Somewhere around the late ’80s, I swore off gold. No more gold earrings, gold bracelets, or gold necklaces for me. I also renounced pastels. Pinks and lavenders, mint and seafoam green, and especially mauve and peach were now officially anathema to me.
Then, almost overnight, I love gold and pastels again. I’m not sure when it happened or how, but I took a look at my cakespiration pinboard, and the majority of my pins were pastels and gold. Check these out and you’ll see what I mean.
And then it’s full speed ahead, with a new pair of gold earrings, a pastel duvet cover, and this cake with a gold chevron and pastel sugar flowers inspired by my Pinterest boards.
After much anticipation (and years in the making), we’ve opened our retail shop. Okay, it’s not exactly “ours”. I call it our sister shop, and it’s quite literally my sister’s shop. My sister Jessica, The Soup Girl, and I share the commercial kitchen in the back of the house. The front is divided between her retail area and my consultation studio, but I’m selling my cupcakes on her side.
Since part of my personal mission is to educate the world about what a good cake/cupcake should actually taste like, retail is proving the perfect forum for me. Although most bakeries–even some high end cake design studios–bake from mixes and purchase large vats of “buttercream” that often contain no actual butter, we bake everything from scratch and use real butter. All of our fruit flavors are made in-house by reducing the whole fruit with sugar until all that is left is intense, concentrated fruit flavor. We use really good quality chocolate (Callebaut), fruit purees (Boiron), and vanilla paste (Nielsen-Massey). We sold out of every single cupcake the first two days we were open. (I’ve since increased production to keep up with demand.) Apparently Hamden, CT was just waiting for a quality cupcake.
We officially opened last Thursday, and I would describe the experience as exciting, exhuasting, exhilarating, and emotional. (Megan, if you’re reading this, forgive the alliteration. It was completely unintentional.) The neighborhood we’re in is extremely welcoming, and so many people came out to show their support. We couldn’t be happier with the location.
Below, some photos of The Soup Girl’s retail shop, our staff, and me and my absolutely fabulous intern working on some cupcakes. I’m saving the photos of my studio until it’s completely finished.
And if you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by!
My motivation for writing this post is strictly self-serving. The differences between edible gums and their uses is precisely the kind of information I can never commit to memory. So, tired of searching repeatedly through the many sources of information on gums, I decided to create an easy to understand reference guide. I did it for me. And, okay, for you too.
Carboxy Methyl Cellulose or SodiumCarboxyMethylCellulose. The chemical name for Tylose. (See Tylose below.)
For cake design: Add to royal icing to strengthen. Create edible glue (or “gum glue”) by mixing 2 tsp. gum arabic with 2 ounces water (source: SugarCraft.com)
Natural or synthetic: Natural
Alternative names: acacia gum, chaargund, char goond, or meska
Most similar to: n/a
Wilton brand name for karaya gum. (See karaya gum below.)
Uses: Drying agent. Adds strength and stretch.
For cake design: Used in making gumpaste and pastillage. Can be added to fondant to speed drying (sometimes called “emergency gumpaste“, see recipe under Tylose)
Natural or synthetic: Natural
Alternative names: gum trag, gum elect, gum dragon
Most similar to: Tylose
Uses: thickener and emulsifier, used to adulterate gum tragacenth due to their similar physical characteristics
For cake design: Ingredient in some gumpaste recipes. Can be added to fondant to speed drying (sometimes called “emergency gumpaste“, see recipe under Tylose)
Natural or synthetic: Natural
Alternative names: Gum-Tex (Wilton brand)
Most similar to: gum tragacanth
Uses: thickener, binder, stabilizer, and suspending agent in glazes. Helps products retain moisture and gives a gum-like texture. Also acts as drying agent in fondant and gumpaste. Tylose is said to hold up better in humidity and is whiter in color. The more tylose you use, the stiffer and stronger the resulting fondant.
For cake design: Ingredient in some gumpaste recipes (including the one I use, Nicholas Lodge’s gumpaste recipe). Can be added to fondant to speed drying, sometimes called “emergency gumpaste“. To create emergency gumpaste, add 2 -3 tsp of Tylose powder to 1lb of fondant. The more tylose you use, the stiffer and stronger the resulting fondant. Tylose is said to hold up better in humidity and is whiter in color than gum tragacenth.
When you get an email from Anne Chertoff asking you if you want to contribute to the Vera Wang app, you jump on the chance and respond immediately with an emphatic Yes! Yes! Yes! Unless, of course, you’re me, in which case you think the email is just some mass marketing form letter and ignore it completely. Then, luckily, Anne Chertoff persists and emails you again to say she hasn’t received anything back from you, at which point you realize this is real and then you respond with Yes! Yes! Oh, if you’ll still have me, yes! And that’s the true story of how I came to make two cakes for Vera Wang’s new itunes app.
