If you have wondered about the stories behind the cakes made on the Great British Bake Off or the difference between a Victoria sandwich and a sponge cake (especially if Mary Berry or Nigella Lawson is not to hand), this is the book for you. Baking has always been about memories passed down through families and Alysa Levene will take you through this compelling social history of baking.
‘My sister had three wedding cakes. Rather than spend a lot of money on a traditional cake she asked our grandmother, our mother, and our step-mother to make their signature bakes. My grandmother made the rich fruit cake she always baked at Christmas. My mother made a chocolate sponge which we called Queenie’s Chocolate Cake after the great aunt who gave her the recipe; it appeared at almost every one of our birthdays in one guise or another. And finally, my step-mother made chocolate brownies (Nigella Lawson’s recipe, if you’d like to know), whose sticky, pleasurable unctuousness is fully explained by the amount of butter they contain.
‘In our family, as in many others, these familiar cakes are the makers of memories. My siblings and I took this idea into our adult lives, and now bake for our own families. But it wasn’t until I developed an interest in the history of food that I started to think about the deeper significance of these tasty treats. What does cake mean for different people? How have we come to have such a huge variety of cakes? What had to happen historically for them to appear? And what can they tell us about the family, and women’s roles in particular? I wrote this book to find out the answers.’
What follows is a journey from King Alfred to our modern-day love of cupcakes, via Queen Victoria’s patriotic sandwich, the Southern States of America, slavery and the spice trade, to the rise of the celebrity chef . . . and so much more.