Why Custom Cakes Cost More

halloweencake

I have been getting a lot of inquiries from people expecting a cake at a $2 per serving or less price. I thought I would take a moment to explain why the home bakers in the Philadelphia area and beyond charge at least $4 per serving and up.

First, there’s the designing. We search for inspiration, make sketches, some even know how to make sketches on the computer. That takes at least a half an hour. Many times my client has some changes, so I draw up a new sketch, and we go from there. It’s truly a great customer service experience for you!

Then, there’s gathering information and special materials. What flavor, how many people are you serving? Gluten free? Let me find the best gluten free flour you can afford. Many of the bakers in our area use King Arthur Flour, Nielsen Massey Vanilla, Domino sugar, and even imported fondant (cha-ching). Some of us make our own homemade fondant, which takes at least 20 minutes per batch.

And then there’s the baking. Say you want a 10″ butter cake and an 8″ red velvet cake. That’s going to take at least 2 hours to bake, PLUS all those dishes. Home bakers and custom cakers don’t have huge commercial dish washers or a guy to come in to do it for them. They prep the pans, cut the parchment, carefully refine their recipes so that they are the best to their abilities. Some large bakeries don’t let you have different flavors for different tiers!

And, like I mentioned, most bakers either buy expensive fondant or take the time to make their own. Then there’s preparing all the many colors that your special design needs. Sometimes I have to dye 8 colors for a cake and that takes more time than you may think. Usually at least a half hour and then my arms ache.

Then there’s preparing the cake board. Some people buy them pre-made (money) or piece them together with boards and foil (that’s money AND time). Many or us add a special coordinating ribbon that brings the whole thing together. When the design calls for it, a lot of the time we cover the board in fondant (oops, looks like we should buy or make even more fondant). Sometimes I cover my board in fondant, even if you’re not really paying for it, because you’re a great customer and I appreciate you.

I personally specialize in custom-cutting characters, a technique I have been working on for years. I learned to use an X-Acto knife in high school and it’s honestly one of my favorite things. But after coloring all the fondant colors I need, and then it’s time to cut. Depending on how many decorations I need for your cake, it may take an hour or it may take two or three. Then I usually have to paint on some details. I am VERY detail-oriented with my characters and may notice things you never saw before!

Then there’s the Tappit letters (the letters you see on the cake board above). You roll that fondant out, let it sit for a while, and get tapping. These letters look perfect, it’s worth it, but for me it takes 15 minutes and for newbies it may take much longer.

Then everything is ready — it’s time to put it all together! Depending on the size of the cake, it may take a little buttercream or a ton of buttercream, but either way you’re looking at a half hour to an hour of work. Most of us sift our sugar to ensure nice, smooth buttercream. Plus the expensive vanilla that tastes AMAZING.

Covering the cakes in buttercream and fondant takes anywhere to a half hour to an hour or two. Depends on the cake, skill level, and how fast one is, but either way, it takes time. Then it’s obsessing until it’s PERFECT.

Then comes measuring and adding dowel rods so your cake doesn’t fall apart on transport or make an ugly bulge from the weight, etc. That takes at least 10-20 minutes.

Throwing on (erm, I mean gently placing) the decorations is usually the easiest part and quickest part. But sometimes you need to wait until the cake is covered to make decorations that can’t be dried out (the decoration needs to wrap around the cake, for instance–like Frankenstein’s hair in the cake picture above).

And then, after 6-10 hours are up, you have a BEAUTIFUL cake. Custom cake decorators really are artists making art that also happens to be very delicious. It’s not like a super market where the cakes are prepared with less-than-stellar ingredients, shipped to the store in big boxes. Then the big bakeries are able to make HUGE batches of buttercream at once. Which is GREAT. There’s a place for budget cakes for people who need budget cakes. But there’s also a place, and will always be a place, for the people who want something more. Something designed just for you, prepared with fresh and quality ingredients, and put together with care.

