20 Oct 2022
A blue, crooked bullet-shaped cake decorated with seemingly randomly placed puffs of meringue. A white tulip protrudes from the side and wispy dried flowers peek out here and there. Scattered across the glaze lie coarse pieces of tarragon fruit and kumquat. When this Yip Studio cake passes by on your Instagram timeline, you definitely pause to take a better look: what is it exactly you're looking at?
The cake is one example of the many artsy and slightly weird cakes that are taking over social media by storm. Dive into the background of this trend and find out what bakers to keep an eye on.
After the cutesy, intricately-piped and pastel-hued traditional patisserie cakes we’ve seen online, there’s now a new baking trend on the block. While it is equally visually interesting, hip bakers are now opting for a less polished look. Cakes are artsy and slightly weird. Think:
decorated with fresh flowers, spray paint and jelly
maximalist or even grotesque
unusual colors such as black, purple, green and blue
playful use of different textures
postmodern look, between nostalgic and futuristic
These cakes might have a sloppy and random appearance. But don’t be fooled: these creations take anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days to assemble. And the aesthetic is definitely very deliberate and thought through.
“I’m trying to transcend what a conventional cake is supposed to look like, in terms of both the flavors and the visuals. I think of my cakes as sculptures”, Amy Yip says in an interview with Slowdown. The baker behind cake company Yip Studio comes from the world of art, fashion and design and she applies the same work approach to cakes now. Yip draws inspiration from expressionist painters Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele, avant-garde fashion labels and her rock collection. That results in unconventional cake designs.
Ali Gelles from Cakes4Sport started exploring baking during the pandemic. She is a ceramic artist and describes her cake creations as ‘perishable sculptures’ on her website. The style of her bakes is "fairly chaotic” as she says herself. The ingredients for her extravagant cakes − think heaps of sloppy pastel piping with photos of clowns on the side − are inspired by the offerings of the bodegas and international supermarkets in her Brooklyn neighborhood. “A lot of my visual inspiration comes from my y2k childhood and certain tactile memories”, Gelles says in an interview, “like my grandmother’s sewing trimmings.”
Avid home baker Tanya Bush and writer Aliza Abarbanel were so fascinated by this grassroots cake movement that they dedicated an entire zie to the bakery trend: Sexy Cake. “I was noticing a lot of the unconventional, opulent, maximalist, or frankly, kind of weird cakes”, Abarbanel tells Eater. “I felt like [cake] was everywhere and had so many different meanings that were interesting to explore.” The creators found it striking that a lot of the artsy cakes we see all over Instagram are made by women. Their baking method is a form of art and is out to challenge the strict traditions of the patisserie world.
What draws us towards these visually impressive cakes? Desire, say the creators of Sexy Cake. Tanya Bush describes the maximalist bakes on Instagram as ‘culinary seduction’. Bush: “We’re not tasting everything that we see on Instagram, so it’s incredibly visual, which I think is an exciting, empowering mode of expression for a lot of people and a wonderful way to share creations in a very supportive space.” The focus for bakers thus moves from literal consumption to digital consumption, which gives them more room for artistic exploration.
Does that mean the cakes are just looks? Definitely not. Most bakers have a distinct vision on flavor as well. The cakes serve some drama on the inside too. Yip prefers earthy tea flavors with interesting juxtapositions: matcha cake with passionfruit curd, oolong rose and lychee, earl grey and kumquat, black sesame and red bean or yuzu shiso.
Hyun Jung Jun from Dream Cake Test Kitchen uses lots of outspoken herbal flavors and warm spice tones. “I love using Chinese five spice, turmeric and black sesame”, she tells Something Curated. “They bring out the savory aspects of dessert in unexpected ways. Also black pepper, nutmeg and pistachio are staples of mine. Everyday herbs such as dill, basil, sage, mint and thyme are great ways to add ornamentation and texture while adding fragrance and flavor.”
Meet 8 bakers that are all about outspoken, artsy and maximalist cakes:
On a whole other side of the visual spectrum, we see a traditional patisserie renaissance with bakers creating vintage cakes that showcase true piping mastery. These creations are all about perfection and symmetry.
Taste Tomorrow is the world’s largest ecosystem for consumer understanding in bakery, patisserie and chocolate. By tracking local and global consumer behaviors, attitudes and choices it provides us with valuable, in-depth insights. We are able to use these insights to track the evolution of trends and reveal new ones, helping your business to stay connected to your customers and discover new opportunities.