Bloomberg samples 13 cakes to find ones to serve that guests will talk about for years to come
By KATE KRADER
Like politics, the subject of cakes is a contentious one.
First of all, there’s the age-old debate of pie versus cake. (The most compelling argument: What three-year-old gets excited about birthday pie?) For team cake, there are plenty of hills to die over, from chocolate versus vanilla to the proper thickness of icing.
While the high season for pies is fall — Thanksgiving being the pie world’s Super Bowl — cakes are a year-round highlight. There’s no bad time to brush up on your knowledge, but serving a stunning confection at a graduation or Memorial Day party will have your guests talking about your exquisite taste in baked goods for years.
It was with your reputation in mind that Bloomberg ordered 13 of the most notable mail-order cakes out there. You may well have a favourite local bakery, and we encourage you to support your neighbourhood patisserie. But the places below have developed national reputations for their exceptional cakes and are worthy of your consideration.
Food editor Kate Krader and the Bloomberg newsroom tasted all the cakes. Here are the results.
Ultimate Coconut Cake, Peninsula Grill, Charleston, South Carolina
Price: US$130 (RM540.80), plus about US$160 shipping.
Krader: “This is the LeBron James of the cake world, the one that all the others get compared to. It’s expertly constructed with a dozen layers of coconut frosting and sturdy cake, then showered with crunchy toasted coconut to amp up the flavour. It comes in at 12lbs (5kg), one reason why it costs about US$160 to have it shipped.”
Newsroom: “Really delicious, like biting into an oven-fresh macaroon. Tastes like I’m on a holiday. “My mother talks about this cake all the time; I get it now. Love, love, love this one; good for any occasion.”
Bottom line: US$300 is a lot to pay for any cake, but it makes a lot of people happy.
This epic coconut cake weighs in at 5kg and arrives via overnight delivery
The Grown-Up Girl Scout Cookie
Mint Chocolate Chip, The Cake Bake Shop, Indianapolis
Price: US$115, plus US$17 shipping.
Krader: “Hands-down favourite. It’s literally a perfect cake, with the power to change mint haters into mint lovers. The cake itself is flawless: Chocolatey and moist but not wet, covered in a delightful, soft, green frosting with a pool of chocolate chips embedded inside.”
Newsroom: “Frosting is as fluffy as a marshmallow. Really well-done and moist, great mint flavour without being overpowering. Tastes like mint chip ice cream. This cake is the sort of thing people will talk about years after you serve it. The fluffy mint icing is like a heavenly duvet for your tastebuds.”
Bottom line: So worth it. This cake will dominate conversation at the party.
Tiramisu cake, Veniero’s, New York
Price: US$48.50, plus US$18 shipping.
Krader: “The 125-year-old East Village pastry spot Veniero’s has made the played-out Italian dessert into a superior cake. The mocha cream dominates the sponge layer (in a good way), and the handmade ladyfingers ringing the cake are good, even by themselves. The cake arrives tied in a charming red ribbon.”
Newsroom: “Visually decadent. A ‘show stopper’, as they say on Bake Off. “Favourite, but beware the richness. Even that ribbon is old school and charming.”
Bottom line: Worth it.
Dentists’ Worst Nightmare
Seven Layer Caramel Cake, Caroline’s Cakes, Spartanburg, South Carolina
Price: US$60, plus about US$15 shipping.
Krader: “This is one of the sweetest cakes you will ever sink your (fearful) teeth into. The caramel icing could double as fudge. I couldn’t eat too much of it, and I can eat a lot of cake. But I’m still thinking about the frosting.”
Newsroom: “My mom is from South Carolina and this is literally like she used to make. Instant sugar coma. A caramel dream. Intensely sweet, with beautiful layers of caramel.”
Bottom line: You have to really love sweet.
The Conservative Cake
Strawberry Cream, Smith Island Cake, Crisfield, Maryland
Price: US$55, plus US$15 shipping.
Krader: “Strawberries and cream sandwiched between layers of classic yellow cake. It’s very sweet, and the fruit doesn’t taste like it was picked recently, but I’d be happy eating this at a picnic.”
Newsroom: “Nice notes of vanilla in both the cream and cake. I’d like a bit more strawberry. A very nice cake, but sweet. Good for events with your grandparents. Pretty straightforward, but what I want when I eat a fruity cake.”
Bottom line: It’s the right cake for certain occasions, but probably not worth shipping.
The Social Media Star
Chocolate Malt Cake, Cake Monkey, Los Angeles
Price: US$73 for a box of nine, free shipping.
Krader: “These individual cakes look like they exist for social media, but they’re terrific. Each has layers of chocolate and vanilla cake coated with a deep chocolate frosting infused with nutty-flavoured malt. The triple-berry crumble also hits the spot, with a strong sharp hit of fruit.”
Newsroom: “Chocolate malt = ovaltine dream!”
Bottom line: Worth it. This averages out to around US$8 per cake, which is not much more than you’re paying at a good bakery, with a more sophisticated vibe.
The Breakfast Club Cake
Fresser Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Zingerman’s, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Price: US$55, free shipping.
