Are you fed-up with fad cakes?

By Stefanie Chao - Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

Have you ever spent hours queuing for a food that everyone has raved about? Shelled out dollars and sampled many versions of the same item in order to find the best? If so, then you have embraced a food fad. The Oxford English dictionary defines fad as “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze”. As Singaporeans, we latch onto many types of fads, and the one most celebrated is, food fads! Every few months, there seems to be an ‘it’ food that we get obsessed about. However the ‘flavour of the week’ soon fades back into obscurity and we will be in search of another fancy to entertain our taste buds with.


Often, fashionable foods are only riding on the coat tails of their hype. After enduring a queue, we buy into the hype, subject ourselves with less than satisfactory service and then upon taking that first bite, it’s perfunctory, at best. In this context, a few fad cakes come into bear here and many of us know them by name. From the ubiquitous Oreo Cheesecake, the latest Red Velvet Cake sensation, to Lana Cakes and the heavily franchised chocolate cake chain, which got some thinking there is a typo error in their brand name – Awfully Chocolate.


Cheesecakes are a classic dessert and the cream cheese which is the main ingredient, is a perfect vessel of flavour! Nevertheless, I never understood the need to pair Oreo cookies with cheesecake. It works well in the crust, providing a sweet respite from the rich creamy filling. Whoever thought of chopping and stirring it into the batter though, couldn’t have thought worse. Relying on the classic flavour of cookies-and-cream-anything to evoke childhood memories, this fad cake is one culinary fashion disaster. The end result that is sold in most bakeries and cafes, is a grey interior mottled with traces of cookie crumble, looking almost like semi-set cement. Alas, the sodden cookies mixed into the batter just don’t work in terms of texture, and lacks any hooks in flavour at all.


Lana’s Chocolate Fudge Cake was a legendary cake created by Mrs Violet Kwan a few decades ago and was the ‘it’ cake for special occasions. Until today, many locals willingly drive up to the one outlet at Greenwood Avenue to indulge in this supposedly fudgy and irresistible cake, which is ‘rich but light’. Mrs Kwan is known for offering only a few cakes on the menu to maintain quality control.


I have never once patronised Lana’s Cake or Awfully Chocolate, because the numerous samplings I have had of these chocolate cakes at countless parties are enough to confirm that there is no such thing as a chocolate cake that is ‘rich but light’. A lover of dark chocolate myself, I do not detect the floral or fruity notes from the cake or the frosting, and when the host was asked what made them choose these chocolate cakes, most answer that “It’s a cake that everyone knows and likes, so it will most likely be popular with the guests.”


Lana’s has an uncomfortably salty aftertaste and it failed in delivering the promise of a chocolatey explosion of flavour. Similarly, the darkness of the sponge and frosting on the Awfully Chocolate cakes fails us somewhat – it suggests an overload of cocoa powder and chocolate emulco; that dark chemically enhanced chocolate flavouring that most purists shrink away from. Worst still, the cakes seem to stay soft and pretty for days on end, which probably means it was botoxed with some enhancer or stabilizer.


To me, a chocolate cake has to be rich with notes of bittersweet cocoa and fragrant vanilla which enhances the earthy bouquet of the cacao content. Lightness can certainly be introduced by aerating certain components of the cake and for this reason; the Guanaja Chocolate Cake from Rive Gauche is a strong contender for being a stellar chocolate cake. Chocolate enthusiasts will be delighted with the quality chocolate (Valrhona’s Guanaja, with a 70% cocoa content) in the cake. The velvety smooth mousse is complemented by the soft sponge layers and comes with the nice surprise of a crunchy bottom. The textural contrasts and an explosion of flavours all at once, delivers the right end to a meal.


Lastly, the Red Velvet Cake, a South American classic, is surfacing on many menus today, predominantly in the form of cupcakes, another fad cake which is appearing on everyone’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook album. Basically, the Red Velvet Cake is merely a coloured vanilla cake with a hint of chocolate from the cocoa powder, and slathered all over with cream cheese frosting. The eye-catching color and attractive name should prove it a hit right? Not to us, no sir. The versions found here are dry and plain, with a frosting that is tooth-achingly sweet and tastes nothing like tangy cream cheese, doing nothing to elevate this already plain cake that has been tarted up happy red food colouring. In short, this cake is like a colouring experiment. Something more substantial (and orangey-red too) would have been perfect with the cream cheese frosting: a good ol’ all American Carrot Cake and the version from Cedele is one of my favourites. This cake will never go out of fashion because the carrot moistens the cake, which is dense but light in flavour because of all the good stuff in it—plump raisins, aromatic spices and toasted walnuts, it will satisfy any cake lover.


Cake is a fabulous food, when you get it right, that is. After all, when Marie Antoinette supposedly uttered the famous lines of ‘Let Them Eat Cake’, she may have been unaware of how right she was. Please spare us the hype and hyper tasteless creations, and don’t justify it with pretty maraschino cherry on top either.


For a more substantial “Red Velvet Cake”, read “Not Quite A Red Velvet Cake
(Very) Red Velvet Cake