And what you might not also know is that most cakers love it SO MUCH that they put in extra time that you haven’t paid for because it will make your cake that much more special. They do that out of love and generosity, knowing you may not notice or care. They do it because they want their cake to be the best. And, hey, maybe you do notice, so you give them a TIP — which WOW. That makes one feel really appreciated.

So the next time you find a baker to make you a cake for $50 when it takes six hours to make, don’t ask someone else who values their time for a quote. Just don’t do it.

And to those of you who value and understand, and can afford these cakes, thank you. You are supporting small businesses, helping make dreams come true, helping to provide for Christmas and birthdays and new dance shoes. Not to mention bills. These cakes may cost a lot, but most of us are not rich. After all, we can only charge so much–unless we are a celebrity and most of us are not.

And thank YOU for reading. šŸ™‚

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DQ Blizzard CakeĀ 

For a couple of months now, I have been planning how to make my husband a surprise DQ Blizzard cake for his birthday – and in his favorite flavor, chocolate with Reese’s peanut buttercups. I was inspired by Cake Style’s Starbucks cake (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2mP13jMOMY) and watched the tutorial a bunch of times. I didn’t want to make it quite as big as her cake, however. I decided to make a cake that was 6″ diameters at the top and tapered down.

My first task was to find a reputable person to make my edible image. I decided on the seller Edible Party Images on Etsy. Before I even ordered, I messaged them and explained exactly what I wanted to do to see if they understood. I had issues in the past with another seller who didn’t make my custom image correct at all. They seemed to know what I meant, so I ordered a 7.5″ x 10″ and asked for two logos in a couple of difference sizes.

The only other thing I had to do ahead of time was make the illusion of the famous Dairy Queen red spoon peeking out of the top of the Blizzard. I got some red fondant, mixed it with Tylose, then rolled it out sort of thick. Then I put my skewer on the fondant and folded over. Next, I cut it in the appropriate shape and sealed the sides.I let it dry for about a week, so that it would be nice and stiff.

For the cake, I baked 1.5 batches of Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake. I baked them up in 3 6″ tins. Then I split them so I would have 6 layers total. I left the top layer domed so it could look like the ice cream.

When that was done, I tested to see if everything was going to work.

From there, I made a big batch of buttercream. I made about 3 cups into peanut butter by adding some Natural Jif until I was satisfied. To make what would look like ice cream, I added some cocoa powder to about a cup of buttercream. Then I swirled some peanut butter icing in, making it a chocolate AND PB icing. It’s so delicious!

I also prepared my 8″ cake board.

In between the layers, I knew I wanted Reese’s minis. I chopped the entire 8 ounce bag up for the cake.

From there, I slowly built up the cake. I put blue on the outside, which was completely unnecessary because I was going to carve the sides of the cake.

After the first three layers were done, I added some dowel rods for support since the cake is going to be so tall.

Eek, it looked scary at this point, but it was now ready to carve. I also put in a center dowel rod at some point:

All the yummy cake scraps from carving.

Below is how it looked after carving with my serrated knife. I simply and carefully tapered it toward the bottom, careful not to over do it.

It’s important to put it back into the fridge at this point so your buttercream gets stiff and doesn’t budge as you put the icing on the outside.

Next, I put on a thick layer of blue icing.

Then I smoothed it out. After this, put it back into the refrigerator to stiffen up.

While it was resting in the fridge, I cut the logo with my X-Acto knife and made the rim with my extruder.

I used the half moon shape for the rim. I feel like the rim really brought it together to make a realistic cake.

Next, I added the chocolate buttercream and made it look nice and messy, like a real Blizzard. Then I cut my miniature Reese’s peanut buttercups and half and stuck them into the chocolate. Next, I put my “spoon” in the cake. After chilling the edible image in the freezer for about ten minutes, I carefully peeled it and placed it on the cake.

