Back in 2004, after nearly two decades as a burned out cake designer, and approximately the same amount of time as a person who'd do anything other than cake design, I finally embraced my lot. Cake: I wish I could quit you; but, I couldn't... I also couldn't carry on with the cycle of endless buttercream cakes, rinse spatula, repeat.
A co-worker at the erotic bakery where I was working at the time suggested that a way to come to an accord with the frenemy that cake had become, was to focus on what set me apart, what I did best which was sculpted cakes. I set a course that day to do just that and in November 2005, I launched Debbie Does Cakes.
As a new site, I shopped my wares around for link exchanges and a well respected cake pioneer told me that she "loved" my work, but I "had" to remove the dead rat cake! I knew if a cake could evoke such a strong reaction, I must be on the right path.
Over the years I developed a reputation for the off-beat, bizarre and sometimes gross cakes. One dead rat cake begat a severed head which led to a road kill squirrel , and so on and so on.
In the Fall of 2011, I took part in a gallery show with cakes inspired by horror movies. The baby from Eraserhead, a platter of fresh rat and tomatoes from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, maggot covered chicken leg from Poltergeist, all eliciting both delight and disgust.
I may be one of the only cake artisans for whom the word "yuck" is high praise.
Twisted Cakes (Harper Design, $19.99), deliciously evil designs for all occasions, is in a sense, a book an entire career in the making. Of course the dead rat had to make a sentimental appearance...
The book, is a collection of the unexpected, going to places food rarely goes. I illustrated how the bizarre can sometimes be beautiful and even humorous. Inspired by anatomical specimens, medical oddities, horror films, even "Wacky Packages", each cake appeals to my offbeat sensibilities in their own unique ways.
I will admit, however, that after crafting the maggot covered candy bar cake, even I may never be able to eat a chocolate bar the same way again.
Photos by Bruce Fleming
The term Siamese is derived from a famous pair of conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker of Siam. They spent a decade exhibited as curiosities, then used their earnings to buy a plantation in North Carolina, where they lived out their days. Like the Bunkers, these piglets spend their days on the farm as happy as two pigs in chocolate mud can be.
In my business, I have done a lot of cupcakes...I mean a LOT! After the 400th time you make something, you can start to go a bit mad. One day, in the midst of that madness, I felt a strange urge to stab something. In that moment, it occurred to me, "Yes! I'll stab the cupcakes!"
Legend has it that Vincent van Gogh severed his earlobe after a row with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, wrapped it in cloth, and presented it to a prostitute. It has since emerged that more likely the ear was lopped off during a sword fight with Gauguin. Personally, I prefer the proffering of the lobe to the young lady. Has someone ever vowed to give you something of themselves, only to fall short? To avoid all ambiguity, give someone a piece of yourself, preferably in a nice box.
I have had a lifelong sweet tooth. One day, my sister and I were walking home with the spoils from our day's candy harvest. Eager to satisfy her cravings, she tore into a candy bar. But sensing something was not quite right, she investigated the newly nibbled bar, only to find it was teeming with maggots. The image of that bar with maggots creeping out has stayed with me for decades. Although it did not deter me from eating candy, neither of us ever ate one of those bars again.
Under what circumstances would you abandon a body part? I wanted to portray the limb as not only lost but also forgotten, and maybe languishing among fallen leaves or weeds. Serve this cake, and you and your guests can concoct your own backstory of the errant limb - a zombie attack, perhaps, or a warning message from mobsters?
The modern mouse seems to have evolved into an exceptionally elusive and cunning creature. Having had experience trying to trap a rogue mouse, I'm convinced that the mouse's main mission in life is stirring up rage and frustration. Find catharsis by building your own mousetrap in cake and crafting your own mouse "prize." The best part is that no animals need to be harmed in the making of this confection.
Studies show that the roach is the most reviled creature, besting even rats, spiders, and snakes for the lowest spot. However, the lowly roach can boast an impressive history of survival and is thought to date back 350 million years. I think it's high time the roach got some respect and maybe a little rest and relaxation - at a motel perhaps?
In the puritanical seventeenth century, botanists found parallels between this carnivorous plant, which lures and digests its prey, and women, who were often portrayed as temptresses. Hence the plan was named after Venus, the goddess of love and power. Why not tempt your lover into your lair with sweet skills?