Classic cakes ready to make a comeback

Diving back into the archives could provide modern bakers with a treasure trove of new ideas, with a host of traditional bakes waiting to be rediscovered.


As World War One raged overseas, Brits were encouraged to bake a so-called ‘Trench Cake’ for troops abroad to boost morale.

With many ingredients in short supply, the recipe contains no eggs or butter, and plenty of dried fruit. In fact, it wouldn’t look out of place in a 21st century healthy-eating cookbook – and only the presence of a quarter pint of milk would prevent it from appealing to today’s burgeoning vegan crowd.

Trench Cake is just one example of a virtually forgotten recipe that could, with a few tweaks, find a modern audience. “There are hundreds of traditional cakes waiting to be rediscovered,” suggests Mary-Anne Boermans, food historian and author of Great British Bakes (2013) and Deja Food (2017).

“Since popular flavourings of the past differ from those in modern times – with interesting combinations of spices, extracts and cordials, compared with modern obsessions with chocolate and vanilla – traditional bakes can be a taste sensation.”

The royal wedding cake helped raise consumer interest in botanical flavours and may have paved the way for the Wood Street Cake, a light, delicately spiced fruit cake decorated – while hot – with rosewater icing.

Other fruit-based cakes, such as lardy or spice cake, could also find a health-conscious modern audience as they
are filled with fruit and require relatively little sweetening. One product ripe for return is the Showboat, according to Richard Wood, lecturer in bakery and confectionery at University College Birmingham. Previously made by Kunzle Cakes in Birmingham before the business was bought by Lyons, Showboats comprise a tempered chocolate cup case filled with a cut-to-fit syrup-soaked sponge, then levelled out with fondant and decorated. They would be an ideal grab-and-go item for customers in a hurry, suggests Wood.

For John Slattery of Manchester-based bakery and confectioners Slattery, the Jap Cake, made from a piped almond meringue, smothered in a coffee buttercream and rolled in toasted chopped almonds, can bring a taste of nostalgia.

“Bringing back traditional, flavoursome almond goods could introduce a whole new generation to quality confectionery with exceptional mouthfeel and taste,” he says.

And some modern cakes could be given a new lease of life to ensure they remain relevant to today’s consumers. Cake decorations supplier Cake Décor suggests classic Black Forest cake could be revived with a modern finish. “Bakers should consider finishing off with a mirror glaze or the addition of rich chocolate shards,” says marketing manager Andy Mitchell.

Even the humble Pineapple Upside-Down Cake could be given a refresh by incor-porating other fruits, according to Mintel senior food and drink analyst Richard Caines, who adds that a flavour or colour switch could transform a Battenberg.

It’s a view echoed by Michael Schofield, marketing manager at Bakels: “Twists on traditional favourites will catch the eyes and taste buds of the younger generation in particular, who are increasingly open to trying innovative cakes.”

For bakers seeking further inspiration, Boermans suggests the wide selection of bakery books dating from the late-Victorian/Edwardian era. “Numerous British bakery books are available on the internet and, often, free to download,” she says. “There’s little need for bakers to broaden the list of ingredients they currently use, and specialist equipment isn’t required either, with many recipes requiring circular or loaf-shaped tins.”


Cakes from around the world

The phrase ‘classic cakes’ conjures up images of a Victoria Sponge or Lemon Drizzle cake – but there is a wealth of recipes from across the globe that could inspire British bakers. Here is just a handful of them:

Mexico: Tres Leches (2) is a sponge soaked in three types of milk: condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream, topped with more cream and icing sugar.

US: Smith Island Cake is ideal for a celebration such as a wedding, suggests Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager at Dawn Foods UK and Ireland. The cake contains between eight and 15 pencil-thin buttery yellow cake sponges layered with chocolate fudge icing or frosting. Angel Food Cake (1), made with stiffly beaten egg whites and without butter, has a light and airy texture.

“There are many cakes from around the world which are different enough to be tempting, but not too outrageously difficult or unusual to discourage trying,” says food historian Mary-Anne Boermans. She suggests Ebinger’s Chocolate Blackout Cake (3), named for the New York blackout drills of World War Two. It comprises a chocolate layer cake filled and topped with a dark fudge icing and dusted with chocolate cake crumbs.

Brazil: Brazilian carrot cake, or Bolo de Cenoura, meets the growing demand for vegetables in cakes and is topped with a rich chocolate glaze.

Europe: Sweden’s Toscakaka, or Tosca cake, is a sponge cake baked with a thick, buttery caramel and a flaked almond topping, says Boermans, who also recommends Denmark’s Dream Cake, which is similar but topped with desiccated coconut. Meanwhile, Norway offers the Kvæfjordkake, or Midsummer Cake, which is a sponge baked with meringue and almonds and filled with cream and vanilla custard.

Australia: The classic Lamingtons cake would be a welcome addition to the UK baking market, says Andy Mitchell, marketing manager at Cake Décor. This traditional bake comprises sponge coated in chocolate or raspberry sauce and then covered in desiccated coconut. It “would tap into the growing popularity of coconut flavours,” Mitchell adds.

Taiwan: The Dhan Waffle is a combination of waffle, cake and doughnut formed into an egg shape.

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