My kids couldn’t believe this cake! My husband loves it and didn’t guess what it was for a while into the process what exactly I was making. When I took my photos, my kids got into the action. They had a lot of fun taking pictures with the cake. I don’t normally let my kids so close to my fancy cakes, but this was for ourselves, so I let them have some fun.

blizzardcake

Well, there you have it! That’s how you make a Dairy Queen Blizzard cake. I hope that you enjoyed my tutorial. As usual, if you have any questions, just ask me here, on Facebook, or even on Instagram (@NicholesCustomCakes).

Finally, here it is cut! It was delicious. 


Nichole

Football jersey cakeĀ 

Time for a quick tutorial! But first, I want to say that I adapted this idea from the Starry Delights blog here:Ā http://www.starrydelights.co.uk/index.php/football-shirt-cake/ .

My nephew, Nate, has turned 11! He’s my godson and we almost share a birthday — he’s on the 1st and I am on the 6th. I’ve been making cakes for him for a while now:

And I haven’t made him one in a few years. My very first one for him (above) was a Spiderman Wilton cake and I haven’t used the pan since then! It was simple, but I was really proud of it at the time. You can see he went through a ninja phase and also a Ben Ten phase. But what he really loves right now is football – as a fan and as a football player himself. Last year, his team even won the Championships! Ā Football is really big in his family and in his area, so it only made sense.

So I got the idea last year (or the year before, I think) of making him a jersey cake. My sister uploaded the photo below to Facebook and I was inspired. My skills have really progressed since the slightly embarrassing Lego cake above, so I really wanted to make him something cool.

nate-in-jersey

I found the blog (see first paragraph, above) about how to make a realistic jersey and knew I had to make my own version for him as a surprise.

The first thing I had to do was print and scale down the Parkers logo, Under Armour logo and the Adidas logo. I wanted it to be a very close replica! I do all of this in a Word Doc. Old school, I know.

Then I cut it out and put it on my 1/4 sheet pan to make sure that it will all fit properly.

I hand-cut all my letters out of fondant. I actually had to make a new Adidas logo because I made it the wrong color, whoops. His birthday message was out of my favorite Tappit letter cutters. I really didn’t think the tiny Under Armour logo was possible, but it turned out pretty good (if you didn’t get too close!).

I knew that I didn’t want to cut away from the cake to make the arms, but wasn’t sure how to tackle that. But then I remembered that I had a spare 6″ cake in the freezer from another project. Really glad that I didn’t toss it! So what I did was I cut it in half, then adjusted it to look like football jersey sleeves by cutting up at an angle.

Then I put it onto the sides of my quarter sheet cake and adjusted accordingly to make sure it would fit on the board! I had to use a 13″ x 19″ board to accommodate the sleeves.

Nate chose a red velvet cake. I have tried other red velvet cake recipes before, but decided to try one that was specifically meant for a sheet pan. I found it on Pinterest, of course, from the Spice Southern Kitchen blog:Ā http://spicysouthernkitchen.com/red-velvet-cake/

When it was time to decorate, the first thing I did was a good crumb coat in buttercream. I also used buttercream to attach the sleeves to the sheet cake. Then I let it rest to chill and set.

From there, I had to cover it in fondant. First thing I did was a light coating of vegetable shortening so that the fondant would stick to buttercream.

Using a toothpick, I drew where I wanted the undershirt to be. Then I traced over my markings on parchment paper (which is slightly see through), making sure I also marked off the width of the side of the cake.

Then I laid my template on my black fondant and cut it out with a pizza cutter.

Then I placed it on my guidelines and trimmed it up.

Next, since I wanted a realistic shirt, I rolled some fondant and tapered it at the top and applied it to my cake. This would be for wrinkles that naturally occur in fabric.

I make wrinkles where the arm meets the arm pit and long ones on the torso.

Next, I measured out 2.5 lbs of fondant (2 lbs, 8 oz). This is theamount that the Wilton chart says for a 9″ x 13″ cake. I hoped that it would also be enough for the sleeves, too (it was).

I rolled it out as evenly as I could.

I folded the fondant over and placed it over half way. Then flipped the top onto the cake.

