Any cake lover, upon hearing that there will be a cake festival in their city, marks that date in the callendar with bright red pen! And yes, this was an event I was looking forward to from day one. I also have to admit that my hopes were high, but I tried to stay objective and reign in my critical nature when writing this post as much as I could… Unfortunately, most of my fears came true so proceed with caution (or just scroll down to the highlights section)! That doesn’t mean I didn’t see and taste some fancy cakes. But let’s not get ahead of things…
Now, I am a person that has organized a lot of events. Some of them quite complicated (accompanied by incredible amount of stress and sleepless nights) therefore I was worried already before the festival that things might not go the best way possible. But let’s start from the very beginning… The event was announced on Facebook and the response from people probably exceeded the organizer’s expectations (but then again they should have known… who doesn’t like a good piece of cake?). I think around 5 thousand people expressed interest to go to the festival? It really doesn’t matter because the venue (Pullman Riga Old Town Hotel) was never meant for so many people. To avoid long queues on the festival day, the organizers started selling tickets early… but they were only available for purchase at the reception of the said hotel! I have to say that in the 21st century that is a bold move… and yes, people started complaining. Those living outside the city were particularly angry, and eventually they were allowed to reserve some tickets via phone. For me it wasn’t such a big deal – I took a short 15 min detour during my lunch break and secured my ticket in good faith! It’s needless to say that tickets were sold out couple days before the festival.
The next weird move was the sign up for so called masterclasses. I actually wanted to go to one, but failed to understand where was I supposted to put my comment in the Facebook event (this doesn’t happen often). In the end, I didn’t even get to be upset about it because someone explained that it won’t be a real masterclass… more like presentation on masterclasses that you can take in that specific baking studio. A little bit disappointing for anyone who went there in order to learn something, but as I cannot say what really went down in those half an hour long masterclasses, let’s leave it at that!
The event itself was on Sunday between 1 pm and 5 pm (good 4 hours… yay!). Knowing that Latvians like to be everywhere early and wanting to avoid the big flood of people at event opening, I had a lazy morning and arrived at the venue shortly after 1.30 pm. The welcome was nice and due to the fact that all tickets were sold out before the event, there was no queue at the entrance. Upon arrival I received a peace of paper that was divided into 22 segments. On each segment was a name of a baker (person or company) and you could exchange the little segment for a small piece of cake (or whatever else they had prepared) for degustation. They also gave me one plastic plate and fork. I have to say that both these items were slightly disappointing in their practicality and style. I know that providing normal plates for each participant would have been a challenge, but then don’t organize the event in a fancy hotel (and yes…I am totally being picky right now, but I wasn’t the only one… there was talk… really annoying one right behind my back, but there it was and I for once agreed!). Also, juggling the plate and the paper, and trying to tear out the smaller segments… well, it was basically uncomfortable to say the least. I know I lost some of my segments along the way, but I was not aiming at tasting all 22 cakes (I did about 10 and couldn’t see any more sweets for another day or so).
But now, forget the plates and all that crap… it was around quarter to 2 pm when I entered the venue. And it was full of people, I mean FULL of people! It was impossible to understand who is queueing where, where should I go or simply where to begin. This, however, still was not the best surprise… I took my place at the end of randomly selected queue (I really couldn’t see who is the baker behind the wall of people) which was slowly moving forward. As we approached the first stand, it soon became clear that even before 2 pm the baker had ran out of cake samples… I quickly looked around and realized it was not the only one. Sadly, those were mostly individual bakers with small, private enterprises that were in trouble (and I bet they had the best cakes too!). The lady at the first stand kept apologizing and saying that she baked even more samples than organizers had asked, but still it was all gone! The situation was genuinely sad and I was sorry both for the people and the bakers.
Anyhow, I spent there less than an hour and saw even one baking company pack it all up and leave because they had simply nothing left on their stand. If I was slightly disappointed, I can’t imagine how anyone would feel arriving at 3 pm or even 4 pm. I didn’t care so much about lack of cake samples (but as an organizer I can tell you that most of the people do care about things like that…), but my dream experience was trashed by the big crowd which prevented from actually enjoying the event and doing something more besides just grabbing the cake samples and trying to get out of everyone’s way. I really would have liked to talk to the bakers allowing them to tell about their ‘showstoppers’ (yes, each had made a special cake for some kind of competition that I never noticed…). It would have been a great opportunity to learn something new.
But there were some highlights after all…
Yes, amidst all that chaos I did find some lovely looking and tasting cakes (the complaining is over… well, most of it). The first thing I got to taste was a brownie by Laura Rozenfelde. She was one of the individual bakers who suffered the unfortunate fate of not having enough samples for degustation, but she quickly turned things around (at least for a while) by offering us a taste of her brownies. And I have to say they tasted amazing. She also had a nice little ‘showstopper’ that you can see in the picture below (the brownies are in the back).
Next up is another ‘showstopper’ – an amazing looking honey cake by Patrīcija Erdmane. I have to say that honey cake is one of my favorites and I make it myself quite often for family gatherings (it’s just something that everyone loves). But once in a while every baker wants to play around with their good old recipes and try something new. Well, this baker had provided a short description with the cake. She had managed to incorporate a layer of pear marmelade and used sour cream and pear mousse with a hint of apple brandy. After reading this I was ready to steal the cake!
Another highlight of the event probably for many visitors was the display of petit fours by BakeBerry. And they were all up for degustation! You could choose one of the four options: coffee cake, pistachio cake (see below), mini panna cota and something else. As I never had has a pistachio cake, it was my choice for degustation. They looked perfectly made but lacked in flavour for my taste – the pistachio was not coming trough at all. However, the word in the hall was that the mini panna cotas were amazing (we cannot ignore the crowd on such matters!). And I have to say these guys were very well organized and it seemed they were in no danger of lacking samples.
Finally, I have to mention ladies from Abrikos. I have been looking for decent macaroons in Riga for a while now (well, until I figure out how to make them at home…). And they had good sized macaroons for a reasonable price and with interesting flavours on offer. So I got myself four of those for a test run: strawberry with basil, caramel, mango & passion fruit and sea buckthorn. I was in no shape to try them the same day because of all the cake overdose, but nothing could stop me the next day. The flavours were amazing! Experts would have a go at the cookie part of the macaroon, but who cares if you really can taste the flavour! The hint of basil was perfectly suttle in the strawberry one and caramel one was just the way I like it! I am looking forward to their shop openning in Riga.
I tasted a lot more cakes and unfortunately there is no chance I could remember all of them. One always remembers the best and the worst, and I prefer to remember the best in cakes from this event (because the organization of the event was close to the worst… ok, maybe I’m over exaggerating a little)! And I have been inspired to make some brownies in the near future!