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What's a Wreck?

A Cake Wreck is any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate - you name it. A Wreck is not necessarily a poorly-made cake; it's simply one I find funny, for any of a number of reasons. Anyone who has ever smeared frosting on a baked good has made a Wreck at one time or another, so I'm not here to vilify decorators: Cake Wrecks is just about finding the funny in unexpected, sugar-filled places.

Now, don't you have a photo you want to send me? ;)

- Jen

Christmas in July: Going Dutch

Ok, sure, it's July, and the last thing on your mind is broadening your...uh...mind...with exposure to international holiday traditions - I get it. However, this particular post was deemed by the powers that be* too controversial to post back in December, so all my hard work and sparkling wit got shelved, its radiance cloaked all these long months.

So what changed?

Well, that's a long story. One involving too many mango mojitos, a Chuck marathon, and a malfunctioning alarm clock. (Ok, so maybe it's not that long of a story...)

But enough intro: you guys ready to have those minds broadened? I promise it will only sting a little.

*meaning me, John, and the cat

In the Netherlands Santa Claus (called Sinterklaas) doesn't have elves for sidekicks; he has Zwarte Piet (meaning "Black Pete"). Zwarte Piet is usually played by a white guy in blackface makeup, a curly black wig, and big gold hoop earrings. (I am SO not making this up.)

Here's a reference photo from Wikipedia:

"Get your hand off my robe; you'll make it dirty."

Zwarte shows up in cake form quite a lot, too, and in less than flattering ways:

However, if this seems a little insensitive to you, Wreckporter Kiki has a perfectly reasonable explanation:

"Dutch people claim Pete is black because of the soot in the chimneys he has to climb down to deliver the gifts."

OH, so it's soot! Ok, I get it. And you're right: this does look a lot like Bert the chimney sweep:

We all know how Bert liked his lipstick.

And dressing up like Aunt Jemima:

This one found by Wouter T. is probably the most wreckish; it looks like the remains of a melting muppet:

Ever heard the expression "in for a penny, in for a pound"? Well, since I'm already stirring up trouble here, I may as well share what Megan H. found at a bakery in Argentina:

They're little cakes called "Africancitos", or "little black men". With bows on their heads. I don't think they're a holiday treat, though, so you can enjoy your little-black-men cake heads any time of the year. "Great for parties!"

(Yes, I've officially crossed the line from horrified disbelief into horrified humor. It's more fun over here - won't you join me?)

To those of you offended by all this, you should know that Zwarte Piet was not intended to be offensive. (Argentina, you're on your own.) And to those of you who see nothing wrong with outdated and racially insensitive traditions, you should take a look at this poster:

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Reader Comments (337)

I was playing Trivial Pursuit on the XBox last night (I know, I know), and there was a question that said something along the lines of, "Which of these blogs was turned into a best-selling nonfiction novel in 2005?" and one of the options was Cake Wrecks!! You've made Trivial Pursuit!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I love the posters. We even have a couple of the tee-shirts. My favorite is of a shipwreck, and how I am here as an example to others. The despair posters and slogans would make great cake wrecks, eh?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjoyce

To the people who were wondering about the first cake having a white beard: It's not a beard, it's a ruff, traditionally part of Zwarte Piet's uniform. Of course it should be just as black as his face if we stick to the soot story, but it wouldn't be the first kid's tradition that doesn't make sense (like for instance the whole idea of full grown men climbing up and down chimneys.)

Naughty kids would be taken to Spain simply because that's where Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet come from, at least in the version told to children.

I doubt many kids ponder the racism behind a black person doing all the dirty work, I know the thought never crossed my mind when I unpacked my gifts on the 6th of December, but it is true that adults should try and make a few changes in that respect.

It's a pity the Dutch multi-coloured Zwarte Pieten action mentioned by Marieke didn't know any real success.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSara

*sigh* Trust the bleeding-hearts to be offended on behalf of everyone else. Have you tried asking black people whether they are offended? No, thought not. Its usually the white, middle class do-gooders who take it on themselves to be offended on their behalf.

"Other country's traditions are just...scary" - a comment which shows the USA's complete and utter insularity better than I could ever put it into words.

Indicative of this is your "Happy Holidays" when it's really "Happy Christmas". Heaven forfend that any non-Christians think that its some kind of religious slur.

Ye gods.

I've got a bet riding on whether this comment will get posted. 15 to 1 says CakeWrecks chicken out.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCapability Bowes

Oh god, thanks a LOT. My husband is Dutch and he TORTURES me with these types of images. You ever seen one of these black peters in person?

I've been lucky enough to visit the Netherlands twice so far and unlucky enough to visit during the holidays both times. So I've been subjected to these nightmares BOTH TIMES.

