Influenced by media, amateurs try extreme caking
Influenced by media, amateurs try extreme caking
Because if you think a basic sheet cake and candles are all you need, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. Extreme caking has come to the home cook, fueled partly by TV shows showcasing crazy confections, and partly by boastful amateur bakers eager to strut their sugary stuff on social media.
Shows like “Ace of Cakes,” “Cake Boss” and various spinoffs tempt viewers with stunning visions of creations closer to art than dessert. They build cityscapes, sea monsters and dragons — all sculpted like statues in three dimensions. Amateurs follow suit, posting photos of their creations to Twitter and Reddit, and the more elaborate the cakes are, the more popular they become.
This helps explain why once esoteric pro-grade tools and ingredients for creating elaborately embellished cakes — not to mention classes on how to use all those toys — are big sellers today.
In Philadelphia’s Italian Market, kitchen supply store Fante’s has been teaching cake decorating to amateurs for at least 30 years. The supplies they sell and classes they offer are constant indicators of cake trends. During the early ‘80s it was marzipan and fancy flowers; today it’s 3-D and fondant, an icing that can be sculpted.
“There was a huge shift as soon as the TV shows came out,” says Nina Rose Pelc, an instructor at Fante’s. “I’ve seen some three-tiered, five-tiered cakes — that could be wedding cakes — for 3-year-olds’ birthday parties.”
According to Lynn Sorensen, co-owner of Kitchen Krafts — a website that sells baking tools and materials — the number of vendors selling specialty tools and ingredients for building these cakes has increased as demand for them has risen.
She says the cakes people want to build can change by the week, depending on popular movies or events. When the royal baby was born, for example, Sorensen said people wanted decorative crowns.
The Cake Boss himself, Buddy Valastro, said in a phone interview that he’s happy to have raised the cake-decorating bar.
“I’m a proponent of people making those kinds of cakes, trying to make the cakes that I make,” Valastro says. “At the end of the day, the reason I became a baker is that when you finish a cake and you step away, there’s a feeling inside. You’re like, ‘Wow!’ And I want to give that feeling to other people.”
When Joshua Orvis, a research scientist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, started getting into extreme caking along with his wife, it was for their son’s third birthday.
“He said, ‘I want an Angry Birds cake’ and we thought, ‘Well, how do we do that?’” Orvis says.
He searched Google Images for Angry Birds cakes, unsure of what would turn up. Hundreds of colorful cakes tiled his screen depicting the game’s scenes and characters in varying levels of complexity.
“Then we found out you can get fondant and just make whatever you want to make,” Orvis says. “Like a kid with Play-Doh, we just sculpted shapes out of it.”
The Angry Birds cake was a success. The Orvises have since sculpted a variety of special cakes for their four young children: one of Pingu, the clay-mation Swiss-British penguin, one of a “Star Wars” scene, and two of cars. The most recent cake was a Pagani Zonda R race car for which Orvis used traditional cake, Rice Krispies Treats, and fondant for the body paneling.
The Orvises find the cake-making process rewarding, not just for the joy it brings their children, but also for the creative outlet.
“Both of our jobs are not very artistic, but we both think that we’re relatively artistic people,” Orvis says. “It’s a fun thing to do together.”
Unfortunately, not every foray into elaborate cake making goes so well. Katie Lewis, a 32-year-old web designer from Washington, D.C., has given it up entirely.
When a friend asked her to make a cake for his wedding, Lewis had a few elaborate cakes under her belt. There was a gory fondant chest cavity with a red velvet heart for one Halloween, and a tasty alien head for another. But now she’d entered the big leagues: a three-tiered, three-dimensional, Mario Brothers-themed wedding cake.
Lewis started preparing the cake the night before the wedding, and it wasn’t working out. As the hours went by, she realized that she’d taken on something too big. She didn’t have the right tools or the right training.
“At one point I was lying on the floor just covered in confectioner’s sugar,” she said.
By morning, Lewis managed to put together something that “kind of appeared to be some sort of cake,” but has never looked back. She doesn’t watch shows like “Cake Boss” anymore.
“It’s not possible and it makes you cry,” she says.
There is, however, a middle ground between baking a work of art and producing a boring, traditional cake. Some amateurs simply use a layer of fondant to cover a traditional round cake and get creative from there.
And at Fante’s, Pelc says the classes that focus on baking basics remain among the most popular.
“We will always have an interest in using the traditional butter cream approach,” Pelc says. “Those are fundamentals people will always want to learn.”
Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements
JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.
A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.
Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.
She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines.
“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.
A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions.
“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”
She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said.
“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”
She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells.
“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss.
“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”
She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.
The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health.
“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said.
“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”
However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors.
She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.
“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.
In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects.
“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.
“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”
With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables.
“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly.
“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.
Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.
“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.