Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Yellow (Cake) Journalism

Readers, in the interest of Journalism, I simply must offer up this post to you.  Not so terribly long ago, that Bastion Of The Fourth Estate, The Huffington Post, published an article that I found to be absolutely awful.  Not only was the writing terrible, but it took up a subject that was already trivial at best and tried to elevate it to some importance by instituting a ranking system that was so flawed, so idiotic, so arbitrary, so contradictory, that not only did I feel it necessary to comment, but my son Jared also wanted to add his thoughts.

Here is the objectionable article, one titled The Best Cakes, In Order.  What follows is a pointless and inane fluff piece (including photos!) of cakes, from worst to best.  (Huh?)  I would summarize it for you, but it is impossible and incoherent.  Is it even possible, then, to rank The Best Cakes, In Order?  Oh, absolutely it is.  Jared and I have done it, and so will you, in Comments. 

Nance's Best Cakes

Firstly, let me say that I prefer Pie, but if Cake is the thing, then I have a few Cake Rules, and they are:  1. The Cake must be cold; 2.  The Cake must be dense;  3.  The Cake must be moist.  I would add that the Cake must be devoid of all coconut, but if the other three are in place, I can put up with it.

1.  White Cake
2.  Chocolate Cake
3.  (Real/Fresh) Banana Cake
4.  Angel Food Cake*
5.  Lemon Pound Cake

I am a Cake Purist.  I don't like a lot of fancy bullshit cakes.  I don't like decorator icing or white canned frosting.  If I had my way, all cakes (except Angel Food) would be the consistency of banana bread.  Fluffy cake with a lot of crumbs is a failure to me; how do you know you've even eaten anything?  And, again, let me restate my disdain for the Cupcake: hard to eat, stupidly trendy, usually dry, overly frosted, never as complexly flavoured as it's touted (Blueberry lime mojito vanilla mint! Nope.).  *Angel Food Cake is the exception to almost everything. It is wonderful and I have no idea why.

White Cake, like Wedding Cake, is the best Cold Cake ever.  Does it have a hint of almond flavouring?  Yes, please.  Does it have Hershey's chocolate frosting?  Save me another piece.  I almost never make this Cake because it is worky, separating eggs, storing and then remembering to use the yolks.

Unlike the stupid article, I don't differentiate among chocolate cakes.  I like them all. (Except German Chocolate; hate that coconut stuff.) My mother made one called "Lazy Lady's Cake" with vinegar and cocoa, among other ingredients.  She frosted it with homemade frosting with little chunks of pineapple in it. I always loved it. I make it once in a great while, and once I used orange juice and orange zest instead of pineapple, which was crazy good.

The only other one I want to discuss is Real/Fresh Banana Cake.  If you have never taken a yellow, butter, or vanilla cake mix and added a couple of mashed-up bananas to it, then you have not experienced full Cake Enjoyment.  I hoard overripe bananas in the freezer because I detest waste of any kind.  I pull them out for baking.  Just cut back on the oil about half.  Frost with Hershey's chocolate frosting and put it in the fridge.  You're welcome.

And now it's Jared's turn:

I want to first start off by saying that I do not particularly care for cake. Aside from the following five cakes, I find cake trivial and, frankly, vastly overrated. Two reasons: 1.  Most Real dessert lovers eat pie. 2. The rest of them eat cobbler.

When Nance approached me about the cake post, I was excited. I like blogging with my mother. Also, it allowed me to think about something other than dumpsters and basketball.  This is nice.  It did, however, lead to a soul-crushing discovery. Red velvet cake = liar. There. I said it. It’s just white cake with food coloring? And cream cheese frosting? This is bullshit. What a waste. I will never eat it again. Ever. Over it.

So, here it is, the Definitive Cake Power Rankings By Jared:

1.  Oatmeal Cake. And not just any oatmeal cake. Not some bullshit “my mom made it” oatmeal cake. I refuse to deal with that. Know why? BECAUSE MY MOM MADE IT AND IT CAN KICK YOUR MOM’S CAKE’S ASS. That’s why. Dense. Moist. Rich. My mother’s oatmeal cake may be her crowning dessert achievement. And that is saying something. I could eat an entire oatmeal cake right now. And I’m not even hungry. Not even a little. Plus, you know a cake is powerful stuff when it can make me have a glass of milk. That. Is. A. Serious. Fucking. Cake.

