Here’s a reveal that will most likely come as good news to cakes everywhere: They may no longer have to announce the sex of an impending baby.
The gender-reveal cake first gained traction around 2009 when reality TV stars and everyday couples alike began cutting open cakes dyed pink or blue and broadcasting the event on network morning shows or YouTube.
Rebecca Gruber, vice president for branded content at the media and technology company PopSugar, noticed her first gender-reveal cake in 2010. She was then the parenting editor, searching for baby shower trends, when she came across a charming bee-themed celebration featuring a homemade blue cake covered in brown icing and a sign that read, “What’s it gonna bee?” She wrote up a post, but neither she nor other close observers of popular culture could have predicted the madness those early cakes would unleash.
“I’m sorry if we helped put it on its trajectory,” Gruber said of the gender-reveal cake.
In the decade since, bakeries dedicated solely to gender reveals have opened. Cake pops and cupcakes have been conscripted. Supermarket chains have developed gender-reveal cake protocols for their bakers.
Gruber, like many other students of American pop culture, believes that the phenomenon is waning — much to a lot of people’s delight.
How did we get here? The gender-reveal cake emerged from a mashup of baking trends, social shifts and technology.
Both Pinterest and Instagram were born in 2010, providing ready-made platforms to broadcast the big reveal and show off an increasingly elaborate subculture of cake decorating. Cakes became more sculpture than confection. Martha Stewart’s media empire was an early adopter, but it took Baltimore baker Duff Goldman to bring the movement to the masses with his Food Network show “Ace of Cakes,” which ran from 2006 to 2011.
Cakes have been drawn into marriage battles. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled that a Colorado baker, citing his religious beliefs, didn’t have to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. That same bakery owner has been sued again over cake — this time by a transgender woman who had asked him to create a gender-transition cake.
That brings us to another blow to the gender-reveal cake: Attitudes toward gender are changing.
Molly Woodstock, a journalist in Oregon who launched a podcast called Gender Reveal, said gender-reveal cakes are losing popularity because they underscore outdated social constructs of gender roles.
Perhaps the most reliable indicator that a trend is in trouble is social media mockery. One practitioner of the sport is Parker Molloy, an editor-at-large at Media Matters who enjoys posting Twitter pictures of kitschy cakes.
“It’s a very American thing to do,” she said. “You take something super-simple and then make it as large and over the top as you possibly can.”
Examples are not hard to find. A cake covered in football-field green and ballerina pink poses the question, touchdowns or tutus? The variations seem endless: mustaches or lashes? Baseballs or bows? Guns or glitter? Buck or doe?
“We may look back on this in 20 years and think, ‘Oh, that was embarrassing of us,’ ” Molloy said.
For some bakers, making gender-reveal cakes has become a chore. Being handed a sealed note disclosing the sex of a baby and then producing a cake to surprise the parents once held a certain thrill, “but it really got to be overkill,” said Ellen Gray, who works at the Able Baker in Maplewood, N.J.
The team at the bakery will keep making the cakes as long as customers order them, she said, “but wouldn’t it be a glorious world if this whole gender-reveal cake moment would go away for good?”
It might never. The gender-reveal cake could end up cemented in the baby-industrial complex, like silly shower games or baby-wipe warmers, rather than fading like a dead star.
“I think it’s always going to be a part of the culture, just from the increase in what we’ve seen,” said Brittany Lavallee, 29, a bakery manager near Tampa, Fla.
Besides, it’s kind of fun, said David Feder, a registered dietitian in Chicago and an executive editor of Prepared Foods magazine. He and his wife, comedian Kat Herskovic, went to a Whole Foods Market with a sealed envelope containing their lab results and asked for a gender-reveal cake. They opened the box to discover, without a party, that they would be having a son.
“What is wrong with these people?” Feder said of the cakes’ critics, whom he likened to people who give out granola bars instead of candy on Halloween. “It’s just pure joy. Why wouldn’t anyone want the maximum amount of joy?”