The 2000 year old honey cake from Pompeii | How To Cook That Ann Reardon

The 2000 year old honey cake from Pompeii | How To Cook That Ann Reardon

Welcome to How To Cook That I’m Ann
Reardon and today we’re gonna be making a cake from 2000 years ago! So how do we
even know what they ate back then? Well our trip to Italy helped us find some clues.
So we are here in ancient Pompeii which was a city destroyed by an eruption of
Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 so 2,000 years ago almost and a lot of it was preserved
by the ash that fell over the course of really one or two days, just covered the
entire city and is preserved that city for thousands of years this incredible place.
To think that thousands of people lived here and they all died all at once I
think it’s a bit a eerie. It’s quite incredible really, the size of it how
well-preserved it is it’s basically untouched. As we walked around Pompeii we
saw the fast-food street vendor stands for selling hot meals and these huge
stone mills for grinding corn and wheat into flour. These were all positioned in
a bakery and they even found preserved loaves of bread here. Bread is great but
I want to know about sweet food. A lot of the buildings have these ornate mosaics
and paintings in the plaster and about 10 minutes away from Pompeii there’s a
seaside villa thought to have been owned by Nero himself and there you can see a
painting of this cake on a pedestal. Cake stands have got a lot smaller over the
years! According to this is likely to have been a Dulcia Piperata or honey cake … I don’t know if I said that right but
anyway. From their recipe it says we need flour baking powder rosemary cinnamon
almonds grape juice passum which is like a sweet white wine
honey milk and chopped hazelnuts. My only problem with this recipe is that it has
baking powder and baking powder wasn’t invented until 1843 so we’re around 1700
years too early for that. So I’m gonna try and make this cake three ways …once
with baking powder like they’ve got suggested here, once using nothing at all
and once using yeast which we know they had because they needed it for their
bread. Okay so let’s start with a hundred and forty grams of flour. I don’t have
one of those huge stone mills like they had in Pompeii but I did manage to get
this smaller version. I guess I just pour some wheat kernels and let them fall
down the hole in the middle there and then turn it around. This is not heavy
enough I don’t think look it’s just spitting out wheat down
the bottom that doesn’t help me having whole wheat kernels that’s what I put
into it 🧐 It’s not grinding them at all don’t buy
one of these. Now if I push down hard on it as I turn instead of using the handle
I can get some flour mixed in with whole wheat kernels coming out the other end.
Now if I lift the top off this it’s quite heavy but you can see some of it
is getting crushed but lots of it is not getting crushed at all. Strangely enough
I have actually ground wheat before using a stone mill and it should work
really well so this is definitely a dodgy model. If I tip that into a sieve
you’ll be able to see we are getting some flour but not enough to make a cake.
So seeing as it’s not working I’m gonna cheat and put the wheat kernels into my
blender and grind it up that way. We have it so easy now with electrical
appliances we just don’t even think about it we’re just using for everything.
Next we need half a teaspoon of ground rosemary. Rosemary is one of those
herbs that’s easy to grow in the garden it’s quite hardy, it grows really well
in every state of Australia here. It’s pretty hard to grind fresh rosemary
though but I’ll resist the urge to put it in the blender with the flower. Let me
just fast forward! Put myself into blender speed
⏩There we go we’ve got some ground rosemary. Next we need some ground
almonds again the blender would be super handy for this job.
Baking even basic things just took them so long to do everything back then. Now
we need some honey and some cinnamon… it’s interesting that this recipe has no
eggs and no oil. I wonder what it’s going to taste like?
So we ground our wheat to make flour we crushed the almonds to make the almond
meal, pounded the rosemary to break that up and we’ve got the honey, cinnamon and
baking powder which as I said they didn’t have back then so I’m only going
to use that in one of the cakes and not the others. We’ve also got here some milk
and they used a wine called passum. Now I couldn’t get that here so I’m swapping
it for this one which is apparently a thick sweet white wine which is very
similar to passum. So we’ll start by adding the cinnamon to the bowl with the
whole wheat flour and the crushed almonds and rosemary and stir that
together and you can see how out of place the very white baking powder looks
compared to everything else which is like these light brownish colors. Add in
the honey and the milk and the wine and stir them together. Wow that looks very
healthy very wholesome compared to normal cake batter. And now I’m going to
split this into three bowls. To this one I’m adding baking powder, to this bowl
I’m adding some instant dried yeast and this one is staying plain with
nothing. Mix those through and put them into cake pans. Now I assume they would
have had pottery dishes to bake these in but I don’t have little pottery dishes
so forgive me for using metal baking tins. Now we need to leave the one with
the yeast in it to rise and you’ll notice I didn’t kneed it because I don’t
want it to develop the gluten in it and become like a bread dough I want it to
have more of a cakey texture. We can bake the baking powder and plain one
straightaway just pop those into the oven and
while they’re baking chop up some hazelnuts. Once those are done take them
out of the oven and drizzle the top with honey and then sprinkle some hazelnuts
on top and you want to do this while they’re still hot so that honey kind of
melts down into it and makes the hazelnuts stick. Our plain and baking
powder ones are ready but the one with yeast in it has only just risen to the
top so I’ll put that one in the oven to bake now. Once that’s done you want to
drizzle that one as well with your honey and add the nuts on top. Now we’ve got
the one with no raising agent the one with the baking powder and lastly the
one that had the yeast in it. The yeast one has quite big air bubbles on the
outside compared to the others. If we slice that in half we can see inside it
looks a bit like a carrot cake that actually looks really yummy. The baking
powder one if we cut that open looks pretty much like a normal cake texture
and the one with no baking powder at all or that one is solid there’s no air
bubbles to be found in it. Now to taste the two-thousand-year-old cake recipe…
the one with no raising agent as you would imagine is very dense that had no
air bubbles in it it’s a bit like eating how can I describe it it’s a bit like
eating a protein ball it’s that dense. It almost tastes fruity as well it’s like I
can taste some apricot or maybe even some orange in there which is weird
because we didn’t add any fruit. I’m wondering if that flavor is from the
wine? The baking powder one I can really taste the bitterness of the baking
powder I think it’s not very sweet this cake it doesn’t have a lot of honey in
it so just that little bit of baking powder is quite noticeable in it. The
texture of it is nicer but the flavour of the first one was better. Now for the
yeast … this texture is quite cake like it’s not exactly the same as with baking
powder but it’s actually pretty good and it tastes much more like the first one
did without the baking powder flavor in it.
You can taste a little bit of yeast but it’s not very strong it’s not overpowering. So
if you want to recreate a 2000 year old cake, use yeast in your recipe or you
could use sourdough starter if you’ve got that I didn’t have any of that and
make sure you use freshly ground wheat it gives it a really wholesome flavor to
it it’s a bit like eating a whole wheat muffin almost but it’s different you
have to make it yourself and taste it. You can check out my other two hundred
year old recipes here or if you’re not already subscribed you can do that now
and a big THANK YOU to my patrons and a shout out to my gold level patrons … you
guys are amazing if you’d like to join them you can click here to do that. Make
it a Great Week and I’ll see you on Friday 💝

