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1st October 2015

‘A piece of cake’. Often used glibly to imply ease, effortlessness and simplicity, this week’s topic proved that cake is in fact anything but. In our increasingly baking-obsessed culture, cake has become loaded with significance. We fetishize the humble confection of butter, eggs and flour, pairing it inextricably with notions of comfort, home, domesticity and love. Associated with life’s great milestones – birthdays, weddings – cake can serve as a marker by which we measure our place in the world and our relationships. Yet, equally, with its inescapable connotations of indulgence and frivolity, cake can also possess a darker side. The entries for this week’s competition perfectly encapsulated the complexities of cake, and I particularly enjoyed those that brought its darker side to the fore, enmeshing the simple piece of cake in tales of murder, jealousy, politics and revenge. 

One entry that really stood out was the tale of the disappointed Auction House director and his piece of christening cake (1233). This was a wonderfully imaginative interpretation of the theme, and I particularly enjoyed its layering of past and present narrative as it moved through the stories of different generations. The description of the ribboned box and its grand unveiling was beautifully evocative, and the dialogue perfectly captured the mischief of Charlie and his frustrated father. The ending was gloriously bathetic, putting yet another twist on the significance of a piece of cake and satirizing our obsession with antiquities, memorabilia and ephemera. 

Further exploring this dark side of cake was the story of Eleanor and her corpulent husband (1231), a tale that mused insightfully upon the nature of appetite. I enjoyed the episodic style of the narrative, offering glimpses into the process by which Eleanor ‘disposes’ of her slobbering, fleshy spouse. The writing was pervaded by beautiful sensory descriptions of food, both pleasantly evocative, in the case of the smoky tea and currant buns, and designed to repulse, in the case of Albert and his ‘gobbling’, ‘shovelling’ mastication. It subverted the dynamic whereby baking is a sign of love and affection, and the ending offered a surprising and humorous twist, the final line – ‘it had, after all, been easy’ – alluding neatly back to this week’s theme. 

My winner, though, was ‘When a piece of cake is not a piece of cake’ (1224). It was a provocative, sympathetic and surprising take on the topic, serving as a poignant reminder that cakes are not always a form of celebration for everyone. I thought the piece beautifully encapsulated the mental struggles of a character for whom ‘a piece of cake’ was anything but simple. The contrast between the breezy tone of the nursing assistant and the fraught, hyperbolic anger of the narrator perfectly depicted a struggle in which cake is viewed not as a treat, but as an accumulation of ‘sins’. The personification of Ben’s anorexia and his fractured stream of consciousness really brought the writing alive for me, carefully balancing believability and emotion in a way that was less nuanced in some of the other entries. 

Congratulations to all of the writers for ensuring that next time I indulge in a piece of cake, I’ll pause for a moment of reflection before my first mouthful.




Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger. Her blog, 'Nutmegs, seven’, is a recipe journal inspired by fruit, spice, a passion for gardening and travels around the world. Her work has been featured in the Guardian, the Mail on Sunday magazine and Yorkshire Living magazine. She is also completing a PhD in English literature at the University of York.

My Notes