Is it more important for a cake to look marvelous or to taste marvelous? I mean, if even the best rolled fondant tastes, well, not completely terrific, is there any value in putting it on a cake? The answer is of course, yes, since there are circumstances (like weddings) where the look of a cake takes precedence over what it actually tastes like. Any cake has to taste good of course, but at a wedding the priority is usually on the ooh’s and ah’s you get from the crowd when the cake is unveiled. Thus all the rolled fondant and gumpaste frills.
In fact it could be argued that professional cake makers are more great cake stylists than they are makers of great cakes, since the creation of an eye-popping multilayer extravaganza requires a few, shall we say, flavor and textural compromises. The cake itself, for one. It’s an unfortunate fact that Rose Levy Berenbaum’s delectable yellow butter cake could never stand up to the physical stresses of a whimsical architectural cake. It’s simply too soft and delicate. A wacky masterpiece made out of it would simple collapse. Thus most of the more daring cake carvers and stackers (I’m thinking of Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes made famous the Food Network program Ace of Cakes) employ recipes that can take the kind of punishment they routinely dish out, counting on the “wow factor” of their presentation to offset any shortcomings in the flavor and texture department.
Which is all well and good really, since there’s no such thing as a “best cake”, only the “best cake for what”. For the home though, I always place a premium on what tastes best over what looks best. Hence I rarely if ever make a rolled fondant cake for our dining room table. I never discount appearance, obviously, since it’s such an important part of the entire eating experience. But again given a choice, I’ll put texture and flavor ahead of appearance every time.