Sunday, November 4, 2012

City-Inspired Wedding Cake

 This cake has been a pet project of mine for a while now.  My friend Mandi had requested I do her wedding cake back in the spring, and I had so much fun designing this cake for her occasion.  I worked on the gum paste components on the side over the last month, and needless to say, I didn't sleep much the couple days before her event.  It was totally worth it to see this design come together.

Let's go way back to the design.

Mandi was great to work with-- she gave me photos of her dress, the bridesmaids' dresses, a color swatch, save the date, centerpieces, etc.  She told me she was doing a city theme and was thinking of maybe using the king and queen buildings that are iconic on GA 400 as inspiration.

To give the cake an architectural look, I mixed square and round cake tiers and got the idea of adding a topper to look a little like the queen building.  My goal was to fuse architecture with feminine flair, so I thought of building a gum paste peony and bud into the the topper.

As you can imagine, getting those gum paste 'straps' to stand up like that required all of my cunning.  And I had to put the peony in before adding the second strap...

Another idea I had in my head was inspired by an old cake decorating magazine where I saw someone build a filigree tier out of pastillage for a cake show.  I thought, why not do it for a real cake, in gum paste instead of pastillage, and add some building profiles to add to the city theme.  The artist in me thought to put more gum paste flowers inside the mesh and the engineer in me thought... how about a light source so that when the sun sets the whole filigree is illuminated...

It is hard to see the light in broad daylight, but you can see it catching one of the rose petals (it is mounted to the top of a clear cake plate).   If I can get pictures of the cake from the reception after night fall, I will share them with you.  The bride told me the light worked! :)

Here are the gum paste roses and leaves that went inside the filigree tier.  I just clustered 3 roses and some leaves while I was setting up so no styrofoam was required.

The piping on the two round tiers was inspired by the details on the bride's wedding dress.  It is was hand piped with royal icing and then hand painted in silver luster.  The silver detail on the top tier around the topper was done the same way.

Sorry for the backlight (though the scenery is amazing!).  This venue is on a 14th floor downtown near the aquarium here in Atlanta.   You can imagine the view is gorgeous day and night.

The silver beads were done with gray 50/50 paste (half fondant, half gum paste) using a pearl mold and then painted silver to match the piping.

The squares on the bottom tier are actually an underlay-- I made fondant squares a day or so in advance and let them dry.  I adhered them to the bottom tier before putting on the fondant and then carefully smoothed to reveal the design using both my hands and some tools to enhance the details.

Here is a view from the back (with less back light):

And one more from the front!

Delivery to the 14th floor presented its own set of challenges.  It took a long walk and 2 different (slow) elevators to get all the bits and pieces up to the venue.  The bottom half consisted of a custom wooden board, plus the square and round cakes which together probably weighed 60 lbs.  I could not have done it without the help of the boyfriend, Craig, who assisted with heavy lifting, sandwich delivery, and general moral support.  If you decorate cakes then you know-- it's not over till you actually deliver it and get it set up.

I really enjoyed seeing this cake come together and pushing myself to try new techniques.  Thanks for looking and happy caking!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Teal and Zebra Gum Paste Stiletto

Sometimes, you just have to come back to basics, or in my case, to gum paste stilettos.  

I really enjoyed making this teal and zebra version of my signature gum paste stiletto.  I particularly liked the liner and label, which I made super-blingy. 

This stiletto was made for a birthday celebration, and had an accompanying chocolate cake that I also covered in a zebra stripe pattern.  

The shoe will ultimately be a topper, but it was packaged separately for easier travel.  

For the stiletto, I painted the zebra stripes onto white gum paste using black piping gel diluted with just a little vodka.  For the cake, I hand cut the zebra stripes from fondant that I rolled out thin using the pasta machine.  

Such a fun shoe/ cake combination!

I made the silver studs using a homemade silicon mold that I created using a rhinestone from the scrapbooking aisle.

Hope you have a fantastic week! :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

This Week at Highland Bakery

I thought I'd share a couple of the cakes I worked on this past week at Highland Bakery...

There's no place like home!! 

The gum paste ruby slippers turned into quite the undertaking.  I still think the template I made needs some refining, but it was the first time I put together a more pump-style shoe.  And I got to use almost an entire container of red disco dust.

These shoes are a smaller size than the ones I normally make, but they really popped on the yellow brick road cake.

I also worked on this cute little cake:

This cake featured a fantasy flower related to a peony.

More goodies coming next week!  :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Choosing your Wedding Cake

Congratulations on your engagement and welcome to wedding planning!

While most of my posts are aimed at cake decorating enthusiasts, I thought I'd dedicate a post to the brides trying to make sense of selecting a cake artist/ bakery and cake for their big day.

