Today’s wildly ornamented creations veer even further from tradition and toward self-expression. In Berlin, Hana Betakova, 29, sells surreal tiered cakes through her bakery, Růstcakes, that are edible studies in opposition. She likes to work with aquafaba meringue, which is easily shaped into peaked dollops, obscuring the fluffy crumb within. Her signature style pairs frosting in atonal color combinations (cotton candy blue, dusky garnet) with small forests of herbs, berries and flowers, and is tinged with the subversive aesthetics of the metal subculture. The New York City-based baker Gigi M. (who prefers not to disclose her last name to protect her privacy), 25, has a similarly inventive approach. Her references include the British artist Jenny Saville’s close-focus nudes and John Galliano’s shimmering ’90s-era dresses for Givenchy. The results have an enchanted, overgrown look: Often multitiered or domed and covered in densely piped pastel-colored buttercream flowers, many of her cakes are finished with an outcropping of long-stemmed plants — recently, she has experimented with asparagus ferns and thistles.
Nature is likewise a muse for the Brooklyn-based baker Aimee France, 23. On trips back to her family home in New Hampshire, she forages for many of the plants (violas, flowering lemon thyme, lilacs) and stem-on fresh fruits, including blackberries and Concord grapes, that adorn the baroque, often vegan, buttercream-frosted tiered cakes she sells under the pseudonym YungKombucha420. Hyun Jung Jun, a 33-year-old baker and artist in Chicago who makes work as Dream Cake Test Kitchen, also creates fantastical multidimensional landscapes, topping her domed cakes with craggy coconut macaroons, spiny piped meringue swans and treelike spires of dill.
For many of these bakers, most of whom found their followings on social media, playing with organic materials in their rawest form is a way to engage in a more tactile and instinctive kind of creativity, a relief from the shiny digital world. “I’ve been online since I was, like, 9,” says Jamie Rothenberg, 26, who is based in Brooklyn and shares her culinary creations through the Instagram account @foodjars. Recently, for a series of astrology-inspired cakes, she enlivened a Pisces-themed design bordered in rosemary sea salt buttercream rosettes with uneven stems of lavender. “Being able to create something with my hands,” she says, “is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
What’s more, unlike fondant, which is rarely eaten, these unruly natural decorations can have a second life. France encourages her customers to crush the leaves of the dried lemon thyme sprigs that often radiate from the exterior of her cakes and sprinkle them, sparingly, over a slice before eating it. And Yip wraps the cut ends of her flowers in floral tape before arranging them on a cake so that her customers can preserve them as keepsakes. Because if cakes are comfort, they are also the stuff of celebration, fleeting monuments to time spent with others — now more so than ever.
Set design by Maria Santana. Photo assistant: Brian Galderisi