100 thoughts on “The 2000 year old honey cake from Pompeii | How To Cook That Ann Reardon

  1. That's so interesting!
    In Italy we call "lievito" both yeast and baking powder, so the baking powder mentioned in the original recipe might have been yeast, but it was misinterpreted when translated (if it was translated from the italian version of the website or from a recipe written in Italian. That sounds plausible!)
    We call baking powder "lievito in polvere" or "lievito per dolci", when we need to be specific. That roughly means "powdered yeast" and "yeast for desserts", so I think it comes natural for most of us to translate "lievito" in a cake recipe with "baking powder".

  2. wheat and "corn"? in Pompeii? you're not meaning Zea sp, so is it… barley you mean? what would have been the "corn" of Pompeii?

  3. The medieval bakers used fermented honey to aerate the dough of cakes.

    The dough was made a week or so before baking it.

  4. I have a period appropriate honey cake recipe that is similar – but not quite the same.

    1/2 c almond oil (or melted butter – I prefer the flavor of the butter)
    1 c honey
    3 eggs (slightly beaten – for a lighter cake, sep the eggs and beat the whites on their own)
    4 c whole wheat flour (better if you can use whole wheat pastry flour, and works well if you do half almond flour/ground almonds and half whole wheat flour)
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/2 c milk

    Cream together honey and oil (or butter) until it's very pale and ribbony (This is where most of the air comes from in the recipe). Add eggs (yolks if you separated them). Sift together dry ingredients and add alternately to the oil/honey mixture with the milk. (If you separated the eggs, fold in the egg whites now). Pour batter into 2 greased 9 inch cake pans. Bake at 35oF for 35mins or so. Serve topped with honey or soft sweet cheese.

