Birth of the Layer Cake

So where was I? Oh yes, the middle of the nineteenth century. Ingredients are plentiful and leavening has been (mostly) perfected. The Industrial Revolution is in full swing, which means home ovens are being churned out by the freight car load, to say nothing of implements and pans. By 1870 the New World was primed and ready for cake production on an unprecedented scale. All that was needed was for someone to light the proverbial match.

Exactly who it was who first hit on the idea of piling one cake on top of another to produce what has since become known as a “layer cake” is a mystery. Pastry chefs had been making multi-layered dessert-type pastries on the continent for hundreds of years by that time, so it obviously wasn’t too much of a conceptual stretch. All that’s known is that by the end of the 19th Century, just about everybody and their cousin was making cakes – big ones.

Though the first official layer cake recipe wasn’t published until The Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book appeared in London in 1894, layer cakes were almost certainly old news in baking circles by then. But the batter really hit the fan in about 1900, when rich whipped buttercream frostings finally replaced simple boiled icings as a key structural/textural component. The next 20 years (1900 – 1920) saw the greatest explosion of cake baking the world had ever seen, with home bakers and ladies’ clubs everyhere duking it out for bragging rights to the tallest, fluffiest cakes.

The race to the moon was on.

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