Baking Is the Chicest Thing You Can Do
We are in a new era of cake, according to Bella Castillo.
You heard it here first: all the cool girls are baking. A plated slice of cream cheese pound cake or a glut of frosting on the fingertip has overtaken what used to be pictures of boots, newly-threaded brows, or Canal Street Birkins. Surprisingly, this hasn't been a pandemic impulse, but rather one that's come quite recently — over the past few months, I've watched former style influencers put down Depop ripoffs and pick up rolling pins. Is it a tradwife RETVRN thing? The end result of young influencers moving into domestic adulthood? Or simply just a cute moment in culture? Whatever the answer may be, you are already late, because we have entered a NEW CAKE ERA:
SB: First off — let’s talk your theory. Ugliness in response to twee has always been an aesthetic impulse, but I find it interesting that baking seems to be embracing both, now, with that stuffy-cute idea you talk about. Olive oil cake piled with a mountain of chantilly cream, something antiquated and romantic. Do you think people miss that kind of decadence?
BC: I do! I think, culturally, there's this craving for this old-world sense of romance and luxury. Italian summer, aperitivo hour, silver dessert cups, white lace, tinned fish and caviar, etc. To Americans, especially, I think this sort of European motif has a "simple fancy" appeal. I also think stylistically there's been this big return to classic femininity, the whole "girl economy thing," coquette, Sandy Liang-core, [and] these things get mirrored in the food world, too.
SB: When do you think baking styles hit their saturation point? Was there a certain trend or vibe you can pinpoint?
BC: I think baking trends are like any other. When it gets to a point where you're seeing new bakers with near-identical styles popping up left and right, it's clear we've hit a point where something that began as original has become completely reductive. That's what prompted my tweet, was just seeing these squiggly flower cakes everywhere from people who didn't even bake in that way or have that sort of aesthetic before. It feels transparent to me when people are baking a cake, or designing a dress, or creating branding in a way they think they should be creating it and not in a way that comes from any sort of personal place.
SB: Can you give some insight into the evolution of your personal style in and out of the test kitchen?
BC: I think my style bleeds into all areas of my life. My ceramics, my illustrations, my cooking, my outfits, even my movements, it's all characterized by a sort of soft, delicate precision. I couldn't get away from it if I tried.
SB: Do you have a certain baking/decoration style you follow, or is it based on instinct? Do you have any specific muses or sources of inspiration that consistently influence your work?
BC: It's largely based on instinct, but I'm just as impressionable as anybody else! Certainly it's referential, though I don't usually try to recreate or emulate anyone else's style in particular. My most consistent inspiration is Paris Starn. I love the frivolity of her plating combined with her sort of playful approach to flavors.
SB: Another thing that’s been incredibly pressing is baking as a kind of accessory — something that poxes people’s Twitter and IG feeds in lieu of what used to be fashion. There’s a fashionable element, there, to baking. Why do you think it’s become such a phenomenon?
BC: I agree there's a big fashion crossover with baking! I think there's this newer concept of an it-girl cook/baker. People like @tenderherbs, @gabbriette, @paris.starn, @sophia_roe, @imogenkwok, @stolzes, @suea, they're chefs and bakers of skill, certainly, but they also lead these fashionable lives, catering parties for Chanel, doubling as models, running advice columns. I think social media has made this sort of visibility and branding possible, and I also think we're in this moment of re-girlifying the kitchen. For a long time, the most visible "serious" chefs were men with tattoos or [they had] a science-y angle on cooking, but as I mentioned, this sort of trad-feminine cultural moment has allowed these women to create their own unique niche that's half-chef, half-girlbloggeresque.
SB: Beyond the visual, how do you hope bakers explore and incorporate sensory elements like taste and scent into the stuffy-cute era?
BC: I'm hopeful that if this is the direction things go, it will lead to more thoughtful baking! I actually find it deeply frustrating when baking serves more of an aesthetic purpose than a sensory one. Food should taste good, and where we're at with the current hyper-decorated style, I think many of these "bakers" are more interested in decorating than in making something delicious. And while there's certainly a market of people who want a cake to decorate their table more than anything else, I really just like to eat a good dessert. 🌀