    Note: I prefer not to use almond oil AND almond flour – it tends to bring out strange flavors in my experience.

  5. Add a weight to the top of your grinding mill and then add some water to grind your wheat; gather the wheat paste into a cheese cloth and hang it up until all of the water drips out/evaporates and you have perfectly ground wheat. 🙂 You can also sieve the paste before you remove the water for a finer wheat flour.

  6. is it me or do you think of the song "Pompeii" By Bastille every time you hear the word Pompeii? Its about Pompeii too!

  7. Super interesting. Although I’m wondering if the honey would have been mixed with a bit of water, heated up, and then poured over the cake so it could penetrate to the bottom, adding both an even sweetness and moisture throughout. A lot of Mediterranean cakes are still made like that, so that’s why I brought it up.

  8. This cake slightly reminds me of this story I read about Pompeii as a child. I don't know if this story actually happened during the eruption but it sorta went like this. The story I read was about a blind kid being raised by a dog during the time of the eruption. In the story I remember it mentioning that the dog would occasionally fetch the boy some sort of small cake/bread/pastry with raisins on top. Did such a cake with raisins on top exist in Pompeii at the time? If so, what was it called?

  9. Don’t know how I found your channel but I’m glad I did. Yeah, I’d totally add some grated carrots and coconut shreds to it, also maybe some chopped dried fruits… my gosh. This looks great, thanks for posting

  10. this video had me looking up the grinder thing, and I figured out why yours didn't work. the small size one you got was designed for display only, it doesn't work right because it's not supposed to. the same listing on amazon has other sizes from the same maker that are actually designed for real use.

  11. That looked like a LOT of baking powder for just a third of the recipe, I'm not surprised it was bitter! Was that three times too much, by any chance?

  12. The internet says that sourdough starter was available several thousands of years ago. Also, famed Pliny the Elder (Roman author, naturalist, militarily commander, and more) noted that the Gauls and Iberians scooped the foam from their beer to make “a lighter kind of bread than other peoples”. One or two other ways of obtaining yeast are mentioned also. Pretty nice video.
    H. Lloyd

  13. I do know in the Bible they reference Levin in the old testament. Could that be the version of baking powder for the time era of the recipe?

  14. I'm guessing here. It is likely their wine contained the yeast if the original cake was raised. Other than sourdough, it would have been the safest way.

    I've used the left behind yeast from making wine before. It doesnt rise as fast, but it does work to make bread.

  15. I'm not necessarily you might have also been using a lot bigger tools like imagine having a pestle and mortar that are 10 times bigger be a lot easier to crush the hell out of those almonds I mean if you look at some of these Indian videos when they're cooking for people they're not using small pots and pans like we would in the America because in America they would probably Outlaw that saying it's not you know say for whatever this and that but you know Indians do it all the time and they'll feed thousands and thousands of people but they'll use a giant pot you're using like a hand mortar and pestle for something I should probably be bigger

  16. Ann is so extra. XD
    Every time she tries these ancient recipes, she always tries to grind and beat everything by hand. She's so dedicated to accuracy/replication. She deserves an honorary food science degree!

  17. 1:00 A bit of a nitpick, I must admit, but I'm pretty sure ancient Romans did not have access to corn. I thought corn is native to America , and would arrive in Europe until past the 15th century?

  18. 1:00 "…these huge stone mills for grinding corn and wheat into flour"

    Corn is the same thing as wheat, unless you're referring to maize from the Americas, in which case they definitely wouldn't have had that.

  19. I love using almond flour in cakes, it gives it such a tender crumb! My favorite cake cookbook, Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell, uses it to replace or fortify flour cakes! Usually uses eggs tho. I definitely recommend that book if anyone wants to give it a read. I make the lemon loaf and apple cake at least 3 times a year as a dabbling baker!

  20. I love how in every one of these old recipe videos you try to replicate the ingredients they used and most of the things they did back then except for using electrical appliances just wow

  21. Archaeologist here!! As cool as it is, be careful with the stone grind, it adds tiny stone powder that will affect your teeth!

  22. Pretty sure there would not have been corn in Pompeii since it didn’t come to Italy until after the Columbia exchange began.

