The birthday cake has been an integral part of the birthday celebrations in Western cultures since the middle of the 19th century. ...During Roman times, 'cakes' were served at special birthdays. However, these cakes did not resemble contemporary cakes in the least. They were simply flat rounds made with flour containing nuts, leavened with yeast, and sweetened with honey. In early Europe, the words for cake and bread were virtually interchangeable; the only differene being that cakes were sweet while bread was not.As more ingredients, such as sugar, became available, culinary utensils improved and techniques such as leavening with egg whites developed, cakes became more and more elaborate. Overtime, the discipline of confectionery developed and by the 15th century, cakes became ornate, multi-layer showpieces decorated with marzipan and sugar sculptures; the appearance of a cake was just as important as its flavour. However, these elaborate cakes, which possessed many aspects of contemporary cakes (such as layers and decorations), were only available to the very wealthy. In modern times, with the wide availability of materials, cookbooks and utensils such as electric beaters, professionals are no longer required to produce elaborate birthday cakes. Today birthday cakes are not only served to celebrate human birthdays, but also to commemorate important anniversaries, such as a country's birthday.
The contemporary commercially produced North American birthday cake is usually a multi-layer affair, each layer separated with various fillings, usually covered with icing. A birthday greeting is often added to the top of the cake. The variations on the birthday cake are enormous; cakes can be chemically leavened, or leavened with beaten egg whites; they can be round or rectangular - in short, there is no common form.
The cake, or sometimes a pastry or dessert, is served to a person on his or her birthday. In North America, the birthday person is traditionally the first served, though this tradition is left to the discretion of the host and is not an invariable norm. In contemporary Western cultures, two rituals are prominent: the singing of the traditional birthday song and the blowing out of candles decorating the cake by the birthday person.
The service of a birthday cake is often preceded by the singing of Happy Birthday to You in English speaking countries, or an equivalent birthday song. In fact, the phrase "Happy Birthday" did not appear on birthday cakes until the song Happy Birthday to You was popularized in the early 1900s.Variations on birthday song rituals exist. For example, in New Zealand, the Happy Birthday to You is sung out of tune and is followed by clapping, once for each year of the persons life and once more for good luck. In Uruguay, party guests touch the birthday person's shoulder or head following the singing of Happy Birthday to You.
The birthday cake is often decorated with taper candles which are secured with special holders. In North America, the number of candles is equal to the age of the individual whose birthday it is. Traditionally the birthday person makes a private wish, which will be realized if all the candles are extinguished in a single breath.In medieval England, tokens, such as coins and thimbles, were baked inside the birthday cake, a tradition which persists today with the Christmas pudding. Receiving a coin in one's slice predicted future wealth while it was believed that those receiving a thimble would never wed.