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What makes bakery cakes so bad? Serious question.
Posted: 22 March 2014 09:40 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Having made cakes from RLB’s books for many years, I have a serious question: why are chocolate cakes from so many bakeries and at restaurants—even decent ones—so tasteless by comparison? I got a Whole Foods cake yesterday that is typical of the problem. If I closed my eyes, I wouldn’t have known it was chocolate, and the crumb had an unpleasant springiness. I’m assuming they’re extending shelf life by sacrificing quality, but in what way?

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Posted: 22 March 2014 01:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Then go to Laduree or Pierre Hermes in France. Maybe if you know where the cake was bought, then don’t eat it.  Cheap stores make them for mass production so I would not expect the most expensive or best ingredients. If you go to a very high end pastry shop that uses great and expensive ingredients then they have to charge so much and how many people out there do you think will pay $75.00 for an 8 inch chocolate cake ? Your option is to make it yourself.

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Posted: 22 March 2014 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, definitely, not buying cakes from places that don’t do them well is an effective way of avoiding bad cakes.

My question, if anyone has thoughts, is what technically are these not-disreputable-but-not-Parisian-pinnacle places doing technically that makes them bad? The ingredients I use are fresh, but only of regular supermarket brand-name quality, so it’s not that a great cake depends on THE most exclusive ingredients…

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Posted: 22 March 2014 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I think places that sell mediocre cakes do not care if what they sell will make them look bad. Their goal is to sell, sell sell.. If I buy a cake at Walmart, I will expect the worse. That way I will not be disappointed. Same thing with Costco or Sam’s Club. If I make it or someone I know made it , at least I will know what is in it , even if the ingredients are not the most expensive kind.

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Posted: 22 March 2014 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Agreed. Though there is a vast territory between Sam’s Club and the dozen best patisseries in the world. I have not been to those dozen, but I have ordered chocolate cake at some pretty serious places in NYC - The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, Magnolia Bakery, etc. At those places, flavor and crumb is equivalent to my RLB cakes made with good-quality but not astounding ingredients - e.g., fresh Land-o-Lakes butter, Hershey’s dark cocoa. Take seriousness down a notch to non-famous but upscale, standalone bakeries or upscale chains (like Whole Foods), the quality drop is sharp. Why? Do they not use butter? Is there something intrinsic to making several gallons of batter rather than a several cups of batter that affects the outcome?

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Posted: 22 March 2014 08:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Most of those commercial bakeries (like supermarket bakeries or even larger mom and pop stores) either buy in prebaked cakes so they can assemble them onsite or if they are baking inhouse, they are using a commercial mix that is designed to give them a longer shelf life and consistent results no matter who (on staff) is baking.  Other places that bake from scratch aren’t using butter (they’re using a high-ratio shortening) because of the expense.  One of my former customers opened a baking business and she buys 8 and 10 inch prebaked rounds in vanilla and chocolate.  I only know this because we buy from the same distributor. I had no idea that it was even possible to buy prebaked cakes!  I was faced with doing a class for a dozen culinary students and it was on a Monday morning; I was very short on time between our orders and the fact that class was early on Monday.  I didn’t want to run to the local warehouse place to buy Crisco (I can’t afford to use our house buttercream for a class so when I teach this program, I use the Whimsical Bakehouse buttercream with all shortening to help control my costs because everything is donated) so I called and asked if there is such a thing as pre-made buttercream. When my sales rep finally stopped laughing, she explained that she has several clients who just buy in the frosting and premade cakes and put them together.  I had no idea.  A lot of what passes as “house made” in some places is really just thaw-and bake or thaw-and serve. Sigh.

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Posted: 22 March 2014 08:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Oh ho! Thank you. I had no idea this was standard practice, but it makes perfect and disappointing sense. All the calories, none of the taste—how’s that for a slogan?

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Posted: 22 March 2014 09:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Jeanne - 22 March 2014 08:18 PM

A lot of what passes as “house made” in some places is really just thaw-and bake or thaw-and serve. Sigh.

That’s pretty much my expectation wherever I go. I think you can set up just about any retail food establishment using pre-made meals provided by a food service. Sad to say, most places aren’t competitive based on their quality of food, but rather their marketing strategy: their menu composition, ambiance, pricing, advertising. etc. A lot of experiments show that people’s perceptions of food quality is highly affected by the conditions under which it’s presented and consumed. Present mediocre food in a nice restaurant and people will think it’s wonderful.

I gave a poor review on Yelp to a local hamburger establishment because I said the meat was dense and dry. The manager contacted me via email and in the ensuing discussion, he admitted they bought the patties pre-formed by machine from the food service, which is why they were dense. They used to form them by hand, but it was difficult (read expensive) to train their people to do this consistently. They clearly thought the higher quality product didn’t significantly enhance their appeal to the public, and they’re probably right.

As for desserts, I never order them when I’m out. The servers push them because they have a high profit margin, but they’re rarely good by any objective measure and not worth the calories. For me, the biggest benefit of having been exposed to better products is that I’m able to more easily resist temptations.

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Posted: 22 March 2014 09:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree with CT and Jeanne—much of what is homemade (or housemade or whatever), simply isn’t. We have a local bakery here that is “the” bakery, and I was looking at the ingredients on one of their cakes, and it had the usual laundry list of additives.  I called and asked why they put all of this in their cakes, and they admitted that, although some of their cakes are made from scratch, a number of their cakes were from mixes, and this was one of them.

Plus, housemade is fairly loose—Panera’s breads hardly contain the few ingredients you would expect from a true bakery; that Slab Creamery gets their ice cream base in big buckets, and it is poured into the ice cream maker on site, so it’s considered home made, but it’s just the usual gooey gunk from all the additives and stabilizers and whatever else they are.

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Posted: 23 March 2014 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I am with @Charles.  I do not order dessert out.  And, more and more lately, I am less interested in eating out at all.  I avoid chain restaurants and any place that is similarly mediocre.  I think these places get away with it in meals and desserts because the consumer is less discerning because they do not cook for themselves as much or cook processed foods. 

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Posted: 23 March 2014 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I would not generalize it. Like anything else in this world, it is someone’s choice as long as they know what they are getting into. I know here in my city there is a small and very tiny chocolate and pastry shop and the owner who is a real Pastry chef takes pride in making very good sweet stuff. She makes everything there and people get to watch how she makes what she sells. There is always a line outside her door everyday, although everything she makes is pricey but worth it. And also a hamburger place that makes their own patties where everyone can see it and it is evident on the tastey burgers they make. Places like this I would not hesitate to go.

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Posted: 23 March 2014 02:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Yes, I was generalizing but about chain restaurants, fast food places…..what I was speaking of and what I think the original poster was speaking of are the chain and big box places.  And even some of these in some locations cannot be generalized.  We all know of places that stand out and hold to higher standards than the average chain place.

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Posted: 24 March 2014 04:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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To return to the original question. From the description and what I expect from Whole Foods I suspect that the cake is an oil cake with organic APF and just enough cocoa to give it the expected color.

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Posted: 24 March 2014 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I’m with Charles on this one, most commercial cakes do not contain butter or enough cocoa powder and both make a huge difference in flavor.

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Posted: 25 March 2014 12:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I tried a Whole Foods cake once, and it was surprisingly terrible. Very coarse, dense crumb and not much flavor. I think I later discovered they use unbleached flour in all of their cakes, which explains the poor texture.

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Posted: 25 March 2014 12:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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The same at Trader Joe’s. The desserts looked really good but were a far cry from the real thing. That’s okay though. They sell really good ingredients so I can make my own.

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