For a long time, cakes really weren't on my radar.  I thought all wedding cakes were more or less created equal (and mediocre), and I certainly enjoyed my share of box mixes and funfetti and grocery store cakes.  Now that I've spent some years really exploring baking and cake decorating, my perspective and standards have obviously shifted, but that doesn't mean that you as the client need to change your perspective!  In this post, I offer some honest advice without too much of a bias, based on my experience.

Here are some important questions to ponder.

What role is your cake going to play?
This may seem like an odd question, but understanding what role you want your cake to play at your event can really help you make cost-effective trade-offs.  The cake can take on many different roles:

  • Tasty dessert for your wedding guests
  • Show-stopping centerpiece for your venue
  • Conversation piece around which your guests gather
  • A backdrop for your cutting/ cake tasting photographs
You may find that some of those bullets are more important to you than others.  For example, you may have your heart set on an alternative dessert, or you prefer different decorations to be the focal point in the room, but understanding the options can help you figure out where to invest the most money.

This cake looked right at home in a rustic setting surrounded by a dessert bar.

This cake's impressive height and taste were definitely a topic of conversation. 

How much should you budget?
Well, that depends.  You may read all this, decide that your main priorities lie elsewhere (like photography), and decide to go with a grocery store cake-- there's nothing wrong with that!  It's like buying your wedding dress-- you might choose to buy something more mass-produced, or you might really want to be treated like a princess during your buying process, or at the highest-end, have something made custom just for you.  Any of the above are viable options, but realize that as you work your way up the ladder, you need to budget more.

To give you some specifics, it is difficult to find wedding cakes available for less than $4-5 per serving from commercial bakeries, and that is assuming a buttercream cake (not fondant).  Remember that one of the cake's roles is a dessert-- you can't buy a piece of cake from a chain restaurant for less than that, and that cake arrived frozen and mass produced.  This means that if you have 200 beloved friends and relatives coming to your wedding expecting to enjoy some wedding cake in your presence, you're looking at NO less than $800-$1000 unless you choose a chain grocery cake or use the tactic from the next paragraph.  Regardless, some bakeries and cake studios have a minimum order ranging from $250 to $1000, so do watch for that as well.

If that seems prohibitive, you can always buy a smaller wedding cake and some additional sheet cakes, which are more cost effective, to boost your number of servings.  What you should NOT do is buy the two from different bakeries, i.e., don't buy a lovely smaller wedding cake from bakery or home baker and then buy your sheet cake from the grocery store; this means that the grocery store cake could be passed off as that from your other baker and affect their reputation adversely.  Many cake artists have provisions in their contracts that specifically prohibit this.  While some may allow it, it would be much better to ask your wedding cake maker to make the sheet cakes as well so that all of your guests receive the same high-quality dessert.

To Fondant, or not to Fondant
Fondant allows for a beautiful, fabric-like surface finish and gives a cake decorator many options not always afforded by buttercream cakes.  It is more expensive to buy or make than buttercream, so expect to add an extra $1 or so per serving for flawless fondant.

How does it taste?   A lot of it is pretty good!  Many rumors fly about regarding fondant, but the truth is, the flavor varies by brand.  The most premium fondants are the most expensive, but many varieties are available.  If you're concerned, ask to taste the fondant!  That said, it is very easy to eat a slice of cake and just leave the fondant over if you're not excited about it.

 The ivory fondant on this cake gives it a smooth, uniform appearance.

That's it, I'm buying a cake from a grocery store.
Okay, no problem-- this might be the right choice for you.  Let me give you a little more information about what you're paying for (and not paying for).

The cakes are usually made out of house, flash-frozen and delivered to the store.  They are then defrosted before your event, but they could be on the order of months old.  You can also expect non-perishable buttercream, which is very sweet, basically just shortening and powdered sugar.  You can also expect artificial vanilla extract and other faux flavors and preservatives.

As far as the decorating, you could get lucky! There are some VERY talented decorators hiding in grocery stores and chains.  However, you could also get a cake straight from Cake Wrecks.  It is risky, as you may not know who is going to do your cake.  Most cakes at grocery stores are decorated in about 20 minutes.  One significant risk factor is that the cakes they publish in their catalogs are often made by one of their top decorators or even an outsourced professional decorator, and the in-house decorators are expected to copy that person's work.  Needless to say, this doesn't always go amazingly well, so if you are a perfectionist, this is something to keep in mind.  That said, grocery stores are offering more and more options at additional cost, even gum paste flowers.

Finding the best tasting cake
You've decided that taste is a priority-- you want your cake to be a delicious dessert for your wedding guests.  Good choice!  But how do you find the best tasting cake?

