What is cake?

Once you see a cake, you know it is a cake, without asking for a recipe or inspecting it more closely. You just know. But how do you arrive to that conclusion? You likely don’t even know. However, for the purpose of that book it is important to define what we mean with ‘cake’.

The Cambridge dictionary defines cake as “A sweet food made from flour, eggs, fat, and sugar mixed together and baked”. But that’s still quite ambiguous a lot of foods such as cookies and apple pie, clearly no cakes, can fall under this definition. We need to add some more details:

  • Ingredients: The most common ingredients of a cake are wheat flour, sugar, fats, eggs and some leavening agent (e.g. baking powder or yeast). In general, you need at least three of these four ingredients to bake a cake.
  • Preparation method: while cake can be steamed of cooked, they are generally baked. For simplicity purposes, we will focus on baked cakes only.
  • Texture: A cake is soft, not crispy. It crumbles and breaks apart quite easily, but it is still coherent enough to be cut into slices.
  • Eating experience: A piece of cake melts away in your mouth. It is sweet and either light and airy or rich and dense.

Cakes weren’t invented by a specific person at a specific time. Instead, they evolved over time, likely having started out as simple breads. Those initial cakes weren’t the light and airy cakes that we know now. They were likely a lot denser and involved a lot more manual labor. We can now control the cake making process better than ever before. To do that well though, you’ll need some science, which is exactly what we’ll be discussing going forward.