“We don’t make sheet cakes!!!”

Such was the anguished cry of the owners of the bakery where I first trained. They made and still make some of the highest quality cakes in the Chicago area, but they drew the line at sheet cakes, which is to say the broad, flat, rectangular cakes that grocery stores sell for kids’ birthdays. I think they felt it cheapened their brand to make them and they were probably correct in that assumption. However the consequence was that they were forced to repeat this phrase um-teen times a day when moms called to place orders for Junior’s big day. They’re probably shouting it right now, poor things. Listen out the window in the direction of Chicago and you can probably hear them…

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14 Responses to “We don’t make sheet cakes!!!”

  1. Linda says:

    That reminds me of when I was commissioned to make a wedding cake for my nephew. I didn’t know a lot about structure to keep the huge cake from collapsing due to its own weight and decided I should take some classes in that and cake decorating to learn before I tried to tackle this job. I was “shocked” that the classes didn’t even discuss scratch cakes. The instructor admitted that most wedding cakes are from mixes these days. I guess a high ratio (not stealing your theme) of people don’t even know what a good scratch cake tastes like. They have grown up on cake mixes and bakery cakes. I have eaten a bakery cake or two that was worth eating but most are just tons of sugar and to my thinking empty on flavor to get that “bakery cake texture”. Like eating sweet air. I’m with you. I’d go for a tasty sheet cake over a cake builder’s cake any day. People are always complimenting me on the flavor of cakes that I make. I tell them I don’t do anything special except use the highest quality ingredients I can find and pick recipes that seem to care more about taste than show. Enjoying this group of blogs. Maybe Relish will like these too. :)

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks Linda! I guess it’s because my childhood neighbor and baking hero, Lily Lunstrom, made such great scratch cakes, but I’ve never really enjoyed anything but a nice moist butter cake. To each their own, of course. And there are many in-between ways to go. It’s possible to use a high ration formula and still incorporate high-quality ingredients, and many boutique bakeries do. But yes it’s sad that mixes pretty much dominate in retail environments in everything from cakes to doughnuts. It’s up to us to keep hope alive! ;)

      - Joe

    • Bronwyn says:

      How we in New Zealand stop cakes collapsing from the weight of icing and tiers is to use heavy fruit cakes. Wedding cake here is (or used to be, things are changing) invariably a heavy fruit cake, the top tier of which would traditionally be stored away to be used as the Christening cake for the first child.
      One of the advantages of this is that the baking can (should, in fact) be done months in advance, giving plenty of time for elaborate decoration to be applied.
      We also don’t have the term “scratch” baking here. You either have home made or bought. Home made means made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter etc.

      • joepastry says:

        Oh, I do love a nice aged fruitcake. I didn’t make one this Christmas…shame on me! But yes, that’s certainly one way of stopping collapse…lots of inclusions! Very interesting. Thanks as always, Bronwyn!

        - Joe

        • Bronwyn says:

          It’s also traditional (although I imagine few people do it these days) for female wedding guests to go to sleep with a slice of wedding cake under their pillows. They are then supposed to dream of the man they will marry. I have never done it – might explain why I remain single. But only a heavy fruit cake would stand up to that sort of treatment!
          Actually I doubt many people even know about that tradition these days, but when I was small you used to be able to buy small tins, just big enough for a couple of slices of fruitcake, so that you could send bits of wedding cake to friends and relatives who were unable to attend the wedding.

          • joepastry says:

            There are similar types of traditions here, but not with cake. I don’t know what, never having been an unattached female of marrying age. But it sounds familiar!

            - Joe

  2. Rose says:

    This series of posts has been super informative! Every time I’ve eaten a purchased cake, I’ve wondered why they are so different from homemade cakes, and why they are consistently disappointing in the taste department.

    • joepastry says:

      Glad to be able to help answer questions you didn’t know you had, Rose! It’s what I do best!

      - Joe

  3. naomi says:

    When very little, my mom would buy our birthday cakes from a local place, Old King Cole’s Bakery. It had black and white tiled floor, with the old wooden counters, and women who looked like grandmas in the back, and the cakes were delicious. Unfortunately, as I got older, so did the bakers, until they could no longer really remember how to bake, and began turning out sheet cakes, using icing as filler so the top looked uniformly flat and smooth. Sometimes this resulted in areas where the cake might be an inch tall with icing on it that was two and a half inches. And we were unusual children: we ate the cake and left the icing. They did close, and the wonderful little building was torn down, long ago. Those cakes turned me off sheet cakes, but I do like reading their background. Thanks, Joe.

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks Naomi! I think we’ve all had those cakes before…heavy in the middle with icing. Nothing to see here! Hehe…

      Thanks for that, and the lovely tribute to the kinds of corner bakeries we don’t see much of anymore!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  4. Malini says:

    how much ever we berate sheet cakes they are a source of easy money for the bakery!

    • joepastry says:

      I don’t want to berate them at all, Malini. There’s no question they make money, and that’s critically important in a day when there are precious few bakeries left!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  5. Jason says:

    I can tell you from professional experience that not only do grocery store bakeries especially use cake mixes, in fact they often use pre-baked frozen sheet cake.

    Some higher end chains don’t even make cakes at all. They are all pre-made, pre-decorated frozen cakes.

    When my customers ask about a special flavor of sheet cake, unfortunately the company I work for does not offer anything but white, chocolate or marble. That’s it, no other options. They don’t allow us to bake sheet cakes. I am honest and let them know up front that our cakes come in pre-baked and frozen. Funny thing is that most folks are fine with that. Kinda tells you a little about what our country is now. Quick, easy, flavorless and cheap. But I digress.

    • joepastry says:

      Frozen you say. Well that makes sense. Even a lot of very good bakeries keep their layers frozen. Heck I do it here at home! But that’s an eye-opener. Thanks Jason!

      - Joe

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