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.
Rich, khaki colored fondant with ivory appliques and sugar magnolias.
A very literal interpretation of the fall theme
I love this cake. Ivory fondant with sugar ranunculus, pine cones, and hydrangea.
The first two photos below are a cake I did for one of my best friend’s shower. The third photo was her wedding cake.
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.
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.
Photo: Stephanie Williams
Photo: Brooke Allison Photo
Photo: Brooke Allison Photo
Photo: Brooke Allison Photo
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!
Then came my edible lace doilies.
And finally, though I’m not sure how it happened, or exactly when, about mid-August I made a formal declaration: I’m officially into lace.
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.
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.
Carrie Sellman of The Cake Blog does an annual (this being its second year, so I guess it’s officially annual) series called The 12 Cakes of Christmas in which she features 12 different Christmas cakes from 12 different artists. This year, she asked me to create a cake for the series.
Now, there are two directions in which one can go when creating a Christmas-themed cake: the literal route or the interpretive one, and although I like to stray a bit from the beaten path with most of my designs, I went straight-up mainstream with this cake. I was inspired by a few images I found on (where else?) Pinterest, and decided to go for it: American mistletoe, winterberries, kraft hang tags, and gold string. The only difference is that mine were all edible.
My original plan was to go around the base of each tier with the mistletoe, but it began looking very ancient-Greek-Olympic-headpiece, which is fine if you’re doing an ancient-Greek-Olympic-headpiece-themed cake. I, however, was making a Christmas-themed cake, so I scrapped the original design and changed it to more of a mistletoe spray at the front of each tier.
Brooke Sforza of Brooke Allison Photo was kind enough to spend an entire rainy afternoon photographing my cake, graciously ooh-ing and ahh-ing the whole time. I can’t say enough good things about her.
I made the hang tags out of fondant and impressed the letters using metal alphabet stamps. I then shaded them with a bit of brown petal dust. The gold string was also fondant.
Callan, my most talented assistant, made all the berries. She also assembled the sprays by attaching the wired berries and leaves to heavy gauge wire using florist’s tape.
Special thanks to Carrie Sellman for inviting me to contribute. And to Brooke Allison, without whom I’d have far fewer photos of my cakes.
Photographer Stephanie Kapra of Photography and More loved her time spent travelling in Southeast Asia so much, it inspired her to create a Thai-themed photo shoot. She partnered with Brooke Allison Photography, and together they assembled a team of fabulous vendors and found the most amazing spot for the shoot: The Garden of Ideas in Ridgefield, CT. The garden, located on private property but open to visitors, is comprised of “eight acres of marsh, woodland, meadow and vegetable plots” where the owners have planted “an arboretum-like collection of plants (trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vegetables, tropicals) amidst a unique array of original garden art.” It is absolutely gorgeous. (Of course the idea I got from the Garden of Ideas is that I really need a landscaper.) The weather was perfect on the day of the shoot (unlike California, we actually have to worry about rain here on the east coast), and the Garden worked beautifully as the setting.
The description below is my interpretation of Stefanie and Brooke’s concept.
The invitation suite created by J. Papers was perfectly textured and flawlessly designed to work with the muted color palette and decor. (I really love this closeup shot of the menus and the Buddhist sentiments in these notecards.)
After climing a rocky path to the ceremony site (above), guests would be offered refreshments.
Rather than a guest book, guests sign Asian-inspired plates that the couple could then display in their home as wall art.
The couple, against a fabulous gold sequin backdrop.
Rather than traditional seating, dinner takes place at low tables where guests are seated on pillows. Erin Ostreicherprovided the florals.
And some detail shots.
Hey, what’s that cake doing in the middle of the woods?
And the bouquet.
Thank you, Brooke and Stef, for all your hard work. It was a pleasure to be involved. I look forward to working together again soon.
I think I’m going through another design style transition. While I still can’t seem to do a white-on-white cake, I now find myself more attracted to muted color palettes than the bold and bright colors I used to be inspired by.
While these two cakes couldn’t be any more different from each other, they’re both definitely very different from my earlier work. The first is sleek and blingy with different shades of gold and a brooch hand-crafted by my wonderful intern-turned-assistant Callan. (Check back in a week or so for a post all about her.) The second is soft and vintage with an antiqued sugar dahlia. Although I don’t necessarily feel either one represents me as an artist, I definitely like–but not necessarily love–them both.
Brooke Allison took all the photographs. You know those skinny mirrors that make you look thinner than you do in real life? That’s Brooke. Her photographs make my cakes look better than they do in real life, and I love her work.
