Since the original Let Them Eat Cake post we have made contact with numerous bakeries across Zuid Holland, undertaken a “drive-by” to scout out pro-Piet patisseries, made visits for tastings and finally made that all important choice of baker.
To catch you up to speed: we hate the idea of having a cake covered in fondant and whilst looking up alternatives, came across the new craze of naked [celebration] cakes and thought that would be perfect for us. We began our search for a perfect wedding cake baker last autumn by debating whether or not a naked cake would be possible with a feisty Brit named Queenie. Once we did some online research ourselves, we found that while some bakers had experienced problems with naked cakes related to sturdiness and potential dryness of sponge (especially in summer months), there were also ways around it. So we continued our search and had a consultation with a representative of Perfect Pastry in Den Haag, who served us three amazing samples and explained some of the science behind keeping real cake (rather than sponge!) moist without fondant. As we were nudging each other under the table – convinced that we’d found “the one” and while trying to contain our sugar-induced giddiness, the wonderful baker chatted away about the children’s bakery workshops she would be hosting at the shop during the Sinterklaas period and when we asked, she admitted that she would make cupcakes decorated with the image of Zwarte Piet. Heartbroken and sugar-shaken, we had to let her go.
Following our early experiences with British baker Queenie and the not-so-wonderful-after-all “Perfect” Pastry baker, we decided to avoid any further futile tastings (and sugar-rush hang-overs) by simply asking bakers straight up (via email) whether or not they intended to participate in the Sinterklaas festival with holiday themed treats. We were very honest in our mission, stating that:
“We understand you have the right to make and design cakes as people request them, however we do not wish to endorse the sale of any Zwarte Piet imagery. Therefore, we kindly request that you let us know whether or not you make and sell Zwarte Piet cakes during the Sinterklaas period.”
Some bakers didn’t reply at all apparently choosing to end our tentative online consultation there and then, while other gave vague, one-word answers along the lines of “Fair enough.” There were also some non-committal responses that seemed to focus more on whether or not the business produced baked goods for children, rather than responding honestly and directly. The Perfect Pastry baker didn’t even appear to acknowledge our decision not to use her services, let alone the reason behind it, which only demonstrated further to us that we made the right choice. One baker exclaimed that due to her cultural heritage (Surinamese) she did not participate in the festival at all; we put her details to one side in order to follow up with a date later. A second bakery called Thuis and based in the nearby town of Delft sent a very long, defensive reply explaining that they had been to Jamaica and therefore understood racial discrimination since the black islanders had treated white tourists differently to non-white tourists. They also tried to rationalise their continued sale of Zwarte Piet sweet treats as well as their usage of Zwarte Piet shop decorations by claiming that the Netherlands “just isn’t ready yet” for the cultural shift necessary to get rid of this grotesque goon. They reassured us that once the country was ready, they would re-think their seasonal participation and also how they involve their business in the Sinterklaas feast. Needless to say, our response was a swift and simple: “Thanks but no thanks.”
Upon paying covert visits to two local patisseries who managed to suspiciously circumvent our line of questioning we found that both (Cupcake Chic and Stefanos) were involved in some sort of Piet-related activity, the latter far more than the former admittedly, but we chose not to take the risk with either, swiping them from our list. All of this investigating left us with just three more options: the slightly tacky and unresponsive Cake du Fortin, the fiercely anti-Zwarte Piet Caribbean Soul Food and the cheerful American Baking Company. Obviously, since we had not heard back from Fortin, our focus was on the latter two businesses, so we arranged try-outs with them both.
I have to say, after everything we’d been through, we were quite nervous about getting our hopes up and tried to remain open-minded as we passed several Zwarte Piet decorated houses on the way to the Caribbean bakery. As she had promised, the baker’s home didn’t appear to even concede to the celebration taking place all over the rest of the neighbourhood, remaining bare and tidy. Whether or not this was because they baker was of Surinamese descent, I’m not so sure, but we were relieved to see we hadn’t been tricked. The cakes were tasty and creative and very moist, although most of what she offered us contained nuts (Bel hates nuts) and there had been no discussion what-so-ever with regards to nut allergies, so this was a bit off putting. The overall experience with Caribbean Soul Food had been quite positive so the groom was keen to just complete the entire fuss by saying yes straight away, but in the end we agreed that we should at least check the American bakers, just in case. Besides, we both agreed that we would have been happy to commit to this business if the final tasting turned out to be a disaster.
It was a very cold, almost frosty day between the Sinterklaas and Christmas periods when we cycled over to the American Baking Company workshop for our tasting with its owners. We didn’t know what to expect and hoped that it would either go marvellously well or terribly wrong so that it would be an easy choice. We were greeted by (honestly!) the most cheerful chefs either of us had ever met. Loyal Great British Bake Off fanatics and thus quite familiar with the concept of the naked cake, these guys just seemed to want to make sure we had a lovely morning with them, which took away so much of the decision-based pressure. They seemed to want to know more about us as a couple in order to gain an insight into what kind of customers we might be and it became obvious further into our consultation that they had really done their homework in order to impress us. Not only had they prepared the most delicious strawberry cupcake either of us had ever had the pleasure to sample, they actually made a minature naked wedding cake! It literally blew us away that even as they admitted they didn’t have a lot of experience with making wedding cakes, they had gone to so much effort to ensure we could truly visualise our “cake cutting” moment.
I don’t think we even need to converse about it – we were going with the Sinterklaas denouncing American Baking Company. They offered us some amazing tips on how to keep the cake moist and sturdy on the day, regardless of weather conditions, and seemed to realise that this is very much about us, not the artistic exploits of a begrudging baker.
All in all, our bakery experiences were bittersweet. Even though we set out with the ambitious aim to find an anti-racist (or at the very least non-participating) bakery, we weren’t fully mentally prepared for how to react if we met someone who was talented and yet making a living from the sale of a racist image and I don’t think we actually considered bakers attempting to engage in a debate on whether or not the Netherlands was ready for the serious cultural shift necessary to say goodbye to Zwarte Piet. We obviously didn’t think through the logistics of have the cake we are so set on and some general advice we might offer to all couples looking for a slightly unconventional cake is to look into whether or not it’s popular among mainstream bakers. Not that the potential unpopularity of a particular bakery style should guide your choice, but you should go to consultations armed with solutions and methods for getting the cake you want just in case.
We could have found a baker much sooner if we’d been prepared to allow someone to tell us to have fondant on our cake after all, decided that good cake was more important than revolution, or – out of mere frustration – just settled for substandard (nutty) cake. I’m glad we did our research (in more ways than one) and that we can be entirely satisfied and at peace with the decision we made. Who ever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too was lying.