Eat cake

Americans love to have their cake and eat it too. (Chicago Tribune/Bill Hogan)

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.

Shows such as TLC's "Cake Boss," with Buddy Valastro's family at Carlo's bakery in Hoboken, N.J. Or maybe Food Network's "Ace of Cakes," with Duff Goldman and his team in Baltimore.

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."

jhevrdejs@tribune.com

Resources

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