My Other Blog

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:

« Copyright Unfringement | Main | Who Ordered the Poo Poo Platter? »

Reader Comments (337)

I'm black and I think it's funny, and that was before I read the whole soot explanation. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. No one's being killed or slaughtered. Would this tradition fly in the U.S.? No, it would not. I think we all need to keep a certain lightness when it comes to racial humor. My friends talk all the time about the differences between our various cultures and racial backgrounds. We generally find we're more alike than we are different. So yeah, I think it's funny.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaria

When I lived in the Netherlands 16 years ago, I was told that Zwarte Piet took the bad children to Spain as punishment because during the Counter Reformation, relationships between the Netherlands (Protestant) and Spain (Catholic) were not good. Remember the Spanish Inquisition? As others have stated, he was black because he is Moorish. My experience with the "live action" Zwarte Piets was that they were played by women dressing as men, since Zwarte Piet is small.

More disturbing to me than Zwarte Piet was the Dutch interest in gollywog/minstrel show style figurines. I know that the African-American students I was with there found that very awkward and uncomfortable. Zwarte Piet not so much, other than the scariness inherent in anyone dressed in blackface and a crazy outfit chasing you around in public.

Of course, my personal wish was for Zwarte Piet to take me to Spain. Jeez. From September to June, the Netherlands is dark and rainy.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Well, after seeing everything, I only have one thing to say that's worth typing.

John (the hubby of Jen) is my hero for the day, for multiple reasons.


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarb

I just can't get past the idea of eating someone's face in cake form. I don't care if it's photo cake, a creepy tradition, or a super hero, it's a PERSON! Do we secretly want to be cannibals? Is that why they keep making cakes that smile back at us? WHY!? *culrs into a ball, sobbing.*


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVivian Guest

Not that other countries' traditions aren't interesting and often better than the States', but give me fat, high-glucose-corn-syrup Santa and his squeaky, pointy-toed, jingle bell shoe elves any day over the slightly racist or savior Pope Santa with his wreckishly freaky Pete cakes! The horror of those lips! The horror!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

You'd have a hard time trying to find a Dutch President, considering the country is a monarchy :p

Sinterklaas is dressed like the pope because he was historically a bishop in Myra (Turkey), which explains for the mitre, dress, cape and crosier.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Melting muppet looks like a chocolaty Dr. Teeth! Where's the rest of the Electric Mayhem?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTasha

Melting Muppet!! haha. I love it.
weird tradition." rel="nofollow">

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterG.H.

I remember watching a Dutch film called 'Winkie's Horse' all about a chinese girl who moves to Holland and learns about the tradition of Sinterklas and Zwarte Piet. I realise that a film is in no way to be taken literally, but it seemed that no offense was meant or caused by the tradition of Zwarte Piet and that it is simply an entertaining tale for children at Christmas time. That's my two cents anyway...

But yeah, the cakes are frightening and decidedly wrecky.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Crazy. The Bonmucho boss from Locoroco(PSP) looks very strikingly like the second-to-last cake.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAkimika

As a Dutchman, I feel the need to add the following (although I'm positive hardly anyone will see it).

Since Zwarte Piet is just as real as Santa's Elves, the scariness associated with him completely depends on parenting. Yes, I've heard that if you weren't good, he would hit you with sticks and/or take you off to Spain, but that's just hearsay. In reality, any face-to-face contact with Zwarte Piet is nothing but joy. I'd even say that kids love "Piet" (and his candy and crazy antics) more than they love the old man (with his old ways and judgemental book).

Zwarte Piet is, in general, a character to be loved. Any quibbles over political correctness is just adults getting in the way of kids' fun.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMilo

Jen, please continue to work in FOTC quotes and references as much as possible. Cake and Conchords make my life.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRosa

Bravo, Jen & John!

I think it's hilarious, and reminded me of David Sedaris' story "Six to Eight Black Men".


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeryllium

I'm speechless... Surely you mean Ernie, not Bert?!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJonandRobyn

Jen scores with another FOTC reference!! Love it!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

Awkward subject handled very well today. I am an American in the UK and even here I'm shocked and surprised to see that they had minstrel shows on tv up until the late 70's, and only a few weeks ago I found horrifically offensive blackface figurines in a pound shop. And I have to keep reminding my British husband that when we're in America, he can't call anyone "coloured" unless he wants to lose a vital organ.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlana

I think what's important to remember here is that the US is in a very unique position when it comes to the history of race relations. So obviously, your frame of reference is different to that of Holland and most of Europe. I definitely see how this can be seen as offensive in America, but in the same way I have to say that I think many people in Europe wouldn't even think in that direction. Many would just see a guy who was sooty and not see it as a portrayal of anything racist. I think it's important to see traditions in the context of their own frame of reference.

