cake decorating

duplicate, create... innovate

So much has happened since my last (published) post (let's not talk about the drafts waiting in the cue), I can’t possibly fit it all in here – I suppose that’s the problem with life; it moves at a frenetic pace. By the time you’re ready to talk about something, something else has transpired. I had all sorts of posts planned in my mind, and then Steve Jobs passed away. That’s when I decided I wanted to talk about him and the impact he’s had on my life. What do Steve Jobs and cake have to do with each other? On the surface, not a whole lot. What does Jobs have to do with me? The first computer I ever touched was an Apple IIe. The first one I owned – a Performa. Three imacs, an ibook, macbook, shuffle, nano, and an ipod touch later, there is not a day that I don’t interact with something that Jobs influenced or made. His inventions help me be more efficient (on the days I’m not procrastinating). They enable me to make my own website and marketing materials; to blog and facebook and twitter my days away. They keep me sane on airplanes when my seat mate wants to talk me to death, and on the rare occasion I get on a treadmill, my ipod keeps me walking towards nowhere. I am a mac (among other things)!

This is important because Job’s legacy is thinking outside of the box; creating something not only new, but intuitive. Sophisticated but basic. Modern but simple. Complex but easy to use, and at the end of the day, standing alone, all those beautiful pieces of technology are art.

Here’s the cake connection. I get asked often, “what’s the hardest cake you’ve ever had to do?” Truthfully, every one is  a challenge because every cake is new, something I haven’t done before. But after really thinking about it, the most difficult cakes are the ones where I’m asked to duplicate something that’s already been done. Think about all of the remakes of popular songs. No one wants to hear someone sing a classic song and butcher it, or not bring something new to the table. You want it to be better than the original – even awesome – er! Think about how many bad renditions of favorites we’ve heard on American Idol (shudder)!

Don’t get it twisted… I LOVE to make cake. Pretty much any kind of cake, except cupcakes (that’s for another post). But I really don’t want to copy someone else’s cake. I don’t even want to copy my own cakes! I want to take cake, and transform it… create a new cake experience that will truly reflect the occasion and the people being celebrated. Forget Mike; I want to be like Jobs. Truly, with every cake, I want to go further, push the envelope, and innovate. I want for people to want to duplicate me. Isn’t that what Jobs did? How many other mp3 players are out there, that we can name? I think there’s that Zune thing (not sure if it’s still around). Ipod has become synonymous with mp3 players. Yup. When people think cake, I want them to think not a crumb!.

So what do youwant to do with your life, career, passion? Duplicate, create or innovate?

what's the big faking deal?

every year event and wedding design reveals new trends. most of those have to do with color, shape, texture, or graphic images. one trend that's been around for the past few seasons is frugality. now being a girl who has champagne taste and a coca-cola pocketbook, i understand that not everyone has oodles of disposable income to throw at their wedding or celebration. it's important in these difficult financial times that we make every cent count twice. so i applaud thrifty-ness and bargain-hunting. brides are all about diy, from their invitations to their bouquets, to favors, forget fake it till you make it, just make it! all of those handmade items bring a certain whimsy and personality to a wedding, and i'm all for it! since brides are being discriminating with their  dollars, event planners are being creative with cost-cutting, thus, the fake cake.

most cake designers have created fake cakes before; tiers of styrofoam covered in fondant or plaster and decorated to look like a fab wedding confection. they've been made for bridal shows and exhibits, or for displays in their shops or studios. i've made quite a few myself. some of the work pictured on my website consists of display cakes that i've decorated for various occasions. up until recently most of us have never been commissioned to make one for a real live event. brides and planners are soliciting display cakes for show & pics, and then sheet cake for the kitchen with the hopes of saving some scratch. here's the thing... that actually won't save you money. in some cases it may actually cost you more! allow me to debunk a couple of myths for you.

  • wedding cake costs more than other cake; bakers automatically charge more when they hear the word wedding. - not true, unless you are comparing the cost of a wedding cake to your local bakery or grocery's grab & go birthday cake. personally, i charge the same for any special event cake - birthday, wedding, anniversary, baby shower, etc.. the price is determined by the level of detail and the amount of work that will go into a specialty design.
  • a fake cake plus sheet cake will cost less. - bakers determine the price based on ingredients, how long it will take to decorate plus the amount of time it will take to bake the cake(s). when making fake cake plus sheet cake, the cake still needs to be baked, plus the cake designer has to decorate twice - first the sheet cake (which needs to look like it came from the pretty display cake), then the display cake. there are also additional materials for the display cake. that styrofoam can get pretty expensive! for a three tier cake, it can cost anywhere from $15-40 just for the dummies (not insulting them, that's just what they're called)
  • no one will know the difference, i can just get cake from costco (nothing against costco, i LOVE costco - where do you think i get all that butter from?!) to keep the  number of servings down. - ummm... nope. most cake decorators have an all-or-nothing clause in their contracts. you must get all cake from them. this is designed to protect them and their reputation. guests don't know that the groom's cake came from one place and the wedding cake came from another. they just know they had cake. and if one is really awful...only one gets all the credit/blame. they won't differentiate. also, sheet cake looks different. it's usually two layers of cake and one of icing/filling, whereas wedding cake is usually three layers of cake and two of filling or icing. you wouldn't want your guests to think there's been a bait and switch!

so how can you save on your wedding cake? when is fake cake appropriate?

