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.
Well, we’ve reached the 2013 halfway mark. Thought I’d review my list of 2013 Design Goals to see how far I’ve come (or, more likely, how far I have to go).
Here’s a list of my goals and my progress on each.
Check! I actually achieved this one recently and will be sharing the entire cake shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a teaser shot.
2. Show my girly side.
I guess this one is sort of subjective. I would argue that I have in fact shown my girly side. I did a super girly, lacey, pastely cake for Bride’s Magazine (the issue comes out in late August) , so that counts, right? I made a seriously pink-and-purple cake for a party last week, and although by “girly” I meant sort of classically feminine in an adult, women-who-take-lavender-scented-baths type way rather than a six-year old girl way, I’m counting it for this goal.
3. Use a lighter touch.
Nothing comes to mind here, so I guess it’s a no. Six more months to work on this one.
4. Use my lace molds.
Check! Not only did I use my lace molds on Ava’s baptism cake, it’s so girly I could probably use this cake for Goal # 2! Double check!
5. Sugar dahlia.
Negative, but I did buy a new dahlia cutter (that I don’t think will work, but still).
6. Juliet rose.
Nah. Kind of forgot about this one until just now. Will have to remind myself to remember this goal.
7. Further explore what interests me as an artist.
Nope. Haven’t had time to “explore” anything. I’ll try to work in some exploration time soon.
So, out of seven goals, I’ve achieved three, and I still have six months to go. I think perhaps I can do this! Thanks for checking in on me. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
I’m a sucker for bright colors. Seriously, I wanted to wear a hot pink wedding dress, but my husband objected. I would paint the sky purple if I could. And when I was searching through my old photos for this post, I came across these two (pre-Pinterest!) images I had saved for future photoshoot inspiration, because this inspires me:
Here are a few of the fiesta-inspired cakes we’ve done over the years.
This cake, from just last weekend, featured hand-cut papel picado, fondant peppers, and our interpretation of a cactus.
I made the cake below for my aunt’s 50th birthday during my edible bunting phase. The papel picado on top was hand cut out of fondant. I loved the hand-sculpted fondant chili peppers at the time, but I think Callan’s pepper interpretation (in the first cake above) is a much improved version.
Closeup of the papel.
I absolutely love this cake, despite its muted colors. I designed it for this photo shoot, a Cinco de Mayo wedding-theme that featured dusty pastels instead of the traditional bright colors. With hand-cut papel picado (this time in ivory) and fondant succulents, for me this cake is a beautiful marriage between traditional Mexican design and southern California design aesthetic. (Photos: This Modern Romance)
I hope these cakes are as much fun for you to look at as they were to make. ¡Fiesta!
I am a notoriously terrible judge of character. If I like someone right off the bat, they’re almost guaranteed to turn out to be some sort of sociopath. Every once in a while, however, I get lucky. And in the case of Callan, I got really lucky.
Over the years, I’ve been approached by countless culinary students looking to do their internships with me. Usually, their emails are very generic, and I always get the feeling they’ve just copy/pasted from one email inquiry to the next, replacing Insert Name of Bakery Owner Here with my name. But Callan’s email was different–sincere, heartfelt, flattering without being over the top. I liked her immediately.
Liking someone immediately is normally a red flag for me, a sure indicator that within a very short time she will turn out to be a freak, a serial killer, or both, but in this case it stuck. It quickly became obvious that Callan was not only talented, but also reliable, intelligent, resourceful, and an asset.
This is Callan.
Callan’s internship ended in May, 2012, and I hired her to be my assistant. Callan is everything I am not. Where I tend to eyeball things, Callan takes the time to measure. Where I want to jump headfirst into a project, Callan likes to plan it out. Where I like to rush things, Callan likes to take her time. Where I am inefficient, she is efficient. In short, she is a true gem, and a perfect balance for me.
I’ve always admired people who know from a young age what they want to be (read this post and you’ll know why), and Callan knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a cake designer. Here, a photo of young Callan doing something curiously cake-related.
Callan began entering cake competitions at age eight (eight!). Below, Callan’s first entry at the Durham Fair. (What? You’ve never heard of the Durham Fair is? Neither did I until I met Callan. The Durham Fair is to Durham, CT and all its residents what the Sundance Film Festival is to Park City, Utah, only without all the celebrities. And with a lot more livestock.) Although she didn’t win, she refused to give up, and entered a cake in the Durham Fair every year until her senior year of high school…when she didn’t win and then gave up, making that part of the story far less inspirational and happy ending-ish than I intended. Sorry.
