We are a nation up to our eyeballs in buttercream icing, ganache, fondant and the cakes that support them.
Layer cakes. Cupcakes. Bundt cakes. It is a passionate love affair. Fantastically decorated sweets fill bakery shelves, TV screens and cookbooks.
To put it simply: We've got a serious case of cake love, and we've got it bad.
"We are a cake-centric society," said Rose Levy Beranbaum, America's reigning queen of cakes. "We always have been, and it has only gotten more so. I think it's because of the 'Iron Chef' syndrome."
The symptoms? Constant viewing of sweet-TV.
Not enough for you? Click on TLC's "Ultimate Cake Off" or We TV's "Amazing Wedding Cakes." And if you can wait until later this year, Bravo will add "Top Chef: Just Desserts" to the mix.
"People don't know how to do it themselves, so they really love seeing somebody else doing it," said Beranbaum, author of "Rose's Heavenly Cakes" and "The Cake Bible," in its 44th printing.
"Cake Boss" Valastro would agree. "You know, it's kind of like watching that show on the Discovery Channel," he said. "I get sucked into that because it's, 'Ahh, how do they make Reese's Pieces?' And you see it."
Such sweet-TV fuels our appetite for cakes. So do hundreds of bakeries and cupcakeries. The final swirl atop this multilayered phenomenon? Dozens of cake cookbooks, from "Cakewalk," by New York sugar artist Margaret Braun on through "The Whimsical Bakehouse," by mother-daughter bakers Kaye and Liv Hansen from Westchester, N.Y. Coming in April: "Simply Spectacular Cakes," by London-based Peggy Porschen, who's done sweets for Elton John and Madonna as well as the centerpiece cake for Stella McCartney's wedding.
How over the top can cakes get? "The cake I'm most proud of I did in the shape of a NASCAR car," Valastro said. "And it was actual size. That was a monumental task. It took like three days."
Cake "is the fanciest, most visual aspect of food," Beranbaum said. "When food starts getting too fussy, you don't want to eat it. But when it comes to cake, that's different. It's a symbol of celebration." Something you do for loved ones.
One other reason to bake a cake? "Decorate with your kids at home," said Valastro, a father of three. "Hey listen, if it comes out lousy, you can still eat it. And the kids'll never forget that time."
From decorating tools to classes to how-to online videos, here are a few helpful Web sites:
• "Ace of Cakes": Food Network's Duff Goldman's team creates a cake "Viking ship," wedding cakes, offering inspiration. foodnetwork .com/ace-of-cakes/index .html
• "Cake Boss": Videos of old-school piping (TLC-TV's Buddy Valastro goes swag crazy) and decorative roses, etc. tlc.discovery.com/tv/ cake-boss/cake-boss. html
• Rose Levy Beranbaum: Cake cookbook whiz's blog plus instructional videos on lacquer glaze and more. realbakingwithrose. com
• Wilton Industries: The "Decorating 101" page is especially instructive. Want to mix mauve, plum or lavender tinted frosting? Check out the color chart. wilton.com
"Rose's Heavenly Cakes," by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Cream cheese pound cake
Prep: 40 minutes
Bake: 50 minutes
Makes: 16 servings
Note: This is adapted from "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro's basic pound cake. The cake can be decorated as you like or served simply with citrus-glazed fruit.
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 1/3 cups cake flour, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Citrus-glazed fruit, see recipe, optional
Whipped cream, optional
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in 1 3/4 cups of the sugar until smooth; beat in flour and vanilla on low speed until batter has a dry, crumbly appearance. Add yolks, one at a time, beating each until incorporated. Clean beaters.
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into batter; repeat twice. Pour batter into buttered and floured 10-inch Bundt pan. Bake until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes. Invert onto cake rack; cool completely. Decorate as desired, or serve with citrus-glazed fruit and whipped cream.
Citrus-glazed fruit: Mix 1 cup each sugar and water plus grated zest of one lemon in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens slightly. Cut enough fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, kiwi fruit, for example) to make about 3 cups. Place fruit in bowl; pour glaze over fruit.
Per serving: 329 calories, 46% of calories from fat, 17 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 122 mg cholesterol, 40 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 62 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.