By Jan Hostyn.

I’ll never forget that cake. Impossibly tall, elegantly iced and simply yet strikingly decorated. I don’t remember what kind it was exactly; my five-year-old self probably didn’t even register that fact at the time. It didn’t matter, though. What did matter was that it was incredibly glorious, marvelouslly magnificent and not for my consumption.

When that very cake vanished into thin air from an apartment building lobby, well, that only served to bump up its already hefty memorability.

Yes, someone other than the intended recipient of my mother’s elaborate creation actually made off with it, cake pedestal and all. And even more peculiar — no one saw a thing. Not my mother, who set it down on a table for mere minutes while she went off to buzz the intended recipient’s apartment (never leaving the lobby and the vicinity of the cake); not any of her rather busy and nosy five kids (all under the age of seven); not any of the other people milling around the definitely-not-deserted lobby; not a single soul.

Someone actually stole the cake.

I hope that that particular someone thoroughly enjoyed every last morsel of that cake, and I definitely hope they remember it even more vividly than I do.

Even without setting off on that little adventure, though, that cake would have been memorable. But it’s not just that cake — it’s cakes in general. They have to be the most spectacular-looking, attention-grabbing entities that flour, butter, sugar and eggs have ever joined forces to create. It’s as if, buried somewhere inside those tender little crumbs of theirs, there’s a voice screaming, “Look at me, look at me!”

Not all cakes, mind you. Snack cakes — the coffee, crumb and spice cakes of the world — don’t really qualify. You know, the ones you whip up at the last minute to send blasts of buttery goodness floating throughout your home and appease ravenous appetites with. They have their place (and a multitude of merits that I could expound upon), but they can’t really be classified as visually stunning. Delicious, definitely, but…

I’m talking about the truly spectacular cakes: layer and chiffon cakes that are blessed with any number of creamy fillings and are copiously coated with a sinfully thick layer of frosting-like goodness. And even though that sort of cake doesn’t technically need any sort of adornment to make a statement, a sprinkle of chocolate shavings here or a drizzle of caramel there certainly doesn’t hurt.

It’s the kind of cake that deserves a pedestal but garners attention even without; the kind that begs to be devoured immediately and then torments you because you can’t; the kind that’s destined to be as utterly delicious as it is stunning (if it came out of my mom’s kitchen, anyway). And it’s the kind that has the power to weave a spell, to mesmerize.

When I was a kid, my mom could generate a buzz of excitement simply by digging into the cupboard and hauling out certain cake pans. We knew immediately that she was about to embark on one of her “special” cake-baking missions. The hopping and bouncing and impatience began. You might as well have injected us with sugar right then and there.

Watching her concoct the various pieces and then compose the final product was always enthralling, but to come home and stumble upon a masterpiece, well, that was the pinnacle of excitement, especially if its ultimate destination was my stomach. I could spend an inordinate amount of time just sitting there and staring at it, anticipating. And even though it took an excruciating amount of willpower not to dip a finger into the icing, I knew from experience that my mom would instantly spot the tiniest missing anything. The waiting was part of the thrill, though.

And when the time came to finally plunge a knife through that dazzling exterior, no one let out a peep. We all held our breath in anticipation, craning our necks to get a peek as that first piece of cake was gently lifted out. The whole affair was cloaked in an aura of mystery — who knew what hidden treasures we would find inside?

Birthdays, anniversaries, family get-togethers, Halloween, good report cards, the start of summer vacation, the end of summer vacation, Sundays… they all warranted majestic, magnificent, marvellous cakes.

Now, imagine a birthday pie (if you’re anyone other than my husband, that is). It may well turn out to be the yummiest pie ever, but it would be completely devoid of any panache or poise, and the whole “ahhhh” factor would simply be nonexistent. Frankly, if someone plunked a pie down in front of me to celebrate a special something, I would feel decidedly not special.

And even though we’re still stuck smack-dab in the middle of the whole annoying bow-down-and-worship-anything-cupcake-like phenomenon, THEY ARE NOT REAL CAKES. Oh, I’ll admit they’re cute. Adorable? Sure. But spectacular? Definitely not. How can anything that little be deemed spectacular?

A cake is that rare creature full of mystery, intrigue and oomph galore. It screams to be noticed — sometimes a bit too loudly. Can you imagine anyone being so smitten by a cupcake that they’d even be the teeniest bit tempted to walk off with it?

Jan Hostyn has mastered the art of silencing cakes — she simply devours them.

Recipe: Coconut rum pineapple layer cake

Where to buy a fabulous cake

Cake Couture

  • 15008 87 Avenue, 780-443-4083
  • Founder Annie Dam created an artisan cake shop where all your dreams of frothy confection can come true.

The Art of Cake

  • 780-485-5517
  • Gloria Bednarz and Guenter Hess create edible works of art for every occasion including none at all. No storefront, but you can pick up a lovely fruit-topped cake at their booth at the City Market on 104 street on Saturdays.

Duchess Bake Shop

  • 10720 124 Street, 780-488-4999
  • Among the fine French pastry on offer at this popular spot are three stellar cakes: fluffy lemon meringue, the Duke, intense chocolate accented with salted caramel and whipped ganache, and the pistachio green-domed Duchess.