Let Them Not Eat Cake

by admin on July 15, 2013

By marriage, my family has become connected to a woman who bakes novelty cakes. They are really beautiful or funny to look at, depending on the occasion, but they taste HORRIBLE.

The icings are hard and crusty and the cake itself is very dense and dry. I assume she has to add things to the mixes to make them keep their shapes.

This wouldn’t be a problem if she only baked cakes when asked, but the family assumption is that she will provide the cake for any event to which she is invited. Whenever she gets an invitation to something, she will phone and inquire about the theme and then announce that she will bring a cake shaped like a bulldozer or whatever.

I am already dreading an event I am hosting in November–I’d like my guests to enjoy eating the cake, not just looking at it. Guests always rave about the designs, but I have noticed that no one ever finishes eating their cake.

There is nothing I can do, is there? When she phones me, how do you say “No, DON’T make a cake please.” If you tell me I must smile and suck it up, I will do so. 0715-13

When she calls next, just decline saying,  “No, thank you.  I decided on serving a fruit dessert.  Maybe next time but thanks for the offer!”

{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

Tsunoba July 16, 2013 at 11:46 am

I’ve told white lies myself. I’ve avoided saying things outright, and rephrased it.

And I HATE doing it. I don’t want to offend them, but I get tired of making up excuses. There’s only so many ways I can avoid saying “Yes, I do private math tutoring as well, but I don’t want to tutor YOU.”

The fact that telling the truth is rude just really gets to me.

Incidentally, my mother used to make pizza for my dad. He lied and said he liked it, she kept making it. Eventually, he broke down and confessed that he didn’t like them at all. My mother was more offended that he LIED to her than that he thought her food tasted bad.

Perhaps this is what influences my thinking, but I honestly think someone should tell her that they appreciate the effort, the cakes are beautiful, but the beauty causes a sacrifice in taste.

Seriously, it will likely result in hurt feelings, but there has to be some polite way of actually telling the truth, instead of making up excuses.

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Allie July 16, 2013 at 11:49 am

This is one instance in which you are perfectly justified in declining a “gift.” Simply say “thank you for the generous offer, but we’ve already finalized the menu.” Then change the subject or end the conversation. You never know. Perhaps inside she’s thinking “Good lord, another party. I’m sick to death of baking all these cakes but how can I get out of it politely when I’ve done it for everyone else!”

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Weaver July 16, 2013 at 1:03 pm

@ Molly Ha! There I was, reading the comments and thinking to myself what an awkward situation this was, and how it might be resolved, and then you cut right to the chase! I think your response is perfect. If the cake-baking relative insists on knowing the theme of the event anyway, the host can reiterate “oh the theme is floral (or whatever) but there’s really no need to bring anything. Why not give yourself a break for a change – you deserve it!”

If, after that, the baker decides to bring a cake anyway, well that’s all on her. If that happens, I’d say accept it with thanks and serve it anyway, alongside your own cake/dessert, whether bought or homemade. Your relative has had full warning and guests will have a choice.

I do disagree with those who’ve suggested hinting, however delicately, that this relative’s cakes are less than tasty. It’s just not cricket.

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edy July 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I think the cake is a wonderful gift and a heartfelt contribution. I would never turn this down. You can kindly tell her, “That’s not necessary, I want you to come and enjoy yourself instead of having to do all that work.” But if she wants to bring you a gift, accept it graciously and appreciate it for what it is–a piece of art and a token of her fondness for you. Simply set out alternate deserts (cupcakes, cheesecake, pastries) so that your guests have something delicious to eat while they enjoy looking at her art.

(I wouldn’t decline to cut her cake either. Cut it and let guests choose. If she happens to notice that her cake is not getting eaten, she may take it upon herself to revise the recipe.)

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Dust Bunny July 16, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I’m with everyone who said to say, “Thank you for the offer, but I’ve got dessert covered.” You shouldn’t have to avoid serving cake just to keep from offending her.

