I’m feeling emotional today after saying our first goodbye. So this is by way of a consolatory post where I remind myself that all is not lost: we may be losing some friends, but we are returning to the land of cake.

It is well known that Americans do not do tea. Order a tea here and they immediately announce their incompetence by asking: ‘hot tea?’ and then presenting you with some vaguely tepid water into which they have dunked a teabag or, if they’re really posh, two. (Why?) But I was expecting that. What I had not expected was the national blind spot about the importance of cake.

Americans do eat cake, especially at birthdays. In fact, they appear to have their own birthday cake conventions – you can buy a birthday cake flavour cake pop at Starbucks, which makes no sense to me. It involves yellow cake and white icing.

Yellow cake? Right, well that’s something they’ve made up all on their own, too, but the important thing about it is that you should make it from a box of cake mix. Cake mix, tins of frosting (icing)- these are huge in American supermarkets. Here is the relevant aisle at our friendly local Jewel:


Let me highlight another feature of this photograph. Do you see, mid-right, a box of mix for Aunt Jemima’s coffee cake? This is not, as one might assume, a cake flavoured with coffee. No, it is a specific type of cake that is considered good to eat while drinking coffee.

I do not know how best to point out that this definition applies to all cakes.

Indeed, this national misunderstanding may be responsible for the dearth of cakes over here. Consider the coffee shop. Given how long Americans spend in coffee shops, and how good many of them are (follow the links for my previous posts on these subjects), you would expect them to sell cakes. But, in fact, they don’t. They sell muffins, which can be excellent, and cookies, which, frankly, are not as good.

It is my observation that cookies have supplanted cake as the default pudding or sweet snack in America. Is it because they don’t sell self-raising flour? Is it because they can’t wait the additional 20 minutes it takes for a cake to bake? Who can say? But it’s true that even the birthday cake is under threat from monster iced celebration cookies. Image

And that the unambitious restaurant will always have a cookie on its dessert menu (see the Bilbo’s pizzookie) instead of the ubiquitous-in-Britiain chocolate fudge cake.

I am British. I like cake. 




About scepticalexpat

British 30something wannabe academic, moving to Chicago for three years in August 2010.
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3 Responses to Cake

  1. Barnaby Hughes says:

    I don’t have any experience of Chicago coffee shops, but the ones in LA mostly serve cake — and that includes the big chains like Starbucks and Coffee Bean as well as the independents. In my neighborhood, we have some amazing Korean coffee/cake shops like CakeHouse and Paris Baguette, but I guess that is more a reflection of Korean than American culture. Or is it?

    • OK, I should have admitted that Starbucks does sell cakes. The standard, though, is pretty bad – they all taste synthetic – though I am quite partial to a cake pop. A chain I’d love to come to Evanston is Julius Meinl – central European import with excellent cakes and patisserie. I guess I’m really complaining about the independents. I haven’t come across any Korean cake shops but they sound great!

  2. Irene C. says:

    Cake is for occasions. We don’t just have cake, there has to be an event with a rationale. Cookies are for whenever, aka always.

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