Wednesday September 8, 2010
All Your Cake Are Belong to Us
Q: What gift best expresses, “I appreciate you saving me, and my kingdom, from a military coup” or “Thanks for risking life and limb to solve a series of puzzles in the name of science”?
A) A Medal of Honor
B) A Nobel and/or Cash Prize
The correct answer is of course C) Cake.
If you disagree, then you have clearly never played video games.
Maybe it stems from a manifestation of the collective unconscious of video game developers, whom I imagine may not have such a dab hand in the kitchen. Or maybe cake merely represents something universally desirable to the human condition, a sweet reward recalling the innocence of childhood. Maybe it’s just ironic. I don’t really know.
But in the world of video games, nothing says “Congratulations! You did it!” quite like cake.
Dear Mario, Please come to the castle. I have baked a cake for you. Yours truly— Princess Toadstool, Peach.
Thus Mario 64, perhaps one of the most loved games of my generation, begins. If Peach hadn’t baked that cake, Mario certainly would not have ventured to the castle that fateful day and heard from Toad firsthand of her abduction. Take a good hard look at Mario and ask yourself, which motivated his quest more: some innate desire on his part to free a kingdom of anthropomorphic mushrooms from the oppressive rule of a giant turtle, or a desire to sit down with that promised slice of cake?
So after playing through something like 25 hours of puzzle solvin’, mushroom muchin’, Goomba stompin’ madness, what reward does the Princess —acting regent of a flourishing domain mind you— bestow on Mario? The keys to the kingdom? Her hand in marriage? A letter of commendation to the Mushroom Kingdom Plumbers’ Association?
No. A cake.
With strawberries. There isn’t even an exclamation point after “Thank You.”
Portal. If you’ve played it, or even know someone who has, then I really needn’t say more. The game’s relationship with cake speaks for itself.
But for the uninitiated, let me elaborate. Early on, the player is promised cake (listen in around the 2:30 mark) should they successfully complete the game’s myriad puzzles. Well. Cake and grief counseling.
But the Portal devotee’s love of cake extends far beyond the actual gameplay, so much so that a “Portal +cake” search on Google turns up just shy of two and half million hits. Not that you’d want to try the recipe out.
My love of video games probably has a lot to do with having a brother. We played out of doors together a lot as kids, but with four years between us, I often had the upper hand in terms of size or speed. In-of-doors, video games became the great equalizer. (That and the sweltering Kentucky summers that drove us toward air conditioned rooms…)
We have logged countless hours playing video games together, graduating from one console to the next over the years, from NES to PS3. But, while we lived under the same roof, Nintendo dominated our gaming life.
When we beat Mario 64, hints of my future career path began to emerge as I threw a total fit over the lameness of our reward. Being rewarded with cake in and of itself didn’t bother me, but rather I couldn’t believe what a stupid cake the Princess baked. Really?
A game designer doesn’t have to worry about expense of ingredients, structural integrity, the laws of gravity, etc. So why did it seem so blasé? And why (like the Portal cake to come) did it have dollops of whipped cream and fresh fruit on top?
Stop it, Japan. This is America. We don’t want any nutritional value in our dessert.
Actually, I think part of the reason has to do with creating a cake that could meet everyone’s general expectations: a layered confection involving some sort of creamy topping and/or filling. By keeping the exact flavor somewhat ambiguous, its up to each gamer to envision whether the cake is x flavor or y.
As both a baker and gamer, I wanted to make a cake along these lines. A sort of archetypal cake, one with layers and frosting swirls and no obvious flavor attributes, but painted in the over-saturated colors of a Nintendo game.
To be clear, I’m not talking about a video game themed cake, but the sort of over-sized, over-princessed cake I image Peach would really make for Mario.
And I wanted it to be a birthday cake, because today is my brother’s birthday.
I spent time in Greenwich, Connecticut as an apprentice (or in CIA lingo, an extern) to a “Cake Boss” style cake master, making over-the-top cakes of doom. For the clients we worked with, money was never an object (true story, a $1200 cake for a chihuahua’s first birthday party!) and while I had a lot of fun working on some really amazing cakes, I also just burned out on putting so much effort into sugar.