We have a friend who makes one of those lamb-shaped cakes for Easter. She uses a pound cake recipe because it’s dense and will hold the lamb shape well, but she also says that nothing else will work that still tastes like cake, so this is apparently a problem that is known to at least a few people (I didn’t know it until she told me, but I’m a lazy baker who thinks a two-layer round cake is “fancy”).

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petty-chia July 16, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Oh I’ve *so* been there. I’m not a cake fan. I’m really not. Especially chocolate cake (no hate on chocolate but I prefer my chocolate and my cake separate). But when I adopted a vegan diet the better part of a decade ago, I had a relative who would always make a “special” cake so I could eat it. Always chocolate. How can you tell them not to go to the trouble when they take such pride in it? I always said thank you, took a slice and a single bite, and the rest of the entire cake went in the trash after the party :-/

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jojo July 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm

My husband’s family are all very keen on making heavy, dark fruitcakes for Christmas and large events. While I make small, light, fruity individual cakes well soaked in alcohol so people get a nice morsel but don’t have to soldier through something they may not like. Each to their own.
It’s best to pre-empt. Start with ‘it’s so much work for you, I can’t possibly impose’. Move on to suggesting some thing fun and creative ( may be a centrepiece for the table made from sugarcraft flowers? or homemade chocolates?) she still gets all the compliments and attention for her creativity but without providing a cake. To I’ve got a fabulous recipe my ‘significant other/mother/friend’ has asked me to make. If it becomes a real point ( can you tell I have persistent relatives?) then I’ve made a cake and frozen it but I’d love a covering for it, how about you make a shell of x-dimensions and we put it over when you arrive?

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acr July 16, 2013 at 2:30 pm

OP, I am curious – does SHE eat the cake? I agree with The Elf. Get the dessert you want. If she brings a cake, thank her graciously and serve it. Let people choose the dessert they like. Nothing wrong with having options. In your case, I would try to think of a key difference, such as, “With your yellow cake and my chocolate cake, we’ve got the bases covered!” Make it about having a variety of desserts – even if that “variety” means two different cakes.

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RobM July 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I’d suggest that rather than telling this lady that you don’t like their cake, it might be better to thank them for what they’ve done in the past but tell them you would like them to just be a guest, and as such you’ve taken care of things already.

No need to hurt feelings, no need to not be able to have certain foods. Simple.

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Ergala July 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I bake cakes. If my cakes tasted awful I’d want to know. Sometimes people buy my cakes and I wouldn’t want to get a bad reputation if my cakes tasted horrid. I’d honestly tell her gently. Or ask if she has tasted one of her own. I’m wondering if she is adding too much salt or using self rising flour versus cake flour….that can make a cake way too salty if that’s the case. But you should def. gently broach the subject with her.

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AIP July 16, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Another Sarah’s suggestions are perfect in my opinion.

The problem with being ‘gently honest’ is that the person at the receiving end tends to hear it as ‘pointedly insulting’ no matter what you do. And why forgo cake because someone insists on bringing along, unbidden, a cakey Lawrence of Arabia diorama, complete with cake the texture of the Wadi Rum?

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Pam July 16, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Since you are connected “by marriage” in my opinion it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for you to be the one to apply the “gentle honesty”. However, is this opinion shared by all the relatives? If so, I would go to the person you think is closest to the cake baker and ask her what you should do. She might be able to talk to the baker in a way that spares her feelings.
OR maybe you could ask someone who bakes, for a cake recipe and ask your cake-baking-relative if she’d be willing to use that recipe for the cake in the context that you’d really like to try it or that you’ve had it before and would really like it to be served at your event.

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Marozia July 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm

What Admin said is perfect. If this lady is a great person, she would not be offended. You obviously do not have a problem with the woman herself, just the taste of her cakes.
If she pushes on, just keep saying to her, “Dessert is covered, but thank you anyway”.

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Jays July 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm

I agree with Kirsten pretty much word for word. I make cakes and cookies and often bring them to events (although I’m generally asked to do so, especially with the cakes). I’m shuddering thinking of doing all that works all these years and being unaware that people who bad-mouthing my cakes behind my back! :(

Just … be gentle, please.

