On Insects and Cake

I’ve told the story of how my first 4-H entomology project was what convinced me that I wanted to become an entomologist, but I’ve never told you about the other projects I did.  I joined 4-H in 4th grade, after I quit Girl Scouts to escape the pink and frilly crafty things I didn’t want to do.  I eagerly pored over the project list that first year, and what did I sign up for?  Sewing.  Cake decorating.  Over my decade as 4-Her, I made dolls, painted ceramics, sewed countless clothing items, and made hundreds of cakes.  (I also learned how to use my SLR camera and collected insects, but that’s not important to this story.)  However, even though I did all these girlie crafty things, I always did them my way.  I made  functional clothes that I could wear to softball practice.  My dolls were hand carved kachina dolls and definitely did not involve scary fake hair.  And my cakes were non-traditional designs that fit my personal style perfectly.

But the 4-H cake decorating judge at the county fair hated my cakes.  They were well made and sometimes she had to give me the top prize because I did good work, but she made no secret of the fact that she didn’t think that making insect cakes was appropriate.  She cringed a little every time she came across a photo of an insect cake in my record book for the year.  One year I learned how to make flowers of many different types and she said that my cakes were beautiful that year, “for once,” as she plopped the winning ribbon on my cake.  At one point, and this was after I fell deeply in love with entomology and had incorporated insects into several of the wedding cakes I had created, she actually took me aside and told me this: “I am giving you first place, but I have to tell you: you really shouldn’t make insect cakes.  No one wants to be reminded of disgusting little insects while they’re eating cake.”

The judge didn’t seem to care that I wanted to be reminded of insects when I ate cake, so I took this as a personal affront.  She didn’t just hate my cakes: she hated everything that I loved!  I was so mad that the next year I brought another insect cake just to spite her, this time covered with sculpted fondant dragonflies and water lilies.  And when I replaced her as the cake judge in several counties in college…  Well, let’s just say I had a very different anything-goes approach to what constituted an “appropriate” cake design!  If it was well constructed, it got high marks, simple as that.  I never discouraged a child from making a cake that he or she loved.  I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong.

When I started grad school, I found a group of people who actually appreciated insect-themed cakes: entomologists!  Entomologists have absolutely no problem eating an insect shaped cake and will gleefully request part of the thorax or a saltitorial hind leg.  Life like?  No problem!  After years of discouragement by an insect-hating cake decorating judge, I’ll admit: I was thrilled to occasionally put that decade of cake decorating training to good use making insect cakes.  SO.  FUN!

However, entomologists aren’t the only people who are excited about insects on cake these days!  As I was looking for ideas for my own wedding cake (which I did not make, though I did make my sister’s!), I came across several gorgeous insect cakes.  For example, this cake is offered as a wedding cake design by the Village TeaRoom in New Poltz, NY:

How adorable is that?  The honeycomb design is filled with apricot jam and those bees are chocolate truffles with slivered almond wings.  Yum!  Or how about this cake, chosen by a couple being married at Penn State:

Ladybug cake

Ladybug cake. Image by redheaded ninja from http://redheadedninja.com/weddings/rachel-nathan/

Ladybugs!  An aggregation of ladybugs no less!  I think this cake is stunning, and it’s covered in bugs.

If you have a moment, you should check out this cake on Cake Coquette’s Flickr stream.  It is the sort of thing I always liked to do – combining girlie flowery and leafy stuff with insects – and the cake features a whole menagerie of vermin (bugs, mice, snails, ants, worms) while remaining wholly beautiful.  Then there’s this:

Beetle cake

Beetle cake. Image from http://www.edibleblog.com/wild-animals-cakes/. There are some other AMAZING wild animal cakes if you follow that link, including two scorpions.

Wow!  Boy would the cake judge have hated that…

Even the mighty Martha Stewart has promoted insect themed cake designs!  This cake was on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings magazine while I was planning my wedding:

People went nuts over this cake!  While it was still on the Martha Stewart Weddings site, it got more comments than I ever would have imagined, people raving about how beautiful and unique the cake was.  Or at least it was unique before thousands of brides HAD TO HAVE the butterfly cake!  People selling the little plastic butterflies on Etsy had backorders a mile long thanks to this cover.  And it spawned several knock offs, including a less ostentatious design on the Martha Stewart Weddings site now:

Martha's new butterfly cake

Martha's new butterfly cake. Image from http://www.marthastewartweddings.com/227157/extreme-cakeover.

And this cake has been popular too!  There are countless examples of variations on the theme, such as this interpretation on Weddingbee:

Martha inspired butterfly cake

Martha inspired butterfly cake. Image from http://gallery.weddingbee.com/photo/our-wedding-cake-4

Beautiful!  Simple, elegant, understated, yet with a bold dash of color.

Honestly, I’ve always been bitter about that cake judge kicking me to the curb every year for designing cakes that worked for me.  But I feel vindicated for sticking with it now!  Tons of people want insect themed cakes these days.  BRIDES want insect themed cakes!  If thousands of brides want insects on their cakes, you know that people really aren’t being reminded of disgusting insects when they eat an insect themed cake, which is just what I’ve suspected all along.