I interviewed Callan for this post, and asked her a lot of the questions people frequently ask me.
Erica: What is your favorite cake you’ve ever done?
Callan: I did a Sweet 16 cake with butterflies and pink and black zebra.
Erica: Does it bother you when people eat the cakes you’ve put so much effort into?
[I should mention here that this interview took place a while back and Callan didn't really do much talking for the first year she worked with me.]
Erica: Are there any cake artists you admire?
[Really? Not one? Seriously? You can't think of any?]
Erica: So, do you watch the cake shows? [This is probably the question I'm most frequently asked.]
[Okay, so maybe this wasn't the most revealing, riveting interview. Journalism is, apparently, much trickier than it seems. Good thing I stuck to cake design.]
It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with Callan. I have enjoyed watching her learn and grow as an artist, and have come to rely on her in so many ways. (Those youthful hands in the DIYs I do for Project Wedding? They’re Callan’s.) I look forward to working together for many cakes to come.
Here are a few recent cakes that Callan gets all the credit for.
I love the subtlety of the ruffle on this cake.
Callan really perfected her chevron technique last summer. This navy and gold cake was a snap for her.
I love the movement of the octopus’ legs, and there’s something I love about the sea turtle in this under-the-sea themed cake.
Callan: You know how sometimes you ask me what I’d do without you and I answer, “Find someone else.”? The truth is, I have no idea. Thank you, Callan, for everything.
My great-uncle George, my maternal grandfather’s brother, turned 100 on April 13th. The three cakes I made for his party were far from the prettiest or most technically challenging I’ve made, but they were very special because he is so very special. (He requested cheesecake and strawberry shortcake–his two favorites. I’ve never made a strawberry shortcake, but how could I say no? Luckily Callan had an old recipe. Cousin Steve requested a chocolate cake as well, so I made that too.)
In addition to having had an amazing life, Uncle George is the most spunky, energetic, full of life “fella” I’ll ever know. Nothing about him says “elderly”. He’s all wit and humor, speedy and quick, and still gets his drink on. (My grandfather, Milton, his brother, also lived until 100 and appreciated a good glass of gin on the rocks–daily–until he died last year.) As funny as George is, he is equally warm and loving and generous. He’s just one of those guys that everyone loves.
George has always been a great story teller (some of my favorite stories involve a neighborhood kid a few years older who bore no relation but was known affectionately as “Uncle Izzy”), but I was actually there for one of my most cherished George memories. It was about 10 years ago when George was 90 and I was teaching U.S. history at a high school in Queens. I asked Uncle George to come give a talk to my classes about his life. I hoped my students would enjoy it.
He started by telling them how he and his two brothers grew up in a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. With no indoor plumbing, they had to go to public bath houses to bathe. They lived above a storefront, and the shop got a telephone long before they did. Friends would call the store and ask for George, and the shop owner would walk outside and shout up to his apartment, “George! Phone call for you!” George would come down and take the call. When George was about ten, they moved to the Bronx. One day George and a few buddies ditched school to go to Yankee Stadium and see Babe Ruth play. In World War II, he was in the Army stationed in Italy. And during the cold war, he and his wife Nettie traveled to Soviet Russia to visit her family.
The students–my inner-city students with their hard-as-nails New York exteriors–were riveted. They listened intently the entire time. I was so proud. At the end of his talk, I asked if there were any questions, and all their hands went up. Now I was bursting with pride. I probably should have seen it coming, but every single question shared a common theme:
“Were you naked in the bath houses?”
“Were women allowed?”
“Did you all bathe together?”
I was horrified, but George didn’t miss a beat, patiently answering all their questions with a respectfully straight face. If you knew him, you would expect nothing less.
George’s 100th birthday party was wonderful. Family and friends flew in from as far as Los Angeles and Israel to be there. Over 50 people were there.
First, the invitation:
George and two of my second cousins. Yup. He’s 100. Note the cocktail in his hand.
George founded a spiral binding company many years ago. The strawberry shortcake below features an edible version of the Spiral Man logo (left) that George designed.
Yankees, of course.
The three cakes. Cheesecake in the middle.
George, you are more than an inspiration to everyone that has ever had the pleasure of knowing you. You are the patriarch of our family, someone we all respect, admire, and love. Happy 100th Birthday to you.
