Cake. It’s layered with myriad meanings, memories and connotations of good times. It represents celebration, indulgence, time-out and fun. So what is the universal appeal of a good slice of cake?

“People just like little sweet things, even babies do,” says Christopher Thé, the man behind Newtown’s Black Star Bakery. “But it’s more than that. Cake is imbued with all this meaning and inference of good times. I really think that’s what gives an emotional pull when it comes to cake.”

But in order to create those delicious memories, the cake itself has to live up to the experience. So what is it that makes a really great cake stand out from the spread?

“It’s about balance,” says Thé. “With textures and flavours there has to be a balance, but not the same in every cake. It depends on what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes you want totally light and soft cake, so everything has to be matched to that, with nothing crunchy or too sharp. Or maybe it’s a Persian love cake, which is so dense that it needs bold things and bold flavours to match that. It’s about weight and intensity. They have to be balanced so that it becomes natural.” And with cakes like the Strawberry Watermelon cake to his name, Thé would know.

“I think that with the really great cakes, there’s just this certain kind of life that they have. They don’t have to be fancy or complicated. They just exist as a whole and all the components gel and make sense… It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then you just find a perfect cake that really doesn’t need anything else.”

Over at the freshly minted Kurtosh in Surry Hills, Jean-Marc Masset agrees, pointing out another aspect to cake that adds to its appeal.

“The smell brings people in – their noses lead them,” says the patissier who has been baking since he was a 13-year-old in Paris. At Kurtosh, the aroma of fresh baking is certainly a big part of the attraction, with the eponymous Kurtosh chimney cakes baked fresh to order.

“Cinnamon is the most popular chimney cake and close behind is the chocolate. I was doing a shift recently and I ate a whole one by myself.”

But not all cake has to play by the rules. At Sadhana Kitchen, hidden in the backstreets of Newtown, Maz Pugoy is creating vegan, raw food cakes that are drawing fans no matter what their diet.

“It’s got to taste good,” says the yoga teacher and advocate for living foods. “Our tastes are so used to traditional cakes, so we mimic what people are used to, but with raw, organic and nutritionally dense ingredients and in creative ways. And we make our cakes balancing all the things you look for in good food; smell, texture and taste.” With the right combination and play of flavours and textures, you’d never even know that these cakes are, well, different. They’re just really good cakes.

So when you’re looking to have your cake and eat it too, here’s our pick of the best places to get a slice:

Black Star Pastry – Strawberry Watermelon Cake with Rose Cream
The Strawberry Watermelon cake is the stuff of little girls’ daydreams, with a crowning glory of glowing strawberries and a crunchy layer of watermelon. But don’t forget to cast an eye over the intriguing domes of the olive oil and pistachio cakes, or the individual orange cakes with Persian fig and quince.

Kurtosh – Chimney Cake (Cinnamon)
The huge slabs of mum’s chocolate cake, orange and olive oil sponge, or chilled peanut butter and chocolate ganache cake are tempting in the display case, spread with thick icing and cut into neat, dense squares sold by weight. But the real deal is the chimney cake. It errs on the side of pastry, but the Kurtosh spirals of yeasty dough wrapped around wooden batons and cooked to order in a specialty oven are called chimney cakes, and so cakes they are. Cinnamon sugar-coated Kurtosh are a nostalgic winner, but pistachio versions and hot, melty, chocolate numbers are equally appealing.

Sadhana Kitchen - Chocolate Raspberry Vegan Cake
This hidey-hole of raw food delights specialises in cakes that are vegan and raw. So it’s quite a feat that they also taste 100 per cent amazing. The choc raspberry cake is a moussey, dreamy, creamy delight. In fact, it’s so good that it’s hard to believe it’s not full of cream and butter. Good for your tastebuds and good for you too. Seasonal availability means they change it up often here, but whatever they’ve got, you can guarantee it’ll be a cake to remember.
76a Wilford Street, Newtown

Adriano Zumbo Patisseries, Rozelle and Manly – V8 Cake
The weird, whacky and seemingly endless variety of cake creations that come from the master of all sweet things makes it hard to pick just one winner. But fight your way past the macaron hysteria and be boggled by the truly Wonka-esque array of whimsical, cheeky and frankly bizarre flavours on offer in the individual and full sized cake range. They change all the time, but the four-times-the-vitamin C cake (blackcurrant marshmallow and jelly, vanilla-violet mousse and pistachio dacquoise), or the decorated chocolate fondant (a chocolate cake complete with macaron decorations) have caught the imagination. But it’s the V8 cake that has people cueing out the door, with it’s multiple layers, texture and flavour components (from vanilla brulee, to crème chantilly, ganache and chiffon). Zumbo changes up the V8 often enough, so watch out for the raspberry version, with black sesame dacquoise, lychee gel and raspberry sponge.

Pasticceria Papa – Ricotta Cake
Loudly lauded as the best ricotta cake in Sydney, Papa’s version is light and fluffy with a dusting of cinnamon on the outer crust. It’s a great treat with a cup of strong Italian coffee and there’s a steady queue of regulars picking up full cakes, boxes of treats and individual serves to go.
145 Ramsay Street, Haberfield

A&C Sulfaro Pasticceria – Ricotta Cake
Denser than the Papa version, there’s a hint of rum flavour here and a solid, dense crust that gives this cake a substantial presence to back the creamy filling. It weighs a tonne and has a loyal following. You can buy it in a full cake to take to the family, or just pick up a sneaky wedge for yourself.
[119 Ramsay Street, Haberfield](http://maps.google.com/maps?q=119+Ramsay+Street,+Haberfield&hl=en&ll=-33.881025,151.139399&spn=0.006529,0.008873&sll=-33.880474,151.138982&sspn=0.006529,0.008873&hnear=119+Ramsay+St,+Haberfield+New+South+Wales+2045,+Australia&t=m&z=17

Sparkles Cupcakery
Specialising in these individual servings of cakey happiness, sparkles has kept the look of their famous cupcakes really simple – white icing with a coloured dot to denote the incredible array of flavours. Salted caramel or lavender and honey are our recommendations.