I’ve always loved those rocks with words etched on them, and attempted (rather unsuccessfully) to make them out of fondant. (I’ll have to give this another try at some point.) I wanted this ruffle to be vertical, like the ruffles on the pillow below, but it needed something else so I added a ruffled rosette.
Archives for June 2011
Growing up, we usually got ice cream cakes for our birthday parties. (My mom was always really good about ordering them in advance so we could special-order the flavors we wanted rather than having to settle for the pre-made ones.) Although I remember not liking cake much–it wasn’t until I was much older that I understood how good a cake made from scratch and filled with French buttercream can be–you couldn’t tell from this picture of me in 1973 at four years old:
Okay, so I started cake design with Wilton, and I was pretty good. (You can read How I Got Started Part I here.) I got a really solid foundation from the Wilton classes, but I was well aware that Wilton is sometimes frowned on in the cake industry as somewhat amateurish, and, truth be told, it made me self-conscious. So I went on to take more professional-level classes at various schools in New York City. I remember once, at a gumpaste flower class at The New School, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves and tell a little about our cake design backgrounds. I sheepishly mentioned that my only cake design experience thus far was with Wilton, to which she replied–and I’ve always been grateful she said this–”Everyone starts with Wilton!” I never felt self-conscious about my humble beginnings again.
I was introduced to fondant at a store in Jackson Heights, Queens, where I bought a lot of my supplies. Fondant had already gained popularity in South America, and was widely used in England and Australia. I liked the look of fondant and took the class. This was my first fondant cake (again, very Wilton), for my sister’s baby shower. My nephew (my sister’s first ”baby”) is almost 10 now, so I guess I did this about 11 years ago.
Once I had the designing down, I had to tackle the baking. At first, I used box cakes. Real cakes seemed too intimidating, and besides, everyone told me they liked my cakes better when I used Duncan Hines. (With all those yummy artifical flavors and preservatives, could you blame them?) I finally took a cake baking class at ICES, and realized that the problem was both my technique and my recipes. Cake baking, unlike cookie baking or other types of cooking, is a true science. There’s no such thing as eyballing measurements, adding a pinch here or a tweak there. All of the ingredients in a cake interact in very specific ways, each causing different chemical reactions, so it is absolutely imperative to follow a cake recipe exactly and measure accurately. That said, just because a recipe is in print, doesn’t mean that its been tested or is even very good. It took a lot of experimentation to find recipes that worked for me. I didn’t invent my own (although my carrot cake does have a secret ingredient), and I am happy with the recipes I now use.
I specifically remember that this cake, from 1996, was a Duncan Hines yellow cake.
An old boyfriend bought me my first KitchenAid, and it served me well until, at age 35, I met my soon-to-be husband. He was 25, lived with his dad, worked only part-time, and owned his very own KitchenAid. I fell in love and moved to California to be with him, bringing my KitchenAid along with me. (We eventually sold mine for fear that it would bring bad karma.) I got a job teaching at a high school in Los Angeles and made the mistake of announcing to my students on the first day that I was from New York, thinking they’d find me cool. Instead, things rapidly deteriorated into a Biggie Smalls vs. Tupac style rap war, with me representing the east coast and my students the west. You’d be amazed how often our coastal difference surfaced, and my focus on New York history only confirmed their suspicion that I thought the east coast superior. (The fact that I was teaching early American history and most of it takes place on the east coast was a moot point.) I went home crying almost every day.
This is where the zaniest, craziest thing I ever did for cake comes in. You can read more about it here.
I’ve been at it for about 15 years, and I’ve come a long way. At first, I did cakes for free, for $10, for coworkers, for family, and for friends. I practiced for 10 years before I had the confidence to do it professionally. Once, when a magazine contacted me and asked if I had any designs inspired by family heirlooms, I lied and said yes. I made four cakes in a day, had my husband photograph them, and got three of them published. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never had a disaster befallen one of my cakes (more about that in a future post), but I’ve learned so much from every single one. And the best part is, I’m still learning.Read More
I got such a positive response to my last post on cakes inspired by imagery that I decided to use the same format again.
