The main source of food energy in most modern diets is grain. In China and eastern Asia that grain is rice. In the west grains, such as wheat, were made into bread. Special breads were also eaten after a meal as dessert. This summer's kitchen topic is about desserts. Cakes are desserts that are a special type of bread.
The word cake has many meanings, other than dessert bread. The original meaning was a round piece of bread, from the Old Norse kaka. The word can also be used metaphorically to refer to any small round cake-shaped object. Examples include a cake of soap, a cake of ice, a cake of yeast, a cake of wax and so on. The word can be used to describe cake-shaped foods that are not bread. These include fish cake, crab cake, rice cake, potato cake and so on.
To be covered with something like frosting on a cake is to be caked. A boy playing in a muddy (Canadian) field, on a wet day, might come home caked in mud. Something very easy to do is described by an idiom as a piece of cake. That means it is as easy to do as eating cake. However the most common meaning for the word cake is the dessert which is today's topic.
What most people think of when they hear the word cake is a beaten egg-white cake. The beaten egg-white dessert cake recipe contains flour, sugar and flavourings and mixes them with beaten-egg whites to fill the cake with many air pockets. That makes the cake very light. (The egg yolk is separately added to the dough.) Other cakes might just be sweetened bread, but one made without mixing in beaten egg-whites. An example would be stollen, a bread made with sugar and dried fruit. Stollen is traditional around Christmas time in German families.
Many things use the word cake, a bread that is sweet or a thing that is cake-shaped. There are a great many names for special types of cake. The meaning we intend for the word cake, must be explained in context.
by John Larrysson
A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.