Birthday Cake by Blanch & Shock 27.09.11

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To celebrate its 100th issue, Icon asked London-based food designers Blanch & Shock to make a birthday cake. Blanch & Shock are Amy Houston, Mike Knowlden and Josh Pollen, and, in the three or four years they've been cooking together, they've created experimental and unusual banquets for art galleries, and site-specific theatrical events, as well as catering for private parties. We asked the trio to reimagine what a cake could be, to devise something sculptural that nodded to the form of architectural models without being so literal as to construct a miniature building.

Blanch & Shock came up with a deconstructed cake consisting of individual sponges, meringues and marshmallows hanging in the air. The elements were positioned on perspex discs and then suspended by threading the discs through nylon wires fixed to the ceiling and to a table below. When Icon came across the scene at the New Gallery in Peckham, Blanch & Shock had been hard at work for a few hours already, building and positioning the structure. They had been up late the night before, into the early hours of the morning, making the sponge cakes by aerating the mix with nitrous oxide and baking it in the microwave; they'd also made the meringues, of carrot and strawberry.



Mike Knowlden said: "The idea was to make an exploding cake so we thought about how that might actually work in terms of the way it might distribute. So there are some elements that are heavier and elements that are lighter." Blanch & Shock chose a warm palette of yellows, oranges, reds and pinks, so the cakes were beetroot and passion fruit and plain sponge, with another "heavy element" of marshmallows dusted with passionfruit and raspberry powders. The lighter elements were the meringues, with garnishes ("the lightest things of all") to finish: candyfloss, calendula and tagetes flowers and phlox, and puréed jellies. To create interest "on ground level", shards of chocolate ganache – "broken-up obelisks, if you like" – sat on the platform, pointing towards the structure above.

The hardest part, Knowlden said, was the arrangement: "Getting stuff on to platforms and getting them to sit how we wanted has been difficult. It's been quite a fiddly process and the thing that we're realising now is that it's very time-dependent." For a moment that's captured in these photographs, the cake was a colourful galaxy, rotating gently in the white-cube surroundings. And then the experimental nature of Blanch & Shock's work became clear as we watched the cake sculpture react to the conditions of the gallery. "The elements are all changing in front of our eyes," Knowlden explained as the balls of candy floss evaporated and, conversely, the initially flat meringues rehydrated and formed curves. "Obviously we made a sketch of how we hoped things would look, but pretty much everything we do is a one-off. This afternoon has been about hanging things and seeing how they looked, and seeing what to add and, obviously, where to stop."

For Icon, the natural place to stop was to eat Blanch & Shock's creation as well as admire it. The photographs can only hint at the fact that the cake's function was as good as its form.

 MG 7024

 MG 7072



Angela Moore



Fatema Ahmed

quotes story

The idea was to make an exploding cake so we thought about how that might actually work in terms of the way it might distribute

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