A Conversation about Cake

Abigail Keenan funnel_cake stocksnap

Yesterday my son, Shaan, and I had an interesting conversation about cake. It all started right after I got home. This weekend is Bhavna's birthday. She's "almost 50". That's how we've referred to our ages now that we are no longer "forty something". It's inaccurate but descriptive.

We're celebrating at my sister-in-law's home and Shaan is sensitive to the fact that sometimes I feel left out of celebration because I won't eat the typical sugary cake.
Shaan was excited because he had just watched a Food Network episode about cakes and wanted to make a cake for his mother's birthday. But he also wanted a cake I could enjoy. He was excited because the episode had a recipe for a flourless cake. I responded to his enthusiasm with "That's not cake".

Of course being my son, he challenged me about why. So while eating dinner we chatted about makes something a cake and what does not. We turned to Wikipedia for a definition.

Cake is a form of bread or bread-like food. In its modern forms, it is typically a sweet baked dessert. In its oldest forms, cakes were normally fried breads or cheesecakes, and normally had a disk shape. Determining whether a given food should be classified as bread, cake, or pastry can be difficult.

Modern cake, especially layer cakes, normally contain a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter or oil, with some varieties also requiring liquid (typically milk or water) and leavening agents (such as yeast or baking powder). Flavorful ingredients like fruit purées, nuts, dried or candied fruit, or extracts are often added, and numerous substitutions for the primary ingredients are possible. Cakes are often filled with fruit preserves or dessert sauces (like pastry cream), iced with buttercream or other icings, and decorated with marzipan, piped borders, or candied fruit.Wikipedia

That last sentence in the first paragraph should have told us were on a fool's errand. Proving that a flourless cake was cake was challenging for him. A a flourless cake has no flour and is also missing another main ingredient, eggs. So if removing two main ingredients from "cake" still makes it a cake, then can I add ingredients? If I add a lot of fruit to a cake it's still considered a cake. Right? So, is banana bread a cake or a bread? What? Is an apple pie a cake? Both are baked. Both have flour and eggs. Both have fruit. What makes one a pastry and the other a cake? We danced around this point for a while.

If an apple pie is kind of like a cake then is since pizza pies are "pies" can they also be considered cakes? A funnel cake is fried and has a sugary topping. Donuts are fried and have sugary toppings. Are donuts cakes?

Then I asked a question that got my daughter, Kiran , involved in the conversation. If cupcakes can have a fillings and still be considered cakes, then is a Hostess Twinkie a cake. My daughter insisted that cupcakes don't have filling and that a Hostess Twinkie is not a cake. Why? Because she said so.

And that's how we left this. A cake is a cake because the person making it has decided it's so. My son and I were both right. Pizza is a cake (it's a kind of cheesecake) and flourless cakes (it's a kind of pastry) are too.