Specialty Cakes for the Holidays

Few things are more unique and personal than the gift of food. And during the holidays, when dessert often becomes the main focus at our celebrations, our options become almost limitless. With so many to choose from for that special holiday touch, specialty cakes might be our saving grace.

Cake has come a long way since the ancient Egyptians began making breads sweetened with honey more than 5,000 years ago. Breads that were made for sustenance back then gave way to cakes that today are designed to make a splash. Specialty cakes, as their name implies, are made for a special occasion. A specially decorated cake can make a holiday meal brighter and giving it as a gift can make your visit sweeter.

Holiday cakes are versatile, particularly eye catching, full of color and flavor. You can choose based on theme, content, color, and size. Whether you’re looking to make a decorating statement or a culinary one, a specialty cake could be the item that ties it all together with style.

There are several things to keep in mind when deciding on a specialty cake. Who will eat it? Is it geared for children or an older crowd, and if so, how many? How much do you want to spend? What will it be paired with? Do you want to bake it yourself?

If you want to use grandma’s recipe, consider the complexity and labor associated with this feat. Baking it yourself highlights your creativity, but buying it online might be a better alternative if you’re strapped for time. For example, a traditional Christmas fruitcake sells online for between $25 to $75, can be sent to anyone on your shopping list, and could arrive in a festive tin box just in time for Christmas.

Which cake is right for your holiday get-together? The list of choices varies from traditional to trendy and includes fruitcakes, panettones, cheesecakes, tarts, gingerbread and even ice cream cakes. Cupcakes are the latest trend in holiday treats; hundreds of stores catering to this niche have sprouted both as traditional stores and as online sites. The cupcake market alone is projected to grow by 26% through 2014 to more than $20 billion in sales.

“Fondant is not the only way to go anymore,” says Samantha James, a line cook and professional baker in State College, Penn. The trend in holiday specialty cakes is “simple, not as busy,” she adds. James’ holiday favorites include pies and spice cakes, which use nutmeg and ginger. A pie is an inexpensive and delicious addition to any meal and can cost as little as $5.

Ultimately, it may all come down to desert being the big finish, the pièce de résistance, or the icing on the cake, if you will. For those occasions when only a Santa cake will do, a specialty cake will leave guests oohing and ahing all the way to next year. Proof that you can have your cake and eat it too.