Eric Hildebrand, the stylist on the project, collaborated with Anne Chertoff, the Project Manager, and the Vera Wang art director to conceptualize several vignettes that would feature a Vera Wang dress, flatware, china, stemware, and a cake.
Eric sent over photos of the dresses and collages of the concept and asked me to present sketches. The most challenging part for me was creating a design that was true to my style but also worked with Vera Wang’s classic, sophisticated designs.
The first scenario was The Modernist and featured the Fiona dress in white with orange accents and parrot tulips.
The Modernist cake sketch originally featured three square tiers (I ended up adding a fourth tier but I can’t remember why) because I thought squares more contemporary than round. I incorporated the pleating from the dress and pops of orange found in the invitation around the plaque and dots on the pleats and edible parrot tulips.
In the end, the art director nixed the orange dots in the sketch so the pleats were plain white, and my lovingly hand-crafted gumpaste parrot tulips were replaced with real tulips.
Johnny Miller was the photographer on the project. You’ve definitely seen Johnny’s work before in Martha Stewart’s magazines and books, and while he obviously has a gift for bringing food to life through photographs, it is his personal work that really moves me. His photos are artistic and emotional, and the subjects seem so real (even when they’re not). There’s a rawness to his work that makes it accessible and not pretentious. I’m proud to say I’ve had my work photographed by him.
The Romanticist scenario featured the Hanna dress, shades of mauve, and platinum.
The cake I sketched was three tiers of ivory with a cluster of sugar roses and platinum scroll work.
I ended up with a fourth tier on this cake too. My sugar roses were beautiful, but were again replaced with real roses. (I still have them though and might need to photograph them in the future.) I do love this photo.
Cloth covered floral wire is used in cake design for wiring large petals on gumpaste flowers and for arranging edible flowers and leaves on cakes. If you’ve ever been utterly baffled by the way wire is sized, here’s a good way to remember it. Picture a very small ring, about a quarter the size of a wedding band. Now imagine sticking cloth-covered floral wire through it. You would obviously be able to fit more smaller wires through it than larger wires. That’s what the wire gauge indicates: the number of wires that would fit in a small ring. So, a wire gauge of 26, for example, indicates that you would be able to fit 26 wires in the ring. A smaller gauge wire, like 18, is a bigger wire, because you would only be able to fit 18 of them through that same ring. The bigger the gauge, the more you can fit in the ring, so the smaller the wire. And the smaller the gauge, the fewer you can fit in the ring, so the bigger the wire. I hope that helps.
Floral wire can generally be found in gauge 16 – 32. I find that use 18 – 24 most frequently. I I always sort of grabbed at wires randomly, until I purchased one of Scott Clark Woolley’s flowermaking DVDs. In it, he outlines the various size wires and their uses. I find it very helpful, so I’m sharing it here.
16, 18: heavy flowers with many petals such as roses, ranunculus, peonies
20, 22: stem work
24: medium flowers, single-cut larger flowers
26: small flowers (individual hydrangea petals, jasmine), petals (such as rose petals)
28: small petals, leaves
30, 32: fine work, such as baby’s breath and small leaves
My baby turned three last week. Three! It took her a long time to decide on the design for her birthday cake. At first she wanted Strega Nona, one of her favorite books, but that was a while ago. As her birthday came closer, she vacillated between Hello Kitty and Strawberry Shortcake (with some random other cakes like owls, Dora the Explorer, and monkeys thrown in the mix) until she finally settled on Hello Kitty. The flavors were an easy decision: vanilla with raspberry. (But not for preschool. For preschool she wanted banana cupcakes with blueberry buttercream.)
I cut a chevron template out of paper (I’ll be doing a DIY on this soon) and used it to cut the pink fondant chevron I appliqued to the bottom tier. For the plaque on the top tier, I cut a pink round out of fondant and hand-cut the lettering and number. Hello Kitty was made of gumpaste, except for her clothes which were fondant. And for Hello Kitty’s mini cake I molded gumpaste by pressing it into two well-cornstarched round cutters and allowing it to dry overnight.
This idea was inspired by a post I saw on Such Pretty Things. I forget what I was searching for when I stumbled across it, but I immediately thought the hearts would be just lovely in an ombré. (Until about a year ago and a half ago, I thought ombré was some kind of silken fabric. Silly me. Merriam-Webster defines it as “having colors or tones that shade into each other —used especially of fabrics in which the color is graduated from light to dark”.) This DIY originally appeared on The Wedding Chicks.
I should preface this post by warning readers about the dangers of consuming raw and/or undercooked eggs. I provided a safer alternative to egg whites that I termed “liquid meringue”, a mix of meringue powder and water. Feel free to weigh in on the safety of these ingredients.