I marked where the black undershirt was hidden underneath and cut it out with my X-Acto knife.

Then I wanted to add my collar. I used my ruler and my X-Acto board as a guide.

Then I placed on both sides and trimmed it down. I made sure to overlap with the black undershirt to make sure that it covered the gap. Don’t mind the Halloween candy in the backround …

Next, I cut some gray for the lines on the sleves, applied them, and trimmed them up.

Next, I wanted to add some shading. I mixed white and black petal dust and got a large, dry Wilton paint brush and lightly added shadows.

I think this is what truly made everything POP and come together. I forgot to mention, I also added my logos and numbers after making the collar. All it needed was a light moistening with water. I used my veiner tool to add other details. I stuck on the birthday message by wetting it with some water and was done!

When the lighting was good, I took my “professional” picture. I sort of like the one above better, though!

jerseycake

Finally the night of his party came. Most of his friends were decked out in Under Armour and Parkers gear, so I was excited for them to see the cake. When we presented him with the cake, he was completely surprised! And all of his friends loved it, too. Here he is with his cake:

nate

I hope that you enjoyed this blog post. If you have any questions about anything I may have missed or left out, just give me a shout here, on Facebook, etc.

Don’t forget — I had an Instagram account @NicholesCustomCakes.

Nichole

Tim Burton Birthday Cake

I finally got to make a Tim Burton style cake! I’m so glad to have had this opportunity. It features the main characters from Nightmare Before Christmas (Jack Skellington and Sally and Zero), Corpse Bride (Emily and Victor) and Frankenweenie from Frankenweenie.

I don’t have a long tutorial or post to make about this, but wanted to share close-ups of all my characters. All the characters were made by hand by me, hand painted, and shaded. The eyelashes on the ladies were made using the finest setting on my clay extruder. The 12″ x 18″ half-chocolate and half-vanilla sheet cake was covered with black chocolate buttercream and vanilla buttercream. My border was a number 18 Wilton tip.

Hope you enjoy!

img_7060img_7061img_7062img_7063img_7070nightmarecakecloseupnightmare

Our first community day

Yesterday we participated in our very first community day, Autumn Alive!, run by Quakertown Alive, a non-profit organization in our town. It was such a fun experience, and though I didn’t take man pictures, I thought it would be great to put my thoughts about it down into a blog post.

GATHERING MATERIALS

I got the idea of participating in Autumn Alive this time last year, but there were a couple problems with that idea. First, it was the weekend of my sister’s wedding. Second, we didn’t have anything prepared and would have not known anything about how to be a part of such an event. So I put it on the back burner for a while.

The next thing I had to do was make some investments. Using cake profits and money, I slowly started to take advantage of sales through VistaPrint for a sign, t-shirts, logo stickers, and business cards.

I also got to work early on my dummy cake to ensure that it would be done in plenty of time for the event. Here’s how it turned out:

AUTUMN CAKE.jpg

Next, we had to figure out how to package our items. We thought the most sanitary way to distribute would be to put in individual containers. I would set up and basically be ready to go. There are a lot of containers out there on Amazon and other food service websites. After a lot of research, we finally settled on ones that were a pretty good deal.

After that, of course, was a matter of also planning how I would present our booth. I also had made a photo book of my cakes from 2014 and 2015 to have right there on the table.

We had no idea what to expect, so I didn’t know how many cupcakes I should make… I decided on 50 of three of my best flavors: butter cake, chocolate cake, and pumpkin spice cake. I did the math of converting them to double recipes and even typed them up for my convenience. In the sake of being very professional, we also printed ingredient labels to put on every single cupcake.

PRODUCT PREP

I always like to make a time line of when to bake and prepare my goods. I decided on baking on Thursday and decoration on Friday. The first thing I did, however, to make it easy on myself, was to make my dry mixes. It’s sort of like making my own cake mix, except from scratch! Then all I need to do is finish with the wet ingredients:

I also decided to make a big batch of my favorite brownies, King Arthur Fudge Brownies. They are just so good! I know it’s always good to have more than one type of product on your table, and I figured maybe some people might be more interested in brownies. We had to print some ingredient labels very last-minute, and they looked so great when we were done.

