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Let them eat from cake stands

October 11, 2010


Until recently, I was tormented by my inability to find the perfect cake stand. This seemed crazy to most people I know. I’m famous for squealing at celery root juice and speaking treatises on the finer points of buttermilk flavor. I carried my lunch to school in a basket through 8th grade—soymilk, carrot sticks, rice cakes and peanut butter. In college, my friends fostered feral cats and knitted me llama-wool shawls while doing anthropology fieldwork in Argentina. I lived in a vegan co-op where we debated for hours about the carbon footprint of fair trade bananas. I didn’t own a toaster, and had no kitchen of my own, but I needed a cake stand. (In fact, I would later discover I needed two.)

People found the cake stand quest bewildering, but tried to help. My boyfriend dug up the fanciest kitchen catalog he could find, and flagged a brushed galvanized steel minimalist number that looked like a square of slate balanced on an upended plastic cup. I didn’t know what to make of it. Do cake stands seem so impossibly impractical and esoteric? I wasn’t interested in the navel-gazing of art for art’s sake.

My friend from San Francisco, a garage-sale maven, turned up a tall, lanky elegant thing, inexplicably covered in a rash of big red polka dots. Do cake stands have to be ridiculous and gaudy? I didn’t want a campy conversation starter.

And then there was the plain but chic glass cake stand that worked beautifully for my friend whose side-tables are always covered in immaculate, cream-colored linen runners. But my kitchen is full of the cheerful clutter of tea towels and vintage wind-up toys and loose tea bags. A transparent cake stand would disappear. I bring homemade pistachio macaroons to Kentucky Derby parties, but I’m no Martha Stewart.

If I was going to find what I wanted, I needed my own theory of cake stands.

They can be reduced to their basic elements: base and plate. The intelligence of the cake stand lies in successfully bringing these two elements together. And as far as I could tell, there were three successful varieties.

The column has a flat circular or square plate and few ornamentations. Balanced in its proportions, it is a model of neoclassical simplicity and grace.

In contrast is the candelabra, with its baroque flourishes. The candelabra has a statuesque profile: a tall, thin stem embellished with fluting or decorative knobs. A slightly flared foot pools fluidly like a the train of a fine gown.

Finally there is the flower—more playful than elegant. Propped on a short, thick unfooted stem, it’s scalloped edges make it look like an gorgeously blooming hibiscus.

Cake stands run into trouble when they get confused. The candlestick one with its rash of polka dots evoked sophisticated elegance and naive playfulness in a way that only makes sense as a tongue-in-cheek exercise in absurdity. Which is fine, if you want all your cakes to be jokes. The hyper-modern cake stand like a slate slab on a plastic cup evoked nothing at all of any sense. Which is fine if you want all your cakes to be puzzles.

Some cake stands seem like they should bother me, but don’t. The candlestick varieties that go to rococo extremes and wind up as pseudo-chandeliers: white-iron filigree intricate as reliquary coffers, and cords dripping with crystal pendants. They’re over the top, but at least they stick to their category.

But I don’t stick to categories. I needed a cake stand that would fit me. I wanted it to have whimsical refinement. It would have elegance, but not the elegance of neoclassical restraint and proportion. I wanted it to have the grace and harmony of celestial bodies. The cake stand would be a whole firmament, unified by unseen powers, with the cake at the center, like the earth in Ptolemy’s cosmology. A tall order. It’s no wonder it took me so long. But I finally found one.

It has a shapely stem like draped cloth. Lacy medallions of silver and gold wheel across a milky white sky like constellations. It is perfection. I recognized a new category: the celestial cake stand.

And then of course I realized I needed one for everyday. Not every cake can stand up to that much cake stand. Sometimes a cake needs a little breathing room. And so I got a plain one—for everyday.

Now that I had my cake stands, I needed a kitchen to do them justice.

So I moved.

And now all I need is a glass dome – to ward off the evils of plastic wrap.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. J.L. permalink
    October 18, 2010 4:59 pm

    From one minute to the next, cake stands have taken hold of my imagination unexpectedly. Whoodda thunk it? Thank you for taking me on a great ride from beginning to end of your post. A little such storytelling mixed with Art History 101 and you could probably make such things as salt shakers, salad forks, honey pots equally intriguing and instructive.

  2. marilyn bourbon permalink
    October 23, 2010 10:33 am

    I now have cake stand envy. Yikes, I have to go on the hunt!

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