I won't even get into the time my husband bought a Black Peter action figure while we were over there and BROUGHT IT BACK WITH HIM.

I'll be over here on the floor in the fetal position until further notice. Thanks a lot, Jen and John. Thanks a-friggin'-lot.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

My sister lived in the NL and if I'm not mistaken, instead of coal in the stocking, the bad children are carted off to Spain to be sold into slavery. OUCH!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

This is by far the best CW post I've ever seen.

I'm just guessing those Piet cakes are white with chocolate icing? :)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Merry Christmas.


If you're in the mood for more disturbing european Christmas traditions, look up Caga Tio (pooping log). It's a Catalan Spanish tradition involving feeding treats to a wooden log and then beating it with a stick. There has to be a Caga Tio cake out there.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

My girlfriend, while riding a bus years ago, overheard a mother tell her child that if he didn't stop what he was doing, Santa would come kick him in the face with his big black boot.

This was in America.

You gotta love those touching Christmas traditions throughout the world.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

In my opinion, cake #2 more closely resembles ERNIE the chimney sweep.

I think the Aunt Jemima nini-cakes are actually kinda nifty!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMetalNoir

Actually, I thought they all kind of looked like muppets... And since they're less offensive that way (muppets come in all colors and they're all pretty silly looking), I think I'll stick with the muppet version.

loved the "tradition" poster...

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterA Paperback Writer

Ooh! Ooh! Here's a link ( to the "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" episode with Harold Ramis as the Not My Job guest--the quiz was about this whole tradition, and the facts were horrifyingly hilarious! (Also I have a huge crush on Harold, but we're not going to mention that... oh wait...)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMorgi

Well, as a certified Dutch person I guess I just don't have the American sensitivity to the tradition.

Yeah, the whole 'paint a white guy black and give him red lips and curly hair' is pretty iffy, but (one version of) the legend goes that Sinterklaas rescued some black children/slaves and they became his helpers in bringing gifts to poor children. Of course, the legend is founded in slavery (what else would the black kids need rescue for), but that is simply a terrible page in history that's better left public than buried, if you ask me. Would be better to have actual black people play the Pieten, so as to get rid of the awful fake 'black', or maybe get some multicultural Pieten. Or go back to one of the earlier stories of Sinterklaas, in which he had a white helper.

The character of Zwarte Piet got much less racially insensitive over the years, though. Originally, he was indeed used as a 'bad guy' to accompany Sinterklaas's 'good guy' and to threaten kids with. The last century or so, though, as people really got to know black people personally rather than simply as enemies or subjugated colonies, they've become the 'competent project team' to Sinterklaas's 'confused scientist,' they NEVER hit kids or kick them, and yes, the threat of taking kids to Spain has been widely ridiculed as ineffective. (We even learned a song in school that went something like "If the Sint takes you to Spain with him, what joy, what joy! Cake and traditional Sinterklaas candy at tea time every day, and gifts and happiness all around!")

Of course, the general idea of 'rich white guy with people of a minority race as helpers' is uncomfortable, but the same could be said for Santa and his elves.

That said, the cakes are awful and I never really understood the idea of eating traditional figures!

P.S. 'Zwarte Piet' means 'Black Peter' which means the grammatically correct name is 'Piet' if you don't want to use both words, not 'Zwarte.' In Dutch, calling a black person 'Zwarte' IS actually offensive. :)

P.P.S. The white 'goatee/beard' is actually a collar like the ones in fashion in 17th century Holland. ( Same for the floppy hat and the rest of the costume.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaartje

I feel like I should be offended, esp. being african-american, but I'm laughing too hard!!!

I wonder how quickly racism and prejudice would end if people would laugh at it like it's the silliest thing in the world (which it is), then go on and do what's right?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

I'm sure that the story of Zwarte Piet varies a little from family to family (or province to province), but when I was growing up, I understood that Zwarte Piet was a Moor from Spain (that's where Sinterklaas comes from each year...on his steamboat). I remember one year (about 30 years ago) that my cousin dressed up as Zwarte Piet (complete with blackface) and it scared the crap outta me. Like others have mentioned, Zwarte Piet helps detemine who was bad and who was our house, he always left a switch in the corner to remind us to be good. I never heard of him hitting or kicking kids, or taking them away in his burlap bag! (Like I said, I'm sure it varies from family to family.)

Folks dressing up in blackface and wearing minstrel costumes is weird, and seeing it makes me feel oogie. However, as someone mentioned, I always kind of thought of Zwarte Piet (and the little figurines) as being on par with Santa's Elves.

Mijn twee centen...

