Monday, May 5, 2008

A Cake Manifesto

Over the years, our tastes in cake and cake design have evolved in a more or less consistent fashion, allowing us to deduce the following ex post facto manifesto:

Article 1
The designs should be at least a bit more adventurous and sophisticated than for the average kids' cake. Olivia the pig - yes. Teddy bears - no. Cute - yes. Cutesy - no. Extra credit given if others can identify an animal by species (or at least genus).

Grey Jay Cake

Article 2
The design must never sacrifice taste for appearance. The cake is, first and foremost, a cake. The purpose of a cake, no matter how fancy, is to taste delicious.

Article 3
The cake should look like a cake. Yes, it also looks like something else, but only in addition to looking like a cake. While I admire the verisimilitude that can be achieved in making a cake look like a hamburger, R2D2, or the thoracic organs, I also think it's kind of gross. If the goal is to make a delicious cake, I want people to look at it and think, ah, that is a delicious cake.

Article 4
The cake must be made entirely of food. Nothing inedible, like dowels or toothpicks, to create structure. No plastic figurines. I would argue that this article precludes the use of silver dragees. Matt would disagree.

Article 5
Avoid food coloring. For one thing, food coloring isn't really food (cf Article 4). But mostly, I am fascinated by the challenge of creating colors without food coloring. Neutrals are easy. Small patches of purple, red, yellow and orange - not too tough. I have some ideas to test for green. Totally stumped on blue.

Dogwood Flower Cake
Penguin Cake

Article 6
A home cook with basic skills, equipment and ingredients should be able to make the cake. This is the one article we are most apt to violate. We love learning new things and playing with new toys. Also, adhering to Article 5 often requires going a bit afield to find ingredients.

Article 7
Decoration is achieved with diverse substances, not just frosting. This is often mandated by avoiding food coloring (cf Article 5). Frosting flowers, although seductive, never taste as good as they should (cf Article 2). While you can do incredible things with fondant, it almost always disguises the cake-ness of the cake (cf Article 3). Finally, applying rolled fondant or piped icing is not my idea of basic cookery (cf Article 6).

Article 8
The design should use the cake as efficiently as possible. This is primarily Matt's article. I concur with the sentiment from a thrift point of view, but Matt is the one most engaged by the discipline of figuring out how to turn a 13 x 9 rectangle into a complex organic form with only slivers of cake left over. The resulting tangrams are things of beauty.

Blacktailed Hare Cake Tangram

Article 9
No part of this manifesto should stand in the way of your artistic vision or practical requirements. Need to save time by using a cake mix? You have our blessing. Crave the ability to make any color under the sun? Use food coloring and more power to you. Enchanted by a putto cake mold? Well, okay, but we'd rather not hear about it.

Article 10
If it's not fun, don't do it. Designing and making fabulous cakes is way too much work if you're not having a good time. A little teeth gnashing and performance anxiety is inherent to the creative process, but don't push yourself further than that. In the end, a cake can only be truly fabulous if it nourishes your body, your mind and your soul.

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