Birthday Cakes At the Philips (And Thoughts on Cake)

by moderndomestic on January 24, 2011

This building block cake is by Rebekka Baitzell, of Restaurant Eve.

Last weekend I visited the Phillips Collection’s 90th anniversary celebration with Mango Tomato*– to see the art, sure, but mostly to see the cakes. The Phillips had a special exhibition of “birthday cakes” celebrating their anniversary, designed by DC’s top pastry chefs (find out more about the cakes and their inspiration here).

Olga and I joined about thirty other people in a bright, white room, where pale natural light poured down on the cakes. It reminded me of a cathedral – but instead of worshiping a higher power, we were worshiping cake.

I though about several things while looking at the cakes. Some of them amazed me with their artistry. Some of them, honestly, I could have made myself (and I’m no great cake decorator). The cakes proved that cake decorating is a skill in and of itself. One can be a great pastry chef and a great cake decorator, but one can also be a great pastry chef and a mediocre cake decorator.

It also made me think of our current obsession with large, fondant-covered show cakes. It’s probably because of shows like Ace of Cakes and Top Chef – Just Desserts that the Phillips decided to use cake to showcase their 90th anniversary at all. Part of me is pleased that pastry is getting all this attention. And part of my thinks that, for all their loveliness, cakes encased on fondant and elaborate decorations aren’t my favorite thing to bake – or to eat.

Maybe for their 100th anniversary the Philips will do birthday pies?

By Peter Brett, of Blue Duck Tavern. It's a "spicy ginger cake."

Cake by Warren Brown, of Cake Love. It's build of layers of butter and sponge cakes, iced with buttercream, and decorated wth meringues.

This pecan butterscotch cake is by Chris Kujala, of Ris. This was my favorite - so elegant and precise.

A quark torte (a type of Swiss cheesecake), decorated with spice cookies, by Travis Olson, of 1789. He gets props for decorating the cake with cookies, and not fondant.

By Tom Wellings, of Equinox. This looked like the cake I'd most like to eat.

So, this was a close second for my favorite cake - it's by Kevin Boxx, of Domaso. It's has both devil's food cake and white cake, milk chocolate praline filling, chamomile buttercream, and grand marnier buttercream.

By Melanie Parker, of 701.

*All of the lovely photos are by Mango Tomato.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

FrenchTwistDC January 25, 2011 at 10:47 pm

701 #FAIL?


moderndomestic January 25, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I’m not going to comment on any specific cakes. But, like I said, cake decorating is a skill in and of itself.


Olga @ MangoTomato January 25, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I’ll comment: 701 #Fail. I did not even put that photo on my blog because I thought the cake was pitiful 😉


foxyvee February 2, 2011 at 9:17 am

701 looks like something that should be posted on ” Cake Wrecks”. he ehe.
But seriously. As a pastry chef – your product represents you. So why in the heck would you produce something like that and then boast that you made it?

701 woud have been better off making buttermilk poundcake and drizziling it with chocolate!


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