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The Story Behind the First Cake Made by an Angel

There was a taste of heaven in every bite of his mom’s go-to birthday cake.
Illustrations of angels on a cake; By Elvis Swift
Credit: Elvis Swift

Angel food cake was a staple of my childhood, the centerpiece of our birthdays. Sometimes Mom draped it in chocolate icing or added clouds of whipped cream on top. But it was that sweet, fluffy interior that my siblings and I craved. A cake so light that it could keep an angel airborne.

Historians trace its origins to various nineteenth-century American cookbooks, but for a more heavenly source I turn to the Bible. The Psalmist once said, “So mortals ate the bread of angels…” (Psalm 78:25), a reference to the manna that sustained the Israelites as they fled Egypt. Tasty enough, and so filled with nutrients that they never went hungry.

Moving ahead in biblical history a century or two later, we learn the story of a heavenly cake. This one coming directly from an angel.

At the time, the Israelites were straying once again from their true calling, worshipping false gods, such as Baal, instead of the one true God. Something had to be done, so God sent the prophet Elijah to the kingdom of Israel, where he’d speak truth to power.

The power he had to address was the dastardly King Ahab and his corrupt queen, Jezebel. Yes, that Jezebel. She had invited a host of pagan prophets and priests into the land, giving them free rein. Elijah spoke out, warning that if the false prophets weren’t banished, a fierce drought would come into the land.

Even after Elijah’s words came true, with the earth as dry as a bone and the crops ruined, Ahab and Jezebel had no intention of changing. Something more had to be done.

Elijah set up a contest between the prophets of Baal and God’s true prophets. Each team was given a bull to burn and sacrifice. The trick: Each team had to wait for a fire to spark on its own. You can guess what happened. Nothing for the prophets of Baal, whereas fire descended from the heavens for Elijah’s group, igniting not only the bull but the trench surrounding it, sending all up in flames. As a stunning ender, Elijah had the false prophets killed before fleeing for his life into the wilderness.

There he settled down under a shrub, afraid and hopeless. What possible future could be ahead of him? How would he survive in this parched land, with no food or water to sustain him? He was sure to starve to death on his journey out of the wilderness. Tossing and turning, he tried to sleep. An angel touched him, and there near his head was a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water.

Voila—the first cake made by an angel. “Get up and eat,” the angel said. “Otherwise the journey will be too much for you” (1 Kings 19:5–8). Elijah dutifully complied. That one cake gave Elijah enough nourishment to last for 40 days of travel and travail.

I doubt that Mom’s angel food cake could do as much, but then I was never allowed more than a slice. Elijah ate the whole cake. Still, the next time our family celebrates a birthday with the tradition Mom started, I’m likely to quote the Bible and tell all, “Get up and eat!”

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