In the early months of the pandemic, bakers across social media were captivated by frog bread, a trend that involved creating silly, amphibian-shaped loaves. Almost a year into pandemic life, and many fleeting food trends later, frog cakes have taken over social media: most of them featuring chubby, smiling buttercream frogs atop colorful and retro-inspired cakes.
Variations of frog cakes are popular on Instagram, and on TikTok, the hashtag #frogcake has 6.6 million views as of this writing, with many of the recent viral hits having been created within the last month. This sudden popularity has come as a surprise to Chicago-based baker Claire Ma, whose designs as Oracle Bakery, appear to be what many #frogcake bakers are imitating.
Since she started baking in the summer of 2020 to fill her pandemic-fueled free time, Ma has become well-known online for her childlike, cartoony decorating style. Heavily piped, her cakes feature pastel colors and often include pairs of rotund animal figures in a variety of scenes: frogs playing checkers or ducks with cigarettes on a rainy day. Recently, in the process of hiring a web developer to build Oracle Bakery's website, one candidate told Ma she'd seen her work all over TikTok. "I'm like, I'm not even on TikTok; I have no idea what's going on," Ma said. "I think it's definitely spiraled to something that's way bigger than me."
Ma posted her first frog cake in October: a blue cake with a happy, rosy-cheeked frog holding a flower amid a forest of smiling toadstool mushrooms. Though she admired the intricate rococo designs by decorators like Lily Vanilli Bakery and briefly gave jelly cakes a try, Ma landed on her current chubby animal style in part because of its simplicity. "[Frogs] are kind of derpy-looking so I feel like people can really relate to that," said Ma, who is a fan of frog meme and aesthetic accounts. "But honestly, another reason why I started frogs is [that] they're really easy to pipe—when you think about the anatomy of an icing frog, it's a blob of icing with two eyes on top." These designs also call to mind the retro, cartoony work of creators like @benny.cake and @good.to.seeyou.
This ease of replicating has certainly helped the frosting frogs spin off. After her "Friends Forever" frog cake in November, Ma started noticing an influx of "fancakes," images of which people would send to her or tag her in. "I never intended to make a viral or gimmicky cake initially—I don't really want it to be seen as a gimmick, to be quite honest," she said. "It's cute, it's something new. People just really seem to connect with those frogs." Now, creators riffing on Oracle Bakery cakes imagine their frogs in many ways: solo and holding a heart; slightly taller and posing with a star; as a pair dressed in overalls or sitting above rainbows; and so on, as frog cake fans try to make the format fit their decorating experience.
Baker Janaya Felder found that her Instagram Explore page was "completely overrun with frog cakes" at the start of this year, and she was especially drawn to the version by baking blogger and cookbook author Amy Ho of Constellation Inspiration. Through Ho's caption, Felder learned that frog cakes were big on TikTok, and she found Oracle Bakery's designs. "I had never seen so many adorable cakes and instantly fell in love with her work," said Felder, whose childhood obsession with the children's book characters Frog and Toad made the frogs especially appealing. She tried her hand at the frog cake as part of a New Year's resolution to try new techniques, and it's one of her favorite cakes, to date.
Oracle Bakery cakes have inspired fans outside the food world. Artists on Instagram have recreated Ma's designs in a variety of styles. "There’s just something so happy and wholesome about that colorful little frog friend telling you it's all okay," said illustrator Laura Coppolaro, who recently shared a piece based on an Oracle Bakery cake. Just this week, soapmaker Soap Sud Buds posted frog cake-inspired bars of soap. Large frog meme pages like @frogoclock have turned Ma’s cakes into memes: around one cake, it reads, "Pretty pls can this be us? This could be us."
Frogs have been in an "internet golden age," Insider's Palmer Haasch wrote in June of last year. "They're such a weird animal because they're not cute in the fuzzy kitten kind of way. They're cute in the oddball, sort of awkward way," Ma said. "That's what I like about them." To Haasch, this growing interest has helped frogs transcend the association of Pepe the Frog and become wholesome icons instead, especially amid the growth of the cottagecore and goblincore aesthetics. That wholesome nature is clear in the use of a frog cake image by @mollyskattberg; it's present in a meme that suggests looking at frogs might help get one through hard times, and another that lists a series of personal affirmations.
The online frog world ("frogcore") is full of even-more-specific niches, and frog-themed cakes—those that don't resemble Oracle Bakery's designs—have long been an object of fascination. In November 2018, two parents in Australia went viral after they requested a cake with a big green frog and received a green sheet cake piped with a "pathetic" smiley face and the number three. (In 2020, the frog-focused Instagram creator @pixieeeshop turned this design into limited-edition earrings.) The popular cake account @_hoe_cakes_ shared "a year of froggy face cakes" for its one year anniversary in late December. Global oddities curator Gastro Obscura has highlighted the individual-sized, fondant-covered frog cakes that have been popular in Australia since 1922.
The current wave of frog cakes are a niche within a niche within a niche. Likewise, the online cake world is growing and increasingly developing its own micro-trends. Pandemic life in particular has spurred the rise of small, cake-focused side projects, new styles, and specialized Instagram accounts.
While Instagram especially has started to feel more and more like a marketplace, these small trends and the moments they converge—when the cake world collides with the frog world, for example—are reminders that the soul of social media is still its ability to connect, even over the smallest thing. At its most wholesome, social media is a place to express our most niche interests (Frogs! Cakes! Whatever suits your fancy!), find fellow weirdos online, and come together—all over the world—in these rare, wholesome moments.
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