There is a world of sweets out there. I am very fond of most of them, but I have a particular love of that homey, 50’s cliché staple, the layer cake. I love the joyful placidity of an uncut cake, perfectly, plainly frosted. Like a good friend waiting to tell you a good secret. I love the architectural elegance of a cut cake: arcs and radii; strata visible; the careful bakers attempt to make the thickness of between-layers frosting even; the evidence of gravity always showing in that bottom layer, a little bit shorter than the rest. One of my favorite motifs is playing with the contrasts of texture and color: a lemon cake with fluffy vanilla frosting, stark and white, but shiny yellow lemon curd barely visible between the layers. Or a specimen like the slice I just ate, chocolate with vanilla frosting and coconut like a snowfall (or a Sno Ball(TM) Hostess RIP).
What I loved about layer cake when I was a child is mostly unchanged. The right piece of layer cake is a daunting wedge. It looks both delicious and appalling. So big! How could you ever finish the whole thing. From the moment it enters your vision it is a challenge, a mountain be scaled though to win you must actually tear it down. Also you must not be tempted by the sweetness and the delight to rush. Layer cake is to be savored.
I do not honesty believe that there is a right way to eat layer cake, but I reflected as I had a piece this afternoon that several aspects of the structure and its consumption still captivate me and I still eat my cake according to some loose rules. So, since “How to blah blah blah” draws readers, and I do have a consistent approach, if not an actual method, you are saddled with this post.
How To Eat Layer Cake
Layer cake should be eaten – Of course admire it for a moment. Thank whoever made it or brought it, but then tuck in. No sitting about.
Layer cake must be served upright on a small circular plate – The shape of the plate recalls the ‘mothership’ of the original cake. The size of the plate emphasizes the grandeur or the cake piece. Note: the plate should have a diameter approximately two inches longer than the height of the cake (see later remarks about ‘toppling’).
Layer cake should be served without garnishes – Cake is already garnished (frosting). It doesn’t need anything else. It certainly doesn’t need anything else sweet. I make allowances for: a small round of complementary preserves or jelly that may be beautiful and also served to stick the cake to the plate for easier conveyance; a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream (with or without the mint sprig -don’t do it. Too 90’s). However, I think that all garnishes are unnecessary and thus an annoyance.
Layer cake must be eaten with a fork – I suspect this might be a primary objection among those who favor, say, the cupcake or the hand pie (though I won’t argue about hand pies. That’s just sheer brilliance). But a piece of layer cake is a carefully fabricated structure and it deserves to be demolished by the right tool. The tool is a fork -with the minor exception of that one piece of wedding cake sometimes smashed into a spouse’s face, though that’s not really eating. Please note: the fork works alone. No knives allowed.
Layer cake must be eaten with two goals in mind – No. 1: Keep the piece of cake upright for as long as possible during the eating process. You’ve done very well if she’s still standing when her depth is less than her width. No. 2 Each bite should have a nearly equivalent cake to frosting ratio. Herein lies the biggest challenge. I always assign a bite from the top layer away from the spine of the piece as the ideal cake frosting ratio. I then harvest or redistribute frosting from other areas to make each bit match as best I can.
Layer cake should be eaten top down or bottom up – Because of my ideal ratio standard (see above), I usually eat bottom up.
Eat it all – The last crumbs on the plate should be mashed to adhere to (or between) the tines of the fork and eaten, not left to the dishwasher. This is a treat remember!
Toppling – At some point the piece of cake will fall of its own accord or need to be toppled. It is preferable to topple the cake yourself and not leave it to gravity or the tipsy lady returning from the bathroom to the table next to yours. There are goals for toppling: No. 1 It is mandatory that the cake stay intact when toppled. You do not want the layers to become offset or separated. No. 2 It is mandatory that every bit of the cake stay on the plate. This is the reason plate diameter must exceed the height of the piece, otherwise beautiful flakes of coconut, garnishing nuts, or -heaven forbid- an actual layer, might skid off the plate.
How to Topple – You should not use your hands to topple your cake. Or a knife. Again, only the fork is employed. Prior to toppling, use the fork to draw the bottom of the cake to one edge of the plate. Gently push the middle of the cake away from you with the flat of the tines. When gravity starts to take, lickety-split, bring your fork around to the other side to catch and then lay the piece of cake down.