  23. Love the video, but they probably didn't do much corn grinding in Europe in 76CE, since it was cultivated in the Americas…

  24. Can I just thank you for calling out the baking powder. Every time I see an 'ancient' recipe there are always some anachronisms, and it bugs me to no end. So kudos to you! I'll replace any raising agents with yeast from now on! 🙂

  25. It could also have been baking soda rather than baking powder as humans have been using that as early as 3500BC Wich means they had been using it for about 3500 years by the time this recipe was around.

  26. When they say "preserved a lot" take it with a grain of salt, there is a lot when you get there but not a lot in therms that you get bored after 15 minutes.

  27. I’be never been to Pompeii, but I have been to Ostia. Ostia was a large port city in Italy that similarly was destroyed and preserved by a Volcano. There is more art saved in Ostia than in Pompeii, but there weren’t too many bakeries! Lots of fish I guess.

    Love this video and the history behind it!

  28. Fun fact, as the roman mill stones were often in relatively fragile rock, when they grind flour, little bits of rock falled into the flour and they used their teeths hard on those sort of things ^^
    We have really an easier time 😀

  29. Oh and cinnamon came from China or India at the time, so it was worth… pretty much gold, to have cinnamon in a cake make it very expensive ^^

  30. 😱😱😱😱😱

    no touchy!!!
    you're on an archeological site, for cryin' out loud!!!

    touching the ruins is not a smart move (also forbidden)! it's like going to, say, MoMA and start tracing the swirls on Van Gogh's De sterrennacht with your fingertips!!! 😒

    the cake looks great, thou…

    Back at university, we once try to make this cake at a roman archeology class, it was really fun.
    I agree with the follower who said baking powder is an incorrect translation, we used sourdough, which seemed the most historically accurate option (and also a more accurate translation for lievito as intended for "traditional" breads and cakes)
    Oh, we also used vin santo (since we're in Tuscany, but passito or such will do as well) instead of passum… hardly close to ancient "wine", but is a very sweet, liqueury wine and worked fine after we made a reduction with it, to mimic the thickness of roman wines back then

  31. As an archaeologist i have to applaud you. You are basically performing experimental archaeology when you try to recreate something ancient with the means of the time. And such a good point on baking powder v yeast.

  32. Love the video, I have one minor complaint, the history nerd in me is screaming and clawing at thes, 1:04 Romans never knew about corn, corn was brought to Europe from Americas in XV or XVI century, not sure exactly when, but if I had to giess, first corn most probably brought to europe in late XV century.

  33. That mill is definitely for decorative puposes only…looked like it might have been adding ground millstone to the flour as well…I'm thinking the yeast may have been more of a starter than a yeast as we use today…powdered yeast is rather recent as it used to be sold in wet blocks

  34. How would you alter the recipe for someone with a nut allergy? Would you swap the almonds for something or just leave them out? Thank you!

  35. Just made these! they definitely taste healthy, more like a bran muffin than a cake — i used a skewer to poke holes in the top of the cakes before adding a second drizzled layer of honey to the top, so it could penetrate into the cake a bit more. this definitely made it feel more like a dessert 🙂 (edits for typos – oops!)

  36. I think rosemary is basically a weed. It certainly grows like one even in the Arizona desert. The mints are the same way. They're invasive if you're not careful ❤️

  37. Not sure if you will see this, but you can buy a 5th century AD Roman cookbook called the Appicius. The version I have had both Latin and English as well as a large foreword with explanations of different ingredients. It would be cool if you tried some recipes from it! (N.B. There aren’t any quantities given in the cookbook so it would be a bit of experimental archaeology!)

  38. We made this in Latin class a couple of years ago. I remember that we added fish sauce too as a substitute for garum (Roman fish sauce). We translated the recipe from Latin and it used garum as a preservative. They actually tend to use it in a lot of their recipes. I don't recommend using garum in a cake though. Even after baking, the cake will still taste really fishy and salty.

  39. I've found, when using whole wheat flour, fresh ground is much lighter and pleasanter in texture than the whole wheat flour you can buy from a store. Definitely recommend.

  40. Alternatively, grab all ingredients, find one volcano…. seriously, though, this is very neat. So much has been lost to history, it's interesting when we can, or at least try to, re-capture some of it.

  41. Why wasn't there oil in the recipe? I'm sure I've read about them using olive oil in various ointments, so I assume people from back then could've gotten hold of some for baking.

  42. Some of that apricot and fruit taste might be from the crushed rosemary, it can become more floral in taste when freshly ground into baked goods.

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