, confectioners [powdered] sugar and flavorings) began replacing traditional boiled icings in first few decades 20th century. In France, Antonin Careme [1784-1833] is considered THE premier historic chef of the modern pastry/cake world. You will find references to him in French culinary history books.

(Note: if you're interested in more Cake Lore, you might also want to check out Leslie F. Miller's book Let Me Eat Cake) 

First known publication: 
"What man, I trow ye raue, Wolde ye bothe eate your cake and haue your cake?" ["The Proverbs & Epigrams of John Heywood," 1562] (source: etymonline.com)
"What does Cake have that I don't?"
A piece of cake: something easily done: She thought her first solo flight was a piece of cake.
Take the cake: a. to surpass all others, esp. in some undesirable quality; be extraordinary or unusual: His arrogance takes the cake.
b. to win first prize.
Let them eat cake: this is from Rousseau's "Confessions," in reference to an incident c.1740, when it was already proverbial, long before Marie Antoinette. The "cake" in question was not a confection, but a poor man's food. (source for these idioms: etymonline.com)
(CakeSpy Tip: If you're into idioms, bet you'll love Chocolate & Zucchini's "Edible Idiom" series!)


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Reader Comments (10)

This really brought a smile to my face! Also, I recall dimly that "making a cake of yourself" was used a long time ago to describe a young man acting silly over a girl. I don't know why it should be a cake and not, for example, a jam tart or a chocolate cookie... :)

August 3 | Unregistered CommenterIrene

I'm such an info geek, I love this kind of stuff. (Let me know when you get to "cookie", I'm happy to share some of the word origin and quotes I have from the history chapter of my book.)

August 3 | Unregistered CommenterChic Cookies

really interersting :)

August 3 | Unregistered CommenterSnooky doodle

Only a cakespy to investigate cake so closely!

How fascinating! I love your informative posts!

Many moons ago, I received a somewhat crappy grade on a Baking Science exam. OMG, that instructor was OBSESSED with yeast reproduction or whatever the heck you call it. I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now. Anyhoo, he told me to write a paper on the history of the wedding cake and he would use that grade to boost my final. It was really a great little piece of work. I believe he told me to get out of the kitchen and stick to writing. Not exactly, but I got jist. What I didn't get was that paper back. So, I'm just saying I love this post. Very interesting.

Irene: I like that one! Thanks for sharing!

Chic cookies: thanks--I am going to take you up on that :-)

Snooky: glad you enjoyed!

Cookieshop: Merci!

Apparently: thanks so much jessy, glad you liked it!

Courteous: this made me laugh out loud. Then I clicked over to your site and laughed even louder about that zucchini post. Basically, I am saying that I love you.

August 3 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

very nice article. cake brings me back to my childhood days... hihihi, but i am not that old... hihihi.

August 4 | Unregistered Commenterhungrynez

Thanks for noting that Marie Antoinette is always incorrectly attributed this quote!

August 10 | Unregistered CommenterKT

What a fun new feature!

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