Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Celebrating Special Events

Nothing says "Important Event" better than a great tasting, beautifully decorated cake. There are so many options out there, from special flavors that the event honoree loves to a design that incorporates a motif from an invitation, a hobby or a special message. As a cake designer, I LOVE to get creative and come up with a cake that really speaks to the recipient. Some examples of this are a 40th birthday cake done for am avid golfer, a bright birthday cake for a a teenage girl's 16th birthday, which incorporated toe shoes to represent her love for dancing and a 16 year old boy's high school colors and school mascot. I've also done simpler designs such as a cake for a children's birthday cake that used a picture from an invitation and carved cakes, one of which was for a 4 year old who wanted a "green fish" as his birthday cake! The cowboy hat for a 40 something woman was also a big hit as it captured the theme of the "cowpoke" surprise party.

Cakes like this are so much fun to do but do require quite a bit of lead time. Expect most bakeries to have a minimum notice for such cakes, depending on the type of cake and the bakery's current bookings. I require a 2 week lead time or even more for elaborate cakes. Simpler cakes can sometimes be done the same week but expect to pay a rush fee if the bakery already has a heavy schedule on the books. Most custom bakeries also require a minimum order (as I said in a previous post, Duff from Charm City Cakes has a $1,000 minimum) so that will mean that no matter how small and "simple" the cake is, you will be paying at least the dollar amount of the minimum established by the designer.

The bottom line is, have fun with the theme of your event, try to use
something personal about the honoree to use in the design of the cake and give your baker enough time to come up with a fabulously executed design for your event.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fresh flowers on cakes...yes, no, or maybe???

I absolutely love flowers! My very favorite flowers are hydrangeas, roses, tulips and daffodils. In fact, my own wedding bouquet featured a mass of hand dyed hydrangeas by none other than Jerry Littleton of GML Designs ( and my wedding cake had hydrangeas all around it. It was absolutely beautiful (no, I didn't do my own wedding cake! :) )!

As a baker and cake designer, I meet with brides every day who want flowers on their cakes either as a topper or as decorations on the side of the cake or around the base of the cake. I say, "Great, the more the better!" But here's the thing, there are many flowers that should not touch a cake (or anything edible) in any way as they are very toxic and could cause the bride and groom or their guests to get very sick. And regardless of whether or not a flower is toxic, flower stems should NEVER be pushed into a cake. That actually happened at a wedding I attended as a guest. The cake was beautiful and so were the flowers but the catering manager decided to "decorate" the cake herself with some extra flowers that were scattered around the cake table. She took individual stems and pushed them into the cake. I thought the bride was going to flip (and rightly so)! So if you absolutely must have real flowers on your cake, please make sure that they are not poisonous, and make sure that there is a barrier between the cake and any flowers that decorate the cake. The barrier can be just about anything, including extra icing that the decorator uses to "stick" individual flowers to the cake (the extra icing holds the flowers on rather than poking the stems in the cake). Flowers should be removed prior to serving the cake. Please also make sure that the flowers have not been treated by any pesticides. Don't rely on your florist to know which flowers are poisonous---educate yourself! I've included a list pf poisonous flowers at the end of this blog entry to get you started.

There is another beautiful, and more "permanent" option for your cake---gumpaste flowers. Gumpaste is a dough like substance that is made primarily of sugar and several other ingredients, that make the dough harden after it has been made into the shape of the flower of
your choice. Here are a couple of pictures of finished gumpaste flowers:

"Sugar" flowers are handmade, petal by petal, and are technically edible, although no one would ever want to eat one (yuck!). They are also hand colored and extremely safe for your wedding cake. Not only are they beautiful but they make a great keepsake of your wedding day because they don't wilt and die like real flowers. Because of the labor involved in making gumpaste flowers, expect to pay for this beautiful work of art. The trade off for the cost of the flowers is that you'll forever have a beautiful keepsake from your wedding.

As for which flowers to use, here's are lists of flowes that range from safe, to highly toxic: .

