Consider the wedding cake: each tier separated by tiny pillars, the tiers themselves adorned with flowers and ribbons and, crowning it all, two tiny figurines representing the happy couple. The cake is symbolically cut, necessitating a round of applause. Then the destruction may begin.
The tiers are disassembled, the figurines discarded, ribbons untied and flowers – perhaps material or real or perhaps an over abundance of drying fondant icing – removed. The naked cake, pockmarked with memories of its former adornments is cut carefully into over a hundred pieces and each piece laid into a paper napkin.
The paper packages are distributed, the cake – barely even a shadow of its former self – is now clammy and glued irrevocably to the thin tissue. Each guest takes their allotted slice with faux gratitude and picks reluctantly at the icing before leaving the rest forgotten on the table.
My question is this: why make something look beautiful when you have to remove all decoration in order to eat it? If the beauty of your cake comes from something that is inedible or (as the trend increasingly seems to be) something that is edible but brings no flavour and a less-than-pleasant texture, then shouldn’t you reevaluate your effort?
It started, I think, with rice paper. These little circles of translucence printed with a Disney character and dotted on top of a tiny cupcake to be served at children’s parties. It looked like tracing paper and I, for one, didn’t trust it.
What really lit the match under this suspicious pile of decorative kindling, however, was glitter; the oxymoronic edible glitter, spreading its crisp tasteless crust atop icing everywhere. I can see the novelty of a sparkly cake, to be viewed from a safe distance like a sugary firework: that is the form, but where is the function? The first tentative bite through the upper layer, the unfamiliar crunch renewing your suspicions that you have stumbled into the wrong room and are devouring a child’s craft project. Then the inevitable sparkles sticking stubbornly around your mouth for hours, the guilty evidence of this confectionery misdemeanour.
I’m not against cake artistry; there are a lot of very talented people out there making some really incredible structures. It’s cool that you can make a brownie look like a burger, or transform a Victoria sponge into anything from an octopus to a gumball machine to Jennifer Lopez reclining on a lion. But I think we need to draw a distinction between eating-baking and looking-baking.
Eating-baking is the category for smudgy, rustic cakes with buttercream and maybe a sprinkling of icing sugar or chocolate shavings or berries for a splash of colour. A wonderful, inviting treat that you can take a big slab of, engulf it and then neatly clear up the crumbs with the tip of a finger.
Looking-baking is for intricate, studied inventions with as much glitz and glamour as they can handle. They are to be placed, reverently, in the Miss Havisham Gallery of Food That Must Never be Eaten until they inevitably decay of their own accord. And we can look at them, stare even, from behind the glass, knowing that while some part of this work is edible, beauty is not to be consumed.
Image credit: Wallpaper Wonder