2.  German Chocolate. It is the most dominant common cake of all time. Coconut, chocolate, and whatever that stuff is that binds the coconut together. I love that shit. And it has never lied to me the way that red velvet cake has. I know exactly what it is. And it loves me back. Unconditionally. Ever had a piece of German chocolate cake on the front porch with a coffee? No? Idiot. Go do it. Also, it is a textural tour de force. Crunchy, soft, gooey in all the right ways. It is as if someone asked for perfect and then this cake showed up. I consider this to be the Germans’ finest contribution to the world.

3.  Carrot Cake. Does not taste like carrots. Also, don’t bog down my carrot cake with some sort of dried fruit frivolity, i.e. raisins. Also, who doesn’t love an excuse to eat cream cheese frosting? Carrot cake reminds me of fall. It tastes the way that a fall breeze feels when you’re wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans and walking down to the store for something unimportant. Just a little frivolous. A little bit warm in the right way. But it also leaves you satisfied:  Good. Now I did that. And I am better for it. That’s what carrot cake does.

4.  Angel Food Cake. Light. Airy. Borderline whimsical. Just dense enough to feel like you’re eating something, but not enough to make you regret if you have a gigantic piece of it. Throw some blueberries with it. Slap a strawberry up there. Go on. It is so universal. It is the Ritz cracker of cakes. Anything + Angel Food Cake = Delicious. That’s science.

5.  Bacon Cake. (Kidding. But how come this isn’t a thing?) Yellow Cake. Just a plain old yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But not too much. Because that is silly. Just enough to make it so that you can press the back of your fork against the paper plate to make sure you get each last crumb. Every time I think of it, I envision it on a paper plate. I like it better that way. That’s the right fucking way to eat yellow cake, dammit. Throw it in the refrigerator, please. Because it is ridiculous not to. Everyone likes yellow cake. I don’t like it, Jared. So…ha! Liar. Fool. Sillyheart. Everyone likes it. There is nothing to dislike about it. It’s like trying to hate a cup of cocoa after shoveling snow or hugging your grandmother on a holiday. If you hate yellow cake, you hate hugs. And grandmothers. Is that the kind of thing you want to stand for?

Ah, dear Readers.  What a lot of fuss about Cake.  Whether or not poor Marie Antoinette ever really did say, "Let them eat cake",  I have to say that I like this takeoff much, much better.

Again, however, I prefer pie.   We await your Comments. 

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  1. Hmmm. First of all, I had no idea you could post 25 photos of cake with an insipid introduction and a few pointless sentences and still consider yourself a bona fide food writer. Maybe I should have pursued a different career. As far as cake goes - I don't really care that much about cake - it could (along with peanut butter) disappear from the earth tomorrow and I probably wouldn't miss it, so ranking them would be a sort of pointless activity for me. I should also add (parenthetically, of course) that I have spent most of my professional career telling Americans that German Chocolate Cake is, in fact, NOT German, but related to a baker named Sam German who came up with a certain kind of dark chocolate that was marketed as 'Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate.' Later on, it was used in a recipe called, 'German's chocolate cake' that used the chocolate. Somewhere along the way, the apostrophe was dropped (and probably attached to some innocent plural form somewhere) and the rest is history(wikipedia has a nice entry if you are interested.) Not that it really has anything to do with your cake rankings or your excellent post, but you can't blame me for trying, right? ; )

  2. Hmmm. First of all, I had no idea you could post 25 photos of cake with an insipid introduction and a few pointless sentences and still consider yourself a bona fide food writer. Maybe I should have pursued a different career. As far as cake goes - I don't really care that much about cake - it could (along with peanut butter) disappear from the earth tomorrow and I probably wouldn't miss it, so ranking them would be a sort of pointless activity for me. I should also add (parenthetically, of course) that I have spent most of my professional career telling Americans that German Chocolate Cake is, in fact, NOT German, but related to a baker named Sam German who came up with a certain kind of dark chocolate that was marketed as 'Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate.' Later on, it was used in a recipe called, 'German's chocolate cake' that used the chocolate. Somewhere along the way, the apostrophe was dropped (and probably attached to some innocent plural form somewhere) and the rest is history(wikipedia has a nice entry if you are interested.) Not that it really has anything to do with your cake rankings or your excellent post, but you can't blame me for trying, right? ; )

  3. You're right - the HuffPo post was Ridiculous. This post on the other hand was fabulous! I do have to point out that red velvet cake has cocoa in it, so it's not JUST white cake (and it's not jello cake either, which is what my cousin got for a wedding cake when she asked for red velvet). Also, if you use black food coloring then it's a really really cool Over the Hill cake (we made one for my mother's 50th birthday).

