Jen Yates stared at the forwarded email—a photo of a white sheet cake decorated with yellow and orange roses, chocolate curlicues and this fateful message scrawled in shaky lines of icing: "Best Wishes Suzanne Under Neat [sic] that We will Miss you." And with that incredibly literal (and incredibly idiotic) cake foul-up, a successful blog was born. Since May 2008, Cake Wrecks (cakewrecks.blogspot.com) has invited readers to submit photos of "any professionally made cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate—you name it." The submissions flooded in, from slumping, Day-Glo wedding cakes to birthday cakes that look like they're decorated with minefields of fecal matter. A year and a half later, the site has become so popular that Yates, 31, and her husband, John, have closed their faux-finish painting business in order to focus on cake-mocking full time. This month brings the debut of Cake Wrecks the book (Andrews McMeel, 191 pages, $12.99), a glossy, goofy, full-color tome packed with truly awful cakes and snarky commentary about the perceived mindset of the professional bakers who created them. WW called Yates at home in Orlando as she prepared for her first book tour, which will include an epic wrecks slide show, a cupcake contest and, of course, cake for everybody.
WW: Seriously, what's going through these bakers' minds when they make these…things?
Jen Yates: I don't want to get down on bakers, because everybody screws up. But the spectacular wrecks come up when they try to get too creative. There's probably a reason why something's never been done before [on a cake]. We see this a lot with the baby-shower wrecks. People get really creative with new ways to eat a baby [-shaped cake]. Yes, the little fingers look very lifelike, but that's not good.
You're not a baker by trade—your background is in fine art, right?
Saying "fine art" is pushing it. I did the usual mishmash of retail and tech-support jobs [in the past]. I worked for Disney as a Jungle Cruise skipper. I do enjoy painting, but I don't have skill. John and I started taking cake courses together for fun. He signed us up for one as a Christmas present.
Fess up: What's your worst personal cake wreck?
The worst one nobody saw outside of my house. I don't order cakes [myself]. I can't cook to save my life, but I learned to bake box mixes at a young age because I'm addicted to sugar. I was trying out some new pans, and I [tried to make] a topsy-turvy cake. It was sort of falling over and I was getting frustrated and finally I just picked it up and dumped it in the trash. I just don't have the skill to be a baker.
Readers of your site also know you hate "CCCs"—lumpy cakes made out of a bunch of cupcakes glued to a board with icing.
My goal is to get them banned. When you see what can be done with icing, you realize there are people with skill out there…and then you see a cupcake cake, and you say, "Really? Really?" I like to think we bring the funny [on the site]. But we raise public awareness. I've heard from some bakers that they don't do cupcake cakes anymore because of us. It's one small victory….
Who the hell buys those things?
I guess it's an impulse buy for the kids. But a lot of people tell me they are buying [cake wrecks] now just to bring them home to take pictures of them for the site. So we are supporting bakery sales.
What's the most intense response you've gotten from a cake post?
Very early on it was about the carrot jockeys. People just loved the juxtaposition of a plastic baby on an icing carrot. They've become our unofficial mascot. As for the ultimate wreck? The cake [that reads], "I want sprinkles." Everyone holds that one up as an example. A total catastrophe? It's the "inspiration vs. perspiration" cake, where we have the photo of what the bride asked for and what she got: this melting mass of junk flopped over, and you can see the cake through the icing.
How do you feel about fondant?
Love the way it looks, [but] up until recently I hadn't had one that tasted edible. The Wilton brand everybody universally agrees tastes terrible. I tried a sample of Fondarific, and I've been raving about it. It tastes like buttercream with a chewy texture. I hope they improve the taste of fondant, because let's be honest, it's not going anywhere.
What cakes should be banned?
Probably body cakes of all types…pregnancy cakes. And any time I think it couldn't get worse.… I haven't put them up [on the site] yet, but I have [photos] of a belly cake with little feet pushing through the skin.
What's next in the world of wrecks?
In America, they're decorating anything in the bakery. Cookie wrecks are all over the place already. They're starting to decorate brownies. And they were making bread into football shapes during Super Bowl. It's getting scary.
What's the golden rule of good professional decorating?
Buy a dictionary.
Jen Yates will share a slide show of cake wrecks (some never before blogged) and present the book
at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Friday, Sept. 25. Free. Visit cakewrecks.blogspot.com for more info or to RSVP for the Portland reading.