Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Art Cake's Tale, or how Cake Wrecks saved my life (well, at least my reputation)

"Hey, Lesley," said the owner of the lovely local gallery, "do you bake?"

"Bake!" I thought, "... ."

I do indeed bake. I like baking. I bake really tasty things. However, when it's the owner of an art gallery asking, it's not generally the taste that's going to matter.

"Um.... yes! I bake!" said I in the perky, enthusiastic tone I try to use whenever business looks like coming my way. "Good," he said, or something to that effect, "because one of the people who was going to bake an art cake for the self-portrait exhibition has pulled out, so can you make one for the opening next Saturday?"

A number of questions entered my mind at that point. The first and most important was, what is an art cake?

"What is an art cake?" I asked. I received no definitive answer. Apparently an art cake is a cake made by an artist, and an artist makes any kind of cake she wants to make. And calls it an art cake. The art cakes were to be sold along with the self-portraits, and any left over would be eaten by the ravening hordes that would be thronging the gallery for the opening.

"Of course!" I said, perkily. "That sounds like fun - I'll bring it along on Saturday." It was a deal, and now I had to make an art cake.

It did indeed sound like fun. I had a week to decide what I was going to do, teach myself how to do it, and produce a cake that would impress All Who Saw It. My entire future (all right, the next few weeks, maybe) would depend on this cake. I hit the Internet.

I spent days and days reading up on what the collective wisdom of the human race has to say about cake decorating. I saw lovely blogs about cupcakes, recipe collections, professional cake decorators' sites. But the one blog that I kept coming back to, the one whose entire content I read in one giant archive binge, the one that taught me the most about what to do, and even more about what never, ever, ever to do... was Cake Wrecks.

Go there. Read it. Laugh. Cry.

Then come back here. Everything I needed to know about icing (frosting, if you live in America), I learned from Cake Wrecks. So Jen (and John, and the other Jen, and whoever else is responsible for this marvel of educational hilarity), I dedicate my Art Cake to you. These are the things I learned:

1) I will never understand the mania for those horrible, inedible-looking sheet cakes. I don't think they're so big over here - at least I've never had the misfortune to come across one. Where I live, if you want to take a cake to the office for someone's birthday, you buy it from the tuisnywerheid. Literally meaning home industry, this word refers to the glorious business model of hiring people to bake cakes, koeksisters and other delicious goods at home and selling them in a little deli-type shop. These cakes are iced, if at all, with regard to taste rather than appearance and tend to involve things like chocolate icing with caramel, or vanilla icing with granadilla (passion fruit) curd. Yum, yum. So. No sheet cakes.

2) I also decided early on that I would not be attempting a tiered cake. They can be gorgeous, but on the other hand this can happen, particularly in a warm climate and particularly when the cake has been constructed by a newbie like me. So I made a basic, round cake. I crumb coated it with lemon curd, just because I like lemon, and I did this to it:

I like polka dots on cakes.


If you're going to have brown icing on your cake, for all our sakes make sure it isn't lumpy! The baby blue polka dots help too, I think.


Pink and orange together make Jen happy. Sorry, Jen, that I didn't get a better angle of that bit! I'm not sure why it got left out.

5) As for the icing - it's fondant, Jen, but not as you know it. What you call fondant, we call "plastic icing" and appropriately so. Instead I used a combination of two recipes in my mom's old cake decorating books, coming up with something that is almost pure sugar with just a touch of bicarb and gum tragacanth to give it shape. It's really good and tastes nothing like polymerised organic molecules. I tend to eat it as candy.

It took me about two days solid to make the cake and the icing and put it all together. Then I took it to the opening. They liked it! It sold, twice over! Which is more than twice as much as I can say for my self-portrait...

So thank you, Jen and the other Cake Wrecks people. I know you know that your site provides much-needed levity for the depressed and downtrodden, but now you know it's educational as well. Oh, and guys? Go check out Jen's other site as well. I'm starting to feel the urge to steampunk-ify things...

1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous - and my favourite Cake Wreck's cake - which I will have re-created, should I ever have a girl - is this one: