What Makes Sad Cakes Sad?

The words "sad" and "cake" don't exactly go together, unless they're in a sentence like: "It's hard to be sad when you've got a bunch of cake to eat." The name might suggest that the pastry is among the grocery store cakes you don't want to buy. Yet, the term "sad cake" doesn't actually dictate whether or not it's something you want to eat. You also don't need to reserve the pastry solely for when you're feeling down.

Despite what its name may imply, this confection that dates back to 19th century England didn't earn its name because it's guaranteed to cheer you up when you're feeling sad (though similar to eating ice cream after a breakup, that sugar-induced rush of dopamine could temporarily help cure the blues). So what is it, then, that gives the treat its slightly oxymoronic moniker? There are a few possible meanings behind it.

The most common origin story behind the sad cake's name is that it describes the way it bakes. While it is in the oven, the confection rises just as you would expect of a cake, but once it has been removed and starts to cool, it will fall. Some say this "sad" appearance is the reason for its name. However, others claim that in Yorkshire, where the recipe was developed, "sad" was a term in the Leeds dialect that described cakes that have failed to rise, whether intentionally or not. Meanwhile, a third tale attributes its meaning to the fact that sad cakes were originally made with leftover pastry ingredients.

The US version of sad cake is different than the English version

Just as the meaning behind the sad cake's name varies, recipes for this treat can vary, as well. As previously stated, the original English version of this dish was made using leftover pastry dough, which had currants rolled into it for a touch of sweetness. They typically served the cake with butter, jam, or cheese after baking. Some may recognize this as the recipe for a Chorley cake, though. Instead of being cut down to individual servings, sad cakes are just one large cake.

The sad cake apparently took on an entirely new recipe once it made its way across the pond to the US. However, just like the UK version, this treat isn't meant to rise, so you still won't need Duff Goldman's genius tip for avoiding a sunken-in cake. Said to have possibly developed in Texas, America's take on a sad cake is a dish you can make with Bisquick, which, along with eggs and brown sugar, are all that's needed for this dessert.

The ingredients combine to create a tray of moist and chewy bars somewhat similar to blondies and can be served as-is, though you're welcome to top them with some frosting or powdered sugar if you'd like. Additionally, you can also experiment with other additives such as chocolate chips or nuts.