There comes a time when you’re decorating a cake where you have to stand back, put the spatula and piping bag down and your hands up and say, “That’s enough.”
You can smooth and shape and adorn and smooth again, but with every “just one more” swipe of the spatula you chance creating a new groove that needs to be repaired. Every carefully placed rosette or ruffle, sprinkle or swirl runs the risk of being just one too many.
So how do you know when to stop? It could become a game of “chase the flaw,” smoothing over one perceived imperfection just to create another deeper one. It could become a case of “can’t see the cake for the butter cream roses,” embellishing and adorning until the original simple beauty is lost and the flavour is unidentifiable.
There is a trend in the cake world these days: The Naked Cake. A cake where nothing is hidden behind cloying layers of thick frosting or impervious facades of fondant. A cake where the beauty is in the cake itself, exposed and unabashed, adorned by only the most carefully chosen elements that add to, rather than superseding, its flavour and appeal. A cake with depth and a message that it’s not afraid to share. It says, “Here I am, beautiful and bold. Dig in.” With the naked cake, less is more.
That’s not to say that the baker does not agonize over this cake, painstakingly crafting, selecting and discarding, refining. But with this cake, the baker knows when done is done.
Now by this point I have no doubt that my savvy readers have surmised that this cake is a metaphor. To be sure, I am speaking from a place of experience, having decorated hundreds of cakes for all occasions during my tenure as a baker. But the true subject of my musings today is writing, specifically in the form of flash fiction. It is a new passion of mine, and one in which I will be endlessly striving to improve my skills.
I recently took a course in this art, Beginner’s Guide to Flash, created by the brilliant minds over at WritersHQ. One of the outstanding takeaways of this course was that often more can be said by what is not said. Let the blank spaces speak, let the reader find meaning in the white space between the carefully chosen words. Let every word earn its place on the page.
“With every line, ask: is this necessary? Is it doing what I want it to? Or does it just look pretty or sound clever? That imagery may be beautiful but is it actually adding anything? Did I use twelve words when six will do? Be honest now.”Beginner’s Guide to Flash, WritersHQ
As a chronic over-writer, this advice will become my mantra. As a cake decorator, well, let’s be honest—sometimes I’m still going to go a little overboard with the sprinkles. It is for a party, after all.