The History of Baking and Pastry Cooking
History of Baking
How to start a bakery How to select a bakery consultant
How did it all start? The Egyptians The Roman Empire Europe The Ginger Bread Merchant Open-Air Café


On today’s market there is a never ending variety of the most delicious sweets and pastries to please both the palate and the eyes. We have become so used to this diverse range of bread, mouth watering pastries and cakes that seldom we ask just how they come into existence.

I guess my initial interest in the origin of the baking industry was not aroused by accident; rather I suspect it was kindled by a chain of events occurring earlier in my life...

My Grandfather owned a small hotel and bakery in Switzerland and when he retired my father who was an excellent pastry cook continued the business. As a small child I spent many hours watching my dad at work and later followed in his footsteps almost as a matter of course.

Then again, I have a suspicion that it may have been “fate-by-design” that made me take up pastry-cooking. The question still remains, was my career pre-determined by the fact that my grandfather had thousands of letterheads printed for his bakery which included his name?

The prospect of a hefty quantity discount would no doubt have made perfect sense to my frugal fore bearer; it must have been so much cheaper getting all this printing done in a big way.

Grandfather should have realised (and I suspect that he might have) that there was not the slightest chance that any one generation could ever use up this huge mountain of stationery.

Granddad’s first name “Fritz” was also my father’s first name and when I was born there was never any question as to what my name should be! After all there were still zillions of these letterheads leftover, so let’s not waste any money! Anyhow, Fritz was considered a perfectly good name by all and “Pfister” being the old Swiss/German form used for “Baker” just another indication of a long family tradition.
Until modern days the old brotherhood of Swiss bakers was called the “Zunft der Pfistern”.

Grandfather Pfister
My Dad as an Apprentice
“LINDE” the old family Bakery in Pfungen near Winterthur

The interesting history of baking and pastry-cooking! – Or how did it all start?
One thing is sure, people could never have survived without food, but what is now called the “staff of life,” bread, and the making of it started in comparatively recent times.

Right in the beginning of recorded history there was the discovery of fire making, thus along with light, heat could be generated. Then there followed the discovery of different grasses and their seeds which could be prepared for nourishment.

With the help of heat and grain, one was now able to prepare a kind of broth.

Hot stones were covered with this broth or the broth was roasted on embers and “hey presto” the first unsoured flat bread was created. This ability to prepare stable food radically changed the eating habits and lifestyle of our early ancestors, from being hunters they became settlers.

The Egyptians
Records show that already in the years 2600-2100 B.C. bread was baked by Egyptians, who it is believed had learned the skill from the Babylonians. A relief representing the royal bakery of Ramses features bread and cakes, some of these were shaped in the form of animals and used for sacrifices. Other early records, this time by the Greek scholar (Aristophanes 450-385 B.C), show the existence of honey flans and patterned tortes. According to Aristophanes, the ancient Greeks also had a type of doughnut made from crude flour and honey called “Dispyrus” a ring-cake that was submerged in wine and consumed hot.
Could this have been an early version of Baba or Savarin, still so popular today?

A relief representing the royal bakery of Ramses III who reigned over
Egypt in the 12 th century B.C.

The Roman Empire
Inevitably Greek culture influenced the Roman Empire ; bakery know-how was transformed and really flourished. During the fourth century A.D., evidence also emerges of the first pastry-cook’s association or “pastillarium” in those times nomenclature.

Now it is well known, the Romans were a lusty, festivity loving lot and even though a decree was passed by the Senate designed to curb excesses by citizens, the sweet art of pastry-cooking (considered decadent by some) emerged as a highly respected profession.

Indeed the bakery business was so profitable that in the time of Christ around three hundred independent bakers existed in Rome . Just how rewarding and diverse the trade then was is recorded by Cato (234-148 B.C.) Could it be that the French word Gâteaux used for tortes is a derivative of this man’s name?

Anyhow, Cato names a great many different kinds of bread, sacrificial cakes “libum”, cakes made with flour, groats and cress “placenta”, pretzels” spira”, tortes “scibilata”, fritters “globus apherica”, Bowl-cake “erneum”, sweet cake “savaillum” and sidrer-cake “mustaceum”.
Quite a large selection made by early Roman “Dulciarius” or “Flour Confectioners”, isn’t it?

Engravings on a tomb-stone of a Roman baker, dating back to the first century A.D., show the different stages in the production of bread at that time.

Section of engravings on a tomb-stone of the Roman baker M.Vergilius Eurysaces in Rome .

Clearly visible in this picture, an excavated bakery in Pompeii , is the bread oven with its chimney and in the foreground the remains of two grain-mills.

From the Roman Empire, the art of pastry-cooking gradually spread throughout Europe and the world.

One of the best known painters, the Dutchman, Rembrandt, created a sketch in 1635 showing a pancake cook in the streets, surrounded by children eagerly waiting and hoping for a sample.

In Holland such pancake cooks belonged to the daily street scene at that time.

The House of the Bakers in Pompeii

The Ginger Bread Merchant
Portrayed on the right is a gingerbread merchant selling his wares in one of the better streets in London .

He uses a hand-cart as a shop on wheels, in contrast to the rather primitive shops of the ordinary merchants.

Anecdotally, specially famed was the ginger bread from the city of Grantham .

The two illustrations below are original copperplate engravings and depict street
scenes in Germany . The image, on the
left is that of a pie-man selling his pastries
in Strasburg and on the right a pastry-cook selling small cakes in Hamburg , 1800.

The Original Open-Air Café or Dining Al Fresco!
This above lithography by C.T.Travies shows a typical early last century scene in Paris .

A “Patissiere” has established herself in a busy street, possibly on a bridge, and sells hot coffee and freshly baked cakes to passers-by.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour into the history of baking; things have changed a great deal from the “olden days”! Never the less, intending bakers could benefit from taking a “Janusian approach”, that is to say - looking in both directions, the past and the future. Bakers can anticipate trends and developments by looking at what is happening elsewhere in the world.

Fred Pfister


History of Baking
How to start a bakery How to select a bakery consultant