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TootsNYC July 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I’m with Jill. I think the letter writer should say, “It’s nice of you, but this is my party and I want to make the cake. Thanks for offering, of course.” If she insisted, I’d say, “Well, bring yours then, but I’m going to make one of my own anyway.” And I would.

I get a little territorial. And I love cake.

Plus, what’s the use of her calling to offer if nobody ever turns her down?

I’ll confess–I would probably also call up the hostess of the next family gathering ASAP and offer to bring a second cake. Then that hostess can say, when she calls, “Oh, that’s nice of you, but Toots is bringing one already.”

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Garrett July 16, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I agree with Lia. Someone needs to have a nice talk with this woman. If it is true that no one enjoys her cakes it is almost cruel to let her keep wasting her time making these cakes that no one will eat. Obviously someone close to her needs to do it but it needs to be done. She has no intention of stopping this tradition and her heart is in the right place. Maybe a gentle chat will help things and may even assist her if she ever tries to make this cake thing a job.

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Misty July 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Since the cakes are beautiful according to the OP she could always allow it and bring a second cake to serve. If asked by the cake maker she could say something like “Your cake is just so beautiful I wanted to use it as a centerpiece/save it for people to enjoy/couldn’t bear eating it/etc. etc.” The OP gets to serve her own cake, the cake maker is flattered and gets to showcase her work, and the guests get to enjoy what the OP says is a beautifully designed cake.

After the party the OP can discreetly dispose of the cake in whatever way she sees fit. She might also consider taking a few pictures for the cake maker (if she hasn’t done so herself) and present them to her saying, “I thought you’d want these for your portfolio.” It would be an appropriate and thoughtful thank you for the beautiful centerpiece and, again, everyone is, hopefully, happy. :)

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Miss-E July 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I would just have two cakes. Either bake one yourself or order one (if you are not a baker) and when she turns up with one just play it up as a mistake. “Oh no! I’m so silly not to have realized we’d have two cakes but how lucky are we?”…blah, blah. She’ll feel good because people will compliment the look of her cake and whoever brings the other cake will be complimented for the taste. No hurt feelings, no tasteless cake!

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Kate July 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Catherine, I’m sorry, but that is really gross! I live in a small town on the east coast that has a lot of weddings, and I have started a small baking company to do desserts for some of them. The thought of someone SMOKING while they bake or decorate a cake is seriously sickening to me. And HAS to be against the health codes!

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TheaterDiva1 July 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm

OP – the cakes at least LOOK good, right? They just taste bad? Why not offer to work WITH her on the cake? You do the actual baking, she’s in charge of decorating, you each play up your own strengths and maybe learn a thing or two from each other? Plus, it would be a great bonding experience! :)

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Barbarian July 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Your best bet is to tell your friend that you have dessert covered. Just don’t be surprised if this guest brings a cake anway. If you serve it with your cake, your guests will probably consume more of your cake.
Hopefully she will notice how much of her cake is left behind and get the idea her cakes do not taste as good as they look.

I experienced this with holiday vegetable and potato dishes. We would tell MIL she did not need to bring anything, but she brought them anyway. Her dishes are made from canned items and gooey sauces. I make the same dishes from scratch with fresh ingredients. I just thank fer for the food, put it on the table and remind her she agreed not to bring anything. Her memory is declining, so she probably did forget our requests. Last year she finally noticed when her own friends ate considerately more of what I fixed and took a few polite nibbles from hers. She got the idea and stopped.

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Stacey Frith-Smith July 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Let her make the cake! Take pictures and tell her its the centerpiece. Then have cupcakes on hand or a candy and cookie table and voila! No one has to finish the cake. Alternatively, you could ask her to use a recipe of yours that’s just a “favorite” for both the cake and the icing. She can still have fun with the hard decorations. I know this is an oblique approach, but oblique is okay if it’s a sustainable idea from your perspective. If not, the politest version of “ew, yuck” that you can manage may have to come out sometime… “That cake is SO lovely, what DO you put into it?” And work from there to either coach her or decline a subsequent offering.

