I know it didn't start with Ace of Cakes on Food Network, because I had booklets showing how to make cute cakes when I was growing up. In fact, I think I remember cakes that incorporated dolls for birthdays or showers. I insisted that most of the sections of my own wedding cake, a zillion years ago, be chocolate (scandelous!) Imagine what the people who went to my first, long-ago wedding would think about the armadillo on the top of my friends Lisa Jane and Andy's wedding cake.
Yet today, cakes look more interesting than they used to. There's an extreme cooking challenge show that had a bigger-than-life sized sock monkey cake with pyrotechnics on it this season. We went to our friend Mel Gilden's birthday party last summer, and he got a cake that looked like a volcano with all kinds of dinosaurs around it. By mixing a little dry ice and water in the tube in the center, smoke rose out of the cone and down the sides of the mountain, an effect lost on the still shot I've got here. It was still fun, especially for a 60th birthday. We and our friends have never grown up.
I haven't really seen one in person, but there's a printer that can print on a cake with edible inks. My husband has gifted me with several such cakes: one had a photograph of my horse on it, another had Len's variation on last year's Harry Potter title, which was released on my birthday. In our area, Bea's Bakery in Tarzana can print from provided photographs.
I had a very simple cake made for Len's birthday earlier this month. Yellow cake with chocolate icing celebrating his 60th birthday. It wasn't until it was too late that I actually thought of some interesting graphics to pull together in Adobe Photoshop--although I might run into some copyright problems when I go to the bakery. There was a sign at the counter of the Von's bakery that indicated there could be no changes in the superhero cakes because of licensing restrictions. My choice would be a cake with both Wolverine and Swamp Thing on it, and that's an unauthorized Marvel-DC crossover, I'm afraid.
Marilyn (a.k.a. "Fuzzy") Niven was absolutely inspired when she ordered a cake for her husband's 70th birthday party, which we attended on Saturday. Using the cover of one of Larry's books, the spine celebrated the 70th edition and the opened cover of the book revealed spun sugar creatures and worlds based on Larry's stories. It was quite wonderful, as you can see from the photographs. The spun sugar elements had been sprayed with some sort of preservative, so they weren't actually edible. They might make an interesting addition to someone's crystal figure collection until they melt in the forthcoming heat.
West Valley Occupational Center, which is located in a block between where I live and where I work, has a cake-decorating class which a couple of my friends took. I don't have the time to do it this summer, but it might be a temptation when I have a little time. It's just that I'm so clumsy and I'm a bit too much of a perfectionist to want to take on something at which I'm likely to be miserable.