It all started with cake.

As an art school undergrad, Caitlin Freeman was obsessed with the cakes in Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings. Later, as a pastry chef, she used her connections to start making Thiebaud cakes for the new Blue Bottle café at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Caitlin eventually married James Freeman, Blue Bottle’s founder.) In 2009, Caitlin devised a second cake for SFMOMA, a now-famous loaf cake whose slices replicate the grid of black lines and blocks of primary colors in painter Piet Mondrian’s iconic “Composition” series.

Since then, Freeman and collaborator Leah Rosenberg have designed dozens of pastry riffs on modern art for the café at SFMOMA: those original cakes with the painterly lines of Thiebaud, an orange whip inspired by a Robert Frank photo. (Freeman just delivered the manuscript for a book about their art desserts, due from publisher Ten Speed Press in spring 2013.)

For the museum’s current retrospective of work by American photographer Cindy Sherman, Freeman and Rosenberg developed a giddy pink ice cream float, inspired by one of Sherman’s garish, leering self-portraits in clown drag. The photo—Untitled #415, from 2004—shows Sherman in a flowery coat and a silver-hologram bowler, holding a bottle of pink pop.

What’s amazing about Freeman’s pieces is that they don’t just look nice; they actually taste good. The Sherman float starts with two scoops: Tahitian vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet, both from San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe. It comes with a tiny bottle of pink bubblegum syrup (Rosenberg muddles hunks of Double Bubble with sugar, then dilutes with water and infuses overnight) that you pour yourself, and a bottle of Italian fizzy water. And the sorbet scoop is capped with a dusting of edible so-called disco glitter, an eerie match for the Sherman bowler.

The glass comes on a cork-bottomed coaster with a floral design made from a scan of the clown’s coat. Sherman tried the float when she came to SFMOMA for the opening. Her primary concern: that customers might steal the coasters.

SFMOMA’s Cindy Sherman show—and the pink bubblegum ice cream float—runs through October 8.

Photos by Chris Rochelle /

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