Warm weather brings the unofficial kick-off to cake season, and in and around Chicago, everyone will be celebrating upcoming occasions with excellent layer cakes. I’m applauding the escalating trend of the stacked layer cake with more than just sponge cake and buttercream. In this issue, we will spotlight three creative bakers whose cakes evoke the memory of childhood parties, yet satisfy the modern appetite for new styles and flavors.
Erin Martin is the owner of ECBG Cake Studio (www.ecbgstudio.com/) and, among other things, designs tasty and attractive layer cakes with names like “Feed Me Nutella and Tell Me I’m Pretty,” a chocolate cake with Nutella crunch filling, chocolate ganache drip, and mini chocolate macaron detail. Another sporting the now obligatory drip is called “The Naked Drip” and is three layers of marble cake with vanilla buttercream and chocolate ganache drip. Erin explains why she loves designing layer cakes: “I love it when you can mix tart with buttery, or nutty with crunchy, or silky with creamy. This is why I love layer cakes. You can have multiple components in one slice! I also love how satisfying the slice looks on the plate with its clean layers.”
Pastry Chef Aya Fukai of Aya Pastry (www.ayapastry.com/
) offers a creative take on celebratory cakes and whimsical sweets. She blends traditional cakes with modern flavors, which indicates her personal style. “Although entremet-style cakes are often beautiful, a child inside me always craves a layered cake. We love putting creative spins on our layered cakes, such as assembling them with a pâte de fruit layer and working with Asian-inspired ingredients.” The resulting cakes have a luxurious, high-end feel. For example, the Yuzu Vanilla Cake is complemented by a zesty citrus marmalade on the outside of the cake, and the Coconut Cake offers pineapple lime pâte de fruit. It is finished with lime cream cheese frosting. A perfect example of bringing sophistication to classic layer cakes is Aya’s Caramel Cake. Guests can hypnotically drag their fork through six layers of vanilla bean cake with rum caramel, caramel graham mousse, and caramel buttercream.
Jennivee’s Bakery (www.jenniveesbakery.com/) features signature stacked layer cakes which, in recipe and presentation, evoke 1950’s classic American layer cakes such as the Hummingbird Cake, which is banana cake, caramelized pineapple compote, cinnamon cream cheese frosting and candied pecans. Jenni Vee bakery owner-partner is passionate about her fluffy, tall layer cakes, which are delicate, tender, and flavorful. “At Jennivee’s, we encourage everyone to ‘Indulge Responsibly’, which for us means to reward yourself with the most delicious, decadent cake you can find. You worked hard, so you deserve it.” Jenni’s Purple Velvet Cake lives at the cross-section of modern and classic cakes, with ube chiffon cake, macapuno filling (young coconut strings), ube mousse and ube cake crumbs. Another delicious cake is her Strawberry Matcha Cake with matcha chiffon cake, strawberry filling, white chocolate mousse, matcha dust and fresh strawberry garnish. When I asked Jenni how she developed her cake recipes, she said, “My desire to make delicious cake recipes is fueled by my love for eating cake.”
It’s exciting to experience the work of three chefs who are providing delicious layer cakes that feel nostalgic and contemporary at the same time. The layer cake is an essential food in the American experience. I’ve had a couple ‘Happy Birthday’ pies over the years, but occasions feel less remarkable without a tasty layer cake.
(This article appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
Jimmy MacMillan is a celebrated pastry chef, food writer, and award-winning videographer. Chef MacMillan is a pastry consultant working under the Pastry Virtuosity label. For more information, visit: www.PastryVirtuosity.com and @jimmymacmillan.