The power of cake

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Let’s talk about cake. Cake is the product of layering cooked batter, moist frosting and varying toppings. It comes in every flavor imaginable — something as simple as dark chocolate fudge to something as strange as sweet olive oil. But cake is much more than just a dessert — it evokes a level of joy no other food can.

Think about it. On every happy occasion, there is always cake. On your birthday, there’s cake. At your wedding, there’s cake. On holidays, there’s cake. And on your graduation — you guessed it — there’s cake.

Cake is a lot more powerful than many of us know. So this summer, I decided to take advantage of that.

Mid-quarantine, I stumbled across the opportunity to be a part of Cake4kids. It was everything I could dream about: it combined both my love for baking and helping others in one package.

Cake4kids is a program that serves at-risk youth, ages 1-24, including kids in group homes, foster care, homeless shelters, domestic violence or human trafficking shelters, low-income housing, substance abuse programs or refugees.

Currently, there are 400,000 kids in foster care. One child out of every 30 is homeless. 15.5 million children live in a home where domestic violence has occurred at least once in the past year. Human trafficking is the second largest international crime industry, worth $32 billion annually.

Cake4Kids bakes cakes, cupcakes, brownies and other treats to raise the esteem of kids who face these challenges daily. 

Now, you might be thinking: how is a cake going to help?

Well, a cake isn’t necessarily going to solve these problems, but it can give these kids a glimpse of hope in a world that they’ve only known to be cruel.

When I attended the Cake4Kids meeting, the coordinators went over the program instructions and rules. One of the coordinators described a story of giving a little girl a cake and the girl immediately running up to her foster mom crying. The coordinator was shocked and went up to the little girl, asking if there was something wrong with cake. The coordinator offered to change the color of the cake or even to redo it. The little girl then explained that she was crying happy tears because she was so overwhelmed — she had never had a cake on her birthday before.

Stories like these show how special and loved a cake can make a kid feel. When I became a volunteer, I wanted to do what that coordinator had done — I wanted to make kids feel worthy and cared for with my cakes.

In the Cake4Kids program, you have to be 18 years old to decorate cakes by yourself, and 16 years old to be a parent-teen team. Since I am 16, I decided to team up with my mom, who has created recipes for Food52 and entered Pillsbury baking contests all her life.

As a volunteer, you are responsible for signing up to make a cake, making the kid’s desired cake flavor, decorating the cake according to the kid’s wishes, delivering the cake to the social workers partnered with Cake4Kids and writing an email about your experience baking the cake to the coordinators.

To keep each kid’s personal information and identity anonymous, bakers don’t get any feedback on how the kid liked the cake unless the parent or social worker is comfortable providing it.

Below are several of my personal experiences with Cake4kids baking over the summer.

June 8:

Since this was my and my mom’s first-ever Cake4Kids project, we signed up to make Dragon Ball Z–themed brownies for a boy. To make it abundantly clear that these were Dragon Ball Z brownies, we printed and cut out pictures of all the main characters and stuck them in the brownies. Afterward, we added a smooth layer of chocolate ganache, decorated them with fondant (an edible, clay-like substance used to sculpt or decorate cakes) and added a sprinkle of edible gold stars before we delivered them to the boy’s social worker. We were so thrilled with the result of our work and hoped he loved it as much as we did.

June 10:

The next cake we signed up for was for a girl who wanted a red velvet cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. She wanted her cake to be Joker-themed, and with her last name written on it. My mom worked on making the Joker fondant face while I prepared the cake and frosted it. We wanted to go with a purple and green color scheme to represent the Joker’s tuxedo. Some of our favorite touches were writing her last name in the Joker’s teeth and making the red fondant “haha” — we felt it brought the whole cake together. My mom and I were incredibly proud of the outcome of this cake.

July 1:

This cake for a boy was a “batter days are coming” cake, intended for people who may be having rough mental health days due to the pandemic. He wanted a computer- and math-themed cake. We made a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting that wasn’t too sweet, as requested. We forgot to double the recipe on our first try but got it right the second time. When we first frosted the cake, we realized we wanted to make a blue frosting over our crumb coat — the original brown color was not too appealing. The only problem: we had run out of powdered sugar, and it was too late to go to the store.

At this point, we had to improvise, and we attempted to make a new, whipped buttercream recipe with flour and granulated sugar. We couldn’t have been happier with our decision. The cake turned out so vibrant, and the fondant calculator we made looked so cute against the blue frosting! Although we faced many unexpected obstacles, we absolutely loved the way the cake looked in the end, and we hoped this brightened the boy’s day.

For this cake, we were lucky enough to get a feedback reply. His mom said that he enjoyed the chocolate cake and was stunned by how real the calculator looked.

July 10:

For our last cake of the summer, we were assigned a Fortnite cake for a boy.  Fortnite cakes are one of the most heavily requested cakes by boys. For my birthday, my mom gave me a fondant kit with a bunch of tools and cut-outs. We decided to put this kit to use. We made a bunch of fondant sculptures, including the llama, the treasure chest, the life pill, the fire, the pix-ax, the leaves and more. One of my favorites touches: the trees made out of sugar cones. We also liked the whipped buttercream we used in the calculator cake so much that we used it on this cake. We hope that he was totally wowed by this cake.

Cake4Kids has given me so much joy, and I hope it has given thousands of kids that same joy as well.

As I continue with my journey with Cake4Kids throughout this year, I will never forget the power a cake holds.

Contact Kiana George at 803270 ‘at’ seq.org.

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Kiana George is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.