The Internet encourages the pursuit of utter flawlessness—from YouTube makeup tutorials to The Great British Bake Off’s winning cakes. But the search for perfect plates on Instagram is a confining pursuit, and one that can dissuade diners from trying delicious and special dishes. “I know well the seductive power of a visually stunning food image,” Anthony Bourdain told Food and Wine. “But I also know that some of the most inherently delicious food has been pickled, butchered, braised, stewed, and/or charred in a way that maximizes flavor, visual appeal be damned. ”
Luckily, some corners of the Internet (such as the “shitty food porn” and “cake fails” sections of the link aggregation site Reddit) highlight grotesque foods, including baked goods that care little for careful garnishes. But few are as impressively bad as the cakes one mother and daughter recently introduced into the world.
Earlier this year, Charlotte Lawrence, an associate producer based in Peterborough, England, posted a photo of a particularly garish cake that her mother made for her January 2nd birthday on Reddit. “Every year for my birthday, my mum finds the dodgyest [sic] cake on the Internet and makes it for me,” she wrote on the popular post. This is the result.” The cake, which Charlotte suspects was originally supposed to be a lamb, resembles a lumpy and bulbous mess of icing. (It’s pictured above.) Her mother Carol, the craftswoman of this cake, calls it “the horror.” And it’s magnificent.
Over Skype, Charlotte says she and her mother’s penchant for recreating dodgy cakes started when she moved away for university. They kept in touch partially by sending each other ugly cake photos, and Charlotte once mentioned she wanted a particularly bad one for her birthday. Several months later, Charlotte’s mother surprised her with a recreation of said cringe-worthy cake. “I only made it to make Charlotte laugh,” Carol says. “That was the whole reason I made it.”
It’s since become a five-year-and-counting tradition for the two to celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with an Internet-inspired ugly cake. Together, the two mine Reddit, Facebook, and other websites for the worst cakes the web can offer. They know it’s the right cake when they find one “that makes us cry-laugh the most,” as Charlotte says. Carol describes a Spongebob Squarepants cake as looking like “he had a drink problem.” Last year’s terrifying, pink-frosted hedgehog with an overbite might take the cake, though. “We couldn’t look at each other without making the funny teeth face … [We were] just weeping with laughter,” Carol says. “And I said, ‘I’ll make you that for your birthday.’”
Typically, the cakes are flavored with vanilla and frosting. But Carol created this year’s horrific lamb-esque concoction by mushing together a fruitcake and a Swiss roll. “If you look at my inspiration, you’ll see that it’s not done beautifully with a piping bag or anything,” she says. “It looks like somebody literally dolloped it with a spoon and kind of spread it about, and tried to make it look vaguely like wool.”
By her own admission, Carol, who works as a teaching assistant for special needs children in London, is more of a savory food specialist. She just happens to also be amazing at making ugly cakes. “If you were getting married, you wouldn’t say, ‘Carol, can you make me my wedding cake?’” she explains. “I’d have to question their sanity if they let me near something as important as that.”
Yet the care that Carol put into making this nightmarish cake warmed Charlotte’s heart. So she decided to share it online. “[It was the] juxtaposition of looking like no effort and all the effort, and I thought my mum should get some recognition,” she says. Since Charlotte put the ugly lamb and hedgehog cakes online, she’s heard from people saying they’re going to recreate the tradition with their loved ones and even “step up their mom game.”
In particular, the hedgehog has been praised online as “a true work of art” and “somehow more terrifying than the original.” It goes to show that art and the grotesque aren’t mutually exclusive, and that ugly cakes should be celebrated, too. “Other mothers make beautiful cakes for their children,” Carol says. “Anyone can make a beautiful cake. But only I could make something like this.”
Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
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