Ann Reardon

2000 year old cake recipe from Ancient Rome

Have you ever wondered if they had cakes and desserts in Ancient Rome? Well back in 79AD Mt Vesuvius erupted burying Pompeii and other villas and areas nearby in ash, debris and lava. Because the remaining people believed the area to be cursed they did not rebuild. Nearly two thousand years later archeologists have uncovered some of this ancient city, giving us a glimpse into their lives.

Perhaps the most creepy discovery was the air pockets they found with bones inside. People were buried under the ash, the bodies had long since decayed, but the space they occupied remained. Archeologist filled some of these cavities with plaster before digging further. The plaster bodies filled with bones gives a glimpse into the last moments of these people.

As well as bones archeologists also found buildings with ornate mosaics and paintings on the walls. According to those pictures, yes they did have cake.
ancient roman cake

There are no cookbooks dating back this early. There is a collection of recipes thought to be from this time called the Apicius. The first print of this is from around 900AD in Latin.

ancient roman cake recipe how to cook that

I can’t read latin but English translations of the early text seem to give a list of ingredients with no instructions and no quantities. All the websites I looked up for an English version seemed to link me to the dulcet piperata recipe.

However this recipe contains baking powder, an integral part of most cakes today, but it wasn’t invented until 1843.

De Re Coquinaria of Apicius lists the recipe as below:

In a chafing-dish put honey, pure wine, raisin wine, pine nuts, nuts, cooked spelt, add crushed and toasted hazelnuts and serve.

The total lack of quantities and directions means we are left guessing how the Romans combined these ingredients to make a cake. I am going to use the first recipe that I linked to as a base and experimented with using yeast as a leavening agent.

In another area of the text it does indeed talk about using yeast in honey cakes.

ancient roman honey cakes recipe

ancient roman cake

140g (4.94 ounces) freshly ground wheat flour
3/4 tsp instant dried yeast
1/2 tsp ground rosemary
1 tsp cinnamon
70g (2.47 ounces) almonds, ground
100mL (3.38 fluid ounces) passum (or other sweet white wine)
ancient roman cake recipe
2 tbsp honey (you may wish to increase this to 3 tablespoons if using yeast as it will use up some of the sugar).
100mL (3.38 fluid ounces) Milk

To top:
Extra honey to drizzle
Chopped hazelnuts

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Tip into a baking dish or cake tin and leave in a warm place to rise. Bake at 180C (356 degrees Fahrenheit) until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. While still hot drizzle with honey and sprinkle on chopped hazelnuts.

ancient roman cake recipe  how to cook that

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20 Comments View Comments

  1. Rating: 5

    I’ve made this recipe before (one of the few desserts that I would make that I could get my dad to eat lol)
    I just discovered that the local farmers market sells honey for the cheap and I look forward to experimenting with the difference kinds of honey they sell

  2. Rating: 5

    Hi Ann!
    I absolutely loved this recipe, thank you so much for sharing! 🙂 Unfortunately I couldn’t get it to rise at all, I’ve tried it 3 times and they all failed at rising…even though the taste was amazing, haha. I tried both with dry yeast and chemical yeast, without success. I read somewhere that cinnamon and rosemary can stop dough from rising, do you think maybe it would be a good idea to increase yeast quantities? Would you have any tips to make sure this dough will rise? Anything would be much appreciated 🙂 Thank you very much for your work!

  3. Is there a way to make this recipe without the sweet wine? I know it adds sweetness and makes the cake moister, but perhaps there is a way to account for that.

    • Just use white grape juice.

      • Thanks

  4. Rating: 5

    I made this cake and it’s super good! Not too sweet, and it seems a lot healthier than most cakes. I’m going to make this again and again. I also used goat milk, the base flavors to this are lovely and deep.

  5. Rating: 2.5

    I can’t get it to rise no matter how long I let it sit.

    • Rating: 5

      Steph, I also had this problem! The taste was amazing, but I would love if I could get it to rise 😅

  6. Rating: 2.5

    Should the flour be 100% whole wheat? I don’t think the ancient Romans had white flour.

    • They actually did. Google is your friend

      • barley flour would have been more common in ancient greece and rome, but you can use any kind of flour you like. also google is full of lies, don’t listen to everything you see on the internet.

  7. Rating: 3.5

    Hey, I just made this recipe (it’s in the oven currently) and I’m wondering about the quantities for fresh yeast? I dissolved about 12 grams of fresh yeast in the warm milk that I heated up to finger warm (also added 3 tbsp of honey, might have been a mistake?) and I’m hoping it works out but I didn’t really get a rise. I left it in a warm place for 30 minutes so I might’ve needed more time. Smells great though!

    • Anna Katrina,

  8. Rating: 5

    I just made this. Took 65 minutes in my 12 inch pan, and it was a lot of fun. A bit too earthy for desert in my opinion, but as a brunch or tea piece it would fit well. Overall it’s very dense, but has a pleasant nutty flavor to nobody’s surprise. The texture reminds me of a slightly gooier fruitcake.

    • Hi Tim, looks great – imagine taking one the cakes that we make now back in time. I think they’d find it very sweet.

  9. Rating: 2.5

    How long did you prove it for and then how long did you bake it for?
    I put mine in a 9in pie dish and let it prove for about 40 minutes. Then I baked it for about 30. The toothpick came out dry, but the whole cake was kind of gummy and not a good texture. It tasted just alright, but I think that was related to the texture issue. Did I do something wrong?
    I used Sherry for the sweet wine and I used just AP flour because that’s what I had, those are the only alterations to your recipe that I made.

  10. Rating: 5

    Please share pin for the tiny cake muffin pans ty

  11. Rating: 5

    Thanks for sharing

    • ?

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