New York is a baseball town, and my family is a baseball family. My dad’s family is from Brooklyn, and after the heartbreaking move of their beloved Dodgers to L.A., they eventually transitioned to Mets fans. My mom’s side’s baseball history is a little less clear–something about the Giants before they moved to California, with some Yankees fans mixed in–but they too ended up Mets fans. I mean, hard-core, die-hard fans. I vividly remember my grandmother’s blue Mets team jacket with Dykstra embroidered in orange across the back. My nephew’s middle name is Shea, after the Mets old stadium, and as a devoted fourth-generation Mets fan, he does his name justice.
Growing up in New York, you learn very early on about team allegiance. You pick your team, you love your team, and you hate the other team. No matter what. Of course, I had no choice but to love the Mets. And love them I did. I was at the game in ’85 when Doc Gooden pitched a record number of strike outs. I celebrated with them in ’86 when they won the world series. And I stood by them in the hardest of times.
Then I met Joe (not his real name…mostly because I can’t remember if his real name was spelled with a c or a k). He was the nicest guy you could ever meet, and he couldn’t have been more wrong for me. I dated him anyway. For five years. Not the point. The point is: he was a hard-core, die-hard Yankees fan. I was dating the enemy. At first it had no impact. I ignored his taunts, his claims of team superiority, and his confidence in his team’s ability. (All easy enough to dismiss with the classic “You have the highest payroll in baseball!” argument.) But somehow, when I wasn’t even looking, it impacted me. Maybe it was all the games I watched with him, or the Derek Jeter-Bernie Williams-Jorge Posada trifecta, or their most-World-Series-wins-in-baseball status (or maybe–just a teeny little bit–that the Yankees had cooler uniforms). Whatever it was, somehow, before I knew it, I was a Yankees fan.
Coming out to my family was the worst part. My mom was disappointed. My grandmother was livid. My sister was bewildered. Even my nephew was sad. They accepted my new team affiliation, but not happily.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really been able to devote myself to baseball. With kids and a business, it’s just too time consuming. And although I still love the Yankees, there’s a big place in my heart for the Mets. And so, with love in my heart, I created the two cakes below. The first was a groom’s cake for a wedding I did last year. The second was a birthday cake just this past weekend. So, Mets or Yankees? I’ll let you decide.
When I was pregnant, I didn’t want to know the baby’s gender. My husband did, arguing that if we painted the baby’s room a gender-neutral color, as soon as the baby was born I’d want to repaint. (He knows me well, and also doesn’t like painting.) Anyway, the nurse practitioner settled the argument by telling me the baby was a girl (she forgot I didn’t want to know), and so Mia’s room was painted two shades of purple.
For her first birthday, I designed her cake to match her room, all without any input from her, and I loved it. This would mark the last time I alone designed her cake.
I’ve always loved purple, especially as a kid, so I assumed that my kids would love purple too. But by age two, Mia had begun, to my dismay, to show a strong preference for pink. For her second birthday cake, however, she requested The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She didn’t have a particular design in mind, just a theme, but she knew just what she wanted.
By age three there was no denying it: Mia had firmly rejected my beloved purple in favor of pink. For her third birthday, she requested a Hello Kitty cake with lots and lots of pink. (The little Hello Kitty was my idea, as were the chevron, but Mia gave final design approval.)
Mia is still deeply entrenched in the pink phase, but has also added a love of all things rainbow. For her fourth birthday cake, she provided a lot of direction, a sketch, a design concept revision, and a revised sketch. Mia wanted a rainbow, popcorn, flying pigs, and flying cows.
I love you, my Mia, more than anything. Keep on being your spunky, pink-loving self for ever and ever. You will always be my sweet precious girl, and I will always make your cakes just how you want them.
Having a display window means I’m constantly in need of new cake inspiration, so I often head to the local crafts store to look for ideas. When I came across these mini popsicle sticks, I thought they’d make an adorable ice cream pop cake for a summer-themed window.
I turned to Pinterest (of course) for some cute popsicle ideas and found this image from eatdrinkchic.com. I liked how the popsicles are all different.
I also found this image, (whose source I can’t find. I hate when I do that!), which gave me the idea of using sprinkles on some of the pops. (I love sprinkles.)
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.
If there is such a thing as Karma, I like to think that in my next life, I will be rewarded for all my good deeds by being reborn as Amy Squires, the tall, blond, supermodel-thin founder of The Wedding Chicks. Amy is also honest, open, and very down-to-earth. For someone who is seriously gorgeous, she doesn’t take herself too seriously at all.
The Chicks turned three this year, and they asked me to make their birthday cake. Somehow, thanks to Amy, I didn’t feel pressured at all. Here’s the photo. Happy Birthday Chicks!