When Thursday came, I woke up at 6 AM and got to work as soon as I woke up.


From there, it was a bit of a baking marathon. I only have two mixer bowls, so at one point I had to clean my bowl to make way for another batch in my mixer. Below are my 48 yellow cupcakes, ready to go into the oven. I only baked one batch in the oven at a time.

I put my cupcakes straight into their containers as soon as they were finished cooling off. I hoped that this would help keep them moist and prevent them from drying out too much:

That night, after the bowls had been washed and cleaned, I made three HUGE batches of buttercream: vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate. The next day, I decorated them right in their containers. This process went by surprisingly fast!

Then Friday came. We got up very early, ready to find our spot (number 51!). My daughter came along to help and so we could take her to her dance lesson, which is on the same street as the festival. She felt so important being one of our helpers. We also brought along my mom and a friend.

She loved setting up the cupcakes and making the table look nice. All she wanted to do was be of help, so I let her do her thing and it made her so happy.

Before the day started, I got to finally meet Amy from Amy’s Creative Cakes. We have been speaking via Facebook and she is just the sweetest! She is a serious business woman who knows the business inside and out. And though I am doing something similar (but different — all cake businesses are unique), she isn’t rude or dismissive of me. She liked my dummy cake and we had the most positive conversation. It was really a great start to the day. If you’re reading this, thank you so much, Amy!

REFLECTIONS ON THE DAY

So the big question is .. how did the day go? Well, at first we weren’t moving much product. There was a booth of cupcake decorating, which I am pretty sure was free. We had the idea of giving out some free samples, but we didn’t bring plates or utensils.

Buuut, my mom went for a walk and came back with both a new plate and a knife. She started cutting up napkins so that we could put little pieces of cake and brownies on the plate. And then we converted one of our price lists into a FREE SAMPLES sign. After that, things started moving along nicely!

I got to talk to a lot of people and tell them a little bit about what we do. Many people expressed that they do have the need for someone to make cakes or their favorite person or bakery had stopped making cakes.

I got a lot of positive feedback on my work. Even people who didn’t actually stop at the booth would stop and admire our dummy cake. Of course, they didn’t realize it was a dummy, but I have actually MADE a cake like this, so I don’t feel at all guilty about that. For those who actually did stop and ask about the cake, I was able to show them in my book the actual jack-o-lantern cake that I made for a customer last year.

I had a very nice conversation with a lady who just wants a quality, simple pound cake and I hope that she gets in touch with me! We spoke briefly about everybody’s favorite pound cake — STOCK’S of Philadelphia. While I can’t make a Stock’s, I can make a damn good pound cake! She liked my yellow cake, so we’ll see what happens.

I also did a consultation right on spot for a customer who expressed an interest in getting a cake. I encouraged her to come to the event and we could meet, talk, and she could try some cake. Her daughter loved looking through our picture album of pictures. We just have so many ideas that it is hard to choose!

The most popular flavor of the day was the pumpkin spice cupcakes. I sold a lot of those! People also really loved my cinnamon buttercream. And it was so simple to make, so I almost felt guilty receiving so much praise for it.

I can’t get through this post without mentioning a couple of flukes that we went through. First, I made WAY TOO MUCH CAKE. Way too much. And as the day wore on, I dropped my price a little bit, though that didn’t help all that much in moving products. And at one point, just to get people interested, I was just giving cake away. One lady was especially grateful for her free cake that I definitely had no regrets. She tried a piece of cake and was looking through my book, so I bagged her up a pumpkin cake with a card, and the smile on her face was worth a million bucks. I gave two boxes of extra cake to the Code Blue project, which is a non-profit for the homeless in our town. I’m so glad that the extras will hopefully not go to waste and go to someone who is hungry.

