Placenta cake

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A Greek plăcintă-maker in Bucharest in 1880.
Place of originAncient Greece, Ancient Rome
Main ingredientsFlour and semolina dough, cheese, honey, bay leaves

Placenta cake is a dish from ancient Greece and Rome consisting of many dough layers interspersed with a mixture of cheese and honey and flavored with bay leaves, baked and then covered in honey.[1][2] The dessert is mentioned in classical texts such as the Greek poems of Archestratos and Antiphanes, as well as the De agri cultura of Cato the Elder.[2] It is often seen as the predecessor of baklava and börek.[3][4][1]


The Latin word placenta is derived from the Greek plakous (Ancient Greek: πλακοῦς, gen. πλακοῦντοςplakountos, from πλακόεις – plakoeis, "flat") for thin or layered flat breads.[5][6][7]

The placenta of mammalian pregnancy is so named from the perceived resemblance between its shape and that of a placenta cake.


Most claim that the placenta, and therefore likely baklava derived from a recipe from Ancient Greece.[8][9] Homer's Odyssey, written around 800 BC, mentions thin breads sweetened with walnuts and honey.[10] In the fifth century BC, Philoxenos states in his poem "Dinner" that, in the final drinking course of a meal, hosts would prepare and serve cheesecake made with milk and honey that was baked into a pie.[11]

An early Greek language mention of plakous as a dessert (or second table delicacy) comes from the poems of Archestratos. He describes plakous as served with nuts and dried fruits and commends the honey-drenched Athenian version of plakous.[2]

Antiphanes (fl. 4th century BC), a contemporary of Archestratos, provided an ornate description of plakous with wheat flour and goat's cheese as key ingredients:[2][12]

The streams of the tawny bee, mixed with the curdled river of bleating she-goats, placed upon a flat receptacle of the virgin daughter of Demeter [honey, cheese, flour], delighting in ten thousand delicate toppings – or shall I simply say plakous? I'm for plakous' (Antiphanes quoted by Athenaeus).

Later, in 160 BC, Cato the Elder provided a recipe for placenta in his De agri cultura which Andrew Dalby considers, along with Cato's other dessert recipes, to be in the "Greek tradition", and possibly copied from a Greek cookbook.[2][13]

Shape the placenta as follows: place a single row of tracta along the whole length of the base dough. This is then covered with the mixture [cheese and honey] from the mortar. Place another row of tracta on top and go on doing so until all the cheese and honey have been used up. Finish with a layer of the placenta in the oven and put a preheated lid on top of it [...] When ready, honey is poured over the placenta.[14] (Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura)[1]

A number of modern scholars suggest that the Greco-Roman dessert's Eastern Roman (Byzantine) descendants, plakountas tetyromenous ("cheesy placenta") and koptoplakous (Byzantine Greek: κοπτοπλακοῦς), are the ancestors of modern tiropita or banitsa respectively.[1][15] The name placenta (Greek: πλατσέντα) is used today on the island of Lesbos in Greece to describe a baklava-type dessert of layered pastry leaves containing crushed nuts that is baked and then covered in honey.[16][17] Through its Byzantine Greek name plakountos, the dessert was adopted into Armenian cuisine as plagindi, plagunda, and pghagund, all "cakes of bread and honey."[18] From the latter term came the later Arabic name iflaghun, which is mentioned in the medieval Arab cookbook Wusla ila al-habib as a specialty of the Cilician Armenians settled in southern Asia Minor and settled in the neighboring Crusader kingdoms of northern Syria.[18] Thus, the dish may have traveled to the Levant in the Middle Ages via the Armenians, many of whom migrated there following the first appearance of the Turkish tribes in medieval Anatolia.[19]


