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Ridiculous cakes

nihon_no_cook's picture

A friend of mine emailed this story to me - I'm not sure of the original source, but the author is identified so please don't sue me. It's a long read, but I thought you guys would get a kick out of it.

> Cake-Upmanship Is Here

NEW YORK -- When a woman walked into Magnificent Confections a few weeks ago, she wanted a simple cake for her son's 30th birthday. But by the end of her visit, she had ordered a white sculptured elephant, with its trunk turned up, dressed with jewelry made of shiny gold dragees. Every day she called up to add more details.

By the end, the elephant was standing on four tiers, wearing a hat and earrings and covered with an intricately patterned blanket.

"She got obsessed," said Lege Sulit, a co-owner of the tiny bakery in Manhattan. But in New York today, she isn't alone in her obsession. The party cake has become an over-the-top symbol of creativity and, some would say, competitive excess.

Some of the city's bakeries are beginning to look like little jewelry stores -- the ones where most of the good jewels are kept in the back vault.

Prices are jewel-like, too. A very basic, tiny cake for four not-very-hungry people costs at least $30. Ms. Sulit's elephant cake was $600. And it is not at all unusual for elaborate, hand-sculptured creations to cost thousands.

Dimitri Pauli, an owner of Sant Ambroeus, a chic baker on Madison Avenue and in Southampton, N.Y., said that three weeks ago a customer ordered a three-dimensional Corvette convertible sponge cake, filled with white and dark chocolate, covered with almond paste and painted metallic blue with a
silver tone. It was 40 inches long and 16 inches wide, served 100 and cost $2,220.

"There's a competition going on," Pauli said. "It feels like in the past year everyone is trying to top everyone else. They want to create the more extravagant cake. They want people to say 'Ah."'

Bakers like him and Ms. Sulit are the beneficiaries. In Ms. Sulit's 450-square-foot storefront, business has gone up 300 percent to 400 percent this year. "Eighty-five percent of our business is from custom couture cakes," she said.

The result is that the cake is returning to the pedestal it once inhabited. In the 16th century, sugar was an expensive indulgence for the upper class, and cakes were "a luxury, used for festive meals only for the wealthy," said Barbara Wheaton, a culinary historian and author.

By the 18th century, Ms. Wheaton said, cakes were being made into wonderful architectural fantasies that were not meant to be eaten. They were pure symbols of wealth and class -- the more intricate, the higher the status of the host.

Pauli said his customers do research, identifying the most exclusive bakeries, and demand two things: everything on the cake must look real, and everything on the cake must be edible. After that, anything goes.

Over the last few weeks, bakers have produced cakes in the shapes of a horse and rider (the rider having been thrown from the horse, to recreate an embarrassing incident), a cell phone, portraits in marzipan, an ornate vase of flowers and the head of the birthday boy.

"They say they were at a party and they saw the box-of-cigars cake," said Bill Schutz, the owner of Creative Cakes in Manhattan, "and they say, 'The cake was fabulous -- I have to have a better one.' Better and different."

At Creative Cakes, a place known for its sculptured chocolate fudge cakes, customers having a party for 50 tend to order cake to serve 100. "So it's more impressive," said Schutz, whose cakes start at $200.

When Debra Ellenoff recently decided to give a party for her best friend, she chose the location, set the guest list and ordered the invitations within hours. The bulk of her time, in planning the party, was spent finding the right cake.

To tell the tale, Ms. Ellenoff, who lives in Manhattan, pulled out pages full of cake notes: best chocolate cake; who makes good edible sculptures; where do the people at Grace's Marketplace recommend.

"I wanted it to be great," Ms. Ellenoff said. She spent weeks on the search.

Ms. Ellenoff's personal statement took the form of a white sponge cake, filled with chocolate mousse and frosted with a mixture of sugar paste, blue and white, mixed with gum arabic from the acacia tree, to give it elasticity.

The cake looked like a picnic table, set with edible spoons and covered with a checkered tablecloth that looked as if it were made out of real fabric. Guests oohed and ahed, and ate every piece. But at many parties, eating is not always the point.

A few weeks ago, Ms. Sulit and her partner, Rudolfo Melchor, spent more than a week making a 5-foot-4-inch cake for a going away party for Charles D. Peebler Jr., who was leaving his post as president of True North Communications. The price: $3,200.

"They never had any intention of eating it," Ms. Sulit said.

Ms. Sulit, a former florist, and Melchor, a former sculptor, spent days making perfect cubes out of vanilla chiffon filled with white chocolate mousse resembling gift boxes stacked on top of each other, sitting in a bed of sugar flowers. They spent hours sculpturing blue bows around the buttercream-covered boxes.

For dessert, Ms. Sulit said, the guests were served some plated dessert.

"The cake was only for cutting," she said sadly. "Oh yes, and for the picture."

[Nihon's note - anyone else reminded of those dusty old history classes we had in high school where it was postured that the "classical" civilzations collapsed under the weight of their own decadence?]

Chiffonade_'s picture

(post #25271, reply #1 of 2)

For my daughter's 2nd birthday, I made her a seated dinosoar cake. This is about as flamboyant as I have ever gotten with 3 dimensional cakes.

There is a baker in NYC named Sylvia Weinstock. (The lady with the huge eyeglasses.) She creates the most magnificent floral designed cakes. They look like gardens that graduate in size from the top tier to the bottom. To my knowledge, she doesn't decorate with jewels or other outlandish things and her cakes still look like works of art. I understand they taste as good as they look.

I think she has the looks good, it tastes good, people buy it with the intention of eating it...and they do.

coriander_'s picture

(post #25271, reply #2 of 2)

Sometimes it is the baker that begs for extravagance. I recall our wedding--we had chosen a simple three layer cake (no tiers), white frosting and fresh flowers cascading; somehow our cake-maker convinced us to have huge amounts of sugar-sculptured flowers, frilly frosting, and satellite cakes surrounding all--an outer-space monstrosity. Thankfully, it's a funny memory now.