Cake design is so specialized, it’s hard to know what kind of gift a cake artist might want. Last year was my first Great Gifts for Cake Designers post, and there are still plenty of things on that list that I recommend (and, ahem, want). This year I asked for input from the cake community on facebook, and got some fabulous responses. I tried to keep the list pretty general and stick to things almost any cake designer would want, but a few of my personal favorites might have snuck in (specifically #4, if you’re reading this Cory). Here is my 2013 list.
1. Amazon Prime Membership. The best $79 dollars I ever spent. A one year membership gets you free two-day shipping on anything Prime-eligible, plus lots of other great benefits. I order lots of supplies for the shop through Amazon, and also use it to send gifts to friends and family. If you’re lucky enough to live in L.A. or New York, you might not need it, but if you live outside a major metropolitan area, it’s an investment that will pay for itself many times over.
2. Marvelous Molds. I was introduced to Marvelous Molds by Cake Central when I was asked to participate in their Marvelous Molds contest. Somewhere between stencils, appliques, and 3-D molds, Marvelous Molds are “silicone onlays” that eliminate the need to hand cut many pattern designs and decrease a lot of the guesswork. The designs are great, they’re easy to use, and the prices are reasonable. We sure could have used their chevron cutter in the Summer 2012, and we made the square pattern on the cake below using their checkerboard onlay.
3. Gateaux Silk Screens. I’ve had Gateaux Inc. on my radar for a while. Their designs are unique, and their approach is innovative and fresh. I’m pretty particular about lace (you can read more about that here), and I love all their lace designs. I’m not exactly sure what the difference between a screen and a stencil is, but the process seems similar (I watched their YouTube video) and the results are spectacular. Check out some of their cakes, like the one below, and you’ll know why I want one.
4. Cricut Cake Cutter. I know some professionals who frown on Cricuts in favor of hand cut designs, but if using a machine yields a result that looks good (maybe, dare I say, better?) and is easier and faster, why not? I’m pretty sure these are the same people who think all cakes should be leveled using a serrated edge knife when a quality cake leveler does just as good a job and saves time. Anyway, I don’t have one but this has been on my list for years.
5. Pasta Attachment for the KitchenAid. Smooth and even fondant for ribbons or ruffles, perfectly thin gumpaste for petals or leaves, the attachment takes the hard work out of rolling and saves product (and therefore money) by rolling extra thin. A must-have for frills and a time saver for flowers. Oh, and it makes pasta too!
6. Aprons. My friend Erin of Wild Orchid Baking suggested these Ultimate Cross Strap Aprons, and I added them to my list immediately. If you bake or cook, you know that your new “good” apron quickly becomes your old stained one, and you always need more. According to Erin, the back is what makes these apron so awesome. She says: “It’s a cross strap back, which is great for me because I hate the apron strap around my neck. It’s SUPER comfortable. They’re cute and a nice weight. The other great thing about the apron is that you can adjust where the bib of the apron hits your chest. I like to where mine high for some reason, so with traditional aprons I would end up knotting the neck strap to bring up the bib.” Quite an endorsement, and at $29.95 they make a nice gift.
7. Photo backdrops. People always ask me if it breaks my heart to see my cakes get eaten, but creating edible art means that it is intended to be only temporary. What does kill me, however, is not having a good photo. A cute backdrop can make all the difference. Ink and Elm has my favorite backdrops, but they can be a little pricey. Bubblegum Backdrops has cute ones starting at $20, and they have gift cards too.
Thanks to all my facebook friends for their input! Hope you enjoyed this year’s list.
I believe that baked goods are best eaten fresh. At the shop, any cupcakes left at the end of the evening get thrown away. Though it would certainly be more cost-effective in the short run to resell whatever is left the next day, I could not in good conscience sell a day-old cupcake.
When wedding cake clients mention that they plan to save their top tier for their one year anniversary, I always advise against it. For me, a cake that has spent a year in the freezer will taste like, well, a cake that’s spent a year in the freezer. It’s an idea I just can’t get behind.
The tradition of saving the top tier began in the late 1800s when couples married and immediately had children. The top tier of the wedding cake was saved to serve at their child’s christening. Eventually, as couples waited longer to have children, the association between wedding cake and christening cake was lost, but the tradition of saving the top tier remained.(source: http://www.hudsonvalleyweddings.com/guide/cakehistory.htm).
