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.
Whether you’re a bride, a cake-curious baker, or a cake design professional, there is a lot to know about fondant. There are many things I wish someone had told me when I first started so that I didn’t have to learn the hard way, and apparently I’m not the only one. I asked my facebook friends for their input, and they had lots to say. Here are my top ten (with lots of help from my facebook family).
1. Fondant can be refrigerated. I had one of those I’m-never-making-another-cake-again cakes several years ago on a blazing hot day in Malibu, CA. After that, I started refrigerating my cakes. You can read more about it here (it’s tip #4). I’ve heard that some cake artists use humidity controlled fridges, but I’ve yet to find any. I do try to keep my cake fridge at the warmest setting to minimize the difference between the fridge temp and the air temp, thereby limiting the amount of condensation (or “sweating”) that forms when the cake comes out of the fridge. Sweet Cakes by Rebecca notes that condensation can help be prevented by boxing the cake and wrapping the box in saran wrap.
2. Keep colored fondant out of direct light. Any kind of light. Even electric light can fade your fondant. Jasmine Clouser Couture Cakery had this to say: “Coloring fondant lavender is tricky. If you put it in the sun at all it will turn blue. Keep your cake and decorations in a dark place or covered it if there is any lavender or purple. When the cake is out at the reception keep it out of the sun. Using precolored fondant is better than using gel when it come to purple.” Excellent advice. I would add pinks to list too.
3. Fondant won’t make an imperfect cake look perfect. They say that to truly understand digital photography, you have to first understand film. The same is true of cake: to truly understand fondant, you must have a basic understanding of buttercream cakes. Skillfully covered fondant cakes are deceptive: the fondant looks so impeccably smooth, many people assume that (1) it’s easy and (2) fondant is all that’s needed to get that perfect finish. But fondant won’t make a bumpy, lumpy, lopsided cake look any better (and might even make it look worse). It is absolutely critical to have a smoothly iced cake with a level top and plumb (straight up and down) sides underneath fondant. Take the time to learn this skill if you haven’t already, and your fondant cakes will look a lot better.
4. Fondant is not ideal for all designs. Fondant’s gummy property makes it great as an icing, but terrible for certain design work. Because it won’t hold it’s shape, vertical or horizontal lines, sugar flowers, and the like are very difficult to execute with fondant. At the shop we use three methods. We either add tylose to fondant to stiffen it, make a 50/50 mixture of fondant and gumpaste, or ditch the fondant altogether and use gumpaste.
5. Fondant tastes better than you might think. Many of my brides who say they’ve heard fondant tastes horrible are usually pleasantly surprised by the taste. I always share with them that my objection to fondant is not necessarily the taste, but rather the gummy texture of the fondant with the crumb of the cake. However, since fondant firms up a bit, it is easy for guests who really don’t like it to peel it off, and for me, you can’t beat that perfectly smooth look of fondant, so it’s a trade off that’s well worth it.
6. It’s (sometimes) easier to cover a large cake than a smaller one. Many people are intimidated by larger cakes, but when the sides of the cake are smaller in proportion to the diameter of the cake, it’s actually easier. Think about spreading a flat sheet on a mattress. The sheet lies flat and a little hangs smoothly over the sides. Now imagine taking that same bed sheet and trying to smoothly cover a broom stick. It would be virtually impossible due to all the draping. In this analogy, the bed sheet, with it’s large surface area and relatively short sides, is the larger cake while the broom stick, with its very tall sides and relatively small surface area, is the smaller cake. Basically, a cake that is taller than it is wide is more challenging to cover than a cake that is wider than it is tall.
7. Fondant will be affected by temperature and humidity. When fondant is cold it tends to stiffen. When it’s warm it gets soft and droopy. When it’s humid, sticky. The best way to combat the changes? A temperature controlled room definitely helps, and shortening or cornstarch can decrease the stickiness, but a lot of it comes with practice. Unfortunately with this one there’s no easy way of avoiding it. Just remember that if your normally cooperative fondant turns to into a big droopy mess, it’s probably the weather and not you. Try not to get too frustrated, take brakes if needed, and remember that it’s all part of the process.
8. Water and fondant don’t mix. You must be absolutely vigilant when working with fondant not to get any water on it. Water droplets will dissolve the sugar in the fondant, leaving small pock marks on an otherwise perfectly smooth surface. I always box my cakes for transport, just in case, and I always instruct brides getting fresh flowers on their cake to communicate to their florist that the flowers must be absolutely dry before being place on the cake.
