Cake decorating is one of those oft-ignored culinary arts. Although the sight of a beautifully decorated cake delights almost everyone, most people are not aware of the long and intricate history of cake decorating. Cake decorating indeed has a long and colored history. Here is a brief overview of the history of cake decorating.
The Roots of Cake Decorating
What are the origins of cake decorating? Compared to other forms of food preparation, cake decorating is actually one of the newer culinary arts. Cake decorating can be traced back to the mid-17th century. This is around the same time, probably not coincidentally, that cake pans made their first appearance in domestic kitchens across Northeastern Europe. Beginning in the mid-17th century, cake decorating gained widespread popularity as a way to create elaborate desserts that were used as displays during the feasts and banquets of the wealthiest aristocracy. However, these were mainly used as display pieces.
The Mid-19th Century Brings Cake Decorating to the Forefront
The history of cake decorating, as we know it today truly got its start in the mid-19th century. This coincides with the period in which the French began to serve the dessert as a completely separate sweet course that was served at the very end of the meal. This is the time in which decorated desserts, namely cakes, began to appear on banquet tables with some kind of regularity.
The Development of Temperature-Controlled Ovens Changes Everything
In the 1840s, there was an important development in kitchen and cooking technology: the temperature controlled oven. This, of course, made baking much more pleasant and convenient. During this period, cake baking became easier and thus more popular. However, during this period, most cake decorating consisted of the elaborate and difficult old English method, which generally consisted of decorating with dimensional over piping. The cakes would generally be covered in rolled fondant, and the borders would be intricately over piped. Another important development during this same period is the introduction of baking powder and baking soda. This, of course, also makes baking cakes much easier.
The Wilton Method Arrives in the Early 20th Century
Around 1929, a business known as Wilton Enterprises began to advertise its own cake decorating classes. Their classes were advertised to enterprising chefs, caterers and other gourmands with an interest in baking and cake decorating. The cake decorating classes took off and became a great success among bakers and chefs. In 1947, the Wilton’s began to develop and promote their own line of baking and cake decorating products. Wilton enterprises made a great splash, and by the 1960s, the so-called Wilton Method became a stand-by method of cake decoration. In 1983, the Wilton Company merged with the Copco kitchenware company. Then, in 1991, the company merged again with Rowoco, who changed the name of the company to Wilton Industries.
The Lambeth Method Becomes Another Popular Decorating Method
A few years after the Wilton school came into existence, Joseph Lambeth published a book that would become a classic of cake decorating. The book was known as The Lambeth Method of Cake Decoration and Practical Pastries. The book became widely popular with budding cake decorators, bakers and other gourmands. The book contained real step-by-step instructions and clear, oversized drawings and photographs that showed readers how the Lambeth Method of cake decorating was constructed.
The International Cake Exploration Society Come Onto the Scene
In 1976, a new organization known as the International Cake Exploration Society in Michigan came into the cake decorating scene. The organization is still active, and meets each year during their annual conventions.