Today, derivatives of the word placenta are still used throughout the Balkans: in Romania (plăcintă, a baked flat pastry containing cheese), in Serbia (Palačinke, a very thinly made crepe-like pancake usually rolled with sugar and jam between the layers or served with nuts and dried fruits and commends the honey), and on the island of Lesbos in Greece (Greek: πλατσέντα). The latter is a baked dessert with very thinly made pastry layers and chopped nuts. The dough for this modern placenta is made with thin leaves of crumbly pastry dough soaked in simple syrup. Ouzo is added to the dough.[20][21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Faas 2005, pp. 184–185.
  2. ^ a b c d e Goldstein 2015, "ancient world": "The next cake of note, first mentioned about 350 B.C.E. by two Greek poets, is plakous. [...] At last, we have recipes and a context to go with the name. Plakous is listed as a delicacy for second tables, alongside dried fruits and nuts, by the gastronomic poet Archestratos. He praises the plakous made in Athens because it was soaked in Attic honey from the thyme-covered slopes of Mount Hymettos. His contemporary, the comic poet Antiphanes, tells us the other main ingredients, goat’s cheese and wheat flour. Two centuries later, in Italy, Cato gives an elaborate recipe for placenta (the same name transcribed into Latin), redolent of honey and cheese. The modern Romanian plăcintă and the Viennese Palatschinke, though now quite different from their ancient Greek and Roman ancestor, still bear the same name."
  3. ^ κοπτός Archived 2021-02-24 at the Wayback Machine, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. ^ Traditional Greek Cooking: A Memoir with Recipes. ISBN 9781859641170.
  5. ^ Lewis & Short 1879: placenta.
  6. ^ Liddell & Scott 1940: πλακοῦς.
  7. ^ Stevenson & Waite 2011, p. 1095, "placenta".
  8. ^ Mayer, Caroline E. "Phyllo Facts". Washington Post. 1989. Archived.
  9. ^ "The Long, Contested History of Baklava". 20 May 2019.
  10. ^ Mayer, Caroline E. "Phyllo Facts". Washington Post. 1989. Archived.
  11. ^ Hoffman, Susanna. The Olive and the Caper. Workman Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 9781563058486
  12. ^ Dalby 1998, p. 155: "Placenta is a Greek word (plakounta, accusative form of plakous 'cake').
  13. ^ Dalby 1998, p. 21: "We cannot be so sure why there is a section of recipes for bread and cakes (74-87), recipes in a Greek tradition and perhaps drawing on a Greek cookbook. There is a Possibly Greeks included it from Italians. Cato included them so that the owner and guests might be entertained when visiting the farm; possibly so that proper offerings might be made to the gods; more likely, I believe, so that profitable sales might be made at a neighbouring market."
  14. ^ De agri cultura 76
  15. ^ Salaman 1986, p. 184; Vryonis 1971, p. 482.
  16. ^ Τριανταφύλλη, Κική (17 October 2015). "Πλατσέντα, από την Αγία Παρασκευή Λέσβου". Retrieved 7 February 2020.
  17. ^ Γιαννέτσου 2014, p. 161: "Η πλατσέντα είναι σαν τον πλακούντα των αρχαίων Ελλήνων, με ξηρούς καρπούς και μέλι."
  18. ^ a b Perry 2001, p. 143.
  19. ^ Bozoyan 2008, p. 68.
  20. ^ Αποστολή με Email. "Πλατσέντα, από την Αγία Παρασκευή Λέσβου | Άρθρα | : Ιστορίες για να τρεφόμαστε διαφορετικά". Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  21. ^ Λούβαρη-Γιαννέτσου, Βασιλεία (2014). "Πλατσέντα ή γλυκόπιτα". Τα Σαρακοστιανά 50 συνταγές για τη Σαρακοστή και τις γιορτές [Lent foods: 50 recipes for Lent and the holidays].


External links[edit]

  • "American Pie". American Heritage. April–May 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-07-12. Retrieved 2009-07-04. The Romans refined the recipe, developing a delicacy known as placenta, a sheet of fine flour topped with cheese and honey and flavored with bay leaves.