I was raised on cake. I ate cake for breakfast. That was all my desperate mother could get down my throat before school. There was really no escaping cake in the tiny Austrian village where I grew up. My aunts baked, my godmother baked, the whole goddamn neighborhood baked. And if by some very slim chance there was a day when nobody baked, we still could go to a bakery. They are everywhere in Vienna, and some are tourist attractions. Cake is deeply imprinted in our national identity—so coming to the United States was a bit of a shock.
I went into cake withdrawal when I arrived in Seattle. My hosts warned me in advance, but I still wasn't prepared for what Americans call "cake": soulless slabs of sugar and fat entombed in see-through plastic caskets. I see these grim reminders of what I miss most about home every time I walk into a QFC. And all of your cupcakes might as well be foam decorated with colorful caulk—they certainly taste that way.
But some new Seattle friends assured me that there were places here that served cakes that came closer to the cakes at home. One place they mentioned was Bakery Nouveau, an "award-winning" local bakery. Those awards didn't impress me—after all, those awards were given out by Americans. I walked into Bakery Nouveau, and three cakes caught my eye, so I tried them.
The first was their classic chocolate cake. I was not surprised to find it soft and spongy—that is true of all your cakes, so I will set that complaint aside. Nouveau's chocolate cake must be praised for simply containing enough chocolate. Nothing saddens me more than ordering a "chocolate" cake that seemingly derives its name from the coloring of its dough. A brown cake does not a chocolate cake make. The claim must be supported by sufficient amounts of either a frosting or a filling that delivers the dark, rich, intense sensation of chocolate. Bakery Nouveau's succeeds.
The second was the Phoenix cake, an elegant creation in the shape of a teacup. The caramel glaze gives it a distinct hue of gold; little chocolate plates on the side make it look like it is edible. I regret that I ever rammed my fork in. The inside of this cake is a mess: chocolate mousse, caramel mousse, pecan dacquoise, and—of course—chocolate sponge cake. There was too much going on, too many flavors interfering with each other. A chaotic mush.
The third was the Praline Dream, a slice of chocolate mousse mixed with crispy shreds of sugar cone layered on a chocolate biscuit. This doesn't really qualify as cake. But since two of the three main elements claimed to be "chocolate," and chocolate is evidently hard to come by around here, I gave it a try. I was not disappointed. The Praline Dream is without a doubt the most voluptuous pastry I sampled at Nouveau. This is the only cake I've tried in Seattle that reminded me of one of my mother's cakes, specifically her pudding-cream-filled "Nusstorte," a special treat she makes only for birthdays.
As you Americans say: "Two out of three isn't bad."