Many bakeries offer tastings, but if you're going to a more private cake studio, the tasting may not be offered until you've given them a deposit.  More on the bakery vs. cake studio in a minute.  Either situation is okay-- go to some commercial bakeries and maybe buy a few cupcakes or ask for a sampling if they offer free ones so you get an idea of what you like.  If you commit to a cake studio and THEN do your tasting, don't be afraid to speak up!  If you don't love the tasting cake, communicate with the cake artist-- it's likely that they can tailor their recipes or choices to your needs because they are a smaller operation.  This is obviously a luxury you pay for, but they want to make you happy!

What makes cake taste good?  Premium ingredients (real butter, real vanilla, good chocolate, fresh fruits, etc.) are key.  I personally like to use a good flavor splash with a premium liqueur to help add additional moisture to the cake, but obviously these come at a cost.  Ask your cake artist for recommendations, they'll be happy to guide you through the process.

Getting the right design
Do you want to just pick a design out of the book or off the internet and get it duplicated?  There are plenty of bakeries that will do just that.  If you're willing to go the extra mile, find a cake artist with some vision who can help you design a cake that's one of a kind for your event.

If you're going the custom route, it is very important to bring your cake artist information and inspiration.  How big is your venue? How tall is the ceiling?  What does your dress look like?  The invitations?  What are your colors/ and flowers?  What color are the bridesmaids' dresses?  Is your wedding very traditional or very modern?  Do you have a tight budget constraint?

A new approach is to share your wedding Pinterest board with your cake decorator; that way they can draw on all sorts of ideas.  Many custom cake studios will provide you with at least a rough sketch and a quote, but some will wait until you've placed a deposit or will charge a fee for the sketch.  This prevents you from taking a sketch from one artist to another and trying to beat the price quoted.  Researching your pictures and creating the sketch can take hours, so it is not unusual for cake artists to try to protect their work and their time.

Sketches and their respective wedding cakes.

Gum Paste Flowers and Edible Decorations
Is it cheaper to use fresh or silk flowers and non-edible decorations?  Usually.  Why pay the premium for the edible versions?

The answer is only partially 'because it's so cool.'  There are some very good reasons to use edible decorations.  For example, fresh flowers are often treated with chemicals and are sitting in a bucket of potentially dirty water.  If you do use fresh flowers, try to settle on a design that doesn't require the stems to be stuck directly into the cake-- there are floral spikes that are designed to keep the flower stems out of the delicious cake that you've paid so much for.  By using edible decorations, you also don't have to worry about the caterers cutting/ serving any portion of the cake.

Are gum paste flowers expensive?  Yes, they are.  And they're more difficult to arrange, so a cake designer has to charge for the labor.  However, you can keep them!  It's easy to have a gum paste topper that is easily removed from the cake and saved indefinitely in a dry place.  Also, you can buy one large stunning flower or just a few stunning flowers for less than you can buy a whole lot of smaller flowers, so it's easy to create a beautiful focal point without completely breaking the bank.

This large gum paste peony would look stunning as a stand-alone flower. 

A gum paste poinsettia serves as a focal point. 

This gum paste topper was easily removed and boxed up for the bride to keep.

Tricks not to fall for
1. Serving sizes vary!!  One bakery might bill a 6-8-10-12" round wedding cake as 150 servings (or more) and another might bill it as 100.  Standard wedding cake serving size is 1x2x4, but make sure you're getting good bang for your buck!  One bakery might have a lower per serving price but give you a lot less cake.

2. How many layers per tier are you getting?  Some bakeries give only two layers of cake/ 1 of filling.  Others give as many as 4 layers of cake/ 3 layers of filling.  This affects the labor, the moisture, and the classiness of the served cake, so know what you're getting!

3.  Some fillings/ liqueurs/ fresh fruit may cost extra!  Before you decide if one bakery is cheaper than another, see what you can get for your base price and where the premiums are incurred.

4.  Check the portfolio!  Make sure you see picture of the cakes made by that particular bakery or cake artist so you know what quality work you are getting.

5.  Don't forget delivery!  Some bakeries charge for delivery, some will offer free delivery within a certain range.  Delivery and set up fees can add up, so take this into account when pricing your cake.

Good luck, and for heaven's sake, ENJOY your cake!!! :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

First Days at Highland Bakery

Last week and this week I started working half-time at Highland Bakery in the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta.  Bearing in mind I only had my cell phone camera (and that I'm one of the last people in the US to not have a smart phone), I thought I'd share some of the cakes I got to work on!

Sorry for the photo quality on these-- for this fun shark cake, the amazing Karen made the sharks eating the fish and some jellyfish bodies, I made the other little fishies, and Heidi and I put the rest of it together as a team:

I got to practice my piping and scroll work on this flower covered cake:

I had a fun time figuring out how to make a pair of Ray-bans from gum paste for this beach cake:

The client wanted some very specific starfish, which I made from green gum paste with orange piping.

