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.
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.
Although I’d like to think it’s because I’m just spectacularly talented that I’ve been doing so much print work lately, I know the real reason is my proximity to New York (where many magazine publishers are located) combined with my willingness to deliver a cake for a shoot with very little notice. Most recently I did a shoot with BRIDES Magazine entitled Luxe for Less. The idea was to show two different yet similar cake designs, one of which was more expensive than the other, and provide visuals to explain what caused one cake to be more pricey than the other.
I pitched three concepts. The first was a berries and herbs design that I conceptualized for a different BRIDES shoot last year. They didn’t like it then and I guess they don’t like it now, because it didn’t get selected.
The second concept featured (very poorly drawn) hexagons, which I’m convinced are very trendy right now although I can find no evidence of this. Perhaps it was the ridiculously disproportionate top tier on the Luxe cake (the cake on the right in the sketch below), but they passed on this one too.
For my final design, I chose a gold quatrefoil pattern and paired it with pink sugar flowers. The BRIDES editors made a minor adjustments to the color palette (from gold to yellow), and this one was the keeper.
The cake was featured in the April/May 2013 issue.
I also asked Brooke Sforza to photograph the cakes for me. Here you can vividly see the quatrefoil outline cutouts (made using two custom cutters, both the same shape but in different sizes) and pink sugar ranunculus and hydrangea in the Luxe version.
The quatrefoil in the Less version was made using a single custom cutter, creating a solid cutout, and was paired with pink sugar hydrangea.
These two cakes are among my favorite. Thank you Callan, my wonderful assistant, for all your hard work. And Brooke, you’re a fabulous photographer and friend.
This is my maternal grandmother, Miriam Klusner. She was Mimi to most people that knew her, but Mama to me and my sister. Mama grew up in Brooklyn, where she met and married my grandfather, Albert. In the 1950s, they moved from Brooklyn to Bayside, Queens, with my father and uncle. At that time, Queens was the country, at least compared to Brooklyn, and in the back of their tiny house, at the far end of the yard, she planted blueberry bushes. As a girl, I loved picking blueberries in her backyard, and they have been my favorite fruit ever since.
Mama was a great cook and an even better baker. (I’m pretty sure my mean sweet tooth comes directly from her.) I wish she were here today so she could eat one of my cakes. I know she’d be so proud.
Although it’s always exciting to design a new cake for an editorial photo shoot, this one has a special place in my heart. Brooke Allison and Stefanie Kapra, who conceptualized and photographed the shoot, called it Something Blue(berry). They incorporated buttons, birds, and books, rustic decor, and lots of blue elements. Thanks to Brooke and Stef for asking me to create the cake, which includes antiqued fondant birds and, of course, lots and lots of fondant blueberries.
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!
We’ve scheduled two classes so far for 2013. Our Tier I: Introduction to Cake Design class begins next Sunday, January 20th. Although this class is a beginner-level class, it’s also perfect for students who have some cake design experience and want to brush up on their skills. We find a lot of our students have already taken the Wilton class (as an instructor of mine once said, “Everyone starts with Wilton.”) but want a more professional-level understanding of cake artistry.
Tier I meets four consecutive Sundays from 10am to 1pm. All materials and supplies are included, and students receive their own piping kit and gel color kit. Cost: $399. Register here.
We also wanted to accommodate people who couldn’t commit to four consecutive weeks, or those who live too far to make the trip weekly. Our Fondant Intensive is designed for students who already have a background in cake design but want to improve their fondant skills. Students learn the tools, tips, and techniques used by professionals to give their cakes a flawless finish and learn ruffles, bows, single-cut flowers, and more.
The Fondant Intensive meets on Sunday, March 3rd, from 10am to 4pm. Register here.
And since no blog post is complete without a few cake photos, I thought I’d share a few recent ones.
Baby shower cake inspired by the mom-to-be’s baby shower invitation:
Cake for Bride’s Magazine featuring sugar raspberries, sugar succulents, and sugar poppies.
Cake covered in rice paper that we cut with a craft punch and accented with some orange sugar ranunculus:
Please feel free to contact us with any questions about our classes. Hope to see you there!
Every year I make two New Year’s resolutions: one that is more humanitarian (one year I resolved to be more considerate of pedestrians while driving) and one that is completely frivolous and self-absorbed (always wear matching pajamas). This year, I’m adding some professional design goals. Some of them are newer goals; others have been on my list forever, but I figured if I write down them I’ll be more likely to realize them. I’ll be checking them off my list (hopefully) throughout the year, and will keep you posted about the status of each. Here are my 2013 design goals.
1. White-on-white cake. Nothing is more classic than a white-on-white wedding cake, yet for me it’s a real challenge. As much as I try to restrain myself, virtually every cake I make seems to have a pop of color. I have been designing cakes for over 15 years, and of the hundreds of cakes I’ve made, the two white cakes below are literally the only white-on-white cakes I’ve ever done. (For some reason, I find winter-themed cakes a little easier to execute in white.) So, my first goal for 2013 will be to create a cake, all white with no other colors, that is not winter-themed and is just splendid.
2. Show my girly side. A designer friend of mine once called one of my designs “masculine”. I was horrified. Yes, the cake featured bold geometrics in blues and greens, but masculine? I had never thought of my cakes as gender-specific, and definitely not masculine, but when I thought about it, they weren’t particularly feminine either, and not at all girly. I do appreciate girly things, but for some reason my cakes rarely reflect that side. This year, I want to lean towards more feminine, girly designs.
3. Use a lighter touch. I really like cakes that look airy and light, but I always find my cakes are heavy handed. This year, I plan to work with colors, designs, and materials that give my cakes a sense of weightlessness.
4. Use my lace molds. I purchased these fabulous jewelry findings at Jo-Ann Fabrics forever ago and used my food-grade silicone to create fondant molds from them. They’re pretty fabulous–lacy and girly (just perfect for Design Goal #2)–and I’ve been meaning to get around to creating a cake with them. This year, I’m gonna do it.
5. Sugar dahlia. The one below, to be precise: It’s the cafe au lait dahlia, and it’s my absolute favorite. I’ve been playing with dahlias for a while now, and am ready to perfect my design. This is the year.
6. And while we’re at it, the Juliet Rose. I’ve seen several pretty good Juliet roses made of sugar, but never a great one. In 2013, I will make one. Part of the challenge is finding a good one to use as a model. The other part is finding the time to do it. With kids, a growing business, and a beat-up old house we’re restoring, time is my biggest challenge and really comes at a premium. Luckily my family is really supportive. The Juliet rose, with it’s multiple components, will take several attempts and lots of time to figure out, but I’ll do it.
7. Further explore what interests me as an artist. I’m an artist, but I’m also a business person, and I have to admit I sometimes feel pressured to create designs that are consistent with current trends, rather than the ones that interest me. I would love to find the time to do both the crowd-pleasers and the me-pleasers (there goes that time issue again). I’m hoping I’ll have the opportunity to do some editorial work this year in which the design is left completely up to me.