Cakes: food or eye candy? carrot-cake

We don’t buy commercially made cakes anymore. We haven’t for years. Their prices simply don’t justify the use of cheap ingredients and, worse, extenders. Take Red Ribbon’s chocolate mousse cake, for instance. Years ago, you can’t leave the cake at room temperature for too long because the whipped cream topping will melt. Naturally. Last month, Speedy and I went to a dinner, there was Red Ribbon chocolate mousse cake on the table, under a ceiling fan, and the “whipped cream” topping never melted, nor even lost its shape, for three effing hours. One word — gelatine.

Then, there’s Cafe Ysabel’s carrot cake which used to be generously covered with cream cheese frosting. We stopped buying it when the cream cheese frosting was replaced with a thin layer of boiled icing. If I go back longer than the last decade, it becomes worse. Custom-ordered birthday cakes from bakeshops like Goldilock’s, for instance, used to be covered with butter icing. Then, the butter icing became boiled icing. You’d think that replacing the more pricey butter with sugar and water would lower the price, but no.

So, we stay away from commercial cakes. If we do buy cakes, we prefer artisan stuff from weekend market sellers. And definitely nothing that drowns in frosting. Don’t misunderstand me. Good frosting in just the right amount is fine. But, for instance, cupcakes with frosting taller than the cupcake itself turns me off in a big way. Truth be told, and no cake seller will ever admit this, (except probably in the case of layered cakes which essentially need something to separate the layers) frosting is just a convenient way to hide a cake’s imperfections and less than stellar quality. A good cake doesn’t need a mountain of decoration and embellishment because its intrinsic quality will stand on its own. Funny that most consumers choose cakes based on how they look, preferring those with THICKER frosting. It makes me shake my head in a mixture of sadness and incredulity. But that is the inescapable result of decades of mind conditioning courtesy of savvy advertising. Consumers will just need to learn to discern between marketing gimmick and value of money.

Easier said than done, I know, especially since there is always a new gimmick cropping up. The last decade saw the rise in popularity of fondant. Fondant is nothing but water and sugar. Rolled fondant has gelatin and glycerin added. In short, fondant is cheap frosting. And people are so awed by cakes covered in sculpted fondant. The artistry in the sculpting may be impressive but does that make a cake more delicious? Yet, people will pay a hefty price for a cake with a beautiful fondant coating which makes me wonder what the cake is for, really — for eating or for ogling? Has pop culture (hello, Food Network) turned cakes into conversation pieces rather than food?

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The Author

Hello, my name is Connie Veneracion. I cook, I shoot, I write. But I don't do the laundry. I don't like housekeeping very much either... (more about me)

16 Responses

  1. Rie says:

    Hi Ms. Connie! What a beautiful carrot cake! My thoughts exactly! I for one am squeamish every time I saw cupcakes loaded with frosting, makes me wonder how many sugar is in it. Don’t like fondant cakes too, just to much sugar laden, yes they’re nice to look at, but what are you gonna do with it just stare at it he he he. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family!!! Looking forward to more of your posts this coming year just cant get enough browsing through your blog, you helped me learn how to cook. Thank you very much!!!

  2. natzsm says:

    When I was a kid, I attended this grand wedding where the guests peeled the fondant off the cake (fruitcake) and left it on the sides of their plate. Thus I always thought that fondant was just a protective covering to preserve fruitcake.

    Personally, I would go for either a butter icing, cream cheese frosting, chocolate ganache, or a caramel ala Estrel’s on any of my cakes. There are also cakes that are perfect for just a simple lemon drizzle.

    • I can imagine the guests hehehe Fondant gets chewy the longer it is exposed to air.

      Two thumbs up for your frosting choices. :D

    • A says:

      I agree with Natzism, sometimes a simple lemon glaze is enough–and it’s cheaper too!

      But why don’t more cake shops use simple decorating techniques?

      Ms. Connie is right–because they’re cakes are crap to begin with.

      That, or their clients prefer tacky, gaudy decorations to real quality.

      • I think most people look for artistry in food in the wrong places. Instead of trying to look for quality in the food itself, they perceive the visual effect as definitive of how good the food is. Sad, really, and it is a mindset that is being aggressively marketed by mass media, including blogs. Food stylists as food bloggers, hello?

        And it’s probably just one facet of an even bigger (bad) attitude. Look how good-looking celebrities are lionized and never mind if they can’t act. People are just too focused on outside appearance.

  3. natzsm says:

    …and my present obsession is an Espresso Chocolate Chip Pound Cake which I recently sampled at one of those weekend bazaars.

    It was a simple coffee flavored pound cake studded with bittersweet chocolate chips. The top was then drizzled with Kahlua.

    I made my version last night to be served on Christmas eve but I made my own Kahlua (coffee liquor) because the real thing was simply too expensive!

  4. Volt says:

    Call it the Emperor’s New Cake (only the other way around) :D. They are compelled to say it’s yummy because it is visually delicious and not to mention “expensive”. Maybe it’s part of natural Psychology?

    Merry Christmas Ma’am!!!

  5. raqgold says:

    that is why i love the bakeries here in germany, they only give you the real deal. only the natural colors, they don’t even use food colorings here. that’s why my girls are dubious when they see colored baked goodies, they are ‘toys’ daw. although medyo questionable na ang mga bread doughs kasi some of them are made in china, kaya we go to those mom and pop bakeries for the best doughs.

    a beautiful Christmas to you, Connie!

  6. Volt says:

    Aw! Feels like a little psychotic when you call it mind games o_O. I would prefer word games na lang hehehe. Speaking of cakes, try the elusive Purple Oven located at Oranbo, Pasig. Don’t know if you’ve heard it but I’m sure you would love it.

    • LOL Advertising is a mind game. That’s why ad companies hire a lot of Pysch grads. :)

      I think we’ve passed Purple Oven a few times… Next time, we’ll park, go in and take a look. Thanks!

  7. Peng tuazon says:

    I agree with what you said about commercial cakes.I do bake cakes and i get dissapointed with the taste of store bought cakes.

  8. Diane says:

    I totally agree with you Ms Connie, I’ve never bought those commercial cakes for quite some time now. I’d prefer cakes from special stores like Karen’s Kitchen and Estrels cuz they actually DO make the cakes heavenly.