In case you’ve run out of baking ideas, here’s something that out-of-the-box bakers abroad are exploring: “ugly”-delicious cakes. They are not your pastel and saccharine confections. In fact, they look like they didn’t travel well and ran through bumps along the way, which deformed them.
But these bizarre, misshapen cakes are actually making a statement, one about the absurd standards of what counts as a cake and, if you may, what counts as beautiful and palatable.
In September last year, The New York Times writer Emma Orlow wrote a piece about these “kooky, made-from-scratch cakes,” describing them as descendants of the absurdist Jell-O mold tradition of the 1950s.[READ: Water pie, tuna jello salad and other vintage recipes we *kind of* want to try]
“Their cakes revel in gross-out palettes, reflect ideas about gender, power and respectability,” wrote Orlow. In the same story, she interviewed Kyla Wazana Tompkins, a gender studies professor who has written about the intersection of food and aesthetics. “I see these new cakes as a continuation of anarchist femme baking,” Tompkins said. These pastries, she added, resist the “violent form of perfection” in exchange for something “aesthetically promiscuous.”
Other than breaking unspoken rules on food aesthetics, these cakes are low-key zero-waste, too. Part of the “mish mash” appearance of these cakes are due to the fact that they prioritize what’s available and within reach, whether that’s an edible plant or flower from the garden or something from the fridge.
New York-based baker Aimee France aka @yungkombucha420 on Instagram, for example, decorates her cakes with buttercream speckled with a combination of fresh and sugar crystallized flowers, herbs, and fruits. But that’s just her relatively sober creations. Her tiered cakes look like they have been put together by toddlers who went overboard with piping.
Meanwhile in British Columbia, artist and baker Claire Geddes Bailey blurs the line between food and art with her cake sculptures. They remind me of Manila-based visual artist Nika Dizon’s recent work of resin cakes, except edible.
On the other end of the spectrum, creative director and baker George McCallum is giving cake conventions the middle finger with his cigarette ashtray cake, which realistically portrays just that. It is made with a sponge cake base covered with black icing and is topped with crushed black and white meringue reminiscent of ashes and hand-rolled candy made to look like cigarette butts.
So far, other than incorporating edible flowers into pastry, this trend has yet to infiltrate the local baking scene. Are we ready to disregard cake as we know it? To abandon its escapist tendencies to sugarcoat and to let what we eat reflect the chaos of the moment? I’ll wait a few months.