I usually recommend that rather than save their top tier, the couple splurge instead on a nice bottle of wine to save for their first anniversary. My husband and I traveled to Europe for our honeymoon, and brought back a bottle of Italian wine we planned to save for our anniversary. Of course I was pregnant on our first anniversary, nursing on our second, and I forget what happened on our third and fourth, but we ended up drinking it at dinner on our fifth anniversary. We didn’t realize it when we bought it, but it turned out to be a sweet dessert wine. That’s all beside the point. It’s usually a good idea.
Last October, one of my lifelong friends got married. She and her husband opted to save their top tier for their first anniversary. This is the top tier at their wedding in 2012:
And this is the top tier one year later, looking pretty bad but, according to her, still tasting good. (Actually, what she said was, “Would I sit down with a big slice of it and a cup of coffee? No. Was it nice to have a bite a year later? Absolutely yes.”)
To settle things once and for all, I posted the question on Facebook: Should couples save their top tier? There were basically three schools of thought:
1. Don’t do it. For these baking enthusiasts, the prospect of eating a year-old cake was patently unappealing. Throw in the slim chance of a power outage due to inclement weather, and now you’ve got a cake that’s been frozen, thawed, and frozen again over the course of a year.
2. Do it. This group felt that it wasn’t so much about the taste but the tradition. Many couples look forward to eating their wedding cake on their first anniversary, they argued. Why deny them?
3. Do it…sort of. The last group, mostly bakers and cake designers, agreed that it was a nice tradition but thought that it need not be interpreted literally. Many of the bakers offer a complimentary mini replica of the couple’s wedding cake on their first anniversary. Others suggested selling the couple a freshly baked anniversary cake at a discounted rate.
There were some pretty strong arguments in favor of keeping or varying the tradition, but I still wasn’t sold. And then, earlier this month, a bride that got married in November 2012 sent me this note:
Just wanted to let you know that we had our wedding cake that was frozen for the year on Sunday for our anniversary and it was as delicious as it was on our wedding day!
Well there goes that theory. Damn.
When I moved to California from New York, I thought I’d never look back. I don’t do well in extreme temperatures–I’m equally miserable and cranky when it’s above 80° and below 65°–and southern California, with its mild winters, warm summers with low humidity and cool evenings, was just right for me. Winter attire meant a lightweight sweatshirt, a scarf (strictly for fashion, not for warmth), and flip flops. But now that I’m back on the east coast, I realize how much I missed the seasons: that feeling of putting on your jeans for the first time after a hot summer, the excitement of wearing your new winter boots, the smell of rain on a spring day, and the crisp, good-hair days of autumn.
Fall is that perfect balance between the summer that was left behind and the winter that is to come. Fall cakes are just different than summer cakes, with richer, warmer flavors and colors. We make a pumpkin buttercream that’s chock full of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Our bourbon brown sugar is perfect for cooler weather, as is our maple buttercream. We even make an apple cider donut buttercream with apple cider donuts from a local farm. We do spice cake a lot in the fall, and just introduced our pumkin snickerdoodle cookies.
Here are a few of the cakes we’ve done that are just perfect for fall. With deeper colors and richer flavors, there is no mistaking their season.
On this cake, fondant pomegranates, acorns, pinecones, pumkins, and gords.
I did this cake and mini loaf cakes when I was heavy into my applique phase, but I still think it’s pretty. The fruits are all marzipan. I laugh when I see the persimmons because they are everywhere in California (where I made this cake) but seen so rarely here on the east coast. My friend Megan (Honey and Poppies) did all the florals.
My favorite parts of this cake were the hand-sculpted fondant acorns and the bronze fondant lettering.
When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, Virginia Slims created and marketed a cigarette specifically for women. Their ad campaign, seen in magazines and larger-than-life billboards, always featured a beautiful woman holding a cigarette, and in big, bold letters was printed “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Its message was pretty clear: the post-Liberation woman was strong and empowered, and equal to her male, Marlboro-smoking counterpart. To prove it, she had her own equally addictive cigarettes, created just for her.
Fast forward to early October, when I posted on facebook a photo of a fall-themed cake I had just done. A few minutes later, Jackie, a long-time family friend, shared a photo of an identical cake (actually, identical might be a stretch) I had made exactly 11 years prior for her wedding. In her post she wrote “You’ve come a long way.”
To this day, whenever I hear that expression, I always think of the Virginia Slims ads. Not the targeted marketing/nicotine dependency/inherently sexist part, but the positive aspects. About how much has changed for women; about how we truly have come a long, hard-earned way. In the 11 years since I made Jackie’s cake, a lot has changed for me both personally and professionally: I got married, lived in California, had children, moved to Connecticut, and opened a business. I’ve grown and learned. I value my time more, and I’m proud of the balance I have between work and life, family and friends, responsibility and frivolity. Owning my own business is empowering and liberating. Being a respected member of the cake community is something I value.
Here are a two cakes I did recently that show how I’ve grown. The first pair is Jackie’s cake from 2002 and the one from earlier this month. I like to think the changes in the two cakes are obvious, but the areas of improvement are the height of the tiers, the sharpness of the edges, and the arrangement of the leaves.
The changes in these two cakes are more subtle, since they were only a year apart, but my edges are sharper and there’s been a lot of growth in my sugar flower work, particularly the ranunculus and the open rose. (2012 photos: Brooke Allison Photo)
I first began designing cakes almost twenty years ago, and it was all about the buttercream. Fondant was popular in England and South America, but had not yet reached the U.S. Piped swags? Hell yeah. Tip 104 roses in garish concentrated shades of blue, pink, and green? All me.
When I was first introduced to fondant around 1999, I thought I’d never look back. I loved the silky smooth texture, the perfect silhouette, the feel of it in my hands. I was sold.
Well, they say that everything old is new again, and I guess it’s true. In the backlash against fondant, brides are beginning to request buttercream again. You’ve obviously seen the piped ruffle cakes and rustic, homespun-looking buttercream cakes all over the web. (And if my theory is correct, it won’t be long before we see the return of piped flowers.)
This summer, we did more buttercream cakes than ever before. We ice with Swiss Meringue buttercream, which yields the smoothest texture because the sugar is dissolved in egg whites, so there is no grit from powdered sugar. (We use our leftover egg yolks either for French buttercream, which we use to fill our cakes, or flan. Note that yolks, unlike whites, don’t freeze well. We either use them immediately or, if we’re using them for flan, combine them with evaporated and sweetened condensed milk and then freeze.) If you’ve never had Swiss Meringue Buttercream (or SMBC) you should try it. Although the process is more labor intensive, it’s worth it.
Because it contains butter, SMBC has a slightly yellowish tint, and is not pure white. (Fondant is our only white icing option.) For some brides, it’s a tradeoff: they like the look of fondant but not the taste, and prefer to have a cake that tastes as delicious as it looks. For others, they actually prefer the look of buttercream, arguing that fondant appears a bit unreal.
Here are a few of the buttercream cakes we made this summer. I’ll let you be the judge.
I love my current website, and it has served me well, but it’s time to move on. I’ll soon be getting a new mobile-friendly site that will allow clients to place orders for cakes and cupcakes online. Hooray! And to that end we’ve created a new line of pre-designed cakes called The Classic Collection that will be available for purchase directly on our website for in-store pickup.
While we await the arrival of our new site, we needed a place to share our Classic Collection designs. What better place than right here? So bear with us until our new website launches. Until then, phone or email will have to do.
Here’s how it works: Choose your cake flavor, filling, and design. Call us at 203.200.0350 or email us at email@example.com. It’s that easy!
- red velvet
- chocolate chip
- coconut cream
- chocolate buttercream
- raspberry buttercream
- cream cheese
- peanut butter buttercream
- chocolate chip
- mint chip buttercream
- cookies ‘n’ cream
- strawberry buttercream
And now, our Classic Collection. Each cake is available for as few as 10 guests and up to 40. We can customize colors, names or numbers.
We’re looking forward to sharing our new website soon!
To me, lace is the quintessential girly adornment, the most feminine of fabrics. I’ve said many times (such as here and here) that I’m not much of a girly girl, so it goes without saying that I’m not much into lace. Especially bad lace, whether fabric or fondant. Maybe it’s because all the real lace I have access to in my little town is cheaply made and of poor quality, or maybe it’s because the edible lace I’ve seen looks sort of heavy-handed, lacking the openwork holes that characterize real lace, but until recently I didn’t really use lace much on my cakes. There was one lace, sort of cottony and simple, which I kind of liked–or, I should say, didn’t offend me–and I used it many, many times.
And then in June, a client requested that I use lace she had purchased on her cake. And I loved it!
