There used to be a time many years ago where I’d open a cake decorating manual and be amazed at the perfectly crafted birthday cake to which I’d wonder how they achieved such an immaculate finish. Whether the pictures were photoshopped back in the day or not, they certainly were presented in the best light, set up in a flattering backdrop with a highly skilled photographer taking the shots. Regardless, the cakes looked great. Nowadays I can’t open a cake book without cringing at those same cakes. The same cakes that once took my breath away now look painfully boring. The once vibrant colours look tacky and unoriginal and very dated.
Nowadays cake decorating is an art as well as a skill. The colours and textures around us, both natural and material, leave a creative mind saturated with ideas for his or her next project. The internet has been a great resource for techniques, recipes, inspiration and sharing of experiences and ideas. No longer is cake decorating institutionalized where a teacher in the later decades of life dictates what patterns and frills are acceptable and how you should configure your petal formation in a fondant rose. I remember looking at my mothers creepy looking cake manuals (rather binded photocopies of recipes and past students work) when she studied cake decorating at college. All those little tools she had to buy of which she didn’t even use half. All that white, make that super white, fondant. I don’t remember any colour. Maybe a bit of pink for the roses. I always wanted to help but they had to be done a certain way. Those perfect roses would look so old-fashioned if used on a cake now. ‘Perfection’ has changed. What was regarded perfect then is not what perfect implies nowadays. When it comes to cake decorating or when recreating original objects into another medium (like say,into cake!), the concept of perfection likely lies somewhere between imperfectly fake and imperfectly natural. Maybe this trend is a reflection from what has been happening in the fashion and beauty industries . At the end of the day we make and produce things people want and we do that by being creative and on trend and these two factors are influenced greatly by what surrounds us from other industries.
So how to translate IMperfectionism into cake design? Aim to have the cake looking like a cake! A Gucci handbag cake should still look like a cake! It should be well crafted but with some charm. The client should want to cut into it! They wont feel like doing that if it looks rigid and over structured. Would you want to cut your designer handbag? Of course it’s not literally the same thing but how many times have you heard someone say ‘Its too nice to cut’? It’s a cake, it’s meant to be eaten and slicing into it is meant to be a pleasurable experience! Creating an imperfectly fake handbag cake should still be an immaculately crafted cake. Some cake charm could be added where appropriate. For example adding a bit of curve even if is not present in the original may add character. Some highlighting on the fondant may make the look more succulent and more cohesive with what the cake tastes like on the inside.
So what about imperfectly natural? This applies to things that generally have some flow or growth. Water, flowers, people, animals and fabrics would fall under this category. You want your flowers to look like roses but not so real people think they’ve come from the florist. Perfection is usually viewed but not always touched or handled. Are you more likely to stroke a perfectly groomed rose with its perfectly tightly wrapped fleshy petals or, to run your fingers through long uneven grass. Its similar with a lot of our senses. Textures excite us. A texture is an imperfection from the smooth. Textures in food is the same. Rustic looking cuisine has been in fashion for most of this century and its strength is just growing. The naked cake is just an example of how imperfectly perfect society really likes it!
Another dimension to the imperfect natural look is found in the virtual environment in which we live these days. Virtually created scenery, animals and people have made us accept the unreal as real. A ribbon of fondant rolled up to look like a rose is now an acceptable rose to place on a cake. It doesn’t have a single petal on it but we perceive it as a rose because our minds register having seen that image regarded as a rose perhaps in a cartoon or virtual setting. Opposite to this, but still in line with being imperfectly natural, fabric rarely drapes perfectly in real life but on a cake we drape fondant perfectly with no creases and sometimes no regard for gravity!
To summarise, a cake should be extremely well executed whilst maintaining that cake charm. The client should want to cut it with delight. Our perception of perfection has changed to keep up with fashion and the world around us. What was never imagined before even in our dreams have been bought to life by virtual images. The internet and social media has enabled cake artists and enthusiasts, home bakers and anyone and everyone to share pictures of their wonderful cakes online and so the expectations of clients are higher now than ever before. Better cakes are being produced with better flavours. The client will go where they are being delivered what they want and this no longer only includes the local bakery.