A St. Patrick’s Day postcard, 1908.
We live in the age of the Cake Wreck. Online, no confectionary disaster, no late-night slip of the icing tube, goes undetected or unmocked. It’s all in good fun, and at the end of the day, presumably most of the desserts still taste okay. Part of the issue is that there’s so much cake perfection in the world today. At any moment, Pinterest and Instagram are teeming with examples of whimsy and skill at which most of us can only marvel. Between the ludicrous and the ideal, what’s left?
Saint Patrick’s Day, as any vintage cookbook will attest, provides a glut of green monsters: not just green cakes, but green eggs, green mac ‘n’ cheese, green potatoes. Let’s say right out that the American embrace of Saint Patrick’s Day has been … problematic. Early twentieth-century Americans—who had no contact with Eire beyond, perhaps, immigrant domestics—donned green and tossed around harps and shamrocks with gay abandon. In 1918’s A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, Bettina throws a “Shamrock Luncheon,” and each guest, “to show her enthusiasm for the charms of ‘ould Ireland,’ was wearing, somewhere upon her gown, a bit of green.” This enthusiasm is further demonstrated with crocheted favor baskets, grapefruit cocktails, and shamrock cakes. Exclaims one friend, “ ‘You might be Irish yourself, Bettina, you have such a feeling for green!’ ” (Presumably neither she, nor anyone else present, is.)
This “feeling for green” has resulted in Cake Wrecks beyond number, which is part of what I find so appealing about this blogger’s approach to the Saint Patrick’s Day cake genre. Here is the rare cake that celebrates the essence of the holiday—its history and lore as well as its festivity. She writes, “St. Patrick, with his lifelike body and robes of butter-cream icing, raises his Twix staff emblazoned with the yummy cross of Christianity and drives the gummy snakes back into the sea.”
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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