In the end I’m not a gum paste artist or a fondant sculptor, but a girl with a serious crush on chocolate and vanilla. So for this cake I kept the labor to an absolute minimum and butter and vanilla usage at a maximum.
I wish I could have actually made a cake enormous enough to slice into portions this huge, but my oven wouldn’t hold cake pans that size.
Instead, I used a 12” cake, quartered and stacked with chocolate buttercream. After masking the outside in vanilla buttercream, I dredged the sides in yellow sugar and spread pink buttercream between the pretend cake layers. I piped the border with a 1” star tip and used my largest serving spoon to get home-style swirls big enough to seem normal on a cake 16’‘ tall.
Yeah, that slice of cake is over a foot tall.
I fed crayon box colors of fondant through the spaghetti attachment of my pasta maker to create the sprinkles. Normal sprinkles seemed like flecks of colored pixie dust against a cake this huge. (Alternately, check out my recipe for rainbow sprinkles!) A lone blue strand of fondant spaghetti formed the cursive “H” and “a” of the non-existant “Happy Birthday” message. I didn’t realize how badly the cake would dwarf an actual candle until the last minute, so I made up a quick fondant candle to stand in its place.
In video games, the outside of an object often belies the inside. Like Link’s ability to carry one hundred million items in his tunic pocket, or the way an entire Mushroom Kingdom nestles into a drain pipe. Likewise, this three layer slice of yellow cake with pink icing actually houses a four layer Bourbon Buttermilk Cake with Milk Chocolate Buttercream.
Dear Clovis, Please come to the kitchen. I have baked a cake for you. Yours truly— Princess BraveTart, Stella.
16 comments and counting
Sep 09, 2010 · 12:50 PM
So the cake is a lie? How appropriate.
Sep 10, 2010 · 1:34 PM
Little Vicky! How did I live with you and never know you liked video games?! Zelda is my absolute favorite! I’ve played through them all. Wish I could share some cake with you. . .
Sep 22, 2010 · 9:38 AM
· Kaitlin · http://whisk-kid.blogspot.com
Jul 02, 2011 · 4:35 PM
@Mousey, zomg, if Princess Zelda baked a cake, it would be so epic!
@Kaitlin, thanks honey.
Jul 02, 2011 · 9:30 PM
Bourbon Buttermilk Cake? I have an instant crush on that.
· bakerbynature · http://bakerbynature.com
Jul 03, 2011 · 2:25 PM
@Bakerbynature, I had Mr. BraveTart make this for me for my own birthday…Not the slice of cake style, just as a simple layer cake. It’s kinda great. Gosh, I am such a Kentuckian.
Aug 05, 2011 · 3:42 PM
I was searching on FoodGawker for a Buttermilk Cake & although I have NO intention of making this your picture was too beautiful for me to pass up. You are such a great sister, awesome cake decorator, & fantastic photographer…. CONGRATS
· Teacher-Chef · http://ringr.wordpress.com
Aug 05, 2011 · 7:33 PM
@Teacher-Chef, thank you so much! I’m lucky to have Rosco around to take such rad photos. Appreciate the kind words, thank you.
May 01, 2012 · 12:37 AM
Oh, I am so stealing this idea for my friend’s upcoming birthday. You are brilliant for coming up with this! And also a very sweet sister.
· roopa · http://raspberryeggplant.blogspot.com
May 01, 2012 · 9:50 AM
@roopa, good luck! Let me know if you need any pointers or more of a walk-through than I’ve given here. I’d be glad to help. Cheers!
May 29, 2012 · 5:20 PM
sigh ah Nintendo. and the siren call of every Zelda game… which has required the purchase of numerous systems just to keep up haha
Your blog is awesome, I’m inspired to try out so much!
· Kate · http://www.dessertsatlarge.com
May 30, 2012 · 3:27 PM
@Kate, dude, seriously. Twilight Princess was my only motivation for buying the Wii. I’ve shelled out so much cash to follow that saga! Thanks for stopping by!