The birthday cake is an old tradition, dating back at least to Roman times, when the Romans would serve sweet flatbreads at parties like birthdays. Modern cakes themselves didn’t really arrive on the scene until the 15th century, when confections of all sorts began to sweep across the elite classes of Europe. It wasn’t until after the Industrial Revolution, however, that such treats became at all affordable for the middle and working classes, and so the modern birthday cake didn’t really appear until the 19th century.
Any sort of cake can be a birthday cake, as it is really the event itself that differentiates the cake, not what is in it. There are, however, some types of cake that are more commonly found than others. Usually, a cake for a birthday is made with white flour and butter, and is quite sweet. Generally, it will have two layers, with a center layer of either frosting or fruit, and a thick, sweet buttercream frosting on top.
One of the most popular flavors of birthday cake is the chocolate cake, which can also come in many different varieties. This can be a simple flour chocolate cake, with a chocolate buttercream frosting, or it can get more complex. German chocolate cake, for example, is a very popular cake. It is a layered chocolate cake, which has a frosting and filling of coconut and pecan, mixed with caramel. Chocolate birthday cake is quite rich, and so feels like a real treat for most people.
Chiffon cake is another type of birthday cake seen quite a bit. It is a very light cake, made with vegetable oil instead of butter. Because the cake uses no butter, it also uses a great deal of egg whites, to help enough air make its way into the cake to make it light and fluffy. Chiffon cake is incredibly moist because of all the oil and egg in it, and unlike more traditional butter cakes, chiffon cake doesn’t tend to dry out and become crusted as quickly. Usually chiffon cake is served with a rich frosting, and often with fruit topping or a fruit filling, to add some flavor to make up for the lack of butter.
A healthier alternative to more traditional flour and butter cakes is to use carrot cake as a birthday cake. Carrot cake is made with carrots grated into butter or margarine, and it tends to be much denser than lighter butter or chiffon cakes. Carrots naturally sweeten the cake, so that a relatively small amount of white sugar need be added to the recipe. The carrot cake is then frosted with a cream cheese icing, and sometimes garnished with chopped nuts.
Ultimately, any type of cake can serve as a birthday cake, and especially for adults celebrating their birthdays the sky is the limit. Cheesecake is often seen as a richer alternative to traditional cakes, and exotic cakes like the croquembouche or mooncake may also be seen. For children, fun variations like the ice-cream cake or cupcakes are also quite popular.