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Jelaza July 16, 2013 at 11:29 pm

@MichelleP – Yeah, I thought so. My thought processes started with “Maybe if she does bring the cake, the OP will luck out and something will happen (really accidental, not fake accidental) to wreck it so it’d be unservable” and meandered onwards to accidental-on-purpose damage and then to “I’m very very bad to think that up, aren’t I?”

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Christine July 17, 2013 at 12:14 am

This is just for the admin.

Since you apparently aren’t able to take a little criticism when you are clearly in the wrong when it comes to etiquette, even when I rephrased my original post to make it less aimed at your judgment personally, I will be deleting this site, your wedding site and your etiquette forum.

I have followed all of your sites daily for many years, but to delete my posts merely because I disagreed with you, and as I said, because you were most clearly in the wrong (and lying is definitely in the wrong, particularly when the person to whom the lie is directed may very likely discovered that she has been lied to and will suffer hurt feelings), that is most definitely a breach of etiquette.

Best wishes in your future endeavours.

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grumpy_otter July 17, 2013 at 6:41 am

OP here–y’all are AWESOME! I was afraid I might get accused of not having a spine, but everyone seemed to intuit right away the delicacies of the situation.

She is a lovely person, but doesn’t take hints well, and never ASKS if she can bring the cake–she just asks the theme and then TELLS the host what she will be bringing. She has an entire room in her house dedicated to her cakes and her kids are grown, so I think any suggestion that she spare herself the trouble would be turned down because she really really loves this hobby.

I would certainly not hesitate to tell her about the taste if we were closer, but we don’t have that relationship. But I’ll consider telling someone I know well on that side of the family who I can trust. There’s a birthday party in September, so I should get my chance then.

You know how you sometimes perceive a problem and your brain gets into a loop where you cannot see a solution? That was me. But y’all have been amazing with your many suggestions and I now feel confident I can handle this.

Thank you so much for all the good advice–I feel well-armed with proper responses and ideas!

And I loved reading your stories!

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Molly July 17, 2013 at 6:45 am

Now I’m curious. What are the standards of politeness for giving feedback or constructive criticism to someone? Do you have to say nothing, even if it means white lies and people remaining ignorant, unless they directly ask you to give your opinion? Is it OK to ask “Would you like some constructive criticism from me?” and then only give your opinion if they say that they do want critique? Of course, the cat’s out of the bag already if you ask that question! Or is honesty OK, as long as you attempt to say it in a constructive way?

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Anonymous July 17, 2013 at 7:19 am

I think I like TheaterDiva’s idea the best. Working together, and having the OP bake while the other woman decorates, would be awesome, if they lived close enough together to make it feasible. The only problem is, people might see the pretty cake, and assume that it tastes bad (like the previous ones did), and then not even taste it, so the best way around that would be to indicate that they made it together, either verbally, or if the dishes on the buffet line are labelled to indicate who made them, and what’s in them, then it’d be easy to write, say, “Chocolate cake, made by OP, decorated by Sally.”

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Gabriele July 17, 2013 at 9:05 am

I don’t know about other areas of the country/other countries but here in Los Angeles the Tres Leches cakes are very, very popular. Because milk (I forget which of the three kinds of milk it is) is added after it’s baked, it’s wonderfully moise and doesn’t need any icing.
You coul arrange for one of those and tell the baker that you had a request for this specific cake because it is so moist. You could also make it yourself and I’m certain you would be asked ot bring ‘your cake’ to future parties..
It’s one thing that she’s been a cake-lady for a number of years but how long have people complained about the cakes? I’m just wondering if her ability to taste things may have changed (our taste buds do seem to alter over time, I think I’ve read that as people get older they may come to prefer more sour foods–pickles, etc) so that she’s not aware that what she’s making isn’t appetizing to others.
The extreme dryness could be a by-product of her age as well. She may bake the cake on day and then lets it sit to firm up (and dry out) and then frosts and decorates it the 2nd or 3rd day.

