I’m calling it. A “baby cake” is a cute name — for a cupcake.
Google the term “baby cakes” right now, the first links that come up are stories with the news that New Orleans’ Triple-A baseball team, formerly known as the Zephyrs, was renamed the New Orleans Baby Cakes on Tuesday (Nov. 15).
Look up the term in traditional dictionaries and you likely will find no formal definition for “baby cake.” There isn’t one in my printed “Webster’s New World Dictionary” nor is there one online. The term also is not in my trusted “Food Lovers Companion: Comprehensive Definitions of Over 4000 Food, Wine and Culinary Terms.”
“I think it’s more of a term of affection than a pastry term,” said Beth Biundo, owner of Beth Biundo Sweets in New Orleans. “There are places that might use it on menus as a cute term. As a kind of pastry? I’ve never heard of it.”
Biundo, a pastry chef, like most of us has heard the term used as a sort of slang endearment. And, depending on how it is said and who says it, I guess it could be endearing.
Based on the new team logo, it appears that the name refers to the small plastic babies inserted into New Orleans traditional king cakes. Or, perhaps, it refers to the king cake itself, which they are calling a “baby cake.”
I have never ever heard anyone in New Orleans call a king cake a “baby cake.” Nor have I heard anyone call the baby inside the king cake a “baby cake.” Am I alone in that? If you have heard that term used this way, please tell me about it in the comments below.
Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that the “English Oxford Living Dictionaries” defines a “baby cake” as an actual cake that has similarities to our king cake. The online version of the dictionary defines “baby cakes” in the three following ways:
“Either of two cakes traditionally eaten during the Christmas season: (a) a large cake into which a bean, coin, or other token is inserted which confers upon the recipient of the serving containing it the status of king or queen of the feast; Twelfth-cake; (b) a small cake or biscuit formed into the shape of a person; yule-dough. Now historical and rare.”
(Still, I don’t think the baseball team is named after a British Christmas dessert.)
It is also defined this way:
“A small cake, especially one intended as a single serving.”
And this way:
“Chiefly in plural. Used as a term of endearment or affectionate form of address: sweetheart, honey, sugar pie.”
I searched our recipe debase of thousands of recipes and came across only one recipe for “baby cakes.” Here it is:
It’s cupcakes, y’all.
Betty Crocker has a whole page dedicated to baby cakes, with the tag line “trusted baby cake recipes from Betty Crocker.” I clicked around on the recipes and for the life of me cannot figure out what makes everything from layer cakes to brownies to cupcakes “baby cakes.”
At Amazon.com, you can buy a Mini Babycakes Cupcake Maker and find any number of cookbooks with “baby cakes” in the title, including “175 Best Babycakes Cupcake Maker Recipes” (Kathy Moore and Roxanne Wyss (Robert Rose, 2011). All refer to cupcakes.
So, despite the logo, I think our baseball team has been named after a cupcake.
Finally, no matter how you define it, I have one piece of advice for folks out there: Unless you “put a ring on it,” don’t EVER call a woman baby cakes — or cupcake for that matter.
If the former Zephyrs are OK with it, so be it.
If you insist that the name refers to king cake and now feel like making one, here is former Times-Picayune food writer and now columnist Judy Walker’s step-by-step instructions for making one at home:
If you define “baby cakes” as the plastic baby inside the king cake, then here’s an explanation of just what a king cake baby is and where it came from:
If all this talk has made you want to make a batch of cupcakes, go to NOLA.com/food. Put cupcake in the search terms and you’ll find delicious recipes to try.