  1. be realistic about your budget and share that information with your cake designer. s/he will present you with ideas that are within your price range if you are up front about it.
  2. simpler is usually less expensive. choose a design that will not require hours of detail work. nix the sugar flowers and go with silk or fresh, non-toxic blooms.
  3. choose a smaller cake for display (big surface+fancy details=more details & more time. little surface+fancy details= less details & less time) and other types of desserts like pie or cookies will reduce the amount of servings you'll need.
  4. choose a smaller display cake and kitchen cake provided by the same baker.
  5. supplement the size of your cake by the addition of one or two fake tiers. this may not save you on decorating, but it will save you on the number of serving.

i hope this helps you navigate the world of cake!

which one is real?

design, design, design!

if you watch any of the reality cake shows ( i watch all of them - even the ones i can't stand... more about that in another post), you'll see the bride & groom sitting with the esteemed cake decorator, and then they say something like..."i'm having a luau, spa, winter, outdoor, polka dot wedding, and i want you to make a fantastic cake! oh and we really love our dog, roscoe!". and then buddy, or duff, or someone on cake challenge makes a 4ft tall dog wearing a lei and a parka, skiing down a mountain with polka dot boots, and the bride & groom fall in love the minute they see it (it's perfect! it's better than we could have imagined! it looks just like roscoe if he were skiing in hawaii!) at their wedding reception with cameras rolling, and then said cake decorator gets showered with gratitude. yeah...that's not how it works. brides and grooms come in with a general idea of what they want - something round, or square, traditional or whimsical, (well the grooms come in to taste cake - they're not that interested in the pretty cakes). then i show them enough pictures to confuse them and make them change their mind. this is key to the process, because what i really want to know is how you decorate your house, and what colors you love. whether you'd wear stripes or polka dots or plaid. what country you'd love to travel to. this is where the design comes from, and it can't be accomplished in a 30 second segment. it takes a little time; we have to date a bit so that i can get to know you, and you can get to trust me!

i had a wedding cake this weekend that i absolutely love. i think it is my favorite (for now). it's because it was very different than what i normally do in terms of wedding cake. it was fun because the bride and groom let me do what i wanted! which was what they wanted even though they didn't know it initially. they came in wanting a simple, elegant 3 tier white cake. boring... they however, were not boring people, so why get a boring cake? they were interesting, and quirky, and from the middle east. the reception was at a lebanese restaurant.  plain, white cake? yeah right.

so we looked through some books, and they fell in love with an offset cake (inside i did a little jig, and then a booty shake), but not the design on that cake.

bride: "could you do something that has a byzantine feel/pattern?"

me: "sure!" (running to computer to google "byzantine design")

this is what i found (found some other stuff too, but this was the most exciting, and secretly i was hoping they'd love this too...)

this is the byzantine door interpreted in cake, and their black, white and ivory color scheme.

progression....evolution

last week i attended entrepreneur magazine's growth conference in atlanta ( #growthconference ) and one word kept popping up in my head, no matter the session i was in - CHANGE. all of the presenters talked about how change is inevitable and necessary for growth. although i am a change-o-phobe (i think change is all good when it happens to other people), i could hear the wisdom in what they were saying. the end of the year always brings about a certain amount of reflection - what have i accomplished? why didn't i get more done? why is there so much left to do?!!!! it's difficult to see how much has changed and how much progress you have made; the forest for the trees if you will, or the trees for the forest (to-may-toe, to-mah-toe). as i sat in the build your brand session, i thought about how much not a crumb! has grown. to me progress is about evolution, adapting and growing stronger, smarter, better, more FABULOUS! when i graduated from college, a girlfriend gave each of us in our circle, a crystal paperweight. in bold type it said "the evolution of man". pictured below, there were sets of footprints, leading from primate, to barefoot, to a print of a pair of man's shoes, to a woman's stiletto. i thought it was hilarious - that the most evolved version of man is a woman. i don't believe that to be true (that's for all the men reading this)! the image always stuck with me; this idea of moving forward.

