Out of the Field and Into Cake, It’s Barbie!

Barbie turned 30 the 12 months I used to be born. That very same 12 months, my grandmother purchased a dome cake pan for making Barbie muffins: sometimes, a Barbie doll enveloped to the waist in frosted layers of cake, carved into the form of a voluminous skirt. In her phrases,“I had my first granddaughter and I envisioned making lots of Barbie muffins.” A number of extra granddaughters adopted and so did extra Barbie cake baking equipment.

I grew up watching my grandmother make Barbie muffins in her home-based bakery for purchasers throughout North Texas. Now, 20-something years later, Greta Gerwig’s scorching pink characteristic movie has promised us a summer season of Barbie. Meals manufacturers are turning every little thing pink — from the plain Pinkberry with its Barbie Land Berry Pink froyo to the extra obscure Pastificio G. Di Martino Barbie Pennette Rigate — and the Barbie cake is primed for a comeback, as those that by no means had the enduring buttercream-frocked doll as youngsters stay out their Barbie cake desires as grownups. However the place Barbie-themed birthdays full with a Barbie cake have been as soon as bought to adolescent and preteen ladies (and maybe coveted by boys), as of late, the throwback muffins are for everybody.

This previous fall, months after Gerwig’s flick started filming within the spring of 2022, pastry chef and cookbook writer Zoë François and chef and restaurant proprietor Christina Nguyen every made a Barbie cake to have a good time the birthday of their pal Ann Kim, a Minneapolis chef and restaurateur. Neither of them realized then what sort of cake the opposite was baking, however they each knew Kim had by no means had a Barbie cake as a child and all the time needed one. “I went with a chic Barbie who appeared to be headed off to a Champagne soiree,” defined François. Nguyen’s cake discovered inspiration nearer to the coast: With a crop prime and pink ruffles that “regarded prepared for a bonfire on the seashore,” surfside occasion Barbie was her alter ego of alternative. “That’s the great thing about Barbie,” François says. “She may be something we would like her to be.”

As soon as Barbie arrived within the toy aisle, it didn’t take lengthy for somebody to take her out of the field and stick her feet-first right into a cake. Doll muffins, made with actual dolls and cake skirts, have been already a well-liked alternative for youngsters and younger girls. The Twentieth Century Cook dinner Ebook, printed in 1914 by the Twentieth Century Membership of Berkeley, accommodates a recipe for “A Little one’s Birthday Cake” made with a gem pan (a cast-iron precursor to the cupcake tin) and tiny, low-cost dolls poked into the tops of every little cake.

Doll muffins persistently appeared within the girls’s pages of newspapers, in cookbooks, and in cake adorning texts over the subsequent a number of many years. My grandmother’s Wilton dome cake pan, designed for making doll muffins, debuted within the Nineteen Seventies. This led to the recognition of doll picks, half-sized dolls from simply the waist up with a pointy decide on the backside to stay within the prime of a dome cake and not using a gap. However Barbie, in her seemingly exponential reputation, turned so synonymous with dolls that, ultimately, any doll shoved into layers of sponge and buttercream was going to be known as a Barbie.

Beginning within the late Eighties, Wilton cake pans, a then-60-something-year-old beloved American cake adorning and bakeware firm based mostly out of Illinois, additionally added Barbie to its assortment of trademarked novelty pans. Whereas many bakers, particularly these adept at carving layer muffins, used a mixture of multipurpose pans and bowls to attain Barbie’s bell-shaped skirt, others wanted one thing easier for his or her Barbie-themed events. Wilton’s flat-lay novelty pans have been the important thing.

There was the 1986 Barbie Waving Cake Pan, which included a “time-saving face-maker” painted plastic masks that you just laid on prime of the cake. Frosting bangs, made with just a few swooshes of Lemon Yellow tinted buttercream in Wilton piping tip 21, introduced Barbie to life. The 1992 Stunning Day pan might be embellished with a giant pink ball robe or a frilly white marriage ceremony costume; an up to date 1995 model of the pan included a plastic lay-on with legs and directions to show the massive gown-shaped cake right into a springtime backyard or a seashore scene. One other 1997 pan inspired you to frost Barbie as a ballerina, a cheerleader, or fancy costume birthday lady, whereas a 2000 pan featured Barbie as a princess.

