I recently read this quote by Kerry Vincent, director and co-founder of the annual Oklahoma Sugar Art Show (also known for her role as the super uptight judge of the Food Network Cake Challenge): “We MUST preserve the art of buttercream. There are too many people who push some material in a mold, slap it on a cake and think that makes them a cake decorator.”
I shudder to think what Ms. Vincent would have to say about the recently released Cricut Cutter for cakes (pictured at left). According to their website, “[t]he Cricut Cake™ Personal Electronic Cutter is specifically designed for decorating cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and confections in no time at all. Just choose a shape, a size, and press ‘cut’. Decorating like a professional has never been faster or easier. Bon Appetit!”
There is an ongoing discussion on the Cake Central forum about whether the Cricut Cutter will render professional cake designers obsolete. Leah S. posted the following: “I think [the Cricut Cake™] is the worst thing that has happened to caking ever. It is destroying the creativity and artistry of what we do.”
Another perturbed cake designer wrote “If everything is made by machine or mold, where does the talent come in?”
Me? I’m not worried. Lot’s of people think cake design is easy. Indeed, a well-designed, well-executed cake can look deceptively simple. But think back to the first cake you made. I bet it didn’t look at all like the cakes you see on TV. I like what costumeczar posted on the Cake Central forum: “Just because you cut the shape out with a machine doesn’t mean the cake will look good. There will be plenty of cakes that look like a monkey iced them with cricut shapes slapped on…Cakewrecks, watch out!”
Pablo Picasso, perhaps the best known artist of our time, was actually a classically trained artist. His earlier work bore little if any resemblance to his later work. Although plenty of people look at Picasso’s later work and think they could easily replicate it, his early works show his technical capabilities.
Below, Picasso’s Self-portrait with Uncombed Hair (1896):
And a more recognized Picasso, Self-portrait (1907):
For me, fondant is to buttercream what is digital is to film. They say that to truly understand digital photography, you have to first understand the nuances and technical aspects of film. Same is true for cake. Fondant won’t correct a flawed cake. The cake designer must first ice the cake perfectly smooth with buttercream.
When I started cake decorating 15 years ago, I worked exclusively with buttercream, and I was damn good at it. Today, I work almost exclusively with fondant. And you know what? I love it. I don’t care what Kerry Vincent says.
I’ve seen plenty of fondant cakes that lack artistry, but I’ve seen a lot of buttercream cakes that lack artistry too. I don’t think the medium determines the inherent artistic value. Working with buttercream is certainly a skill, but so is design. Skill with a piping bag does not necessarily translate into a well-designed cake. A beautiful cake employs both the mechanics and the design.
I’m excited about the new Cricut Cutter. I love the idea of adding new techniques to my repertoire and the endless design possibilites. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a buttercream backlash in which buttercream becomes trendy all over again. That’s fine. I’ve got my piping bags all ready.