i want to share a little of not a crumb!'s evolution. i started baking as a kid because my mom baked and i was an only child, so i didn't really have any where to be but in the kitchen up under her arm... my mom and my godmother had a little business making wedding cakes and special occasion cakes. they had a whole system, my mom would do the baking during the day after work, and my godmother would decorate in the evening when she got off of work. they did that for most of my school years until my godmother moved to the land of the retired, at which point my mom continued on by herself, with me very occasionally assisting. i went onto college never thinking that baking as a career was in my future, returned home and baked strictly for fun, until people started asking if they could pay me to make cakes. i then convinced my  mom to come out of semi- cake retirement. that's when not a crumb! was born. so for the next 5 years we baked together (not always peacefully - hey we are mother and daughter!), and then i moved to atlanta from ny, and we became a two state operation. it took two years of lobbying, but i convinced my parents to move down to the a this past july, and once again, i've got my mom working with, and supporting me!

fast forward 7 years from my move to the peach state, and not a crumb! has surpassed my initial dreams. we've moved from a hobby to a business! one of my cakes was spotlighted in a national magazine (get married!), and my cake was featured at the unveiled wedding show in november, and i've been making cakes far beyond what i ever thought i could make!

i was cleaning out and going through papers with my mom in preparation for their move and we came across some of our old business cards. check out how we began to build our brand:

this is what we look like now!

change is a good great thing when we allow it to propel us forward, progress and evolve! the end of the year pensiveness was much needed for me. it reminded me that although i didn't meet all my goals for 2010, i've done a whole lot, and didn't allow negative changes to steamroll me. change is always an opportunity for growth. not a crumb! has even more changes coming, and i can't wait to tell you about them (actually i can wait, but it's really, really hard, because it's such exciting news!).

check back to see what's up!

the successful fail

much has been said about failure. we've got lots of cliches designed to make us feel better when we screw up royally. you know - "if at first you don't succeed...", "nothing beats a failure but a try!", "let's learn from our mistakes...". yeah, yeah, yeah. what those cliches don't say is how much it really sucks when things don't work out the way you envisioned them. this past weekend karin, from this wife bakes, and i collaborated on the mother of all groom's cakes. it was, in a word, stupendous, marvelous, fantastic. ok that was three words, but it was definitely all of those things. a 2 ft tall 3-d sculpted bulldog for an omega psi phi, complete with gold construction  boots, spiked collar and chain leash. see!

the before

and this was before all of the little details had been added, like his back two feet, laces for the boots. he was a gorgeous 70+ lbs of of yummy chocolate and vanilla cake, strawberry cheesecake buttercream and rice krispie treats. he also lost his head.

we traveled to the lovely ventana's for the setup and on the way his head started to sag. no worries. we'll just make a couple of adjustments and we'll be good to go! the first fix still looked fab due to our quick thinking. however, we soon realized that the cake was going to be a massive fail. first clue? when his head continued its downward descent. second clue? when his chest exploded all over the table. that is no exaggeration... the only thing keeping that cake upright was my hand on his head and my stomach against the edge of the table. at that point all i could think was that i had managed to ruin a very important part of someone's very important day. i did not cry...yet. we managed to salvage the head, chain, dog bone, and two of the boots, clear off the table and display what was left. the remaining cake was carted off to the kitchen to be served later with dessert. you saw the before. here's the after.

the after

all i wanted to do was curl up into the fetal position and die of embarrassment. then to add insult to injury, i cried all over the groom when he and his lovely bride told us how beautiful the body-less dog was. not my best moment, as i stood blubbering all over him and his fancy tuxedo. how much worse can it get!

god has a way of teaching you and showing you things in what you perceive to be your darkest, saddest, worst, most horribly humiliating moments. a couple of funny things that happened that night, aside from the dessert debacle:

  1. prior to the dog dying, i almost knocked him off the table, which although it would have been a more spectacular ending, would probably have had me searching for the nearest sharp implement to use to take my life.
  2. me blubbering all over the bride and groom. hey, at least i wasn't hysterical.
  3. me and karin standing in the middle of the reception hall with  huge chunks of cake innards in our hands waiting for rescue and divine intervention.
  4. me proclaiming that the dog's ass (pardon my french) was still in perfect condition, and we should just turn it around! not my best idea... it's not like no one would notice the gaping hole in his midsection.
  5. going to retrieve the box of cake remnants karin had hidden in the stairwell so the bride and groom wouldn't see it, and finding a wedding guest eating the cake out of the box on the floor and proclaiming,  and i quote, "this is some damn good cake". who does that! apparently he did, and it was yummy!

i learned a couple of lessons on saturday night. the first is that whenever things are going too smoothly, disaster is lurking around the corner. the second, we all need to have a humbling experience, or two, or three to keep us, well, humble. the third, nothing and no one/dog,  is exempt from the laws of nature, in this case, gravity. third, people are good. period. the bride and groom were so gracious, and kind, and understanding! i mean, i cried all over the groom who comforted me!