On the other hand, I would suggest you look into competitions she might enter. When I worked for a honey company (honey pakers) I was already used to baking with honey so I tried out my recipes on the co-workers and then made th recipes available to the company. My premise was that if they turned out good from the recipe I used and I wasn’t a professional then other regular home cooks could too. For the fun of it, I entered several breads (banana, etc) in the LA County Fair and won 2nd prize on most of them. (I’d lived in a rural community and entered things in that county fair).
You might see if there is something similar in your area, or if she’s very good at the decorating suggest she give decorating classes… (people bring their own cakes)…it wouldn’t have to be purely for profit, there might be a senior citizen group or such that would love someone with the knowledge and skills to share it with them.

Confession: I found out there were special baking competitions at the fair and if you entered, you not only got free admission but specialty parking, adjacent to the Home Arts building. So I decided to enter the Lemon Meringue Pie contest (had to use a brand name shortening in the crust, they were the sponsor). I had made three pies before then, none of them good but I was willing to try and, well, fail.
Since I used honey I used it…but what I ended up with was lemon meringue soup…the honey had too much moisture so the lemon part didn’t thicken. The meringue sort of floated on top of the soup and I knew it would barely make the trip to the fair (40 miles) but I had already planned on it and friends were coming with me so we parked the car and I saw these fantastic pies being taken from other cars and wondered what I could do with the pie I didn’t want to enter…but which was my ticket to the fair.
Turns out we couldn’t bring the pies in until later…so I left the pie in the car, went into the fair and later applauded enthusiastically when the winning pie was announced–it was a real beaty! And they did cut into it…at which point my friend (her daughters were elsewhere) and I had to rush out and do our laughing outside.
And now I think I have to go to a bakery and get a piece of tres leches cake the next time I go shopping…yum.

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acr July 17, 2013 at 9:12 am

@ Molly:
“Now I’m curious. What are the standards of politeness for giving feedback or constructive criticism to someone? Do you have to say nothing, even if it means white lies and people remaining ignorant, unless they directly ask you to give your opinion? Is it OK to ask “Would you like some constructive criticism from me?” and then only give your opinion if they say that they do want critique? Of course, the cat’s out of the bag already if you ask that question! Or is honesty OK, as long as you attempt to say it in a constructive way?”

I think it really depends – on the person involved, on the relationship you have with the person, etc. I can’t think of any situation where it’s appropriate to offer (unasked) constructive criticism to a person you have a very superficial relationship with. If Cake Maker said, “This is a new recipe I’m trying, tell me what you think,” then it would be okay for the OP to say, “This is a bit salty” or whatever. However she tries to cushion it, I just don’t think there is any way to politely tell Cake Baker that OP doesn’t like her cakes. And using a phrase like a “more sophisticated tasting” cake doesn’t seem like it would soften it to me – it seems like it would feel more hurtful and judgemental to me.

Also, in this situation, Cake Maker strikes me as very unaware. If you bring a cake to every event, and there are large amounts of cake going in the trash, a more-self aware person will take notice. Yes, it is kind of sad that Cake Maker is spending so much time and money to make a cake that doesn’t taste good, but that’s on nobody but Cake Maker. She has had ample opportunity to observe people eating (or not eating) her cake. I would bet money that if somebody tried to offer a gentle suggestion, Cake Maker would be very upset and offended, and would insist that everybody loves her cake.

Either a) the cake tastes fine to Cake Maker or b) she cares more about appearance than taste.

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Kirsten July 17, 2013 at 9:33 am

- She is a lovely person, but doesn’t take hints well, and never ASKS if she can bring the cake–she just asks the theme and then TELLS the host what she will be bringing

Sigh. I really wish we had known this from the start. It is not the same situation the first post made out – where ‘the family’ assumed ie there was a chance this woman had been put upon. She is assuming and that is different.

I still stand by what I posted the first time for what to say to her, but this would have been useful to know beforehand. If she is that pushy, be prepared to have her ride over your protests and bring a cake anyway, in which case it’s not your problem. Bring your own and leave the guests to decide.

