If popular culture provides clues to social trends then all signs point to an American public captivated by red velvet, carrot, lemon, and raspberry. Fabric, fruits and vegetables? No cakes whether of the cup variety or fancy full-size versions.
Special occasions that call for a special cake--which once signified a wedding'have expanded to any gathering of more than one person. Showers, going-away, divorce, engagement, new home, graduations, anniversary, lost a job: there seems to be no event that should not be celebrated with an extreme cake or two. Homemade cakes seen in those faded photos of baby boomer's childhood birthdays are completely unacceptable and passé. No child of today is too young for custom creations of flour, sugar and butter.
In this case the egg certainly precedes the chicken. But is the egg the growing line-up of baking shows and stars on TV? Elaborate over-the-top cake design competitions and daily life in the kitchens of small bakeries have become ubiquitous in prime-time.
One new reality show, DC Cupcakes, manages to blend the current obsession with small overpriced sugary treats with dropping out of the corporate world and finding $$$, happiness and creative fulfillment. And in a Tidewater VA newspaper this weekend, I read of a woman who was finding her way out of losing her job, home and car by opening a cake business out of a small rental house kitchen.
While I applaud the entrepreneurial incentives and hard work that is reflected in these examples I am stunned that so many people are ordering and eating cakes of whatever size. One show Ace of Cakes filmed in nearby Baltimore, doesn't even pretend that it is the taste of the cake that drives the hefty price tag instead it seems to be all about the uber-personalized designs as in detailed replicas of Yankee Stadium, 65 Mustang convertibles, or a pet basset hound.
Where dietitians and public health experts once worried primarily about the influence of TV advertising on eating habits and norms, the amazing popularity of food TV suggests that those billion-dollar food-advertising budgets may not be necessary. And for some reason, we currently seem to be particularly enthralled with cake, completely empty calories and outrageously expensive ones too.
What is it about this storyline that seems to be catching (or is it reflecting) the public psyche..is the tough economic climate making butter cream, fondant and personalized confections our favorite new refuge? I thought I understood the attractions of comfort food because I associate foods like mac & cheese, meatloaf, chicken pot pie with brief retreats back to what seemed to be a simpler life'mom in the kitchen, TV dinners in the 60's or diner food'cheap, filling and retro. But I confess that I am mystified by this new trend towards pastry as the star of every party or worth standing in 45-minute lines.