Food Thoughts with Sheryl Estrada - Sheet Cake Culture

Turning age 35 in a few days has me thinking a lot about life, and sheet cakes. When I think of sheet cakes, family parties for birthdays, baptisms, graduations, baby showers and even mandatory office parties come to mind.

The cake, baked in a large, flat rectangular pan, with the ultra sweet frosting and decorations, is a slice of Americana.

Growing up, every family celebration we had involved sheet cakes. My mother frequented a bakery in West Hempstead, N.Y., a few towns from our home in Freeport, N.Y. The baker's number was always handy; it was written on a piece of paper, and secured by magnets on the refrigerator. Our regular sheet cake was a version of Black Forest cake. The baker would cut the chocolate cake in half and fill the middle with cherries, my mom's special request of bananas and use whip cream as frosting.

When it was cake time, the ritual began. First, stand behind the cake resting on a table, smile and take pictures. If it was a birthday, there was singing. The birthday boy or girl would smear their name on the cake for good luck, something I never quite understood, blow out the candles and cut the first piece. The best cake cutting person then took charge and began to negotiate the slices, who gets an end piece and who gets a middle piece. While some demonstrated with their hands how big or small they want their piece.

The funny thing is, I experienced a lot of similarities at work place celebrations. There is a sheet cake, photos are taken, the best cake cutting person takes charge and there is slice size negotiation. Except, there is no smearing of the person's name written on the cake. Not quite good luck in the office.

A problem exists with sheet though. Not enough people present to eat the cake means there will be ample leftovers. The remains are in the refrigerator the following day, and perhaps the day after that. It feels like the sugar, fat and calories, designated for one day, hang around and tempt you. The only other alternative is sending guests home with cake, sometimes leaving the host pleading, "Take some home, please!"

When I have a family of my own, I wonder if I will continue the sheet cake tradition at celebrations? Not sure. Sheet cakes are practical in they can feed a lot of people, kids and adults alike. Though, there is nothing wrong with having variety. Baking or ordering different types of cakes and dessert pleasures would be fun. Besides, what is most important to me is my family took the time and care to celebrate milestones.

For my birthday, I think I'll serve cupcakes. I attended a child's birthday party this summer where they were the dessert for both kids and their parents, who were just as happy to eat them. Cupcakes have definitely found a resurgence in popularity, especially with a mature crowd. And besides, I appreciate the portion control. I'm not in my 20s anymore. Sigh.

I'm anticipating a few family members with eye brows raised when I unveil the petite, decorated delights in lieu of a birthday cake.