I started decorating cakes in 1995 just for fun, and I was pretty good. I knew I would someday pursue cake design as a career, but it wasn’t until I moved to California in 2005 (and hated my teaching job so much I would come home crying every day) that I decided to make cake design a full-time pursuit. With that goal in mind, my first step was a fancy website with lots of quality pictures. There was only one problem: I didn’t have any quality pictures. The entire first ten years of my cake decorating career was documented with a point-and-shoot camera, and while some people manage to achieve a quality photo with even the crappiest point-and-shoot, I’m not one of them. So, I needed to get some photos of cakes I had designed.I contacted a few photographers to inquire about professional photos of my cakes, but at $250 per hour, it was not a viable option, especially since I knew I would want photos of all my cakes going forward. We took what amounted to four hours of professional photo time and invested it instead in a digital Cannon Rebel. Turns out I can’t take a good picture even with a quality camera, but as luck would have it my husband has a natural gift for it. (Several of his photos of my cakes have actually been published.)I planned to design a cake per week until I had built up my portfolio with enough good photos for a website, but between my teaching job and my daughter, it just seemed there was never time. I knew I would need something to motivate me.So.I put an ad on Craigslist offering wedding cakes–and here’s the zany part–in the “Free Stuff” section. I was pretty specific: the design would be up to me, the flavors up to the bride and groom. It had to be for a wedding. The cake would be completely free. I posted a few pictures of some of my earlier work and waited.
The email responses came in droves, and I saved them all so that when I someday went on Oprah I could share them with her audience. Unfortunately, this is Oprah’s last season, and all the emails were saved under an old AOL account, so they’re gone anyway. You’ll have to trust me to paraphrase some of them here.
Most of them had nothing to do with weddings:
My son is turning seven next month. He likes geckos and camping. Can you make him a birthday cake?
Some of them were actually quite sad:
My daughter is very ill. She was born with Cerebral Palsy. She is confined to a wheelchair. She loves Strawberry Shortcake. Can you make her 5th birthday cake?
A few of them were actually legitimate weddings, and I think I did about four or five free wedding cakes. Even at the time, I thought the people were nuts. (My first thought would be that anyone offering free wedding cakes is obviously trying to poison me and all my guests.) But for whatever reason, they trusted me to make their cake. Two of the photos were on my website for a long time, but I eventually became more skilled at my craft and wasn’t happy with the lopsidedness, so I replaced them with better quality cakes.
These are two of my free Craigslist cakes.
Marzipan Lemons and Limes:
Hand-cut Fondant Hibiscus Cake:
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the free cakes route to someone looking to get into cake design, it certainly jump-started my career. I have no regrets about making them, and, I’d like to think, neither does anyone that got one.