In 1999, acknowledging the continuing reputation of Barbie muffins of all sorts, Mattel debuted the Barbie Celebration “Cake,” a toy that included a doll in a brief, sparkly costume, stackable plastic cake layers, piping suggestions, and two tubes of actual pink and purple frosting, plus sprinkles. The equipment solely included sufficient frosting for one “cake,” however the plastic layers have been dishwasher secure, which means you could possibly have many extra hours of enjoyable (as long as you could possibly persuade your mother to purchase you extra tubes of frosting on the grocery retailer).

The doll’s prominence within the Nineteen Nineties, particularly for ladies, helped popularize Barbie as the last word novelty occasion theme, and the muffins turned a class all their very own. Throughout the nation, bakeries advertisedBarbie muffins alongside birthday muffins and marriage ceremony muffins. The grande dame of themed events, Martha Stewart, even made a Barbie cake on an episode of Martha Stewart Dwelling in 1998. After setting an elaborate pink occasion desk, Stewart and her hair colorist (the mom of the episode’s birthday lady) display tips on how to make the Barbie doll cake. Collectively they wrap bare Barbie dolls in plastic wrap, defending her physique and blonde hair from the oncoming buttercream, and assemble towering layers out of angel meals muffins (useful because of the preexisting gap). They cowl the muffins in Swiss meringue buttercream, and Stewart asks the tiny blonde birthday lady, “Would you wish to put some dragees on my cake?” The child asks for star sprinkles as an alternative.

The Nineteen Nineties, a decade that noticed document numbers of girls within the office and a 3rd wave of feminism, have been a turning level for Barbie, who was marketed with the slogan “We Women Can Do Something.” However the model was usually criticized for selling unrealistic physique requirements and gender norms. In response to those critiques, demand for Barbie dolls and Barbie muffins dropped considerably in the direction of the top of the last decade, and Mattel was pressured to rethink the model’s outdated 40-year strategy to feminine empowerment. And whereas Barbie has since been adopted by numerous communities past her authentic target market — because the now doll is available in quite a lot of physique sizes, represents a number of ethnicities, and typically comes with equipment like a prosthetic leg and listening to aids — on the entire, the standard Barbie cake aligns with the stereotypical gendering of the unique doll.

In her guide, Eternally Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Actual Doll, M.G. Lord argues that Barbie exists as an “emblem” of femininity (albeit a white, cis, privileged model of it). In cake kind, this femininity is carried out by the stacked and closely frosted layers of her skirt-shaped cake. You’ll be able to’t make a Barbie cake with pants. I requested my grandma; that cake would barely feed a celebration of 4. However as bakers of at present make their first Barbie muffins, they’re utilizing Barbie’s skirt as a car for nostalgia, sure, but additionally as a (tasty) medium for individualized self expression. A TikTok of a purple-hued Barbie cake with messy violet hair and fuchsia orchids baked by LA-based baker Kassie Mendieta for an LGBTQ buyer garnered over 500,000 views. In March, Josué (The Cake Man) Luciano embellished a rainbow drag queen Ken cake for a shopper. And simply final week, Joelle Park from BuzzFeed’s Tasty posted a video of an “iconic ’90s Barbie Cake that’s good for Barbiecore summer season,” impressed by the muffins she used to see within the Costco bakery.

As a brief, plus-sized, ginger child, I merely didn’t assume {that a} consultant Barbie cake was within the stars for me, not to mention for any of my extra underrepresented friends. So naturally, I by no means actually appreciated them, at the same time as my grandmother baked Barbie muffins and introduced us dolls at each vacation.

However for the reason that begin of this Scorching Pink Summer time, I’ve come to comprehend that the fervor round Barbie is because of greater than the nostalgia inherent within the film: Barbie has garnered legions of followers for her skill to reinvent herself as no matter it’s we would like her to be, whether or not that’s a princess, a blue-haired scientist in a lab coat, or just a fantastic lady with a skirt made out of cake. And as followers plan their Barbie-themed outfits for the film’s debut, I’ll be learning the 2002 Wilton Cake Adorning Yearbook my grandmother mailed me final week, celebrating Barbie’s progress with my very personal Barbie cake.

KC Hysmith, PhD, is a meals scholar who writes about meals historical past, gender, and digital media.