Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka
Cake is alright. It’s not my preferred dessert; it’s probably not even in my top five. Give me baklava, a tart, or a crumble over cake any day. I’m not being very helpful in defining ‘cake’ here; it encompasses so many things. From cupcakes to an enormous Victoria Sponge, the notion of cake as a singular concept is woefully general. And, most likely, so is my dismissal of the dessert.
This is not to say that I do not like cake. Of course I do: it’s sweet and can be made of chocolate. It’s practically impossible for me to dislike anything with such qualities. It’s just that there are so many better options to round off a meal with than cake.
But that is not the purpose of cake. The best way to eat cake, in my opinion, is not as part of a meal. Cake is an event. It deserves to stand on its own. It’s an indulgence… there’s something naughty about it. Whether it be licking the bowl whilst baking, or making too much icing just so you can eat it with a spoon afterwards, a cake is always a treat.
And so wonderfully communal. Not only is baking a cake a hands-on, all-cooks-to-the-kitchen kind of job, eating cake is a shared experience. Although muffins and cupcakes have their appeal, the most joyous cake-eating is always collectively consuming one enormous mound of ingredients.
Cake has come to have a special place in my heart. Birthday cakes immediately spring to mind. My birthday is in January and, growing up, I notoriously managed to get tonsilitis every year, just in time for the special day. Every year, my throat would be almost entirely closed up, yet I was always determined to eat my birthday cake – I wasn’t going to have my brother eat it instead of me!
Cake is also important for me in terms of friends. Every runner and member of the Oxford University Cross Country Club knows that runners’ appetites are large. Thankfully, we have certain members of the club who are excellent bakers, and who readily oblige our hunger by baking brilliant treats. At our cake and coffee meet-ups, we’ve had delicious brownies, true American-style cookies, and even Tesco doughnuts. But the star of the show is always the cake.
I’ve been dreaming of the Guinness cake that appeared for one of our get-togethers last term ever since. The dark cake was moist and rich; the buttercream light and delectably sweet. At the end of a long, hard term, cake and excellent company was exactly what I needed.
The notion of cake is also great as an invitation. I asked a friend ‘to cake’ and, of course, they agreed. We shared a vegan chocolate cake and a slice of vegan banana bread in the Covered Market and just chatted and watched the world go by. Ostensibly, the reason for us being there was cake. But after that was pretty much inhaled in ten minutes, we proceeded to sit and laugh for two more hours. Unsurprisingly, we did eventually get kicked out!
I don’t think we should consider cake as a dessert. It is best consumed at 3 in the afternoon, with a gaggle of people or maybe just two, seeking solace and joy in sugar and each other’s company. Here’s to cake, and its unifying power. And yes, for someone who says that cake is only ‘alright’, it certainly is important to me.