Also, this DIY was created for both non-professionals and professionals alike, so I tried to use easy-to-find ingredients. Although I don’t necessarily recommend Wilton’s meringue powder to professionals, it is the most widely available to home bakers.
What you’ll need
Two cups sugar (or more, depending on the number of colors you want), divided
4 teaspoons (or more) egg white or liquid meringue (1 teaspoons of meringue powder mixed with 1 tablespoon warm water)
Paste food coloring (found at local crafts store)
Large cutting board, baking sheet, or other flat surface, lined with silpat or parchment paper
Baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper
Ateco aspic cutters or small cookie cutters
Small and medium bowls, spatulas, rolling pin, measuring spoons, measuring cups, ziplock bags, butter knife
3 x 4-inch treat bags, colored ribbon, cake to decorate
Place ½ cup sugar in medium bowl. Add a small amount of paste food coloring (we used a combination of Wilton’s Rose and Violet), and mix thoroughly. This will be your darkest color. (Hint: A little goes a long way and will darken once liquid is added in next step.) Add more if needed until desired color is achieved.
Add 1 teaspoon egg white or meringue liquid and mix thoroughly until the mixture resembles wet sand. Be careful not to add too much liquid or you will dissolve the sugar.
Empty contents onto silpat or parchment lined cutting board or baking sheet. Spread with hand or spatula and pat down, then roll over mixture with rolling pin to compress. Ideally, the flattened mixture should be as compact as possible and level, about ¼”. Press heart cutter into mixture and lift up. Place hearts on lined baking sheet. If cutter will not release heart, gently tap with the back of a butter knife. Repeat 10-20 times or as many as desired. If hearts will not hold their shape, add more egg white or meringue liquid in small increments and mix thoroughly. If sugar builds up in cutter, rinse with warm water and pat dry before continuing.
Pour remaining colored sugar back into bowl and proceed to Step 3.
Add ½ cup sugar to colored sugar from Step 2 to lighten. Mix thoroughly. Add 1 teaspoon egg white or liquid meringue. If desired color is not achieved, continue adding additional ½ cup sugar plus 1 teaspoon egg white or liquid meringue and mixing thoroughly until desired color is achieved.
Repeat Step 2.
Continue with Steps 2 and 3 until desired shades and number of sugar hearts are achieved. We recommend at least three to five shades. Leftover sugar can be stored in ziplock bags for future use.
Heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat hearts in oven for 10 minutes. Allow to harden overnight. Sugar hearts will be the consistency of sugar cubes.
Place 10-20 sugar hearts in treat bag. Staple ribbon to bags. Tie ribbon. Can be given as gifts or used as favors.
For cake: Attach sugar heats to cake using royal icing. Begin with darkest color on smallest tier. Continue with lighter colors.
Special thanks to Brooke Allison of Brooke Allison Photo, a genuine talent and all around funny gal.
We are pleased to announce that Jacqueline Butler of Petalsweet Cakes will be guest teaching at our Hamden, CT cake studio this spring. Jacqueline is a world-renowned sugar flower artist who has travelled as far as Australia to share her techniques. In addition to her technical skills, Jacqueline demonstrates a restrained and refined use of color (as opposed to using color with reckless abandon like I do) that I greatly admire. She is gifted not only as an artist but also as a teacher (I took a class with her two years ago), and is now coming to share her gift with us.
The fine print: Note that full payment is required on registration, and refunds for withdrawals will be honored only if your space can be ﬁlled prior to the class. Students are responsible for providing their own transportation and accommodations. We are not responsible for any transport or accommodation costs should you be unable to attend class.
In this two day hands-on floral workshop, students learn to make two of Petalsweet’s signature flowers: the beautiful, over-sized Open Peony (with stamens) and the fun and fabulous Parrot Tulip. Corresponding buds and leaves will also be covered where appropriate. Students will use modeling techniques to make flower centers, and then use cutters, veiners and specific techniques to create buds, leaves, and the many wired petals needed to form their large blooms. Once all of the components are dry, students will also learn Jacqueline’s signature coloring and dusting techniques, as well as taping, assembling, and finishing touches to complete their flowers. Class limited to 10 students (8 minimum). Tools and supplies will be provided for use in class. Cutters will be available for sale at the end of the workshop.
In this two day floral workshop, students learn to make two beautiful Petalsweet favorites: the Southern Magnolia and the Gardenia! Corresponding buds and both flowers’ gorgeous, dark and glossy leaves will be covered as well. During the course, students will use cutters and creamy white paste to create the petals needed for their fabulous Gardenias. In addition, students will also use modeling techniques to create a Magnolia center, and then make numerous, large petals to finish their oversized flower. As time allows, Jacqueline will also share her techniques for making dainty pulled filler flowers. Once all of the components are dry, students will also learn dusting and coloring techniques, as well as taping and assembly to finish their flowers. Class limited to 10 students (8 student minimum). Tools and supplies will be provided for use in class. Cutters will be available for sale at the end of the workshop.