9. It’s expensive, and you get what you pay for. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the cheaper, more commercially available fondant. It’s harder to work with, is more elastic (in the worst way), and has a shorter working time because it dries so quickly. Satin Ice is the industry standard, but there are also other brands that are excellent. Kristin Sabol Kirkpatrick shared on facebook that “not all fondants are created equal! Just because someone swears by a certain brand, doesn’t mean it is the best choice for you!” Some fondants (like Carma Massa Ticino Tropic) are actually formulated for humid climates. The specialty fondants are definitely pricier, but if you calculate all the sleep you’ll lose over fondant that sweats, cracks, or bulges, it’s well worth the investment.
10. I really like this tip from Oven Couture ~ Smallish Confection Perfection: Buy pre-colored fondant! You can spend a long time (and risk drying out) trying to get white fondant black, or you can just spend a little more and buy it. I vote buy it.
And of course, a cake! A ruffled heart cake inspired by Valentine’s Day.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. Feel free to share any I’ve left out! We always love to hear from you. Best of luck!
Some of my worst cake disasters have resulted in my most poignant cake design lessons. I won’t be posting any photos here–they’re too embarrassing– just sharing what I’ve learned in the hopes of saving you the same pain. Sorry in advance if this causes you to cringe.
1. Little Marissa was about to turn one, and her mom, a neighbor in the apartment building I lived in, asked me to make her birthday cake. This was about 15 years ago, long before my move to California, way before owning my own shop even hinted at reality, and pre-fondant. I made the cake, carefully iced it with my made-from-scratch French buttercream, and put it in the fridge for the party the next day. Marissa loved her cake (Sesame Street-themed), as much as a one-year old could love a cake, and her mom carefully sliced and plated it. I took my first bite, and noticed after I’d swallowed that there was a garlic-y after taste. I didn’t remember eating anything with onions or garlic that day that would explain the taste in my mouth, but it was there, and it lingered. Another bite, same aftertaste. A third bite, same thing. I didn’t really get it, until I returned home, opened up my fridge, and was greeting with a waft of onion-filled air from the onion I had left unwrapped in the fridge. The butter had absorbed the onion odor, leaving a palpable taste on the tongue.
Lesson learned: Don’t store onions (or garlic, scallion, salami, etc.) in the same fridge with your buttercream.
2. I admit it: I’m thrifty. (You can read more about it here.) One time I decided that the trouble I’d had in the past with the less expensive fondant was due to my inexperience. I convinced myself that now, as a more seasoned cake artist, I had mastered fondant and could easily save money by avoiding the more expensive brand and returning to the less expensive one. Wrong. What should have been an easy fondant job turned into an eight-hour fiasco.
Lesson learned: Quality ingredients, although often more expensive, are priceless.
3. One of my best clients asked me to make a cake with pink gumpaste hydrangeas for the shower she was throwing for her sister. I had just switched to a new, less expensive brand of Tylose (see Lesson #2, above) and didn’t know that my new brand would yield different results. I made my gumpaste and carefully calculated the number of hydrangea petals I would need. I allowed the petals, perfectly pink and beautiful, to dry for several days, and on the day of the shower I set about arranging them on the cake. Unfortunately, the new gumpaste was extremely hard and brittle, and all but a few of the hydrangea petals broke. I didn’t have time to make new ones, and luckily was able to compensate for the broken ones, but it reminded me of something every sugar artist knows: always, always make more than you need to allow for breakage. And just when you think you’ve made enough, make some more.
Lesson learned: Always make extra.
4. There were several lessons to be learned from this cake, but they deserve a post unto themselves. For now I’ll just say that I decided to try a new technique on the eve of a wedding. I pulled an all-nighter trying to correct it.
Lesson learned: Always do a dry run when testing new techniques, and never test them on someone’s wedding cake.
5. It was getting late, but I wanted to finish the pleats for a cake I was working on. I’d convinced myself that they needed to be perfect, but with each pass through the pasta roller the fondant became drier and harder to work with, the pleats increasingly flawed, and I more frustrated. It was 3am before I knew it, and I was getting delirious and near tears. Finally, almost at my breaking point, I decided to call it a night. The next day, after a good night’s sleep, I approached the pleats again. This time, I was able to finish them in a single pass through the pasta roller. And they were pretty darn near perfect.
Lesson learned: A clear head and a good night’s sleep are sometimes all that’s needed to execute a challenging design.
6. I’ve been designing cakes for about 15 years, but only started professionally about six years ago. By that time, I had a husband, a daughter, and one one the way. I’ve always felt hampered professionally by the demands of family, and always lamented that I’d be so much more successful if I were single. Last spring, my husband took the girls camping for the weekend. I was excited for some time alone to recapture my single days. I spent a good part of the weekend doing exactly what I planned to do–working on new techniques I’d been wanting to try–with great success. But there was something that felt lonely and empty. The house was too quiet, I missed my kids and husband, and there was no one to share my new creations with. Success suddenly seemed much less important.
Lesson learned: The greatest measure of success is happiness.