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

OK - I'm feeling morally reprehensible because I'm not offended! Why? The fact that the characters are from tradition and folklore makes all the difference. Hey, we're talking hundreds of years ago in western European areas, not the U.S. South of the last few hundred years. Should we eliminate characters like Uncle Remus too? Yes, sensitivity and equality are, of course, important. Isn't that why we should still let kids (and adults) read Huckleberry Finn without censorship because of some of the language? It's our job to explain how things were and are in other places and times while not condoning evil ideas such as racism and other mindless prejudices. Thanks for having the courage to publish these things - it should open discussion, not cause flames toward you. All right - I'll leave the pulpit! The droopy Muppet is a hoot!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPat

YES! I first heard about this guy from a David Sedaris short entitled (at least, I think that was the title Five to Six Black Men. But why, oh God, why, do we need to immortalize him in cake form? *shakes head*

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermochaxlight

Maybe it was six to eight...either way, Santa Claus had a motley crew of black men to do his dirty work.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermochaxlight

I can hardly wait until they open up Walmarts in the Netherlands. Brace yourself for yet another reason for wreckitude!!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

i took two years of german in high school and our teacher told us the german santa has "kneckt rupert" help him. i don't remember him being black, but our teacher may have left that out. kneckt rupert goes to the houses of the bad children and leaves whips and stones for the parents to beat their bad children with. nowadays they'll tie candy to the end of the toy whips, but it's still pretty terrifying.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlinzee

Yes, small, dark Elmos.

Angie (from over at

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHalf Assed Kitchen

Hilarious! I love, after Cakewrecks of course :-)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTerri

I don't think you guys have anything to worry about as far as angry posters. As a society we are getting so tired over the rigtheous indignation thing, not because it's unnecessary, but because all those people listening are ones who feel the same way. It's the ones who aren't paying attention---you know what, I'll make my blog posts somewhere else. Funny cakes. Funny, funny cakes. Oh, that Hagar...

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNookleerman

I was in Amsterdam for the arrival of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet this past year. It's a huge deal with a parade. People are dressed like Black Pete and toss cookies to the kids. They rappelled off tall buildings and bounced around the walls (why, I don't know, but it made for great pictures). Kids also dressed up as Black Pete. I got an ornament with Sinterklaas and Black Pete just to show my friends back home. It didn't seem derogatory to me, just odd.

WV: huncyx: half a dozen women from Baltimore.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermarybindc

rendered speechless...

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDangGina

Besides the "Wow!" factor - now this is going thru my head...

Weird Al and Cake Wrecks together at last!

"Its tradition that makes it ok!"

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDawn Marie C

Oh my goodness!! So much to say so much to say... the cakes are hilarious as usual, as is your commentary. I read some comments already and thanks to Christina, I had to go look up the Dutch for chocolate covered marshmallows :-0 And, lastly, I can't get over Zwarte Pete caning bad children.. it's disturbing and yet makes me giggle!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjenyphrc

amazing! nothing on the drunken negro obama cookies, but amazing!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThisIsWhyYourePhat

Have you read David Sedaris' essay about his discovery of this Dutch tradition? It is TO DIE FOR.

Here's an audio version of Sedaris reading it aloud:

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Blocker

Sorry, but I don't think this is any more offensive than Santa's elves, really. Obviously the blackface paint could go and the character be played by an actual black person, but other than that, I don't really see what the big deal is.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Nice FOTC "Albi" reference!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Mojitos and a Chuck marathon... sounds like a perfect night to me!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMel

David Sedaris' "Six to Eight Black Men" is one of the funniest things I've ever heard. Please follow the links already posted and listen to it. You won't be sorry.

"Listen, you might want to get a few of your things together. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight, along with six to eight black men. The might leave candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to hit you. We don't know for sure."

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJuliet

I happen to be Dutch, and I always thought 'Well, I'm glad we don't have those wrecky cakes around here. Bakers usually stick to round cakes / pies without attempts at decoration.' Boy, was I wrong.

As for the whole 'Black Pete is racist'-thing: I can see both sides of it. I've grown up with them so I'm used to it. Though I always thought them kind of scary. Hello-o make up people, people with black skin do not have bright red lips, at least not naturally. It looks really, really weird. I can understand that some people would be offended by this, though.

But these are not the parts of the tradition that disturb me most, actually.

Sinterklaas (=Santa Claus) comes to nearly every school to give some small presents to the children. He has this big book, which supposedly has the names of all children in it, and it also says if you've been bad and what presents you desire. You have to sit on his lap (!) while he makes some speech about you and then you can leave with your present. I always dreaded it. I don't like being that close to people I don't know, never did. Everyone could be under that fake beard. Plus the suit has usually been kept in some kind of storage for the entire year, so you can imagine what it smells like.