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cake Truffles

It has been such a busy winter! Between the holidays and the weather, there's been a lot of work keeping the family going. If you're like me, you run, run, run and then crash at the end of several weeks of running. Lots of fun but exhausting!

I did do something this winter that not only felt good to "help out" with, but also I added a new product to my lineup. At the beginning of December, the Massey Cancer Center ( ) sponsored a fundraiser as part of the Bizarre Bazaar ( ), a Richmond institution. I donated 200 cake truffles to their gala for the contributors. Lately I've been reading a lot about cake truffles (also called "cake balls") but had never made them. They were a big success and got me thinking about offering these to my brides as favors for their weddings.

These cake truffles were pretty fun to make but very messy. They start out with my tasty scratch-made cake (chocolate is shown here) with some additional ingredients added to make them the right consistency.
Then I roll them into balls and put them into the freezer to harden up for the next step.
Once I've gotten them all formed, I begin to melt the chocolate. I use high end gourmet chocolate and used white, milk and dark chocolate for this project. This part of the project is extremely messy.

Fortunately, I have lots of room to spread out and make sure that the mess doesn't take over too much. Each of the cake balls must be dipped into the hot chocolate and then placed on a cookie sheet to set. Easier said than done and messier than you think!

But I got them all done and the Massey Cancer Center ended up with a donation of 200 cake truffles for their party.

Of course, I saved some to sample and to give to my stepson, who especially appreciated them!

These would make great favors for weddings, showers, or really any kind of party or get together. Dressed up in cellophane or small boxes in your wedding colors, they make a beautiful and tasty favor. Cake Truffles can also be customized to a particular theme.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cupcakes? At a wedding???

As many of you know, cupcakes are very popular these days. There are cafes specifically dedicated to these small, delectable treats ( in Beverly Hills, CA and in Raleigh, NC just to name two) and even online sellers of cupcakes ( What all of these places have in common is that they have taken the simple cupcake we remember as children and turned it into a culinary taste sensation and a work of art!

The cupcake is the perfect "mini" cake that can be decorated a number of ways: from just a simple swirl of icing and a white chocolate pistole on a red velvet cupcake
or a fondant daisy on a yellow cupcake with a swirl of
buttercream to something much more elaborate.

There are so many events where cupcakes are appropriate: baby showers (think blue, pink and yellow baby booties , footprints or ducks), children's birthdays (little princess crowns, dog or cat faces, baseballs, footballs or soccer balls), adult birthdays (mini martini glasses, the Over the Hill motif, golf balls), bridal showers (motifs from the wedding, monograms, bows, hearts and flowers), etc. Cupcakes are fun and easy to eat and make people smile.

But how does the cupcake fit in at a wedding? Some people would say "they don't" but I think that it really depends on the event. It's an obvious option for a casual wedding, something outdoors where
people aren't dressed to the nines but it can also be for a slightly more elegant wedding as well. You'll want to make sure that you present the cupcakes in a manner which matches the formality of the event. And if people are dressed up, PLEASE make sure that you serve the cupcake on a plate with a fork for each person. Somehow picking up a cupcake with one's hands, peeling away the paper and then stuffing it into one's mouth doesn't quite say "elegant" to me.

This past year I did the cake for two weddings where cupcakes (or tarts) were the main event. One was fairly formal and the other was very casual. Both brides chose to use my white "box" cupcake stand, decorated with ribbon that matched the bride's colors. One bride's colors were rich chocolate browns, deep reds and golds while the other was a very light hearted daisy theme, featuring baby blue and yellow. Here are pictures from both events:

Even with the same stand, you can see that they are very different looks. Each bride wanted a round "cutting cake" for the top. The one on the left featured red velvet with cream cheese filled cupcakes, dark chocolate with raspberry filled cupcakes and pound cake cupcakes. The daisy bride had pound cake cupcakes and tarts---key lime, chocolate mousse and bavarian cream with amarena cherries. Yum!