    Now, on to my list:

    1. Ichy extra (lard) frosting laden good old fashioned bakery cake. I know - I'm a philistine.

    2. Chocolate volcano cake.

    3. My mother’s Fruit Cocktail cake (which we’ll never duplicate because we can’t find her recipe).

    4. Lemon pound cake.
    5. Yellow cake with canned chocolate frosting.

    Man – I’m practically in a sugar coma after reading that list!

  4. When we were growing up, we used to have a little cookbook called "The I Hate to Cook Book", and it had a recipe called Cockeyed cake, which called for vinegar. I don't remember us frosting it, but we likely should have. I do remember it being good.

    I'm also not a big fan of the cake, but a good pineapple upside down cake takes me back to my childhood when my grandpa used to make it for me. I love pineapple, anyway, so that makes it even better.

    Maya considers cake a way to get the frosting to your mouth, and if society weren't so judgy, she would just eat her frosting with a spoon and skip the cake all together.

    Ted loves chocolate cake. I don't know that he cares about the cold, but he does want it to be a delicious and MOIST cake. Dry cake sucks, and yet, so common.

    And angel food cake...we had it this year in remembrance of my mom, who ADORED it, and Ted said, "This is really good. I forget about angel food cake, but this is really good." :)

  5. This is much more my kind of post than anything about pie. Sorry Jared, but pie will never make my list of favorite desserts. Cake, on the other hand, I could eat every day.

    Cake rules:

    1. No fruit. Anywhere. Not in the frosting, not in between the layers. That whole raspberry/white chocolate mindset puts me off dessert completely. Being a cake purist, I will skip dessert rather than eat that kind of cake, which is saying something as I really am a dessert fan.

    2. Frosting must be made from scratch. Powdered sugar plus fat (real butter or cream cheese) plus real vanilla extract plus a tiny splash of water if needed to help stir. You can add cocoa for chocolate but that's about it. And use common sense when putting the frosting on the cake. Don't overwhelm a lovely moist cake with a heavy hand on the frosting knife.

    3. The cake must be REALLY REALLY moist. It can be a box mix, but look for the ones with oil added, as those turn out to be more dense and moist.

    4. Make the cake in round pans and make it a real layer cake with frosting between the layers. The 9 x 13 is ok, but layered is just better a la frosting distribution.

    5. Cake must be room temperature. Fragrance and taste are more intense if the cake doesn't have to "melt" in your mouth first.

    The best cakes:

    1. Yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting.
    2. Devil's food cake with homemade vanilla frosting.

    I will eat German chocolate or Red Velvet or carrot cake, but they do not compare to my two favorites. As you can see, I put WAY too much thought into the whole cake universe, but cake and ice cream are my two favorites, so I have a lot of very definite opinions about both.

  6. And a new format? LOVE the martinis!!

  7. Almost all cakes and pastries have been ruined for me because of my late grandmother. If that woman was alive today, she would be running a successful bakery of her own because she had a gift.

    She made her own version of something called a Prinzregentorte, as she was a native of Germany and well versed in all aspects of German baking and cooking. Basically it is six thin layers of sponge cake with a layer of chocolate ganache in between. The traditional version uses chocolate buttercream, but my grandmother went balls to the wall and did ganache. Bless her.

    The cake was so rich and deliciously full of chocolate goodness that you could only have a teensy tiny slice that needed, nay, required, a huge glass of milk to accompany it.

    She also made homemade apple strudel, and I have never tasted any other strudel like it, even though I have been to many German bakeries, although none in Germany. Maybe I need to begin a quest.

    And as for your son, you have taught him well. His description of carrot cake is genius.

  8. Love the new decor!


    —I like most cakes as long as they are MOIST.

    —Frosting has to be homemade, just like the cake. No boxes or cans. Canned frosting is about as delicious as canned vegetables.

    —Not a fan of coconut. (Thanks to Ms. Caroline for explaining the origin of the name German Chocolate cake; I have often thought that no one in Germany ever heard of it! Lots of recipes seem to have bogus names like that.)

    —Agree with you 100% on everything you said about cupcakes. They went the same way as coffee: somebody decided to get all foo-foo with flavors and forgot the original purpose. (The Original Purpose of Cupcakes: To provide a convenient way of bringing cake to school on a child's birthday so they can treat all of their classmates to a few bites without having to deal with cutting and serving.)

    —My favorite cake is Sour Cream Cake, which is sort of a coffee cake with some cinnamon swirled through it. For a denser cake, I do like Tres Leches. Chocolate is good, too, but has to have contrasting frosting--- chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is too much chocolate for me. Anything with bananas is good, too. Carrot cake if there is no coconut. (Jared nailed that one: any excuse to eat cream cheese frosting!)