Here are two more inspiration boards and the cakes they inspired.
Photographer Ashleigh Taylor Henning (adorable, talented, really nice) wanted to create a photo shoot based on the restaurant scene in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. Being pretentiously, even obnoxiously unfamiliar with the movie (really though, I’ve never seen it), I had no idea where to go with the cake, so Megan Gray of Honey and Poppies created this inspiration board (mostly) for me. (Blame her for not properly crediting the photos.) You can see more images and read more about Ashleigh’s concept on Green Wedding Shoes, but here is the inspiration board and a few shots of the cake.
It’s ironic that I bake. My mom was not the type to have a home-baked snack on the table for us when we came home from school. She was more the health food type, going to great lengths to incorporate some wheat germ (the kale of the 1970s) into our meals whenever possible. If anything, whipping up a batch of cookies from scratch seemed a task akin to cutting crown molding (which, if you’ve never done it, is basically impossible. Seriously, check out this link and tell me if you think you could do it.) She did encourage us to be creative, however, and was never a stickler for a clean kitchen (though I know she’d disagree). Combine that with the fact that she was a single parent with a full time job, and that gave my sister and I a lot of time home alone to experiment.
It worked fine early on from what I remember, but in its later years, it became somewhat possessed, turning on spontaneously and without warning, always while resting in a bowl of runny batter, causing the batter to splatter all over the kitchen. In one particularly traumatizing run-in with the mixer, I was demonstrating for my sister how it tickled to gently run ones finger along the blades of a rotating beater, only to have my entire hand rotate along with it and wind up stuck between the two beaters. We had to go over to the next apartment (my mom, needless to say, was not home), with my hand still stuck in the hand mixer, so that our neighbor Joe could free my hand by bending the beaters.
While some of my friends had lifelong ambitions and knew since second grade what their career path would be, I never had any aspirations and never wanted to be anything in particular. Even the career choices most popular among my elementary school counterparts–veterinarian, pediatrician, teacher, lawyer–held no allure for me. My mom encouraged me to pursue whatever made me happy.
In college, I majored in Liberal Studies. Here is a picture of me that I just had to include because, well, it’s friggin’ hilarious. I’m the one with the big hair…Oh, sorry. I’m the one in the center with the big hair.
I graduated in 1991, in the midst of a deep recession and with no clue what I wanted to be or do. I got a job at a real estate law publishing company in Manhattan (I thought maybe I wanted to be a writer; receptionist at a publishing company seemed close enough), and the walk from the 23rd Street F Train exit to my job on 21st and Broadway took me right past New York Cake and Bake. I frequently found myself wandering in, in awe of all the gadgets, tools, and equipment. I had no idea what any of them did, but I was deeply intrigued. The store was like a museum to me, a place to just wonder at all the things you’ll never be able to master. One day in 1995, I walked by and they were advertising an inexpensive Wilton class. I signed up.
I loved the class, like I knew I would, and to make it even better, I was good at it. This is a picture of my very first tiered cake, in the pre-fondant days. Note the quality photography and classic Wilton drop flowers, string work, and ruffle border. I remember that I loved this cake, though looking at it now it’s hard to remember what it was exactly that I loved about it.
Lest this blog post should go on forever, I’ll be telling the rest of the story in a separate post. Please read the rest of my story in Part II.Read More
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We would love to answer all of your questions! Feel free to contact Erica OBrien Cake Design. We’ll either email you directly or post your question on our blog.
- A seriously sophisticated wedding cake in gold and navy. http://t.co/WCtNB6hWIE about 5 hours ago from Facebook
- @GlobalSugarArt And thanks for your YouTube video on the RVO lace mold. Lifesaver! 10:58:34 PM May 15, 2013 from Twitter for iPhone in reply to GlobalSugarArt
- @GlobalSugarArt An oldie but goodie. Thanks Alan! 10:56:45 PM May 15, 2013 from Tweet Button in reply to GlobalSugarArt
- @rosevilledesign Thanks to @BAllisonPhoto! 03:00:24 AM May 14, 2013 from web in reply to rosevilledesign
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