Krader: “This is a totally fine coffee cake, with a tender crumb and hit of cinnamon. It’s borderline dry, especially for a sour cream cake.”
Newsroom: “Nice. Good nut to cinnamon cake ratio. Overall, a chill cake. Don’t get the sour cream, but loved it anyway.”
Bottom line: There are better coffee cake options.
The Disrupter Cake
Chocolate Raspberry Napoleon Torte, Lithuanian Bakery, Omaha
Price: US$74, free shipping.
Krader: “What a delightful, singular cake. It comprises wafer-like cake layers, spread with vanilla and lemon buttercreams and a brush of jam, topped with chocolate, chopped nuts and chocolate sprinkles. One of my favourites. Don’t believe anyone who says torte is not technically a cake.”
Newsroom: “Love the contrast of textures and flavours. It’s like a United Nations torte. Not sure what this is, exactly, but it’s good. They should call it peanut butter and jelly cake. I don’t know if I would call it a cake; it’s like the flaky top level of a pie, but it’s the most unique.”
Bottom line: Order it.
The Chocolate on Chocolate Cake
Chocolate Layer Cake, We Take the Cake, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Price: US$48, plus US$30 shipping.
Krader: “In a world overrun with chocolate cake options, this is a good one. It’s an intense, truffle-like chocolate dessert that threads the needle between too sweet and too sophisticated. The downside is that there’s not a lot of textural contrast between the fudgy frosting and the soft cake.”
Newsroom: “Too dense. It’s impossible for a cake to be too dense; density rules. Decadent, but still subtle enough to want to stuff your face with more.”
Bottom line: There are probably comparable chocolate cakes in your neighbourhood.
The Cake With a Conscience
Carrot Cake, Maxie B’s, Greensboro, North Carolina
Price: US$60, plus US$40 shipping
Krader: “Some carrot cakes have major personalities. This one doesn’t. In fact, the dessert could use a hit of spice. But it’s got tender, carroty layers and the icing is a just-right balance of cream cheese and fluffiness. Maxie B’s even includes a self-addressed, stamped envelope to return the hard-to-recycle polystyrene in the packaging.”
Newsroom: “This is good…for a carrot cake. Dense (this is good). This is the perfect carrot cake. Moist (people hate that word, but so be it), delicious.”
Bottom line: A good eco-conscious Southern bakery to support, though you end up paying a lot for a carrot cake.
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Maxie B’s adds eco-consciousness to its carrot cakes
The Kid’s Cake for Adults
Popcorn Cake, Milk Bar, based in New York
Price: US$50, plus US$15 shipping.
Krader: “Milk Bar has cornered the market on unconventional desserts. The popcorn cake, like all its confections, has a lot going on: Layers of thick, sweet-salty caramel and popcorn pudding between vanilla cake layers, plus sweet, corn-accented crumbs and golden corn fudge on top. Every bite is different.”
Newsroom: “Great texture and swalty flavour. Good, but a little cloying. Best cake ever, sweet and salty. They should serve this at every movie theatre. This cake is bonkers. If you’re a fan of butter popcorn Jelly Bellys, this will be your jam.”
Bottom line: Yes, order one. You won’t find anything like it anywhere else.
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Popcorn cake delivers enticing ‘swalty’ (sweet salty) flavour in every bite
The Compromise Cake
Doberge Cake, Joe Gambino’s Bakery, New Orleans
Price: US$45.50, plus about US$38 shipping.
Krader: “If you have a soft spot for supermarket cakes — as I do — this is a great guilty pleasure. Gambino’s has been making doberge cakes in New Orleans for decades. It’s a secret recipe, but you get layers of cake filled with buttercream and coated in fondant. You can get it in lemon, chocolate, or both. The cake tastes only slightly like lemon and almost nothing like chocolate, but it’s absurdly fun. Beware, Gambino’s are not expert cake shippers; your cake might arrive with dented or cracked icing.”
Newsroom: “Grocery store cake, but in a good way. The lemon is just OK (not tart enough). The lemon side is superior but makes for a great compromise if you have picky guests. Chocolate side is fantastic.”
Bottom line: Worth it if you want to disrupt a party.
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For those who can’t choose between lemon and chocolate
The Obligatory Red Velvet Cake
Oprah Red Velvet, Carousel Cakes, Nanuet, New York
Price: US$41.95, plus US$20 shipping
Krader: “Carousel Cakes has a major following among suburban New Yorkers. Its red velvet cake has been anointed by Oprah Winfrey. The ratio of cake to cream cheese frosting is right, but the layers could have more of that subtle chocolate flavour that marks the best red velvet cakes.”
Newsroom: “Good, but basic. This is the cake I would expect an Instagram influencer to pick. Best red velvet cake ever. So spongey, melt in your mouth. A well-rounded, fluffy, beautiful cake.”
Bottom line: There’s a better red velvet cake in your neighbourhood.
Note: All shipping rates reflect the cost of sending the cakes to New York. Prices for other locations may vary.
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Oprah has a favourite red velvet cake