What a strange future we live in. How else to explain the self-described “Cake ATM” in my local shopping mall, with a smiling Buddy Valastro — the Cake Boss himself, as Food Network viewers will tell you — imploring me to enjoy a slice of Hoboken-fresh cake, served to me by a robotic dispensary aparatus. What a time to be alive!
I’ve written previously about robotic coffee dispensers, which are a longstanding tradition in Canadian hockey rinks and other places where a Canadian might want something that, at first glance, resembles a coffee. I also remember my brother coming back from a high-school trip to Japan with tales of Japanese vending machine culture, and how one could purchase all sorts of delightful things from these contraptions. On a recent trip through the Vancouver airport, I found machines selling freshly blended smoothies, and others selling salads and wraps and whatnot. We’ve clearly come a long way as a species.
But cake? From a vending machine? Sure, you’ve been able to get the types of cakes made by Hostess or Vachon from a vending machine, but those aren’t exactly known for their freshness or nuanced flavour. The fascinating thing with this Cake ATM from Carlo’s Bake Shop is that Carlo’s has a name and a reputation and a brand that’s far more upmarket and quality-oriented than other shelf-stable pre-packed single-serve plastic-wrapped cakes that can be found collecting dust on the shelf at a Plateau dépanneur.
A few months back, I ordered a slice of the chocolate cake from this same Carlo’s Cake ATM, and I admittedly wasn’t sure what to expect. Shoppers walking by kept looking at me as I selected my slice, tapped my debit card to the reader, and was issued a slice of cake. My wife and daughter are both Cake Boss fans, so I brought the slice home, knowing they’d get a kick out of it.
The slice was big enough for two to three people to share, so we dug in and it was … surprisingly good. Moist and rich and sweet. I was impressed, so I decided to go back and order another slice and record my experience here, for the benefit of the internet. You’re welcome.
Ordering the cake
This time, I opted for a slice of their rainbow cake. It’s a vanilla-flavoured cake with six colourful layers, interspersed with generous layers of vanilla icing. And as if that wasn’t enough, rainbow sprinkles!
To select the cake you want, you scroll through the options on the large touchscreen on the front of the machine, then finger-tap on the cake you’re interested in. The machine was well-stocked with carrot cake, chocolate cake, red velvet cake, rainbow cake, black and white cake, and vanilla confetti cake. Each slice was $10.49 Canadian. That’s currently $7.76 US, for the benefit of our many American readers. (Consider yourselves seen, my American friends.)
After I picked my cake — rainbow, because rainbow — I was asked about entering an email address for a receipt, which I did. One quick tap of a debit card later, and I heard the amplified voice of the Cake Boss himself telling me that my cake was coming right up. The machine then swung into action, with a motorized shelf zipping up to the correct level, ejecting the correct slice onto the shelf, and then lowering the shelf down to the bottom of the machine, where a window opens and you can fetch your slice.
If you need a fork, there are forks on the side of the machine. (Probably? I didn’t check. I’ve heard on the internet that heartless cake-haters sometimes raid the fork dispensers because hey, free forks?) The machine also warns you that you should let the cake warm up at room temperature for 15 minutes before eating it.
Eating the cake
Back home, I stuck the cake in the fridge to eat later with the fam. There’s a lot of cake in a single package (about 300 grams of it, for a total of 1,300 calories … eek), so sharing it is absolutely something you’ll want to do.
The package is plastic and well sealed, with a clear plastic portion on the front so you can see the full beauty of the cake inside. When you peel it open, the aroma isn’t especially strong, but the slice itself looks gorgeous — totally Instagram-worthy. Sadly, the package isn’t easy to seal back up again if you’re not in the mood to eat the whole damned slice.
Digging into it with a fork, the texture is light and airy, spongey without being springy like an angel food cake. The vanilla frosting is every bit as sweet as you’d expect (with a slight chemical edge), though the cake portion isn’t nearly as sweet. I find that in some brightly coloured cakes, you can taste a hint of the colouring gels used to give them their vivid hue, and I think I’m tasting a hint of that here. (I mean, the blue layer is the colour of the Cookie Monster. There’s lot of colouring in every layer.)
For all the colour, I wish it had a bit more flavour than a standard vanilla cake. As I ate it, I kept thinking how great it would be with a bit of raspberry in the mix. Between this one and the chocolate one I had earlier, I’d pick the chocolate, even though it lacks the wow-factor of the rainbow cake.
These things are shipped all the way from New Jersey (I think I technically need to add a “, baby” after that statement), yet they don’t taste like they’re any more pumped full of crazy preservatives than the sheet cakes you’d find at a local supermarket. There’s butter in the ingredients list, and it tastes like real cake. Is it the best, freshest cake I’ve ever had? No. But is it an acceptable slice when you need something to brighten your mood? You betcha.
Once again, colour me surprised. I’m clearly going to need to try a few more kinds on my next visit to the Carlo’s Cake ATM. Carrot cake, maybe?
Price: $11.02 (including tax) for one slice of packaged rainbow cake at Southgate Mall in Edmonton.
Value for Money: Not cheap, but not outlandish. It feels strange to spend more than $10 at a vending machine.
Availability: The Carlo’s Bake Shop Cake ATMs are in three Canadian provinces so far: Ontario, Québec and Alberta. The Cake ATM locator is online here.
Calories: 1,300 calories per package.
Verdict: Not just a novelty. This cake is surprisingly decent, though I prefer the chocolate one I had earlier. I’m not sure how many people will keep going back to a machine after they’ve tried it once, but it’s certainly an interesting concept.