Food and drink: Let us eat cake 

Bake your own and beat the HST

Let them eat cake. Piece of cake. That takes the cake. Have your cake and eat it, too.

Cake, of all things, particularly wedding cake, has become something of a media trope these days, a conversation flashpoint around the permutations of what is taxable and what isn't, and what costs more and what doesn't with the new HST.

Things were especially confusing if you listened to national news sources as B.C. and Ontario were implementing the HST at the same time. So hotline shows were filled with arcane details like Ontario wasn't raising taxes on prepared food and drink under $4 (meaning a cake that costs $3.99 is exempt) but full HST will be charged on snacks and restaurant meals over $4, even if they do include a piece of cake.

Here in B.C., HST is pretty much tracking what we paid GST on in terms of food items, so we're now paying HST on all restaurant meals, all snack foods like chips and candy (even marshmallows), all sugar-sweetened drinks like pop, and all ready-to-eat, prepared foods - deli cabbage rolls, cheese platters, potato salad - whatever they cost.

As for that wedding cake? It's exempt from HST in B.C. But the wedding dinner and services of the caterer who might have made the wedding cake are not, so fork over the extra 12 per cent.

But when it comes to regular store-bought cake, as they say on the prairies, it's a horse, or a cake, of a different colour. HST will be charged on any nice fat bakery-baked chocolate cake or black forest cake or any kind of pre-made cake, fat, skinny, dripping with icing, whipping cream or otherwise, since they aren't considered regular grocery items like bread is, despite Marie Antoinette's, or whoever it was, protestations to the contrary.

Too bad. So now we'll simply have to find another way of having our cake for less and eating it, too - as in, baking it ourselves.

Cake, from a scientific point of view and otherwise, is a most interesting substance.

"The essence of most cakes is sweetness and richness. A cake is a web of flour, eggs, sugar and butter (or shortening)," writes Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking , "a delicate structure that readily disintegrates in the mouth and fills it with easeful flavour."

Ease us on, oh mighty cakes, from our HST woes and otherwise.

McGee goes on to point out that cakes often contain more sugar and fat than flour, and even at that often serve as bases for ever more sweeter and richer embellishments such as custards, creams, icings, jams, chocolate and liqueurs.


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