Now, those cakes from Argentina is an entirely different story. Yikes!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIngeborg

JonandRobyn (and countless others I'm sure)
NO...she means Bert...from Mary Poppins. The chimney sweep. Surely you've seen Mary Poppins?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I think it only takes a perspective. I am from Eastern Europe and December 6th (or rather eve of - not Christmas just like in Netherlands, we have baby Jesus bring Christmas presents) is celebrated by St. Nicolas walking around being accompanied by a devil and an angel. The devil is always a white guy/girl with black face.

I can pretty much guarantee nobody ever made any connection to black people, leave alone slavery. I know what I am talking about. My husband is American and, you guessed

I just wanted to pipe in and say...I love your blog, and YEAH CHUCK MARATHON!!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTessa

Wow. You have got to read David Sedaris' writing on this topic. You won't be able to stop laughing.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany Dyer

So when are some black folks who've had enough of this foolishness going to make some hideous white-folks-head cakes and go YEAH, HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiranda

only in America would someone get offended at someone else's fairy tale. I thought about rolling my eyes -- but no one would see it.

I just have one question -- those AREN'T Aunt Jemima Cupcakes??! Those are GOOOD!!!

The rest of it all got a very amused chuckle out of me. You Rock, Jen, You rock much!!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterComfyDenim

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

I had a sneaking suspicion, but after the random FotC reference I'm're the coolest person on Earth.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmmie

hehe, we have friends from holland, they told us about sinterklaas and black piet. apparently another tradition was to tie a string around your big toe, and hang it out the window. in the morning, friends would come pull on the string to let you know to come ice skating with them!

while at their house, we also ate anise flavored cookies that were replicas of windmills and a statue of a man with a very large...uhm...well you know. it was a little uncomfortable watching their kids eat these cookies!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralicia

"OMG, Surely you mean Ernie?!?!"

No, she means Bert the Chimney Sweep from Mary Poppins.

Jen- I never thought you would need to put in a hyperlink to explain to people that BERT THE CHIMNEY SWEEP is NOT a muppet.

Just in case:

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Right on, hazel61!

There are some traditions that I don't respect, in my own country and others.

What I want to know is when did this idiotic notion of anything "traditional" being beyond reproach grab hold? Or the equally stupid idea that unlesss one is, say, gay, then homophobia should go by unchallenged?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Hey, have you heard of that funny David Sedaris thing that addresses this?

I just wanted to say that for the NINE BILLIONTH TIME here.

Hit control F, people. Type in "Sedaris." See if it's mentioned already. Or, read the comments. Because they are compelling.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I love the Albi reference...


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeathahhh

As an African American, I think this is both funny and offensive at the same time. Mainly funny because it's so completely offensive.

Some of these comments are more offensive than your actual post, which I though was quite tactful.

And I don't think it is up to other people to say who can and cannot be offended by something. Even if it doesn't involve your ethnic group, you can still find it offensive.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Oh jeez. I am equal parts amused and horrified. I would never have imagined this kind of thing to be in cake form. But then I'm a sheltered Canadian. ;D
Well done, Cake Wrecks.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Why exactly is this so terribly offensive? Is it offensive that piet is turkish, gypsy or african? Why? Is it also offensive that santa is white? Is it offensive that Santa is so Old that he needs someone to climb up and down the chimny for him? How humiliating, maybe he's an equal oppertunity employer, maybe he was having a hard time because he only represented "the white man" and felt the need to have some one who happened to be blessed with more pigment deliver the presents for him while he stayed in the background and let his right hand man get the cookies and milk. If we are so worried about offending everyone then should santa not be replased with an Asian woman? After all women are ever so under representended in our holiday mythology and anyone other than an asian would be a minority and would therefore be offensive to the "mainstream"

Chill people, and just for a minute consider that there is a possibility that this is not based in anything particular racist. And try not to be so offendable.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIda

You'll forgive me if I repeat something already said, as I didn't read all 179 comments.

Black Pete, from the way I heard it, being Dutch and growing up as a kid in the Netherlands, is black because he's of Moorish descent. Which doesn't quite explain the soot-black black-face stuff though... but might explain a bit more the golden earrings, Aunt Jemima style.

Sinterklaas is a bishop who lives in Madrid. When kids send off their lists, much like writing Santa a letter at the North Pole, you'd address your mail to Sinterklaas to Madrid, Spain. Hence also why Spain is where you'd get spirited away to if you were naughty. And Black Pete is his helper.