We’re excited to announce our first classes at our new location! As of Wednesday, we’ll be the official lessees of 1242 Whitney Avenue in Hamden, CT 06517. We expect it to take at least two months for our official opening, so we’ve listed our classes beginning in late January, 2012.
We’re also excited to offer a Fondant Intensive for the first time. In this class, I’ll share all the tips and tools that give fondant-covered cakes a flawless finish. Students will learn various fondant techniques (ruffling, simple flowers, bows, etc.), practice covering real and faux cakes, and engage in a troubleshooting session. students are encouraged to come with lots of questions. This six-hour intensive is perfect for students who live in New York (1.5 hours away) and Boston (2 hours away).
Our classes make fabulous gifts (plus, chances are you’ll get lots of cake out of the deal), so please contact us if you’d like to give a class as a gift.
Yet another photo shoot I got roped into by Megan Gray (Honey and Poppies). She’s got a knack for suckering me into these things by inventing some oxymoronic yet catchy title that has just the right balance of pretension and kitsch to really intrigue me. (Seriously, just the other day she emailed me about a Depression-era chic-themed shoot. Really? Depression-era chic?) In short, she’s quite crafty.
I think this one was called “Psychedelic Glam”, or something like that. Anyway, the pictures are quite lovely. (You can see some additional shots on Green Wedding Shoes.) I know everyone likes to see the inspiration and how I interpret it into cake, so I included it here too. (I never know where the photos for the inspiration boards come from though so I never give credit. That’s pretty bad, huh?) Enjoy.
The shoot was at the very dusty yet interesting Star Ranchin Southern California.
And a few shots of the cake before the wind blew it over (it was a faux cake) and knocked all the decorations off. (Luckily I had gone home by this time and didn’t have to witness the casualty.)
I had heard about Rancho Las Lomas in Silverado, CA for years. I knew that it was way out of my budget when I got married four years ago. I heard that it was absolutely beautiful. And I learned that they, unlike many other venues happy to get free exposure, do not offer their facilities for photo shoots. So I guess you could say that it held a certain mystique for me.
When our friends Vinny and Candice announced that their July, 2011 wedding would be at Rancho Las Lomas, I was excited to finally get a glimpse inside. I was even more excited when they asked me to make their cake.
We arrived at Rancho Las Lomas early to deliver the cake, and asked the first person we could find where the cake drop off was. She told us to turn around and “make a left at the lions.” We followed her instructions, both of us expecting to see two lions statues at either side of the road. Instead, we were greeted by real life lions at the head of the road, and I was beginning to see just what makes this place so amazing. You can read more about their zoo and gardens on their website.
My husband and Vinny have been poker buddies for years, and Vinny and Candice are great because:
1. They’re two of the most generous people I’ve ever met.
2. They have great parties with all this great food, all prepared by Vinny.
3. Their wedding vows consisted of lyrics from the Family Ties and Golden Girls theme songs, delivered with complete sincerity and without a hint of irony: And if I had a party, and invited everyone I knew, you would see the biggest gift would be from me and the card attached would say “Thank you for being a friend”.
For the cake, Candice wanted peacock colors with hints of gold. The LOVE cake topper was Candice’s. I used teardrop cutters in various sizes and overlaid some of the cutouts on top of each other. (For a professional look, be sure to roll your fondant as thin as possible.)
Special thanks to Jeff Shipleywho beautifully captured all the vibrant colors and thoughtful details that made Vinny and Candice’s wedding so unique.
Sam and Elizabeth were both super gorgeous and very easy to work with (and I’m not just saying that because Sam is from New York like me.) Their wedding was at the Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island in California.
They chose to do a quartet of rustic-style cakes in different flavors. Believe it or not, this was the most challenging design I’ve had to execute all year. It’s not that the technique is difficult–in fact, it’s quite easy and something a home baker could easily achieve. (That’s the point of these cakes, right? To conjure up warm fuzzy memories of the homemade cakes your mom made when you were a kid? I say your mom, not my mom, because my mom definitely would not create a home baked cake, not when I was a kid and definitely not now. You can read more about her here.) With my other cakes, I strive for perfection: perfectly iced sides and top, perfectly smooth fondant. With these cakes, the difficulty was in intentionally creating something so imperfect. I damn near cried.
Anyway, that’s not the point. I really wanted to share this because I love the creative way Sam and Elizabeth instructed their guests to “swap, split, or sample” the various flavors of cake. Clients often ask me how it works at a wedding when serving more than one kind of cake. (Yes, my cakes are that good that couples often cannot limit it to just one flavor and end up choosing several.) Truth is, I don’t really know. I do like the idea of guests just digging in to each other’s cake with their forks, blatantly disregarding any conventional notions of table etiquette. Sam and Elizabeth came up with a really great way to address the issue, and it’s pretty much exactly what I imagined:
From now on, when clients ask me how it works with multiple flavor cakes, I know just what I’ll say.
