Taylor Lorenz Explains the Cake Meme
Taylor Lorenz Explains the Cake Meme
Over the past week, social media has been flooded with videos of knives slicing into ordinary objects only to reveal that they are actually made of cake.
These hyper-realistic cakes have taken the shape of a bottle of hand lotion, a chicken thigh, a bar of soap, rolls of toilet paper and human heads. It’s unsettling to see them cut open to reveal their sweet insides.
The trend took off on July 8 after BuzzFeed Tasty shared a compilation of videos from the Instagram feed of a Turkish baker, @redrosecake_tubageckil. “These are all cakes,” the caption reads, as a kitchen knife cuts into what first appears to be a red Croc.
The bizarre intricacy of the cakes, and the cabin fever of the moment, has helped the meme spiral into further absurdity. The BuzzFeed Tasty video amassed nearly 30 million views as people began sharing their own disturbing cake videos.
Natalie Sideserf, owner of Sideserf Cake Studio in Austin, Texas, saw several of her cakes go viral as part of video compilations this past week.
She’s been baking hyper-realistic cakes for years. “I’ve always called them ‘still life cakes,’” she said. “They’re like a still life painting. I try to make them as realistic as possible.” She said she has seen an uptick in orders and just got a request for a hyper-realistic shoe cake this week.
Viral cake videos sit at the perfect nexus of “satisfying” and “gotcha” content. Watching a sharp knife slice cleanly through what appears to be an everyday object is surprising and somehow deeply gratifying.
The cake videos are similar in form to soap cutting videos — in which a person cleanly slices and dices a bar of soap — which can attract millions of views and have been popular for years. (When a video shows a bar of soap cut in half and it is revealed to be cake, it becomes doubly intriguing and shareable.)
The hyper-realistic cake craze is now part of the pantheon of illogical internet food jokes.
In 2016, a clip from a Japanese game show titled “Candy Or Not Candy,” in which contestants bit into various household objects to determine what was made of candy, went viral. The video shows a man smiling as he bites off a doorknob that is revealed to be made of chocolate. It amassed more than 25 million views.
Before that, in 2008, a stop-motion video by Adam Pesapane called “Western Spaghetti” went viral; in it, Mr. Pesapane prepares an absurdist meal with inanimate objects including a Rubik’s cube and dice, in the style of a cooking video. It has more than 212 million views and is captioned: “The stop-motion cooking film that started them all.”
Another predecessor to the current cake meme is 2019’s unwittingly gross and viral “bigger than before” egg video — a how-to craft video in which an egg is dunked in vinegar and dye over the course of several days with the result that it is bigger (and bluer) than before. (Why someone might want that remains anyone’s guess.)
Don Caldwell, the editor of Know Your Meme, a website that documents memes, said that part of the reason these videos spread so far is that they’re generic enough to appeal to a broad audience and don’t carry a particular political view, agenda or message.
They can provoke strong reactions (shock, surprise, disgust, horror) but the innocuous subject matter easily leads the viewer back to humor. Plus, cake jokes are easy to make in any online format.
“One big meme right now is two astronauts looking at earth from space, and one says, ‘it’s all cake,’” Mr. Caldwell said. “The other says ‘always has been,’ looking at earth being cut in two and revealing a cake.”
It’s ridiculous, yes, but confusion further propels the joke. “People see the memes and want to know where the joke came from,” Mr. Caldwell said. So “then they’ll watch the video too.”
Ms. Sideserf said the number one thing people ask about her hyper-realistic cakes is whether they taste good. “I would never put this amount of time and effort into something that doesn’t taste as good as it looks,” she said. “We’ve spent many years spending time making sure these flavors are delicious.”
Though many hyper-realistic cakes are made using fondant, a type of icing made from a mix of sugar, water, gelatin and vegetable shortening, Ms. Sideserf said she uses chocolate molds for her creations. She can then flavor the modeling chocolate however she likes, leading to a tastier final product.
Currently, she’s in the midst of building a cake replica of her own head and torso. “When I post a picture of myself online, people are so used to seeing me post photos of cakes, so they always say, ‘is that a cake?’ or, ‘are you sure it’s not a cake?’” Ms. Sideserf said. “So I’m making a cake of myself. It’s about halfway done and it looks like me. It’s staring at me right now.”
She plans to post it online to see if it will fool people, much like her other cakes have. “A lot of people are saying I’m the reason they have trust issues,” Ms. Sideserf said.