A Cook's Diary

Cakes: food or eye candy?

casaveneracion.com 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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