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Bakers in the family then please add them to this project.

The Egyptians

Records show that already in the years 2600-2100 B.C. bread was baked by Egyptians, who it is believed had learned the skill from the Babylonians. A relief representing the royal bakery of Ramses features bread and cakes, some of these were shaped in the form of animals and used for sacrifices. Other early records, this time by the Greek scholar (Aristophanes 450-385 B.C), show the existence of honey flans and patterned tortes. According to Aristophanes, the ancient Greeks also had a type of doughnut made from crude flour and honey called “Dispyrus” a ring-cake that was submerged in wine and consumed hot.
Could this have been an early version of Baba or Savarin, still so popular today?

A relief representing the royal bakery of Ramses III who reigned over Egypt in the 12 th century B.C.

The Roman Empire

Inevitably Greek culture influenced the Roman Empire ; bakery know-how was transformed and really flourished. During the fourth century A.D., evidence also emerges of the first pastry-cook’s association or “pastillarium” in those times nomenclature.

Now it is well known, the Romans were a lusty, festivity loving lot and even though a decree was passed by the Senate designed to curb excesses by citizens, the sweet art of pastry-cooking (considered decadent by some) emerged as a highly respected profession.

Indeed the bakery business was so profitable that in the time of Christ around three hundred independent bakers existed in Rome . Just how rewarding and diverse the trade then was is recorded by Cato (234-148 B.C.) Could it be that the French word Gâteaux used for tortes is a derivative of this man’s name?

Anyhow, Cato names a great many different kinds of bread, sacrificial cakes “libum”, cakes made with flour, groats and cress “placenta”, pretzels” spira”, tortes “scibilata”, fritters “globus apherica”, Bowl-cake “erneum”, sweet cake “savaillum” and sidrer-cake “mustaceum”.
Quite a large selection made by early Roman “Dulciarius” or “Flour Confectioners”, isn’t it?


Clearly visible in this picture, an excavated bakery in Pompeii , is the bread oven with its chimney and in the foreground the remains of two grain-mills.

Middle Ages

Baking is a luxury few are able to enjoy. But for those who can afford a wood-burning stove and to heat it, you would start with bread. The better the quality, the higher up the social order you are.

“Ovens were not a standard fixture in any household, so bread-baking never really entered the home in the medieval period,” says Dr Pennell.

“It was a niche, commercial activity. For example, you had bread-bakers in London.”

Prof Walter adds: “The rich ate fine, floured wheat bread. But if you were poor you cut your teeth on rye and black bread.

“Only the very wealthy had the cakes we tend to think of today. But they were much heavier – 10 to 20lbs.

“This was subsistence-focused baking, with an emphasis on bread and pies.

“If you were wealthy, your baked goods would be rich in exotic colour. But if you were poor, you were grateful if you could afford meat for your pie.”

15th century

Britain sees an explosion of expensive spices, such as saffron. Sweet dough, with lots of cream and butter, start to be enjoyed by those who could afford it.

The wigg - a small bun made with sweetened dough and herbs and spices – becomes popular.

But mince pies are made with minced beef or mutton, and biscuits “are the equivalent of Ryvita – pretty nasty stuff,” says Prof Walter.

Meanwhile, gingerbread is made with breadcrumbs.


16th and 17th centuries

Baking is transformed by globalisation, which heralds an explosion of treacle and currants. Plump cake and bready dough with lots of butter, cream and raisins become popular.

“Economic growth prompted an emerging middle class, and baking ‘trickled down’,” says Prof Walter.

“Amid growing wealth and social change, people could think about eating things other than bread, and imitate the upper-class diet.

“Baking became more accessible, and so more people baked cakes and biscuits.

“By the late 17th century sugar was cheap, and so you saw the emergence of mince pies as we know them, made with sugar and spices.

“And with the refinement of flour you see the development of gingerbread as we know it.”

Dr Pennell adds: “From the 16th century you had the onset of cookery literature, in which you start to see recipes for things we might recognise today as small, yeasted cakes and buns.

“They would be eaten as part of the dessert course, to help you digest the rich meal you had eaten beforehand.

“You also started to see the emergence of kitchen equipment, such as the ‘cake hoop’ – that is, a cake tin. The tin was lined with buttered paper.

“But cakes were made with ale and were very solid. The modern-day equivalent, in terms of the yeast-bread-based dough, would be a lardy cake.

“Seed cakes were also popular.”

Pastries too were considered fashionable in the late 17th century. “The English prided themselves on their pastry-making,” says Dr Pennell.

“It was considered a skill all good housewives should have.

“London cookery schools were teaching pastry-making. It was a fashionable skill.”

18th century

Cake making soars in popularity, but the industrial revolution from 1760 sees a return to more stodgy baked goods.

“This was when cake making really took off,” says Dr Pennell.

“The Art of Cookery, written by Hannah Glasse and published in 1747, contained a catalogue of cake recipes.

“Integral to this was the development of the semi-closed oven. The development of baking is as much to do with technology as it is taste.”

Fast-forward to the industrial revolution and Britain sees “a return to heavy baking, where the working class eats bread and jam,” says Prof Walter.

“But at Easter, Christmas and other seasonal occasions, a richer diet would be available to even the poorer members of society.

“Merchants and shopkeepers can afford ovens, and to bake.”


19th century

Convenience food grows in popularity, and the advent of baking powder sees cakes become lighter.

“As more working class women were employed in the 19th century, they had less time for elaborate food preparation,” says Prof Walter.

“We often think of the ‘fast food culture’ as being a recent thing, but women in Britain in the 19th century increasingly relied on convenience food such as pasties and pies.”

Meanwhile, the introduction of baking powder saw “the style of cakes change from dense, yeast-based bakes, into cakes made with flour, eggs, fat and a raising agent,” says Dr Pennell.