I’m generally a fan of food served on a stick. Corn dogs: One of life’s most pleasurable guilty pleasures. Satay sticks: Well-engineered for dipping in peanut sauce. Caramel apples: Messy, but the contrast of sticky-sweet caramel and tart-juicy apple makes them worth it.
Cake pops, though, I just didn’t get.
If you haven’t been following the ups and downs of the pastry world, cake pops are the latest Big Thing. They’re sort of a postmodern cupcake — a ball of cake scraps mixed with frosting, coated with a candy shell, and served on a stick. The trend is generally credited to baking blogger extraordinaire Bakerella, whose initial posts of the inventive treats in shapes like puppies, smiley faces and reindeer in 2008 led to a bestselling cookbook and jam-packed book tour at Williams-Sonoma. When Starbucks started selling the spherical sweets in March as part of the Starbucks Petites line, the trend officially hit the mainstream.
Cake pops are undeniably tasty, but my main issue was one of practicality. They’re a hassle to make, tricky to transport, and awkward to eat. (You basically have two choices: Take it down in one giant bite, or eat half and risk the remainder falling off the stick.) As annoying as the recent cupcake craze became, cupcakes are at least a time-tested foodstuff, with a long, proud tradition of service at elementary school birthdays and bake sales. I wondered: As a nation, have we become so addicted to novelty that we’ve lost sight of the basics?
I needed answers, and so I called my pal Jessie Oleson at Cake Spy, a woman who has dedicated her professional life to all things sweet and frosted. (She has a well-known blog, gallery in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and is coming out with a cookbook this September which will offer deliciously over-the-top recipes like Cadbury Crème Eggs Benedict and Birthday Cake French Toast.) So cake pops, I asked her. What’s the deal?
“They’re adorable, they’re a craft project, and they’re a really fun thing to serve at parties or to make with your kids,” she explained. “It’s an easy thing for home bakers to make and to have a big ‘wow factor.’” Bakeries love them, she added, because they’re not only pretty, but also a great way to use leftover cake scraps. “It’s kind of a win-win.”
I was beginning to see the light, but one thing was still bothering me: Aren’t they hard to eat?
Oleson conceded on that score, but told me that wasn’t the point. “They’re more about the looks than the actual taste. I see them almost as a cake accessory.”
There you have it. If women can sacrifice comfort and half their paycheck for a pair of Manolo Blahniks, then sweets-lovers can surely sacrifice convenience and tradition for an attractive dessert. Consider me a convert.
Anna Roth is the editor of eHow Food. Her book, West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food from San Diego to the Canadian Border, was released this month by Sasquatch Books.