When last we left cake (yesterday) it was the Middle Ages, and cakes were not terribly different from what we know today as fruitcakes, heavy with ingredients, but leavened with yeast. This began to change in the 1700’s, which, as some of you regular readers may remember, is the period we know at joepastry.com as The Century of Egg Foams. The kitchens of Europe were simply mad for them, turning them into everything from appetizers (mousses) to desserts (mousses). Given that, it should come as no surprise that some of these foams found their way into cake batters. This had the effect of lightening them significantly, especially when bakers removed a lot of the heavy fruits and nuts.
Other important developments also helped speed along the arrival of the modern cake. One was the Industrial Revolution, which produced the steel rolling mill and the finest flours that had ever been seen before on the planet. Another was the broad availability of sugar, made possible by the slave-driven plantations in the West Indies. By 1800 nearly all the components of the modern cake were present on the culinary scene, save for one. Any guesses as to what that might be?