Cake doesn’t seem to be in vogue these days. Recent wedding articles would have you believe that all the cool couples have replaced stodgy tiers of wedding cake with hipper pies, cookies and chocolate fountains. Trendier these days are cupcakes–cake’s cuter, younger sister that captures the sweet tooth of the food paparazzi and elicits girlie squeals usually reserved for Justin Timberlake. A cursory glance at the upscale menus around town yields pavlovas, panna cottas and soufflés, as if a dessert with something as simple as “cake” is a bit too…Betty Crocker.
But cake isn’t about glamour. In individual servings, it’s a slice of comfort that we find ourselves returning to. Maybe sometimes we take it for granted and don’t pay it enough attention, but the moment we lift a cake out of its white box at the culmination of a celebration feast, it suddenly has all our attention.
Sure, homemade is great, but when time is more of essence than the necessity to show-off baking skills (and besides, there’s still something so thrilling and special as a store-bought cake), here are a few places that have me feeling Marie Antoinette-ish–where the sight and taste of these layers and frosting have me feeling that there are no troubles to worry about except for the task of bringing that cake in one piece to a celebration’s table.
You can take this review with a grain of salt (or rather, cup of sugar), because I used to bake at Satura Cakes’ first location in California. I chose to work at Satura because after a few bites, my relationship with its cakes was nothing short of amorous, and like an obsessed lover, I had to know all of its intimate details. My days in the bakeshop embraced by sweet vapors from the oven are long gone, but I still love going into their stores for the signature Satura Shortcake and to admire the Japanese aesthetic applied to the arrangement of fruit on a pristine, round white cake. I take a bite and appreciate the extraordinary lightness, yet rich flavor of the cream and genoise (a cake with no leavening, that instead relies on copious amounts of air beaten in and a delicate hand in mixing to maintain its airy structure). It’s a simple assemblage of genoise, whipped cream and strawberries, but bringing this to the dessert table is the exclamation point to “Happy Birthday to You.”
Diamond Head Market and Grill
It’s hard to get past the blueberry and cream cheese scones at Diamond Head Market and Grill. But a whole, sweet world exists beyond the scones and in the cake display, where a haupia cream cake preens under swirls of frosting and ruffles of toasted coconut and chocolate ganache cake sits formidably beneath a thick coat of chocolate. Favorites here include the carrot cake, the black (in this case, orange) sheep of cakes–neither chocolate nor white–a mildly-spiced, nutty cake masquerading as healthful, all the while flaunting a slathering of cream cheese frosting. But the real piece de resistance at Diamond Head Market is the lemon crunch–white cake layered with custard, lemon cream and whipped cream and topped with crunchy toffee bits. This cake should be quickly consumed (as all good cakes should) because the toffee likes to wick moisture out of the air and melt into the cream, losing its irresistible crunch. Yes, this is a celebration cake–the celebration of my future downward spiral of addiction to lemony cake and toffee. Indeed, “let them eat cake,” but not my lemon crunch. Luckily, at Diamond Head Market, you can buy a slice for yourself to ensure that your whole cake arrives at its destination intact.
Here’s a case against altruism. In pursuing baking “out of selfish necessity,” Phyllis Shelby says, she started Shelby’s Sweets, providing a tasty application of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. A Texas expat, Shelby says she started baking to recreate the cakes that she used to have growing up. And Shelby’s cakes are indeed different. While most cakes in Hawaii (also perhaps produced from another transplant’s childhood nostalgia) tend to feature lighter cakes and frosting, Shelby’s cakes have a buttery, tender crumb that’s a little heavier and sweeter.
Her red velvet cake relies more on chocolate than red food coloring to create a dark, burgundy cake unlike the maraschino cherry-red red velvet cakes at a lot of other bakeries in town. Shelby is careful to avoid the words “traditional” and “correct” when describing her red velvet cake, saying simply it’s the one she remembers from her childhood. One bite of this cake makes me think she had a delicious, buttery soft childhood layered with cream cheese frosting.
Note: While the other places have a few cakes in the display case that can be picked up for a last-minute celebration (though it’s always best to order ahead of time if possible), cakes at Shelby’s Sweets are by order only.
Speaking of childhoods, when I was growing up, my otherwise sensible parents never thought anything wrong of eating cake for breakfast. And so in those days of innocence, leftover birthday cake was enjoyed with no guilt of calories, fat and arbitrary social stigmas. Since then, I’ve been appropriately accultured, but this morning, on a deadline for this piece, I’m digging into a Cake Works devil’s food cake, and I’m transported back to that time, where the only thing I can focus on is the decadent, fudgy frosting and rich chocolate layers (you didn’t think I could end this without a chocolate cake, did you?). How can a day that starts off with this be bad?
Many brides seem to think similarly: a marriage that begins with a cake like this might work out. Cake Works is a popular choice for weddings, with beautiful and whimsical (i.e. topsy turvy layers that only look like they’re going to fall off–we hope) cake designs. I’m pretty sure they could recreate anything you could find in those bridal magazines thicker than War and Peace. Oh, and they make face cakes. ‘Nuff said.