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32 thoughts on “On Insects and Cake

  1. I love ALL those cakes! I wish we could see some photos of your own insect-themed creations!
    (Also, “boo” to the cranky-pants judge. I’ll never understand people who try to squelch young people’s interests because they don’t align with their. own. Boo.)

    • Clearly I wasn’t going to let that judge push me around and make me conform, but I agree – very obnoxious for an adult to do that to a kid and it makes me wonder how many other kids might have had similar experiences with her. And I would put photos of my own cakes up except I took the majority of the photos as a kid and I was a TERRIBLE photographer at the time. Not only are all my photos prints from negatives (as were most photos until I graduated from college) that I would have to scan, but they’re blurry, awful images to begin with. I really only keep them so that I can remember what they looked like!

      Glad you like the cakes I highlighted though! I think I need to make a smaller version of the honeybee cake. I’m thinking lemon cake frosted with swiss buttercream (because it’s not very sweet) with a thin layer of actual honey dripping off the comb…

    • Some of them definitely do! But the Martha butterfly cakes are pretty simple. They’re all one color, so you just make a few cakes of different sizes and plop them on top of each other. Then you just stick the wires for the butterflies in the cake. If you can make a plain round cake, you could make that one – no piping skills required!

  2. Your cake judge would have really had a fit over the cake presented to me & another naturalist at our “going away” party from state parks. It was covered with all sorts of animal signs… poop of various sizes and shapes – all biologically correct, along with tracks. It was delicious!

    • Yay! The poop cake sounds fabulous to me! I made a cake for a bunch of wildlife and fisheries grad students / profs a while back when a friend defended. She worked on crayfish, so a friend and I made her a crayfish cake, with little fishing lure crayfish (hooks removed) tucked down into burrows in our stream cake. I was disappointed because no one wanted to eat it! Apparently the fishing lures were too life like and people thought there were dead crayfish on the cake. These are your kind if people, so I was shocked they were being so squeamish! The friend defending loved it though, so that was all that mattered. I’m thinking of buying a crayfish chocolate mold if I ever make another one…

  3. Not an insect but…my biologist friends in Germany made me a salamander (Salamandra salamandra) cake, but since they used M&Ms for the spots and the cake was very big, it looked much more like a Gila Monster. That was long before I ever thought about moving to AZ. Hey, if you have no good pictures of your own cakes, but we all would love to see one, why not make a new one? We’d all help you eat it!

  4. I LOVE the idea of a crayfish cake. My sister is finishing up her grad thesis all about crayfish (in Maine). She’s been working on it a long time and deserves a special treat!! Thanks for the idea.

    • Ooh yeah! My friend and I made a chocolate rectangular cake frosted with chocolate for ours. Then we dug out little “burrows” in three or four places and put the crayfish lures in the holes to look like they were defending the burrows. We also set one out on top to be the crayfish that wasn’t able to hold a burrow. Then we sprinkled green sugar around as algae and brown sprinkles to represent gravel. Easiest cake ever and it was really fun to make! If you’re interested, I can give you the link for the crayfish chocolate mold I’ve been eyeing. It would be easier to make chocolate crayfish than find toys or anything else that looks like crayfish. We searched for weeks! My friend’s a fisherwoman, so she came up with the fishing lure idea or we might STILL be looking for plastic crayfish…

  5. I am so sorry you were not appreciated. I would love to have seen your dragonfly cake: it must have been wonderful. I notice you don’t show an ant themed cake (I have seen a few) — the ants must have a tendency to walk off with theirs.

  6. Pingback: What I Love Wednesday « The C3 Tree

  7. Any suggestion where I could find life-sized plastic bees? My sister and her fiance are bee keepers and I have a cake design in mind that would require hundreds of the little darlings, so I’d love to make a mold!

    • Hmmm… Have you tried a craft shop, Michaels or Hobby Lobby or something, in the floral department? That’s often a good source of artificial bees. Toy stores might have something, though flies are much more common than bees. There are some pretty decent chocolate molds too if you want to buy a pre-made mold rather than making your own. I tend not to buy a whole lot of plastic toys and the ones I have were given to me as gifts, so I’m not really sure where to get plastic bees apart from these few suggestions. Good luck!

  8. I am in love with the idea of a water lilies and dragonfly cake. I am trying to find a way to make little dragonflies for my cake ( for a class I am taking) and am sold on using the “mum” flower on a leaf base for the lily pad and water lilies then a dragonfly on the flowers…I am just not sure exactly what colors to use for my dragonfly but I guess white wings with pearl dust and a green body with an opalescent pearl dust would be good right?
    I have a slight dragonfly fettish since I had a photograph I took of one published in an amateur photography book. Then while building my home we had one that would visit the house daily while the building was going on. Then last weekend I had another visit me…it came to visit when I was setting up some tents for a party in the yard. It has become the inspiration for my cake “final”

    • I would recommend looking at some dragonfly photos online to find one you like that you can duplicate color-wise, but the technique sounds great to me! Hope it turns out great!

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