Having lived overseas now for a decade, I've kind of missed the main PC battles that have raged over that, and a few other things.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarieke

Photo 5: Grover in a Rasta hat.

I didn't read all 179 comments, so forgiveness please if 129 of you already said that.

{I've been a follower for awhile... I know this is a tough audience}

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlix

Ok, I also thought you meant Bert from Sesame Street. He kind of almost looks like Bert from Sesame Street!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

What is wrong with a black person being in a tradition? I don't get it, it's not like they are saying he's a slave to Santa, it's stated he is a helper. But seriously what other holidays do you get to see a black person be involved in to this extent?
There's nothing wrong with Peit being a cake, Santa gets to be a cake.

A wreck is a wreck no matter the color, right?

And besides I don't see anyone picking up for the "slaved looking midgets" Santa has hired in Western Cultures traditions. Not to even mention the shows I've seen where there are a couple colored elves. .. what about those? What I'm getting to is we're looking too far into things.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous is one of the most brilliant companies (yes a company) that I have studied in a long time. I was thrilled to see the most brilliant blogs use a poster from the most brilliant business. Is that like double cream ice cream? Excellent Jen!!

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjaco

Thanks for making me laugh every single day.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstuckonoahu

As a black woman, I think maybe I should be offended...but it's too d@mn funny to be offensive!!

D'Ann, Chandler AZ

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiterary Beauty

I really don't get why anyone would be offended by this. It's a tradition. Want to talk weird traditions? How about a big bunny hiding your eggs. Oh clearly, that is racist against bunnies. America must be shunned. Come ON. It's just what they do. Racism in this age isn't as big an issue as it was. Let's look at the South Park episode here, where they debate whether or not to change the flag, remember that one? Nobody sees it as a black guy getting hanged by white guys, just some guy getting hanged by other guys. Sick humor FTW! :)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAE

I actually do know about Zwarte Pete! I should have known there would be Pete wrecks in that corner of the world!


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Do you think we should tell her about the caganer?

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

As a black Argentine (ahh, we are rare, but we exist!) I can honestly say that 1. I have never EVER seen anything like the "Africancitos" before, and 2. I don't really find them offensive. We just don't have such a strong history of racial tension, so our adherence to political correctness is pretty much nonexistent. It would worry me more if people around me started being more PC, because that would imply a distinct awareness of "you're black, we're white", and only then would I start feeling uncomfortable and not accepted. Believe it or not, it really is a cultural thing.

That apart, those things are still pretty wrecktastic :)

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

It seems to me that the "Africancitos" cakes have an odd similarity to the Blue Blob Bob cakes? A slightly edgier, racially-charged version if you will...


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermoochmom

I didn't read all of the comments, so sorry if someone else has said this.

Why do we have to bring our overly repressive political correctness to other countries and their traditions? We are criticized over and over again for thinking everyone needs to think exactly as the US does. Can't we EVER let other cultures, other peoples, believe differently than us? When will we get over ourselves, for crying out loud?

These cakes are wrecks because they are just bad--NOT because they portray black people in a negative light. (And it WAS said that the black is from soot, NOT from skin color.) Good grief.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

[off topic ramble] ...Chuck marathon? This, and all your lovely SGA references...I want to watch tv with you![/ramble]

I completely agree with the poster at the end. I can't really understand why this is still going on. Though definitely in a more horrified-amused kind of way.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJill Pole

Jon, your responses to the comments were perfect. You should be a diplomat. Well done, sir.

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJulie H

I'm sorry, but I have to go with Hazel here - anyone hear of institutionalized racism? I understand that this is more regarding public access but I think it still has some merit. Here is an interesting website which I think many of these "why is anyone offended?" posters need to read...

particularly interesting part:

"By ascribing second-rate citizenship to the critics who aren’t considered “Dutch”, the authority of the speaker is undermined. On the other hand when it appears that the critic is white, he or she is often being marginalized as being “political correct”, which is used as a contemptuous term. The letters in the newspapers and on the internet were in general very emotional, reflecting a fear that ‘Dutch’ culture is being ‘threatened’ by ‘foreigners’ The main arguments were:

* The holiday is a celebration for children and children aren’t racist.
* It’s a matter of ‘tradition’ (that certainly can’t be changed by ‘Foreigners’).
* The critics are the ones who make it racist. "

Otherwise, I mainly find a majority of these comments offensive and disheartening. Thank you for posting this on your blog, it at least gets a dialogue going and hopefully brings a lightbulb moment for those in the dark.


July 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

I'm ALMOST more shocked by the number of people who don't understand that "Bert the Chimney Sweep" is NOT the same *person* as Bert of Bert and Ernie

July 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhello jessi!

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