Since I’ve set out to open my own shop, I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people curious about how to go about starting a cake design business. I am referring, of course, to the real-deal-legit-business-in-a-commercial-space cake design business, not the one run out of your kitchen like I did for many years. (What? You thought you were the only one baking in your home? Don’t worry…everyone starts out of their home kitchen.) Since many of the rules, laws, standards, and codes that apply to commercial kitchens differ from state to state, I can’t give specific advice. I can, however, share my own personal experience opening up shop (well, it’s almost open) in Hamden, CT.
First, you should know that I do not come from entrepreneurs. My mother was a teacher and my father a social worker. Both earned a predictable and steady salary and retired with sizable pensions. My mom ingrained in me from a young age the importance of having health insurance and saving for retirement, so the thought of opening my own business–with unpredictable income, no retirement plan, and no company-supplied health insurance–essentially scares the shit out of me. I probably would not be doing this were it not for two people. Brian Smith of Ample Hills Creamery has been hugely inspiring to me. He is married to one of my best friends, Jackie, and for years we both talked about opening up our own respective shops. I didn’t realize he was serious, since no one I had ever known actually started their own business. I just thought it was something we both dreamed about. Then he actually went out and did it, and he’s wildly successful. That was the first indication that maybe it was something I too could actually do. I also would not be here without my sister, Jessica. We are sharing the kitchen at my new space (the front will be divided between my consultation space and her soup and salad retail area). She is just as scared as me, but we encourage and support each other, and it all seems okay.
We signed our lease on December 15th and expect to be open February 15th. Here is a brief (and in no way comprehensive) outline of the process, which is still very much in progress.
1. Write a business plan. I know this is something you don’t want to hear and don’t want to do. I didn’t want to do it either, but I’m so glad I did. Writing a business plan helps you focus on your goals and form a business philosophy, anticipate potential pitfalls, analyze the competition, and take inventory of your finances. It’s not fun, but in the end it is vitally important. I needed some ass-kicking to get started, so I took an online business plan course that was structured and gave assignments with deadlines (I need deadlines) so that I got the bulk of my plan written. I still needed help with the financial section (See Step 2).
2. Meet with advisors. Your local SBA and SBDC have advisors who can help you write your business plan, obtain financing, create a marketing plan, etc. Most of their services are free of charge. The SBDCs also offer inexpensive and worthwhile classes in everything from promoting your business using social media to Quickbooks.
3. Obtain licensing. A few of the local agencies in your city or town you’ll need to get to know could include the buildings department, health department, water department, water pollution authority, zoning department, and fire marshall, to name a few. You might also need a city-issued business license (in Long Beach I did; in CT I don’t).
4. Contact your state. The state might require additional licensing (in Connecticut the Department of Consumer Protection oversees bakeries. This is in addition to the local health department). Also contact your state taxation or franchise board. If you want to incorporate, it is done at the state level. You might also need a food handler’s license.
6. Obtain financing. Do this before you sign a lease. The SBA provides low-interest rate loans to small businesses. Many startups have recently opted to fundraise instead of taking business loans using websites like kickstarter.com
7. Find the right location. A pre-existing space that needs only some renovation is the most cost effective. My sister and I, because of our unique needs, could not find a space that worked for us, so we are doing a complete buildout.
8. Get contractors who are reliable, punctual, licensed, and insured. Get at least three bids for each job. Your contractors (plumber, electrician) will pull the appropriate permits and schedule inspections of their work. Other inspections, such as the health department inspection, you might need to schedule on your own.
9. Signage. Most cities regulate the maximum size of your sign and other design elements. Work with a sign company familiar with the regulations that can guide you through it.
10. Prepare to work your ass off. If you’re not willing to put the blood, sweat, and tears in to get your space off the ground, you’re either super rich or you might want to reconsider. This is your baby. Treat it as such. Be there every step of the way so you know what is going on and know that it’s done right and to your specifications.
Here are some photos of our progress.
Pendant lights in the front window are up:
Dry wall is up, taped, and mudded on Jessica’s side:
All the brick is exposed on my side. Walls and pendants are up. We still need to install the floor:
I painted the hutch I bought at a thrift store. I’ll be using it display my cakes and stands:
We have almost all of our kitchen equipment, but it’s not all installed:
My consultation space still needs floors and paint, but I just had to see how some of the furniture would look:
The tin ceiling is completely exposed, primed, and painted. I love it: