10 Oct 2022
“Icing as an art form? You better believe it”, the Financial Times writes. Hip patissiers are taking over social media platforms with retro cakes decorated with countless rows of pastel frosting, fit for a royal banquet or sumptuous wedding party. After years of naked cakes, we are now seeing a celebration of sponge cake, piping and loads of buttercream.
It is no coincidence that we are seeing the re-emergence of vintage cakes – alluding to cake designs from the 1950s to '80s – now. Our Taste Tomorrow consumer research shows people became nostalgic during the pandemic. That made people revisit traditional patisserie recipes, but also traditional patisserie designs. 75% of consumers like traditional tastes, our worldwide consumer survey revealed.
We also see that younger consumers believe the beautiful appearance of bakery products is a sure sign of enhanced taste. With the influence of social media, the visual properties of bread, cakes and chocolate have become an ever more important part of the flavor experience and purchase considerations. The delicately iced retro cakes with old-timey ruffles and mounds of soft pink buttercream play right into those considerations: lavish piping decorations practically spell out ‘indulgence’.
The slightly kitschy cakes packed with buttercream piping, ruffles, garlands and scalloped edges, and decorated with edible pearls, cherubs, swans and maraschino cherries, are meant to invoke full dramatic effect. It will therefore come as no surprise that a lot of the bakers behind those creations have a background in fashion, art or design. Likewise, the fashion world is going crazy over the designs. Major fashion companies such as Burberry, Rixo, H&M, and Vogue have already done collaborations with retro bakers such as Hebe Konditori and April’s Baker. “A lot of the piping on our cakes reflects embroidery, patterns and prints, as well as statement colors, whether they are pastels or bold shades”, says Roxy Mankoo from April’s Baker in an interview with Vogue.
Although the retro cakes have an unmistakably vintage look and feel to them, their historical references are wide, coming from French neoclassical styles, the Victorian era and the '80s. A lot of creators reference the Netflix show Bridgerton and most importantly the 2006 movie Marie Antoinette by Sophia Coppola as sources of visual inspiration. But like the movie and TV series, the cakes are anachronistic. Marie-Antoine Carême, widely considered as ‘the father of French cuisine’ and popular for pièces montées, was just 9 years old when Marie Antoinette died. Layer cakes like we eat today weren't mentioned in any cookbooks until the late 1800s. And the lacey and abundant piping of patisserie is seen as an invention of the British pastry chef Joseph Lambert, who popularized the style with his 1934 cookbook Lambeth Method of Cake Decoration and Practical Pastries. His maximalist dessert decorating style, with lots of overlapping lines, is known as ‘over-piping’.
The dreamy multi-tier cakes with endless buttercream ruffles by Lily Vanilli have been a huge hit on Instagram, amassing 123K followers for the bakery located in the U.K. and Georgia. Lily was one of the first bakers to explore retro cake styles, which landed her collaborations with major brands and corporations such as Absolut Vodka, Alexander McQueen, Levi’s and the BBC.
Influences for the creations by April’s Baker come from rococo gilding, Marie Antoinette and the “cakes of royal weddings in the 1950s”. Owner Roxy Mankoo has a background in art and design, like many other bakers making trendy vintage kitsch cakes. “It’s about showing off your skills and artistry,” says Mankoo in the Financial Times. “People want to see the simpler joys of life made extra-special.”
Hebe Konditori taps into two trends at the same time: their cakes are both vegan and have the almost-too-pretty-to-eat retro aesthetic. Founder Sarah Hardy studied sculpture at art school and decided to apply her skills to cakes and food styling. Hardy’s background in sculpture is reflected in the Roman pillar that serves as the brand's logo and is a recurring motif in Hebe Konditori's cakes.
The story of the Korean bakery 3rd I Am starts with the childhood memories of the baker: looking at cakes in window displays with her dad and fighting over the jelly cake decorations. She now uses that nostalgia for traditional '80s cakes to create her own visually spectacular cakes whose keywords are regal, classic and cute.
Danielle Payne, the self-taught baker behind Noonchi Cake, sees the pandemic as a huge driver for the success of her kitschy cakes. “People are looking for a slice of opulence in their lives,” she tells Vogue in an interview. “We can’t see our loved ones or party with our friends, or celebrate things the way we used to, but we can order a decadent sweet treat to be delivered to our door.”
‘Frilly Antoinette’ is the name of a lavishly decorated pastel two-tier cake by Sweet Lionheart, a reference to the Sofia Coppola movie Marie Antoinette that is a huge inspiration to a lot of retro cake designers. This bakery from Cape Town, South Africa specializes in abundant bakes with intricate piping designs. They even offer workshops for avid home bakers on how to make buttercream florals and regal piping.
Harriet Gibson and Erin Luker, the duo behind the British Coven Bakery, have a background in both baking and fashion. “We want our cakes to look fun and silly because we want them to bring joy,” they tell Thrillist in an interview. “Every time I look at my phone, there’s a terrifying news alert,” Gibson says. “Cake can be an escape. It used to be that times got hard, hemlines got longer. Now when times are hard, the buttercream gets fluffier.”
The U.S. cake decorator Bake It Up Buttercup is a full-fledged retro cake online influencer. With 46K followers on TikTok, the creator makes mesmerizing videos showing the amounts of work that go into decorating a cake. She also shares tips on how to write on Valentine's cake, make buttercream frosting and cut a heart-shaped cake.
Pastry chef Christina Tosi, the mastermind behind the wildly popular pastry shop Milk Bar, owes many of her signature baked goods to nostalgia. Childhood memories were an inspiration for her most well-known creations such as the birthday cake and cereal milk. Discover just how important nostalgia is for Tosi’s work and success.