We chat to Cake Wrecks author Jen Yates about when professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong.
The blog's concept is deliciously simple, and the name says it all: Cake Wrecks: When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong.
Jen Yates, who lives in Orlando, Florida, started the blog in May of 2008, just for fun. The first post was a photo a friend emailed her, a picture of a cake that bears the dedication as well as the (misspelled) instructions for how to display it:
Best Wishes Suzanne
We Will Miss you
Since then she has posted new pictures nearly every day. As it turns out, there's no shortage of "deformed, distasteful, and bizarrely decorated" cakes, as she describes them - ones that turned out ridiculously different than they were meant to look, and others that were kind of terrible from the moment of conception.
There's the cake that depicts, with butt-patting stick figures, sexual harassment, with a line drawn through the picture so you'll know it's WRONG. There are ones that read "It a gril" and "Marry Christmas." Sometimes it's the stories behind the cakes that make them funny. Just ask the people who provided the decorators with the photo they wanted rendered on their cake, saved as an image on a USB drive - and got back a cake decorated with a USB drive.
Cake Wrecks the book came out this fall, and it's just as popular as the blog, debuting at #9 on the New York Times bestseller list in the category of hardcover "advice" books. (Hee. Advice.) We talked to Jen about what it's been like to have her cake and eat it too.
The blog is a full-on phenomenon, complete with merch and a book that made The New York Times bestseller list. My goodness. Have you been totally surprised by all this?
Ooooh yes. The last year and a half has been insane! I went from knowing nothing about blogging to having a book deal from my blog in under a year. If that's not nuts, then I don't know what is.
Your passion for cakes is part of what makes reading the blog so enjoyable. For instance: the terribleness of cupcake cakes, and your strong feelings on the matter. Could you tell us why you first started doing the blog? Did it come from your own interest in cake making?
My hubby John actually signed us up for cake decorating classes for Christmas of '07, which were so much fun that we took every course the store offered from January through April of '08. That's where my initial interest started, and then I began Cake Wrecks in May. The real inspiration for the site was the very first cake I ever posted, though, which is now the cover of the book. A friend e-mailed that to me knowing cakes were my new hobby, and I immediately thought wrecked cakes would be a fun idea for a blog. I certainly never thought anyone would actually *read* the thing, though; it was just something I started for my own amusement.
The thing I like the most about Cake Wrecks is that it seems to showcase some terrible new trends as often as random funny mistakes. Most recently I saw the collection of pictures of cakes congratulating people on their new - but as-yet unborn - babies. MAN. The fetus/uterus cakes just about killed me. Have you discovered other trends that especially freak you out?
Heh, I'm not sure I *can* be freaked out by cake anymore, but I am constantly amused at the American tendency to celebrate literally *anything* with cake. Divorce cakes are pretty old news these days, but also gaining in popularity are vasectomy cakes, potty training cakes, uncomfortably specific apology cakes, and so on. It's a riot.
As you've already noticed, though, the one area that continues to raise the Wreckage bar (or lower it, depending on your perspective) is baby shower cakes. For some reason anatomically correct birthing scenes crafted from cake are extremely popular these days, and bakers are getting ever more creative with ways to make it look like you're about to eat either a baby or the mom-to-be's swollen torso. Hilarious, yes, but also disturbing on just about every level.
But then, you also feature things you really like from time to time. What are a few of the best, cleverest, prettiest cakes you've seen?
You don't have to reinvent the wheel to make a great cake: a gorgeous color palette, clean lines, and proper proportions are 80% of the battle. Most of my favorites are either character-inspired (some Dr. Seuss designs come to mind) or geek-chic (video games, Doctor Who, etc.) I love anything that's unique and extremely personalized; you want to learn something about a person when you look at his or her cake.
Do you often hear from someone who found their cake on the blog? Do people get hurt/upset/angry with you?
Not nearly as much as you might think! Since the blog began, I think we've only had 7 or 8 bakers ask us to remove their cakes - and only about half of those were nasty about it; most were pretty polite. These days, most bakers have realized that CW is not a mean-spirited site; that it really is just about "finding the funny in unexpected, sugar-filled places." As a result, we now have bakers submitting their *own* Wrecks, while a few others have proudly claimed their work on the site, asking me to link back to them. I can't tell you how happy that makes me, since I really am just out to make folks laugh a little, not ruin anyone's day.
So tell us about the book. How many pictures were you able to include? Was it hard to choose?
Oh, I'm really thrilled with the way the book turned out. It's a gorgeous hardcover by Andrews McMeel, with about 150 Wrecks in it - three quarters of which are new, and have never been on the site. It wasn't *too* hard to choose; I just started setting aside all of the "best" Wrecks as soon as I knew the book was going to happen. I did have to cut some material to limit it to 190 pages (and keep the book at the $12.95 price point), but in a way that was good; writing the book and the blog at the same time was making for some reeeeallly long work weeks!
Something tells me that looking at all these bad cakes has helped people figure out how to make good ones - or at least what to avoid. Can you share any tips you've picked up along the way? I will accept either a serious or humorous response. :)
Making a good cake is really all about sticking to your skill level. In other words: Don't attempt an 8-foot-tall recreation of Hogwarts if you're still learning how to stack tiers! The first cake you ever make can be gorgeous, if you just stick to simple techniques and focus on the details. A few other essentials:
- Buy a dictionary. Then use it.
- Cannibalism - or the appearance thereof - is NEVER CUTE. If every bakery could have this written in bold letters on their walls somewhere, I think we'd all be better off.
- When piping chocolate icing, DO NOT make swirly piles. (Actually, this should probably be rule #2. Heheh.)
- And finally, and perhaps most important of all: have fun! This is just cake we're talking about, and it should never - EVER - be taken too seriously. Besides, if you Wreck it, you can always eat the evidence.
You can see more Cake Wrecks, pick up a copy of the book or submit your own baking disasters to the Cake Wrecks blog.