So I started looking around, and I found this RVO lace mold. While most lace molds render a heavy-handed look that lacks the delicacy of real lace, the RVO lace mold produces a product that is quite fine looking, with holes!
So I guess “new” doesn’t quite apply anymore. I did these cakes back in February and the magazine published in the spring, but I’ve been so busy I never shared their story. The theme for this photo shoot at The Knot Magazine was Current Trends in Cake. Of course what’s trendy today will be passé tomorrow, so the challenge for the designer is to stay ahead of the trends, and to present them in a new and unexpected way.
We envisioned two cakes. The first cake would feature gold graphics softened by white roses. We knew we wanted to include triangles, which were inspired by the arrows we’re seeing everywhere now. We thought we could double up on the trendy by painting them gold.
The second concept featured an updated interpretation of a chevron (rather than an actual chevron, which was the trendy element) and a pop of floral for a fun and feminine twist.
Well, some designs definitely look better on paper, because the white and gold cake, once executed, would have been perfect for a wedding at Cesar’s Palace. We changed the roses to pink, and broke up the gold arrows with a few randomly placed pink ones, and were much happier with the results. My friend Brooke took these photos.
The pink pomander cake was hand cut and looked just like the sketch. The wonderful and fabulous Brooke Allison also took these photos.
Here are the cakes as seen in The Knot.
Special thanks to Brooke for all her time and talents, and to the Knot for featuring our work.
Here are a few things you should know about me:
1. I’m a much better cake artist than I am in any other medium (as you will see below).
2. I am not, nor have I ever been, a girly girl. In third grade, I wore my faded Lee jeans with the holes in the knees on school picture day while all the other girls wore their frilly pink dresses. In fifth grade, when my friends and I played The Facts of Life, Kim was always Blair and I was always Joe. I owned more power tools as a single, apartment-dwelling woman than most home-owning men.
That said, I do like to push myself creatively, so when Brides Magazine asked me to design a cake that fit into one of three themes–glamorous, romantic, or modern–I chose romantic. Yikes. My cakes naturally lean toward modern, but I had really been wanting to challenge myself, and knew that a romantic-style cake would do the trick.
Callan (my wonderful assistant) is very much a girly girl and a hopeless romantic, so she had quite a few ideas. I, of course, had none. I looked around (on Pinterest, obviously) and found some inspiration. I collaborated with Callan and submitted three sketches coupled with visual inspiration (none of which is properly credited! That’s terrible! Shame on me!)
Concept One: White-on-white. Fluffy white peonies, a romantic monogram in the center, and floral swags. Concept one was rejected.
Concept 2: Mercury glass with blush roses. Have you ever tried to draw mercury glass? It’s impossible, I tell you! Not possible! The inspiration for this cake was beautiful, but the sketch…not so much. I wasn’t surprised the editors didn’t select it.
Concept 3: Doilies, blush tones, hints of seafoam. Even the sketch was cute! They liked best, I liked it best, and in the end, it was the most romantic cake I’ve ever made.
The request: Contribute a cake for Operation Shower, a non-for profit organization that throws baby showers for military families who are experiencing or have recently experienced deployment.
The challenge. Create a gender-neutral cake based on the Hostess with the Mostess vintage toy baby shower collection.
The shower. It’s a lot like Oprah’s Favorite Things…if Oprah were throwing a baby shower. There are prizes and free bedding and toys and lots of other stuff you would need if you were having a baby. And it’s all donated. It’s a really nice event, and the organizers go all out.
The guests. Now, I always wanted to be one of those pregnant chicks who you can’t even tell is pregnant from any angle other than the side. The ones who stay perfectly tight and trim other than their cute little belly protruding ever so slightly. Instead, I was pregnant all over: my arms were pregnant, my ass was pregnant, even my nose was pregnant. One look at my pinky and you knew I was pregnant. But check out this pregnant lady. This is what I wanted to look like. See how adorable she looks? My ass would have never fit in that frame.
Lunch is served and and, of course, dessert.
The cake. Three tiers. We loved the rocking horse theme and found the perfect vintage Wilton cutter on ebay. We randomly placed navy hearts, baby blue stars, and red stripes on the 1″ white squares covering the cake, and tried our best to make it gender neutral. My favorite part? The rocking horse topper.
The photos. Marisa from Sassy Mouth Photography generously donated her time and talent to photograph this event. Thank you so much, Marisa. The photos are, as always, lovely.