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Food History

A Brief History of the Birthday Cake

In this week’s installment of Mad Genius Tips, F&W’s Justin Chapple demonstrates a smart and easy way to cut perfect cake layers using just toothpicks and unflavored floss. The technique will come in handy the next time you make a birthday cake, as will these fun facts about birthday cake history.

Putting candles on cake was a Greek innovation. In Ancient Greece, worshippers brought moon-shaped cakes to the temple of Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt. The cakes were decorated with lit candles in order to make them glow like the moon.

The Romans baked the first birthday cakes. They made cakes of flour, nuts, yeast and honey to celebrate weddings and the occasional 50th birthday (only if the birthday boy was a famous citizen, and women’s birthdays weren’t celebrated anywhere until the 12th century).

Kids' birthday parties became a thing in Germany. The Germans probably first celebrated birthdays in a manner similar to how we do today. In the 18th century, Kinderfeste (which sounds like a great name for a German theme park) was a party held for a child. In the morning, a cake was topped with lit candles. The child did not blow them out, though. Instead, they were left to burn all day until after dinner, when the cake was eaten.

The Industrial Revolution was the great cake equalizer. Mass-produduction made it possible for everyone, not just the one percent, to purchase an elaborate multi-layer cake. Ingredients, tools and prepared cakes themselves became much less expensive. Frosting for everyone!

Related: Layer Cake Recipes
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How to Make Meringue Cake

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