Around the world in a cake

 pandan cake

What’s the go-to baked item to celebrate life’s big events like birthdays, graduations, and weddings? Cake, of course! For centuries, cakes have provided the backdrop to celebrations of every sort around the world. According to the Food Timeline, the root of the word ‘cake’ can be traced  to the 13th century, although it took until the mid-17th century for cakes to resemble the round, iced cakes we are familiar with today. Each area or country around the world has developed its own special cake, and CNN has listed many of them in a slideshow of cakes of the world.

Choosing just one cake to represent a country is fraught with difficulty, as each region within a country would like to claims its version as the national standard. It seems fitting, then, that the list begins with the somewhat controversial choice of tiramisu to represent Italy. It’s my understanding that tiramisu is far more popular with visitors to the country than with the locals. Perhaps panforte or a semolina cake would be more appropriate here? 

Other selections seem to fall outside of the traditional definition of cake. Picking baklava for Turkey may be an appropriate choice vis-à-vis popularity, but it doesn’t seem to fit the criteria to be called a cake (in the EYB Library baklava falls under the Pies, tarts & pastries category). Rather than arguing over the semantics of what is necessary for something to be called a cake, perhaps it’s best to just accept the inclusion and move on. 

There are good arguments to be made for the choice of cheescake as the representative example for the United States, although the selection could just as easily been one of a dozen other American creations like Boston cream pie (an example of terrible naming), Devil’s food cake or its offshoot red velvet cake, or chiffon cake

England’s cake is the classic Victoria sponge (with the controversy of whether or not to include whipped cream duly noted). While Australia and New Zealand both lay claim to pavlova, here it’s given to New Zealand, based on the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which states that the first verified appearance of this delicious treat can be traced to New Zealand in 1927.

The choice for Uruguay is a cousin of pavlova. Postre chaja is a dessert composed of “layers of soft cake, cream and (usually) peach encased in a meringue shell.” It’s named after a South American bird. 

Reading through the list is spurring me to make pandan cake, a popular treat throughout Malaysia, and to try what’s called lapis legit in the article. Also known as kek lapis and kuih lapis, it’s a rich, multi-layered confection with a striking appearance.

Photo of Pandan chiffon cake from Serious Eats

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  • annmartina  on  March 1, 2018

    Yes to both pandan chiffon cake and lapis legit. I have also have seen it called kueh lapis Batavia. I've made it and it's not too difficult but it sure looks impressive. These were my go-to afternoon treats while in Singapore a few years ago. Also love the kueh lapis made of the brightly colored gel layers. So pretty and refreshing.

  • Agaillard  on  March 2, 2018

    Oooh all those new things to try. I agree with the madeleines for France, original yet still well known, but this is a tough choice (crepes, croissants, eclairs, macarons….)
    My favorites would be crepes, madeleine, croissants (only plain buttery ones), tarte tatin, tarte aux myrtilles, gateau nantais, Kouglof, gateau basque, tarte a la tomme, chouquettes, tarte aux pommes, Ispahan,…. but I am losing myself here now 🙂

    In the UK I also agree that this is an emblematic one but I would also have had a hard time, my favorites are handmade scones and clotted cream/jam, Bakewell tart, and Lemon Drizzle.

    I am fascinated by the pandan cake. Never heard of it before. It looks amazing !!

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