    —Alas... I have tried for years to like Angel Food Cake, but just can't get to even liking it. I have tried it from the best home cooks and the finest bakeries. I don't get the moist factor I need, and the texture (a critical characteristic for any food) still makes me feel like I am biting into a chunk of foam rubber. Nope. Not even with a glaze on it.

    And that about cakes me out!

  9. At the moment, my baking is on hiatus, with my right arm still in its immobilizer. (Healing nicely, thank you, realprof too. He's graduated to a walker, and is allowed to drive, and we're both back in the classroom.)

    Anyway, cake. As a child, I loved my mother's cakes. They were all made from scratch, with Softasilk or Swansdown cake flour. She wouldn't allow a cake mix into the house. I rarely bake cake myself. Cookies by the dozen, pies, and I am particularly noted for my triple fudge brownies.

    For me, cake needs a chocolate component. No coconut EVER. Also no raisins, nasty little things that they are. So here's my list:

    1. Yellow cake with chocolate icing.
    2. Chocolate cake with chocolate icing.
    3. Lemon flavored cake, ditto
    4. (Exception that proves the rule) Carrot cake (no raisins) with cream cheese icing.

  10. fauxprof--my poor -profs! I do hope you are not hindering your recoveries in any way by getting back into the classroom. Listen to your doctors and do whatever your physical therapists say.

    Do you remember the old Softasilk box? I loved it. It had gorgeous cakes pictured on it. Lots of pink. I used to look at it and get dreamy-eyed. And your 3-fudge brownies? Chop chop! Get well and send some out here to the Dept.! They sound perfect for me.

    Ortizzle--I like the setup of the new motif except for the preponderance of blue. Not a fan of blue. But I am a fan of design motifs and balance and all that, so I have to deal. I feel like the font in the posts is terribly tiny. What do you think? Am I just OLD?

    Anyway--again, we are awfully similar in our tastes except that I will eat chocolate on chocolate on chocolate and be satisfied. And "Tres Leche" sounds caramel-y, and I am not crazy about caramel, but then again, not all-out against it. I will google and see what it's all about. I add a cup of sour cream to any quickbread I make: banana bread, nut bread, peanut butter banana bread, etc. I stir it in right at the end. It makes it so nice and moist and wonderful. Rick is a cinnamon fiend; I suppose I should make him a sour cream coffee cake sometime, but with two of us here, we rarely have cake or pie. Too big. It goes to waste.

    Love your take on cupcakes. That really must be true. And I won't try to sway you on Angel Food. More for me!

    Gina--Oh, stop! That cake sounds like heaven! It must be some kind of torte. And real strudel...oh, gosh. It's been forever, but I remember as a very little girl, sitting under the kitchen table as my mother stretched and stretched and stretched strudel dough until a single sheet hung way down over the edges of it. I used to snitch pieces of the hanging dough. Forget this phyllo crap. I want real strudel.

    Thank you for the compliment regarding Jared's writing. But he has a natural gift as well. (You should hear him talk!)

    Now I'll be thinking of that cake and real strudel all day!

    LaFF--I like the new format more than I thought I would, but the color scheme isn't my fave. Thanks.

    I am glad that a Cake Purist has weighed in. I don't know many, but most do disagree with me regarding the Cold Cake decision. I'm okay with that.

    And layer vs. flat cake isn't a surprise either. I know a few who like the crumb of a cake vs. moister cakes. They like light and fluffy. Of course, they would be WRONG.

    I'm glad you aren't blinded by a lot of goofy trendy cakes and stick with the tried and true. Good for you.

  11. j@jj--Please, then, do not introduce dear little Maya to the wonder of tubby frosting that is Hershey's chocolate. Holy crap, is that stuff good. I put a glob on a BANANA the other day for the same reason: I didn't want mySELF to be too judgy for just eating frosting.

    Funny you should mention pineapple upside down cake. That almost made my list, along with jelly cake. I love them both. Jelly cake is just a plain vanilla or yellow cake wherein you use jelly instead of frosting. (You have to eat it all immediately though, or the jelly gets absorbed and the cake isn't nice. Sometimes I just make a 9x13 and put the jelly on individual pieces.) It's just a take on a jellyroll. Awful, isn't it?

    Bug--Oh, thank you. Jared and I like to team up on posts. Our late blog, Stuff on Our List, was a lot of fun, but too hard to keep up.

    Ichy? I guess I now have a couple of things to google.

    I know a lot of people who are crazy for those molten chocolate cakes. I keep thinking that they are brownies that aren't done all the way through. LOL.