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Wild Irish Rose July 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Don’t lie to her and make her think her cakes are good if they’re not. I’d really rather someone tell me something I prepared was inedible the first time, instead of continually bringing it and no one enjoying it. If you don’t want to hurt her feelings–and I assume you don’t–you might go with Ashley’s suggestion. But it seems to me that someone ought to say something to her about her cakes. If this were my family, I’m pretty sure people would be bad-mouthing her behind her back about her cakes, and if that gets back to her it’s going to be ugly. Personally, I would rather be told by a kind person that my cakes were inedible so that I could either learn how to make them properly, or at least not inflict them on unsuspecting victims in the future!

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Raven July 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm

“Thanks for the offer, but I’ve got it covered. I found a recipe for ______ and I’m so excited to try it! I’m really looking forward to seeing you/It’s so nice to get together/It’ll be nice to have a chance to chat/etc.” I find if you change the subject quickly enough, and keep your voice chipper and upbeat, people are less likely to make a fuss.

I know that folks here are concerned with being “polite” (of course) but CakeMaker is actually herself potentially being rude. Forcing food on a hostess that she has not asked for and maybe doesn’t want, for the purpose of being served at a dinner she has organized, is presumptuous. Besides, what’s wrong with legitimately wanting to mix things up? Maybe someone else would like a turn to make a cake.

Additionally, I cook and bake a lot – I would be mortified if I was making food people were throwing in the trash. I would be mad that I wasted my time/money/effort on something no one liked, when they could have just spoken up. I liken this to the polite, but honest way of telling someone they have an offensive body odor. Feelings might be hurt, but it helps everyone in the long run, including the person at the centre of it all.

“We’d like to try something different.” “Sally would like a chance to make a cake this time, so we’re giving her a turn.” “Thank you, but I’m going to make the dessert myself. It will be nice to have a change.”

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Tallulah July 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm

All that is needed to be said is “I’ve already ordered a cake, but thank you for offering.” I would not serve a fruit dessert if I wanted cake, just to avoid serving her cake. Just order the cake you want.

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Angel July 19, 2013 at 9:55 pm

I would let her bring the cake that she wants to bring and put out another dessert so people have options. Maybe cupcakes of a different flavor or something to that effect. I wouldn’t tell her I don’t like the taste of her cake. I agree with other posters who say if she notices that people are not eating her cake she may be inclined to revise the recipe. She doesn’t need someone to tell her directly.

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NicoleK July 21, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Have a dessert buffet. Tell her you’re doing a buffet, and that she should make the cake small as there will be other desserts, too. Then serve other things that taste good.

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Stepmomster July 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I have the same issue, but it is my best friend. Cakes are gorgeous, but I hate. hate. hate. fondant, which she uses in excess, and sometimes the cake is really dry.

She always assumes her and her business partner must make every single cake for every single event in our sphere. I happen to also make cakes, but as a hobby. Result… awesome birthday for my son, who got a super fancy cake, and my cake. We politely ignored who ate what, ended up eating cake for weeks after.

Nobody ever said a word, but my best friend now asks before she bakes anything for my family.

p.s. can someone please clear up whether we eat the fondant or politely peal it off of the cake to get to the good stuff? Is it removed when you serve the pieces, or left on the cake? despite my friend’s protests, I always leave the fondant in a sad heap on my plate.

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LadyPhoenix July 26, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Since I am an art student, I think I can give you a suggestion.

Do not be afraid to criticize her cakes. And when I mean “criticize”, I don’t mean, “Ugh, this cake sucks! Please don’t bring any more!”

What I mean is simply, “I think your cake is too dry. Maybe you can add some more moisture?”

A lot of people don’t seem to realize that criticism, done right, is not a bad thing. It’s simply pointing out the flaw and suggesting possible improvements. It’s when you get people who think name-calling and trash-talking is criticism when you start having issues.

When you give her suggestions, it should only INSPIRE her to keep making cakes to strive for improvement — rather than discourage her.

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