I recently celebrated a birthday, which means that I got to eat cake with impunity. I know you would much rather read about my latest BIO exam, my latest meltdown, or yet another disappointing first date. But today, you are going to read about cake!
Specifically, Why Cake is The Best.
In my professional life, I teach students how to write persuasively, in particular how to craft a thesis (Cake is The Best) and how to use evidence to make an argument (see below). I remind them that part of making a successful case for why something (read: cake) is the thing that you say that it is (read: The Best) is explaining why something else (candy, pie, and other desserts) are not the thing that you say the other thing is (The Best). Or, as I summarize for them uncomfortably, “Part of believing you are right is believing other people are wrong.”
People who think candy, pie, or other desserts are The Best are wrong. (#sorrynotsorry)
Candy is awesome because it comes in many varieties and you can savor it a million different ways. (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups built a marketing campaign on this very feature.) Granted, candy is more portable than cake. But, in the end, eating candy tends to be a solo experience.
Pie is awesome, because it comes in many varieties, but you can really only savor it one way, with a fork or spoon on a plate, unless it is very dense. I once baked a pumpkin pie that had a thick, mousse-like consistency, and I was delighted to an extreme degree when my uncle–who had spent three days tending various wood stoves around the clock during a blackout to keep the pipes on his properties from freezing–ate it with one hand like a slice of pizza. But that was an extreme case involving an extreme pie.
Other desserts–tiramisu, for instance, or beignets and other pastries, puddings and custards, flan, ice cream, cookies, brownies, cobblers, buckles, trifles, etc.–are awesome. But they are not as awesome as cake.
Because cake is The Best.
Cake is The Best because:
Eating cake is a process. You can eat it tip to tail, tail to tip, or top to bottom. Personally, I like to flip slices of layer cake on their sides. I eat the cake layers first, then the middle frosting layer, then the outer frosting. No matter the shape, I always save the frosting for last. Unless it’s a cupcake and I’m in a hurry, in which case: “Cup! Cake! Sand! Wich!”
Cake is flexible. Seriously, check cake’s Wikipedia entry. Worldwide, there are thousands of varieties, and all of them are awesome. Ok, “Napoleonshat” looks a little sketchy. It is allegedly a Danish concoction that consists of a marzipan tri-corner hat dipped in dark chocolate. I quibble with whether that is actually cake (I think of marzipan as a confection), plus at first glance I read the caption as “Napoleon shat.” And it looks like this:
But still! Cake is a shockingly flexible medium that can be adapted a million different ways. Try that with a Twizzler!
Cake communicates. You can write on it. No one writes on you, Pie! But on a cake, you can express whatever you are feeling:
And cake takes shape! To express love, you can mold it into something you love. Like your dead Yorkie:
Cake can even be pie!
Cake is beautiful. When it is done well, cake can be gorgeous. This is buttercream, people! BUTTERCREAM.
(If you like cake, I urge you to check out Cakewrecks.com, which features professionally made disaster cakes Monday through Saturday and then professionally make dream cakes on Sundays (“Sunday Sweets”). They are amazing–both the tragic attempts and the stunning triumphs.)
Cake is always good, even when it’s awful. It’s really hard to ruin a cake. Sure, you can mistake salt for sugar, you can burn it, and eventually it gets stale. But setting aside these little disasters, cake tastes great even if it looks terrible. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money or have a lot of expertise to make a successful cake. Betty Crocker saw to that: just crack a couple of eggs so you feel like you’re actually “baking,” then smear on some canned frosting, and the result is still perfection, even though zero skill is involved. My favorite cake is actually yellow birthday cake with gritty, white buttercream frosting by the grocery store Giant. You can buy it by the slice, and it’s never bad. The best is when someone orders a fancy rosetted birthday cake and fails to pick it up, so the store chops it up and sells it in pieces. Corner slice or it didn’t happen!
Cake is for sharing. Yeah, whatever, you can share other types of desserts. But there is something about the collective experience of a cake–doting adults watching a one-year-old smash into her first-ever birthday cake, or singing “Happy Birthday” to your dad on his 70th birthday, or a newly married couple cutting the cake on their wedding day. I have a lot of cake-related memories, because cake has long been a shared experience among some of my closest friends:
- That time my friend Kelly and I went to Giant to buy a cake for our birthdays. Ok, that’s happened several times. But this one time, they only had blank sheet cakes, and there was no baker on duty. Unacceptable; without 3-D embellishments, the frosting-to-cake ratio was devastating. So, winsome Kelly coerced some poor Giant employee to go behind the unmanned bakery counter and bring out some piping bags of frosting. Kelly proceeded to pop the top on a cake we hadn’t yet paid for, then athletically squirted huge blobs of frosting onto its surface, like a rainbow had just taken a shit. It was awesome. Come to think of it, it might not even have been our birthdays.
- That time I ordered an enormous white sheet cake for our local Democratic Party’s 2004 John Kerry Election Night Victory Party, which was the SADDEST event I ever planned. I provided an official Kerry campaign volunteer badge to the bakery so they could do a scanned, frosting transfer on top as a way, win or lose, of thanking all the people who had helped get out the vote. The bakery complied, sort of: they printed the image actual size. Meaning, I had about four square feet of blank white frosting with an image the size of an index card in the middle. Given Kerry’s dismal showing that day, that pathetic cake seemed about right.
- That time the same thing happened, but with my PhD graduation cake. I wanted the bakery to scan before-and-after photos of me into the frosting, essentially documenting that graduate school had transformed me from a doe-eyed dreamer into an overeducated hot mess. They scanned but didn’t enlarge, so I had two tiny photos floating in a sea of frosting. But this time, much to the chagrin of my friend Jen, who had driven me to pick up the cake, I was stone drunk on champaign and not having any of it. She helped me stumble around the store while we waited for them to fix it.
- That time my 13 year old niece made me a scratch cake with scratch fondant that was both beautiful and delicious, and so well crafted that I cannot wait to see her skills develop in the coming years. Ok, that was this birthday. And I am SO PROUD of her!
- And the best cake ever, that time we ate it off the floor. My friends were celebrating my dissertation defense, and they got me a custom cake from Giant. Those cakes get decorated on a piece of cardboard, then the cardboard is placed on a plastic tray with a lid. My friend Ryan presented the cake to me with a flourish, sans lid, not realizing that the cardboard is not attached to the tray. The cake slid off towards me, and I managed to catch it, upside down and with one hand squarely in the frosting. Then, because I was literally shaking with laughter, I dropped it–face down–on the floor. No matter, Liz’s kitchen floor had been cleaned that day, and the frosting stood about an inch deep. Liz, Kelly, and I had at it, eating the cake in chunks and using the floor-bound frosting like a dip. We figured, so long as we didn’t penetrate that last 1/4 inch, we were golden.
Yes, cake is The Best. And Floor Cake is the Best Cake of All. Because that night still makes us laugh more than a decade later, and because true friends will eat cake off the floor with you–no plates, no silverware, no judgment.