    Was the fruit cocktail cake recipe one of those "dump cake" recipes? You know, toss in a cake mix, a stick of melted butter, and a can of fruit? Or was it something else? I hope you find it! Maybe we can all help.

    MsCaroline--LOL. Now that you are mentioning the German's Chocolate Cake story, a little light is opening up in the dim caverns of my mind. It sounds familiar, like I've read it before someplace. PROBABLY ON THE BACK OF A BAKING CHOCOLATE PACKAGE. Anyway, keep preaching that gospel! If it is your mission, you are continuing it. Jared will be enlightened and appreciative. And now he can use it as a conversation edge.

    On to peanut butter. I have a very on-off relationship with peanut butter. It's one of those foods I have to be very In The Mood for. I could go a full year and not eat a spoon of peanut butter, and then suddenly, it's all I want. Jared is not a fan of peanut butter, but Rick adores PB&J sandwiches. Or, peanut butter and pickle. Sam, as a child, would not eat it because he said it made him sweaty. LOL. Last night, tired and achy from a long weekend slaving away at the twice-yearly garage sale at the lake, I came home to an empty house and no food. I ate a PB&J on toast. It was lovely.

  12. Icky - not ichy! Ichy would be something to do with dinosaurs wouldn't it? Sigh. I was too excited writing about Cake to proofread :)

    No I don't think it's a dump cake - I think you had to use actual flour & baking soda & such. Although you did dump a can of fruit cocktail in there so maybe it does meet that definition. And talk about moist - it was the best!

  13. I was just looking at the October issue of Country Living magazine, which manages to relate to both the current and previous posts. It features Halloween themed cakes, one decorated with a snake (for Nance)',and another adorned with spiders (for me).

    I am consideribg canceling my subscription.

  14. Oh fauxprof that's hilarious!

  15. fauxprof--Bless your heart! And it also relates to several other of my posts in which I bitch about Halloween. If you enjoy that magazine, I think we can give it a pass and say that it is indirectly shilling for the Dept. Rip off the cover and forgive. LOL.

    Bug--Every time I tried to google "ichy extra lard" in any configuration with regards to frosting or cake, my post was the first thing that came up. And Google kept asking me if I meant "ITCHY", then gave me a bunch of people's posts about lard and bugbites or dry skin. Sigh. I guess what you mean is lots of bakery frosting, including decorations like roses and stuff? Even the frosting that tastes like shortening and sugar?

    My great aunt used to bake wedding cakes. Her whole basement was full of shelves and shelves of icing roses that she had made for orders. Every once in a while, she'd make a cake that she wasn't pleased with for some reason or other. She'd plop a few imperfect roses on it and drive it over to our family of 6. She'd charge in the door and yell, "I have a mistake for you! Can you use it?" Duh. Of course we could! We loved Aunt Martha's mistakes. There always seemed to be more of them when the steel mill went on strike or when Dad was in the hospital. Aunt Martha was very tough and no-nonsense, and she let her cakes do her talking.

  16. Font size: Well, I can still read fairly small font size on the computer screen, having been myopic all my life. Presbyopia, however, has reared its ugly head, so if it is very, very teeny typeset (such as the directions on OTC medicine bottle labels, about .0000001 font size), it does give me a headache. I must also confess that I set my computer screen to 125% in case of small font issues. I was overjoyed the other day when I discovered how to raise font sizes in text messages on my iPhone. Just one up, mind you. Not the whole 9 yards. Great for the notepad option, too. Turns out to be too big for email, but I don't read email much on my phone anyway. (I spend too many hours reading it on my computer every day, so when I move away from that, I, uh, like to really move away from it!)

  17. I learned to make something called a Kentucky Butter Cake. No icing. Simply removed the cake from the oven, poke the top with a fork over the entire surface and then pour melted butter/sugar/vanilla on top. It soaks in, cures and makes a lovely topping. Ages well and is also good cold.

  18. Rainbow Motel--Oh, goodness. That sounds SO FATTENING. It also sounds hauntingly similar to my apple cake recipe. When I take that particular cake out of the oven, I need a winch.

    Ortizzle--Even with BIFOCAL CONTACT LENSES, I have, omnipresent, a pair of cheapo 1.25 reading glasses perched atop my head. A local store has them in tons of shapes and colours for only 88 cents per pair. I have about 40 pairs now. They were my signature accessory when I taught, and students loved it. That, and my shoes. Anyway, I am constantly needing to employ those readers for the impossibly small print on labels. I AM SO OLD.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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