It was a nutritionist's nightmare: Dozens of wedding cakes--yellow with egg yolk, glistening with buttercream, choked with chocolate--crowded every available surface in the Times Test Kitchen. And we had to taste them all.
Fortunately, we had help. Word got out that the Test Kitchen was stacked with cakes, and quickly the place was jammed with freshly minted cake-tasting experts from all over the office, dispensing judicious "cools" and "yucks" with pastry-stuffed mouths as they jostled around the room. (For a crowd that ventured so many fiercely critical opinions on the improvised ballots we forced them to fill out, they put away an amazing amount of cake.)
We started out with serious intentions. From each of 13 bakeries, we ordered two cakes: a basic yellow cake with buttercream frosting and one of the bakery's specialty cakes. The idea was that the bakery could strut its stuff with the specialty cake while the yellow cake would give us a baseline on the bakery.
But it turned out that no two bakeries had the same definition of basic yellow cake. Some were sponge or chiffon cakes, some of the buttercreams were enriched with flavors or meringue. There's no getting around it: Wedding cakes are proverbial for extravagant variety.
But the assembled squad of cake testers clearly preferred the buttery crumb and silky frosting of the yellow cakes from Caprice Pastry in Santa Monica and Sweet Lady Jane in Los Angeles. These were the overwhelming favorites in the yellow cake category.
Each of those bakeries also got a couple of votes for specialty cakes (a white chocolate mousse cake with strawberries and a three-berry cake, respectively). But half the votes in the specialty category went to one cake: chocolate fudge surprise with chocolate mousse and crushed toffee ganache from Fantasy Frostings in Whittier. Half the remaining votes went to chocolate cakes from Zov's Bakery in Tustin.
Why so many chocolate cakes in the winner's circle? That's what bakeries are featuring, presumably because that's what people are buying. Only four of the specialty cakes didn't involve chocolate. The world is apparently dividing into two camps: yellow cake traditionalists and people who like any kind of cake, as long as there's chocolate in it.
The cakes that got the worst ratings were always faulted for the same things: dryness and sugary frosting. Here's something else potential wedding cake buyers may want to bear in mind: Cakes with fresh fruit fillings were tasty at first but did not hold up well to slicing. And after one hour, many had become very unappealing to the eye.