There are benefits to living in a small town, such as knowing all the guys at the town buildings department by name (no lie: Bob, Bill, Jim, Joe) and that when you open a business and hold a grand opening, like we did on April 25th, the town arranges a ribbon cutting ceremony and sends the mayor. We even got press coverage! (Okay, it was this article in the Hamden Journal, but still.)
Here we are (me on the right, my sister on the left) with Mayor Scott Jackson. And the official golden ribbon-cutting scissors.
Our grand opening turned into a little fête of sorts. Of course the cocktails helped.
My consultation studio is now mostly finished, with the exception of the completely bare walls. My brother-in-law took this shot.
And my friend Brooke of Brooke Allison Photography took these. She is a wedding photographer and is rapidly becoming one of the top photographers in Connecticut. Keep your eye on her.
I created a special cake for the grand opening. I covered the cake in pink (one of my logo colors), made gold bunting for three of the tiers (I went through a serious bunting phase about a year and a half ago that thankfully passed. This was just a brief relapse.) and hand-cut the plaque and letters. (Photos by Brooke Allison Photography.)
The community has been so supportive, and we feel extremely fortunate to be in such a great place. Thank you so much to all of you who stopped by, and thank you to those of you who wanted to but, for whatever reason, couldn’t. Don’t worry : we plan to be here for a long, long time.
Special thanks to Brooke Allison, my husband and children, my mom, sister, Scott, Zachy and Kody, and Frank. Love you guys.
The wedding cake is the most recognizable symbol of a wedding. It’s what beer is to baseball, what Elvis is to rock and roll, what rice is to sushi. A wedding just isn’t a wedding without the wedding cake. It’s the first thing people notice at a wedding (okay, maybe that’s just me, but still it’s important) and the thing they’ll remember most (again, probably just me).
Occasionally, I hear about a bride who decides not to have a wedding cake. Sadly, I understand completely. I’ve been to many weddings where the cake–cloyingly sweet with gloppy filling and crunchy buttercream–just gets pushed around the plate once it’s served, only to be tossed out like some used up napkin. I freely admit that I’m a cake snob, and unless I made it, I rarely eat the cake at a wedding. Sure, I’ll try it, just to see what it tastes like, but in the end, I’d rather not waste the carbs on something that’s not appealing to me. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the cake looks. If it doesn’t taste good, it’s a failure for me. Cake can be a hard sell. Many clients come to me with the typical bakery cake in mind, made with greasy shortening that leaves a film on the roof of your mouth and powdered sugar that crunches between your teeth. Some even let me know upfront that they don’t like cake. Before their tasting appointment, I’ll get an email that reads something like, “And just so you know, I hate buttercream.” Obviously, they’ve never tasted real buttercream–the French kind made with egg yolks, sugar, and butter, the kind that I make. Even traditional American buttercream that’s made with real butter still has the powdered sugar crunch. The sugar in French buttercream is cooked till it dissolves, so there is no crunch, only sweet, velvety, buttery yumminess. I always include a few buttercream flavors, even if the client doesn’t want one, just so I can see their surprise when they taste it. I’ve never had a client who didn’t like it. Ever. And my cakes? Made with real butter, all from scratch, and with high-end ingredients, they taste nothing like the cake they’re used to. I’ve built my reputation converting my clients and their guests from cake haters to cake lovers.
Why should you pay for a cake that no one is going to eat? The answer is, you shouldn’t. If you want your guests to eat the cake, it better taste good. But be advised that good taste comes with a price. Sure, you can get a less expensive cake, but in all likelihood it will have less expensive, and therefore less palatable, ingredients. If you don’t care what it tastes like, that’s fine, but if taste is a concern for you, be prepared to pay. Think about how much you would expect to pay for a good dessert at a restaurant. Now factor in the time spent for the designers’ expertise, the labor spent decorating the cake, delivery and set up, and that’s how much you’ll pay per person. Our cakes begin at $7 per serving. Some of the top designers in the industry charge as much as $20 per person.
Remember, you don’t have to give up on cake just to serve a delicious dessert. Your cake should be the delicious dessert. To ensure that it is, make a lot of appointments with different bakers. Almost every cake baker is happy to offer a complimentary consultation. Be sure to schedule a lot of tastings before you decide to work with a cake designer. Don’t get your heart set on a specific baker before you taste his cakes. At your consultation, taste the cake and fillings separately and together. They should both stand on their own but also pair well. Ask your baker lots of questions, and don’t forget to ask if he or she uses real butter. And lastly, don’t leave your guests wondering where the cake is.