Heidi did an amazing job on the logo, and Karen an amazing job on the monogram.
The other ladies at Highland love their airbrushing (which I'm looking forward to learning more about!), but I practiced a little on the seashells:

This week I spent about an entire day working on this topsy-turvy number.  Mary had already done some work on it, cutting the cake angles and making the balls and bow loops.

Finally, I wrapped up my week working on the base cake for another sea-scape, which will have a fish on top and other shells and starfish.  I made a bunch of multi-colored seaweed from fondant, and then painted extra vines and bubbles:

Fun stuff, right?

If only it weren't 105 degrees in Atlanta this week-- yikes it's hot.  Fortunately, I'll soon be on my way to South Africa where it is wintertime. :)

Much more to come soon! :)

Monday, June 25, 2012

What's going on here???

So I told you I finally finished my PhD-- but now what's going on here??

Well, first I had to catch my breath.  Ten years of college and writing a dissertation really take a lot out of you.  To celebrate, I'm taking a 12 day trip to South Africa, leaving July 4th.  I'll be going to Cape Town, Kruger National Park, and Victoria Falls, and boy am I excited.  Hoping to have fabulous pictures to share with you all!!

Now of course there's never a dull moment for me, and there's some pretty big news.  First, I started working part time last week at Highland Bakery in the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta.  If you've never been, it's one of the top rated brunch places and is also the residence of fabulous cake and sugar artist, Karen Portaleo.  So I am now a part-time member of her fabulous team, and I'm very excited about it.  I'll be sure to start bringing my camera to work so you can see what's going on over there. :)

On top of that, I am pleased to announce that I have officially found a way to fully integrate Cake and Engineering.   I have officially formed The Cake Engineer LLC in Georgia, and this will be my company for classes and supplies.  That's right, you might have noticed I implemented a 'Buy Now' button on right side of this blog for my stiletto instructions, and that's just the beginning.  While this is in its infancy stages, I will be developing specialized cutters and molds for the gum paste stilettos, class DVD's, new classes, and more!  These things take time, but watch for new changes coming this way!

In the mean time, I intend to write some more blog posts-- not just about cakes or sugar art projects that I've made, but with some general info for cake artists, brides-to-be, and cake enthusiasts alike.

Stay tuned, and as always, please let me know if there's something you'd like to see here!  Can't wait to share this big adventure with all of you.

Have a delicious day. :)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Intro to Pulled and Blown Sugar with Mark Seaman

On Thursday and Friday this past week, I was fortunate to take an introductory pulled and blown sugar class with Mark Seaman at the International Sugar Art Collection in Studio B.

Mark was a great teacher and many different techniques were covered.  I learned a ton!

The rose and green leaves were made by pulling sugar.  I was NOT prepared for how HOTTTTTT the sugar would be.  I had on multiple pairs of latex gloves and at times still felt like I was being scalded.  I had to throw down my sugar sometimes because the heat would get to be so much.  So I think I need to find more heat resistant gloves or be prepared for numbness of the hands if I decide to practice my sugar pulling skills.

We also tried blowing sugar into spheres and peach shapes.  I finally got one sphere I was okay with, but again, the sugar was very hot when malleable and then cooled off quickly and became difficult to manipulate.

It was difficult to adhere the sugar to the copper tube that delivered the air from the pump.  But at least I got one sphere I was reasonably happy with.

We learned some other skills involving pouring and casting (read: no need to scald your hands!)

You can see a poured sugar plate under my rose sculpture and a more mosaic-like poured sugar tile.

So there's lots you can do even without the burning sensation!! :)

Hot sugar is definitely very different from gum paste-- it snaps and shatters easily and burns your hands when soft.  But you can create so many neat effects!

I definitely had a great time in class.  But boy will these skills take some practice!   Will have to decide if I'm willing to invest in the heat lamp and other necessary accessories if I'm going to continue trying to pull and blow sugar.  But even just with casting you can do some pretty awesome stuff!  I feel inspired.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gum Paste Moth Orchid

Moth (Phalaenopsis) orchids are incredibly popular right now.

I had a request for a couple of stalks like this, and I was really excited about how they came out.

It was an interesting challenge to get the coloration on the throat correct.  I was looking at a lot of different pictures as I went along.  I tried to capture purple, magenta, and some reddish tones, as well as the markings in the center.  These throats started out white, so it took a few coats of color to achieve the right depth.  I always steam the flowers after dusting, and to get that saturated color, I would dust, steam, let set, and then repeat as needed.

I love the organic look of the orchid stalk.

Those curled tendrils on the base of the throat were a real nuisance, especially because I was trying to make them as thin as possible.

Hope you enjoyed these as much as I did!