You can bake any cake in Apocalypse Cakes, but the recipes were not author Shannon O’Malley’s primary focus: “To me, it never really mattered what was in the cakes more than them fitting the idea.” She borrowed recipes from the Internet and tweaked them to fit her irreverent cake ideas like “Fallen Angel Food Cake,” “Black Deforestation Cake,” and “Immigration Mayhem Mexican Chocolate Cake.” Yes, that’s right, O’Malley is making statements via cake.
O’ Malley works in advertising so she used her day job techniques to get her book published. O’Malley also happens to be an old classmate of mine from (Governor Rick Scott’s scourge) New College of Florida and a former South Floridian. At this time of year when we linger on, joke about and indulge in all things dark, I thought it would be a good time to chat with O’ Malley about her book.
The apocalypse frightens some people and fascinates others. But an apocalyptic cookbook? What gave you the idea?
In 2008, it was my girlfriend Katie’s birthday and I wanted to make her something. She’s one of these people that eats and eats and never gets fat, so I thought, “Why not make her a cookbook?” At the time, she was reading a lot about the apocalypse.
So, the night before her birthday I just kind of put these ideas together. It’s like “Cake…it would be your final indulgence at the end of the world.” So I basically stayed up all night making her a cookbook of apocalyptic cakes with online images and recipes. After not sleeping all night, I went to work, printed it out, collated it and gave the cookbook to my girlfriend. I was like, “Man, why can’t my real job be something that makes me want to stay up all night like this?” So I decided to keep doing this and turn it into a book.
My interest in the Apocalyse has kind of evolved. It’s not like I really believe in the rapture or anything like that. It’s been more of a way into other topics, whether it be political commentary or whatever. It’s a platform that allowed me to talk about things. I have opinions about the world like “President Palin Half-Baked Alaska.” It’s not an interesting idea—lots of people have that idea, but when you do it through cake, it’s unique.
You have no previous baking experience. What was it like creating a cookbook?
I got in touch with an author friend who said if I wanted to turn the idea into a book, I should start a blog.
At the ad agency, we were doing a lot of work with Twitter and other interactive media. I thought, “Well, instead of like sending out book proposals through the mail, why don’t I do what I know how to do, which is pimp s— online?”
I don’t bake and I didn’t invent the recipes. Most of the recipes I took off the Internet and changed.
The idea is first and the recipe is secondary.
To me, it never really mattered what was in the cakes more than them fitting the idea. That kind of thinking is what I do every day at my job in the creative department of the ad agency. I come up with ideas and think about how to execute them later.
Some of the cakes really push the envelope. What kind of response have you gotten?
All kinds. I have certain audiences for the project–like nerdy horror fans—that I didn’t really expect, although I’m not sure why I didn’t expect that. Some of the people think they’re really funny.
Some people are totally offended by cakes like the “Seismic Haitian Mud Cake.” It’s made of mud shaped like a cake, decorated with rocks and stuff. I had another photographer come do it really nicely so it looks like something from Bon Appetit. That one came out on the blog right after the Haitian earthquake.
I’m from Miami too, so news of the Caribbean has always been in my life. In Miami, we’re always getting immigrants from Haiti and we’ve always heard about how impoverished it is. I was kind of pissed about how, after the earthquake, the whole country went [crazy]. People were like “They don’t have health care, let’s go help them.” Yes, I think people should go to help them and that was wonderful, but I also had to wonder, “Where were you all these decades?”
The media picks certain stories and then people want to be a part of what is happening now. All of a sudden, Haiti’s poverty became something that gave meaning to people’s lives. It just pissed me off that all of a sudden people noticed Haiti. I did think about whether people would be angry about the cake but I settled with it. That Haiti cake is not funny and some of the other cakes are not funny. Twenty percent of those cakes are kind of complaints about the world. They all bring attention to some kind of gruesome reality.
Apocalypse Cakes by Shannon O’Malley. Photos by Keith Wilson. Running Press, 2011.