The Geological Society hosted a bake-off so spectacular I challenge any other discipline to compete. From rock cores to outcrops, phylogeny trees to death assemblages, and thin sections to test pits, geology and baking make a great combination.

Mars cake with a marzipan rover. Image credit: unknown

While the Geological Society awarded points and winners based on a classification system, I'm embracing a more qualitative approach to highlight my favourite entries. I warn you: if you don't have easy access to cake right now, you may wish to remedy that situation before continuing.


Silurian Death Assemblage

Image credits: Liam Herringshaw [cake], Black Country Museums [fossils]

The Silurian period is a chunk of the Paleozoic, 443 to 415 million years ago. Glaciers melted, raising sea levels. Jawless fish were everywhere, and both jawed fish and freshwater fish just barely showed up. Coral reefs made their first appearance, and crinoids were everywhere, and brachiopods kept finding new and different expressions.


An assemblage of dead creatures from the period washed together into one fossilized mess in cake-format looks just like the real thing (minus the rather angry trilobite). Interestingly, the entire Geology Bake-off was inspired by a batch of Silurian Death Assemblage cupcakes. (If wholesale oceanic death isn't your thing, here's what the critters may have looked like while they lived.)

Borehole Contamination Monitoring


Image credits:Leannes Hughes [cake], USGS [field monitoring]

As I mentioned when the contest first opened, the only people who would possibly love a borehole contamination monitoring cake are people who have done the messy, time-consuming, bizarre task of trying to monitor water quality from a handful of point locations. Having done that job, I love this cake.

Phylogeny of Life


Image credit: unknown [cake], Ivica Letunic/Mariana Ruiz Villarreal [diagram]

One way of tracing out the relationships between organisms is to build a phylogenic tree, where creatures with a common ancestor share a join point.

Excavating a Dinosaur


Image credit: unknown [cake], Eduard Solà Vázquez [Dilophosaurus]

I love the texture-detail in this impression of excavating an intact, assembled dinosaur fossil. It's just as dusty, rocky, and gritty as I could wish! ...even if I still wish the fossil trade had a bit more regulation so I could shop with less trepidation.

Rock Core Cake


Image credit: Jenn Cugnet [cake], American Bonanza Gold Corp. [corebox]

One of the key features of exploration geology is drilling holes in the ground, extracting rock cores, then analyzing those cores to build a pictures of the underlaying geology. It's a bit like sticking a straw into a box of chocolates, then using the fillings to determine the truffle-distribution of the full box. ...although the proper use of geophysics can help you at least figure out if it's a variety pack or not. Again, this is a cake that anyone who has spent a summer classifying rock core in the coreshed will adore on basic principle alone. While I've never been a coreshed geologist, I've spent plenty of time working camps with them, and this cake makes my heart grow warm with geeky recognition.

Examining an Outcrop


Image credit: Mike Farrington [cake], Darkroom Daze [field geologist]

The key feature of geologic fieldwork is to locate interesting rocks, then stare at them, measure them, hammer them, and otherwise investigate them as much as you can. And make sure to take a break, eat your lunch, and bask in the glory of a chunk of Earth whose mysteries you are unravelling. Wallace and Gromit know exactly how it's done.

Farrington wrote in to tell us that Wallace and Gromit were downright prospecting during their fieldwork. "Wallace found gold but Gromet has the diamond." Totally appropriate for his parent's anniversary!


Thin Section Cupcake

Image credit: Becky Bennion [cupcakes], Ruth Siddall [oolitic limestone thin section]


The art of looking at thin sections of rock samples to determine their mineral makeup is a particular aspect of geoscience that I am very, very happy to hire other people to do. One of the people who are happy to be hired to perform the task of squinting, fiddling, and identifying how a particular mineral changes its appearance under cross-polarized light is likely the baker of these thin section cupcakes. That's olivine and plagioclase crystals on the left cupcake, and oolitic limestone on the right cupcake.

Test Pit


Image credit: Jake Walker [cake], Travis [test pit]

If you only need to investigate the top few layers of soil, test pits are far cheaper and more useful than drill holes. All it takes is a tape measure, a shovel, some time, and a friendly surveyor to track down exactly where you dug your hole relative to the rest of the planet.

I love quite a few more of the cakes (like this one, this one, and this one), so be sure to check out the full set here, and browse the #geobakeoff tag for more non-entries. I'm afraid that the Geologic Society didn't list the names of all entrants, so I don't actually know who to credit for some of the baking photographs. If I included yours, please drop me a comment with how I should list your name!


This isn't the first time we've covered spectacular baking: this Star Wars themed collection puts all other academic tea times to shame. To make your own planetary cake, check out these instructions.