Why Cakes are Harder Than Cupcakes

by moderndomestic on July 15, 2010

Emily cake

A chocolate and vanilla birthday cake for a friend.

I’m on a cake kick lately. Yes, they’re more old-fashioned than cupcakes, and they’re much less trendy. But there’s something grand about them – the way they tower on the serving plate – that I’m finding rather irresistible these days.

Also, cakes are hard. When it comes down to it, it takes a lot of skill, patience, and technique to properly frost a cake. You have to level the layers. You have to know to do a crumb coat. You have to have frosting that’s the right consistency. You have to know the right way to smooth the sides of the cake with an offset spatula. You have to have cake boards, and an offset, and a decent piping bag. And if you don’t know what you’re doing . . . well, it shows.

Cupcakes, on the other hand, aren’t as hard. I could always make a cupcake look decent, even though I had no idea what I was doing. You can dip the top in glaze, spread frosting on top with a knife and dip it in crumbs or sprinkles, or even do a simple pile of frosting on top with a piping bag.

Of course there are numerous ways to decorate cupcakes that require a lot of skill (like making elaborate fondant sculptures to put in top, or piping writing, etc), but it’s a lot easier to fake it with a cupcake. But cakes? You can’t really fake it.

Now, I’m by no means a cake decorating expert at all – I’m just interested in learning how to get better at it. I get so frustrated with how uneven and un-smooth my cakes are. But at the end of the day, cakes present a fascinating challenge that is slowly obsessing me – and I think they’re much more interesting than cupcakes.

This is my latest offering – a birthday cake for my good friend Emily. She requested a chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream, so I happily obliged, making the sour cream chocolate cake from Baking Illustrated. No, it’s not perfect. That writing is totally off center, the leaves on those rosettes are all different sizes – I could go on, but the list would be never ending. But it’s better than I could have done two months ago. And I think I’m more satisfied with that cake, with all its faults, than I’ve ever could have been with a cupcake, no matter how pretty.

Speaking of which – do you need a cake for an upcoming event or party? I seriously want the practice – I can’t eat all this cake myself.

Emily Birthday Cake 4

See, this writing looks less off center from this angle. I like it.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Avalee July 16, 2010 at 9:04 am

I’m dealing with the same cake-decorating dilemmas you are, and I think it comes down to practice — the more you decorate, the better you get.

With that said, your cake looks a lot better than mine do at this point :-)


Alice July 16, 2010 at 10:08 am

Delicious! I really want to lick that frosting. Did you use cake strips for it?


amy July 16, 2010 at 10:50 am

looks great, sister! from the picture, i can tell you have been working on it. and, if you had not pointed them out, i don’t think i would have noticed the ‘flaws’. before i read the post i thought, ‘look how awesome the flowers turned out!’ hooray for cakes! how is b&b going?


Olga @ MangoTomato July 16, 2010 at 12:55 pm

flowers in nature are never the same size…so you are perfectly fine :)


Cathy July 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm

gosh that’s pretty. i’m going to dream up an event or a reason to order one of those pretty cakes.


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