The search for commercial space can best be compared to dating: you have your highs, your lows, excitement and letdowns, a few heartbreaks, and then maybe, with a little luck, you find the perfect one.
I’ve seen a lot of spaces in the past few weeks, learned a lot about Connecticut commercial code (it differs significantly–and expensively–from California), argued with my sister, made up with my sister, and thought and rethought my plan.
Space # 1 can best be described as something that might appear on Hoarders: Restaurant Edition. I won’t share any pictures of it lest anyone should associate such nastiness with my business.
Space # 2 was in a great neighborhood and had a really nice layout. I just loved the cute exterior and the exposed brick walls. I could even get past the fact that there was no parking, but it had no AC, an absolute must for me, so I had to pass.
Space # 3 worked on the inside, but the outside just wasn’t, well, cute enough for me. (The fact that the landlord decided he didn’t want to rent it to us is beside the point.)
Space # 4 was really expensive and had seemingly little to offer, so we eliminated it right off the bat. We ended up revisiting this space, and as it turned out the realtor misquoted the rent by almost $1,000, but the low ceilings and other cosmetic issues were real turn-offs for me. These pictures actually make it look better than it did in real life.
Space # 5 was super cute but way out of our price range.
Space # 6 might be the love of my life. High ceilings, bright sunlight, ample storage, reasonable rent. The neighborhood is adorable and very supportive of small local businesses. We configured a design for the front (on this fabulous website I found) that I think would work for both me and my sister, and now we just have to tackle some minor logistical issues (Health Department, Planning and Zoning, Water Department, Buildings, get a structural engineer to sign off on everything, buy all our equipment, get a commercial contractor to do our buildout, etc.) and we’re in businesses. Easy peasy.
I think it might look even cuter in person. Here’s a shot of the exterior. Picture it with an awning, a window display, some ambient lighting, and my logo.
A shot of the interior looking out.
I think this is my favorite part. The already high ceiling is currently covered in acoustic tiles. We pushed one up to see what’s underneath, and it has the ORIGINAL TIN TILE CEILING! This is a photo taken of the ceiling, so this is what you’d see if you looked directly up.
Hopefully my next post will include good news and a signed lease. Wish me luck!
Well we moved to Connecticut just two days before the hurricane (my husband, a California native, was both horrified and fascinated) and a few days after the earthquake (my husband, a California native, felt right at home). So far, I’ve found two good things about Connecticut, namely:
1. My family is here and
2. The spray paint at Home Depot is not held captive behind a metal cage but is instead displayed freely on the shelves like any other paint. (I am a big consumer of spray paint and am therefore intimately familiar with the challenges of securing a disgruntled Home Depot employee from the paint department who no doubt looks upon spray paint with disdain and asking him to unlock said cage to liberate the chosen can.)
It seems I seriously overestimated the amount of blogging I’d be doing, and my efforts have been thwarted mostly because I:
1. Have no time and
2. Have no internet even though we moved on August 26th.
If that sounds like an awfully long time to be internetless (and trust me, it is), you can thank:
1. Hurricane Irene, which (a) put new cable installation low down on the list of priorities for the cable companies, making it extremely difficult to get an appointment and (b) also made it impossibly humid so that when the cable company did finally arrive to install the cable, the newly refinished floors still weren’t dry (even though it had been a week) and couldn’t be walked on and
2. Comcast, who, once we were finally able to reschedule our appointment, said they would be at our house between 2pm and 5pm and called at 7pm (by which time we were en route to my sister’s house for dinner) to say they were on their way. Their next available appointment was not until this Wednesday, so my husband opted to wait for AT&T whose next available appointment is on Saturday, September 17th.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Dude, you should just take your laptop, head to Starbucks, grab a latte, and blog from there like a normal person.” This would be a good option, but:
1. My laptop go stolen out of my house about a month before we moved and
2. I quit caffeine (it’s like crack for me) on September 1st.
Meanwhile, I’ve been considerably more productive around the house without the interruption of the internet, and have made some good progress on the search for commercial space. My sister (The Soup Girl ) and I will be sharing kitchen space and dividing the front of the house into consultation space for me and a retail area for her. After viewing several spaces, I think we’ve found a place that has reasonable rent and ample kitchen space in North Haven, about five minutes from my house. I should know more in the coming days. (Of course I wanted to document the whole process in film but:
1. I couldn’t find the camera and
2. Even if I could find the camera, my husband hasn’t hooked up the computer yet so I don’t have access to our photo editing software.)
My sister and I are really excited about the new venture, and I will definitely be sharing photos of our progress going forward.
Other than that, things should be back to normal by this weekend. Thanks for your patience and for hanging in there with me. I look forward to more blogging soon.