you may not know that i run this business in addition to a full-time job. it's been difficult, trying to achieve balance, keeping myself and my relationships healthy, all the while  reaching for my goal of world cake domination. the biggest lesson i learned from this experience is that i cannot continue to burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, and not expect for things to fall apart and catch fire. in failing, i've gained so much - new perspective, renewed energy and determination. so i'm coining a new phrase - "the successful fail". while i don't wish misfortune on anyone, i hope that your failures will be as succesful as mine!

stomping at the savoy

every now and then i get an opportunity to run free and wild. last week back in october (see how long ago i started this post. smh. i've got to write more often!) i had the great pleasure of creating a display cake for the pi alpha omega chapter of alpha kappa alpha. they were having their annual fundraising dinner and dance benefiting their ivy and roses scholarship fund. last year the theme was motown...

this year the theme was the harlem renaissance. there's SO much from that era, but i was totally inspired by the glamour, the glitz and the bling ( i swear this year i am going to retire that word!), as well as the art deco architecture and design. i kept thinking about the cotton club and the savoy ballroom, so this is what i came up with[gallery link="file" columns="2"]

woo hoo!

so i don't usually use phrases like woo hoo! but i think that what i'm about to say warrants such exclamation. i am borrowing the phrase from my friend karin over at this wife bakes because it is so apropos. wait for it.... one of my cakes will be appearing in the april edition of get married! magazine. world cake domination here i come (rubbing my hands together in glee!, minus the maniacal laughing)! so in approximately 3 weeks you'll be able to get your hands on a copy at barnes & noble, target, cvs, walgreens, kmart, books a million, kroger, & borders. you thought i was joking about the world domination... nope!

i suppose you want to know what the cake looks like... i'll never tell (singing in that creep voice like the girl from that movie)! i wouldn't want to spoil the surprise... i will say this; think french country meets morocco meets new orleans - turquoise, red, silver and fleur-de-lis. that's the only preview you'll get!

piece of cake redux!

i am a glutton for punishment, a sadomasochist. that is why 2 weeks after sending steve and shonika's cake to ny, i agreed to send yet another cake to ny for my friend's mom's retirement party. first by plane, now by car!so thursday evening rob came by to pick up the cake to drive from atlanta to ny....i think this one had me more panicked than the wedding cake. well i think all went well since i didn't get any phone calls from a freaked-out rob...

so here's the story behind the cake. rob's mom has been an educator for over 30 years, so the theme of the party was connected to a quote from nelson mandela - "education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world", you have provided that weapon for years, now the world is yours! rob and his bro gave mom 2 round trip tickets to go anywhere she wants. how cool is that! she's also really involved in her church sorority and family, so i incorporated words that reflected her interests and relationships. i think it came out really well. i don't often do dainty pretty cakes; so much of what i do is very graphic and bright, so this was a welcome change. [gallery]

piece of cake!

yeah, so anyone who has every delivered precious cargo knows how scary it can be. i'm sure you're all thinking about your cute precious babies, and no doubt they're cute, and precious, but you've got all sorts of contraptions to keep them safe and whole. imagine cake. well not just cake, but someone's dreams, expectations, and happy moments, all wrapped up in very fragile, delicate sugar. not fun. downright terrifying.  since i like to live on the edge, not only do i deliver cake in the metro atlanta area, battling traffic on the downtown connector, and 285, i volunteer to take and send cakes out of state and out of the country. this time - new york, for my friends' wedding. i couldn't go and so a deep sense of guilt prodded me to say - "no problem, i can just send the cake with my dear husband; on the airplane. no biggie."

so after a couple of weeks of panic and planning, i shipped the cake stand by mail, and then the cake (and groom's cake) via airtran airways, from atlanta, ga to queens, ny. and you know what? it arrived, in one piece, safe and sound without so much as a fingerprint. wanna see how i did it?

[gallery]

this is how the magic happens!

i get lots of questions about how i do what i do. usually my response goes something like this..."if i tell you, i'll have to kill you." this is said in a very ominous and threatening voice. for some reason though, nobody seems to think that i'll follow through on my threats. oh well. today i've decided to share some of the magic that happens when i'm decorating a cake. there's a point in the middle where the cake looks like a hot mess, and i wonder if i'm actually going to pull off what i promised the customer, and i'm full of doubt and self-loathing.  but i give it a few more minutes (or hours) and then it's like, what was i ever worried about! these are some of the pics from my sexy betty boop cake while i was making betty. i will say that i had to remake betty's legs about 3 times before i got it right (they kept breaking). the whole thing is made out of gumpaste and fondant with toothpicks and bamboo skewers for support. she turned out pretty cute if i do say so myself!

betty boop montage