So really it's up to you whether or not you have cupcakes. They are definitely appropriate for a more casual wedding and can be approriate for a more formal wedding, depending on how they are displayed, decorated and served. But in the end, if you really love them and have to have them, just do it!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cakes on TV

It's a really great time for those of us who make wedding cakes, party cakes, or really any kind of special occasion cake. The same holds true for consumers who never knew the possibilities of what can be done with cake. Why do I say this? Well, we're lucky that we can see all of those possibilities just by turning on our television sets! Shows like "Cake Boss"
(, "Ace of Cakes" (, "Ultimate Cake Off" ( ), etc show people making, buying and eating these wonderful creations. Who could have known that it's possible to make the Golden Gate Bridge out of cake, or Wrigley Field, or even the Leaning Tower of Pisa??!! Amazing!!!

Yes, IS amazing. The detail on some of these cakes is just incredible. So is the time that is put into making these masterpieces. Is it any wonder that the bakery behind "Ace of Cakes" has a $1,000 minimum per order? Or that wedding cakes by the "Cake Boss" begin at $8.00 per slice (for a basic cake)? Besides flour, butter and eggs, some of these cakes have not only hours and hours of work but also the creative and design experience of years of experience or education. Many of them have handmade figures, flowers and decorations---none of which cost a lot for the raw materials, but the labor and expertise required to make these decorative items can be significant.

Anyone who makes custom cakes can relate to the stories of people who call to ask for "just a simple the shape of a 1960 Corvette." Or "a small cake...10 or so the shape of the Empire State Building." Well those, "small, simple" cakes can easily take the baker tens of hours (or more, depending on the detail) to complete so it should be no wonder when the baker quotes a price of $300 (or a LOT more) for these works of art. Often, once quoting the price, we hear, "Oh...I only want to spend $50-$60."

Now I'm not saying that I, or really even most of the bakers/decorators I know in my market, are as talented or as prolific as any of the TV cake designers. But many of us do a great job and are more than willing to accommodate just about any request we get for our cakes. And we love that the art we are so passionate about is getting so much attention by the TV networks. But the point is, it's not just "butter, eggs and flour." It's also years of experience, attention to detail, passion for design and the love of working to make someones life a little bit brighter during their special occasion. For all of us "cakers" out there...please remember this when you call us for your next special occasion. We'll love you for it!!! :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

So I decided to open a wedding cake business...

About a year and a half ago, I decided I wanted more control over my work life. Some things had happened, due to the economy, which lead me to doubt my direction in the corporate world. I loved my job, no doubt, but was I really appreciated? Did I need (and want) a creative outlet (it turns out the answer was yes)? Was I being challenged enough? What was my purpose on the earth (OK, I know, that's a little deep!)? So, I decided to do it the "right way" and "get legal."

Fortunately, for bakers in Virginia, the state has made it possible to pursue our passion for baking out of our own homes. The Department of Agriculture licenses and inspects home bakers and it works out really well. There's a fair amount of paperwork, regulations, etc but it's do-able. So I got all of that worked out (and then bought insurance, got a website, formed an LLC, etc etc) and was officially ready to open my business in September 2008. It was delayed a bit because I got married and became a custodial stepmom that summer, so life was really busy!

That fall I began to do some baking for a caterer friend and that was a lot of fun. Every so often I'd get a cake for one of her customers but the winter was pretty slow. Once January 2009 rolled around, my ad in one of the wedding publications hit and the phone started ringing! I got a crash course in doing consultations and tastings, working with brides and generally dealing with the "wedding public." Sure, I made some mistakes, but for the most part, it was a LOT of fun! My calendar started filling up, I was meeting some great, fun people and what's happier than a wedding, right???

Oh, a lot happened this year, my first "wedding season," and I sure did learn a lot! I did over 20 weddings this first year as well as a bunch of celebration cakes and my cakes seemed to be very well received. A lot of what I learned, the experiences I"ve had making cakes, serving brides and grooms on their "special day" and some of the joys and stresses of the job will be featured in this blog. So stay tuned and check back! Hope to "see" you again!