Let Them Eat Cake
Jay Johnson -- I am obsessed with cake. As someone who takes design videos for Design2Share's YouTube channel, I take videos of great architecture. I shoot monuments. I shoot interiors. I shoot parties. I shoot people talking about design. But there is a recurring theme of cakes in our channel that might be stretching the "design" mission of our site a wee bit.
What follows is some rationalization.
I like the design of cakes. They are beautiful objects. Some may taste hideous and sickly sweet, but most look great due to all the thought and effort put into them. They are Constructed Cooking Projects, usually coming out of the oven as a square, round, oval, or rectangular blob of ugly baked flour, eggs, sugar or honey, and fat. Then comes the design magic: shapes are stacked, cut and layered with fillings, spread over with layers of buttery, sugary frosting, and then further decorated.
I admit to also liking the taste of cakes. Some can be very sugary, but others are pure bites of heaven. I like the cupcake, the petite version of the larger cake, because they can be savored without guilt. The end is quickly in sight. A special thank you to New York's famous Cupcake Cafe for hours of bite-sized pleasure!
But some large cakes you never want to end. Solo or ala mode, cakes are just desserts indeed. Interestingly, the word cake is of Viking origin, and being a Johnson, I shall from now on consider cake to be my birthright.
But my research also unearthed that cake is a word derived from the Old Norse word kaka. Ewwwww.
In looking further into my cake obsession, I learned that cake parties were the height of American entertaining fashion during the late 1800s. Some favorite cakes were innovated during this cake-crazy era, like the angel food cake. There is something winningly pleasurable about the concept of cake parties, don't you think? Calories be damned!
Then there is the enduring King cake parties around Mardi Gras each year (see photo), venerable traditions around a beautifully decorated ring-shaped cake that are rich with historic meanings. Explore the history of cakes, and you'll be in for some fascinating reading.
I gravitate towards being a video cake paparazzi because cakes tend to show up wherever I like to be. Weddings? Those are cake events. Birthdays? Cake events. Baby naming parties? Cake events. Showers? Cake events.
Funerals? They stump me. I don't go to those very often, and certainly would never take videos there (unless the tombstones and mausoleums were interesting!), so I cannot confirm the cake's importance or non-importance in those rituals.
Cakes are the center of many happy times, no doubt about it. While I consider Thanksgiving to be a pie event, we should consider inserting more cake into it -- like a nice pumpkin spice. Hmmmmm!
There are even national cake celebration days, putting cakes in the center of their own All About Sugary Me universe:
- National Cheesecake Day falls on the 30th of July each year.
- National Spongecake Day is on the 23rd of August.
- National Angelfood Cake day falls on the 10th of October.
- Don't forget to celebrate National Fruitcake Day on December 27.
- Where you a Mayan in a past life? Don't pass up Chocolate Cake Day on the 27th of January!
My all-time favorite cake inspirations come from Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook. It's probably one of the finest cookbooks on the market, for starters. The collection's core idea is sheer inspiration. This New York Times food columnist knows her food sources. She ferrets out the best New York gourmets and neighborhood chefs and focuses on their recipes and the colorful history behind many a dish.
Check out the cake recipes in Molly's "A Little Something Sweet" section, and you will swear that cake has more meanings than you've ever thought possible.
Thrill to recipes like Ebinger's Blackout Cake, Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake, Estelle Parsons' Walnut Torte, Selma Frishling's Passover Nut Cake, Aunt Olga's Cardamom Cake, Evelyn's Sand Torte, Doris Hosking's Tomato Soup Cake, George Washington's Carrot Tea Cake, Aunt Phil's Brown Sugar Cake, Carrot Top Cake, Ray Kraft's Sauerkraut Surprise Cake, Kate's Cafe au Lai Cheesecake with a Mocha Crust . . . you get the idea! It's a treasure trove of mouth-watering cake delights (and other sweet treats, like classic Coney Island Fudge).
In the over 300 home videos contained in my Design2Share Video Diary on YouTube, you will see examples where I have taken my video camera -- a sturdy palm-sized Radio Shack $99 camtastic Sanyo special -- and shot many cake videos. "These are a few of my favorite things," and here are three of my favorite cake videos: Baby Naming Party Cakes, Birthday Cake Assembly Line, and Wedding Cake Appreciation Video.
And consider the title of this diary entry, "Let them eat cake." It seems that this was not spoken by Marie Antoinette, but rather by the wife of Louis XIV. The reference isn't even to a yummy dessert, what we know as cake. It was actually a reference to oven cake, an object used to clean out brick ovens when soot and grime built up. So this was really an endearing way of saying, "Let them eat trash."
Now that's kaka!
Let's hear about your favorite family celebrations . . . and unforgettable cakes! Thank you for your comments . . . .