I also don't like the fact that some parents kind of stage an entire play to make their kids believe in Sinterklaas. Some don't want anyone to tell their kids he's just the neighbour or one of the teachers. Even if the kids are as old as 9 or 10. I mean, come on. My parents always let shine through that Sinterklaas received some help from parents here and there, because 'how can one man be everywhere at once?'. I don't like that cult of secrecy at all.

The fun part of the practice is when you get to buy presents for your family members. You're supposed to write a poem with it, and tradition says that it can be quite teasing or stingy. A good way to give your opinion about certain things without causing offence :)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaaike

Haha! I just moved the the Netherlands last Nvember, so this Chirstmas was my first 'Sinterklaas' Celebration.
You have no idea how much I had to contain myself for laughing! LOL

And HAHAHA of course it's Albert Hein that makes the melting-ish cake!

I also saw melting-ish cakes from AH for 'Queens Day'.

I'll have to remember to take pics next time ;)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjenisnape

Christina said Whatever you do, do not look up the name of chocolate covered marshmallows in Dutch.

We have those in Finland, too. Officially, they're now sold just as "kisses". Older people still call them by their original name, which included a racial epithet. The art on the" rel="nofollow">box is still far from politically correct.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjackie31337

That first one looks like Black Elmo - Elmo's evil twin. (Remeber on I Dream of Jeannie? Jeanie's Black-haired "cousin")

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

I saw a bunch of other comments pointing this out, but I have to agree that you need to listen to Dave Sedaris' "Six to Eight Black Men". My g/f played it in the car while we were driving and I nearly crashed I was laughing so hard.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterYankee1969

Please go the "This American Life" archives and listen to "Others" and the story by David Sedaris. I think it may be December 2000. The same story is told in one of his books (I've forgotten which) but its another take on this Dutch version of Santa and its riotously funny.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteramanda Dixon

Love the Flight of the Conchords reference! *grumbled Katie K, quite racistly*

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie K

Oh, Holland.

I, too, very much appreciate the stealth Flight of the Conchords reference.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I lived in The Netherlands and a friend of mine told me that Zwarte Piet started off as devils and over time became "Black Piets". Also, Sinterklaas lives in Spain and him and the Zwarte Piet put the bad girls and boys into burlap sacks and take them back to Spain as punishment. I never got used to seeing Zwarte Piets riding around on their bicycles with their sacks. Was quite a strange experience.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdani

Caroline said If you're in the mood for more disturbing european Christmas traditions, look up Caga Tio (pooping log). It's a Catalan Spanish tradition involving feeding treats to a wooden log and then beating it with a stick.

Holy crap (pun mostly unintended) that is the weirdest Christmas tradition I've heard of yet! Even weirder than Finland's "Christmas Goat" (" rel="nofollow">Joulupukki, the Finnish equivalent of Santa Claus).

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjackie31337

LOVE IT ALL! If you can't laugh at stuff like that you're not fun enough to enjoy this blog...

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLulu

Tradition continues to get blamed for all sorts of completely inane nonsense. And if you don't have tradition to back up your stupid rituals, what do you have then? *not common sense, obviously*

Love it!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRose

I appreciate the work you do on this site. I come to cakewrecks because I want a light-hearted look at the dumb things decorators do, and it is always a good time. To me this is not funny; picture after picture of blackface is demoralizing and depressing, and puts an ache in my heart... There is simply no way to make such loaded images funny.

I don't want to sound mean, and I am sure there are going to be lots of "it's just a joke" or "they're making fun OF them," or "we're in a post-racial world, get over it" or "you have to understand cultural context" responses to my post, but honestly. This is in bad taste to say the least. I ask that you pull this post. You do not know who you hurt.

Or, to be light-hearted, my humor-boner has gone limp, so to speak.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Dear Capability Bowes,

It's actually "Merry Birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Day" but who's counting.

And you have to be WAY more offensive than that to get censored. Maybe swear a little next time.


I think that first one looks delicious. I'm for any tradition that includes the consumption of chocolate.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I grew up in Belgium, and for me the 6th of December was St. Nicholas day, and that's when St. Nicholas and Zwarte Piet would come and bring tangerines and candy. If we left our shoes out at night, and we were good, they'd be filled with treats, but if we were bad, that damned Piet would leave coal. We got three holidays in that period... St. Nicholas day, Christmas and Three Kings Day (which for us was like Halloween because we'd dress up as three kings and go 'trick or treating' for coins). Belgian holidays rule... Even if they lean towards the politically incorrect.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHungarican Chick

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