Second, we were in direct sun for most of the day. Since my cakes were packaged in little plastic containers, it made them practically like a little greenhouse. The chocolate was susceptible to melting. We ended up only keeping out a few of the cupcakes and putting the rest under the table. When people would buy a cupcake, we would pull from beneath the table, where the cupcakes were perfectly fine.

Third, I really should have collected email addresses so that I could email very interested people with my website, Facebook page, and Instagram page. They wouldn’t have to remember to like my page or worry about losing my business card. I had this idea, but didn’t get around to it.

But back to the more positive things. I’m so glad that my mom and friend came along, because they were of invaluable help to me. My mom has much more experience with selling, so it was great of her to give me tips and tricks on how to move product. And it took me a while, but I really got the whole spiel down: try a sample, here’s my card, here’s a book of my work.

And my daughter … Not to backtrack, but on the Friday before, they were discussing their weekends at school and she told her teacher that she was “going to dance class and selling cupcakes with mommy.” That makes me feel so happy. I feel like maybe she is proud of me in her own little way.

I’m really proud of how well I did talking to so many straight-up strangers. If you’ve known me since I was young, you would know that I was chronically shy, like I never wanted to be the person ordering pizza or Chinese-food shy. I’m not the best at it, but after so many years of pushing myself, I am able to do it.

We would love to return for Arts Alive in April, but with a different strategy, of course. We have different ideas of how much to make and how to collect information.

I have no idea of where this little business is going to go, but I know that we are having fun making cakes and extra spending cash while we are at it. We have dreams about what to do next and how to do it, and all we can do is try.

Below are some more photos from the day:

Thanks for reading!

Nichole

ANOTHER THANK YOU…

To my husband: Thank you to my husband, who tells me he is proud of me for trying and for putting this all together. And for setting up and breaking down and making our pretty price lists. 

To my mom: Thank you again to my mom and neighbor/friend for helping me on Saturday. Mom, you instilled such a good work ethic in me, not to mention a love of baking. And it would have been very hard to break down at 4 if you weren’t there to watch the little ones back at home. 

Annika: Nika, thank you for walking Rachel around since I couldn’t leave our booth. And for helping me break down and work the booth all day long. I’ll never forget how you planned your big trip around this event! I’m speechless. 

My father-in-law: Thank you so much for coming out! We wouldn’t have predicted that J would get stuck on a call for hours, so it was a big help that you could watch the little ones. In fact, thank you to you and mother-in-law for all the help this past month. It wasn’t an easy month, that’s for sure, but it was made easier with love. 

Rachel: Thank you to my beautiful daughter. All she wanted to do was help. She hung out from 7:30 am until 4:30 pm like a champ and not once did she get bored. She was the happiest kid ever when I let her wear an extra logo t-shirt that morning. 

My neighbors: Thank you to my neighbors who came out to the event and checked out the booth, hung out a little, and bought some cupcakes–thank you! It means a lot that you took time out of your weekend to support our little venture. 

And, of course, thank you for everybody who encouraged me to try and I was planning to do this. 

Minnie & Daisy Sheet Cake

I can’t believe it’s time for Ellie’s birthday again! I have been making her birthday cakes since she was one year old. Last year I made her a Minnie Mouse cake using a Wilton Mickey pan, and it turned out so great!

This year, I have been making a lot of sheet cakes and people are starting to take notice. So her mom, Rachel, wanted to try that this year. Something with Minnie and Daisy as ballerinas. She also showed me a picture of Ellie’s favorite Minnie Mouse toy for guidance on her outfit.

What I really want to focus on in this blog post is how I made the buttercream portion of my cake and how it all came together. I didn’t take a lot of progress pictures of my fondant Minnie and Daisy. I really have to do a blog post on how I make my characters at some point. I’m just usually in a rush, so I just try to get things done.

PLANNING

The first thing I did was make my sketch, of course!

With it being only a 9″ x 13″ quarter sheet cake, I was limited on the amount of space, so I had to come up with something that was designed well enough to fit everything that we wanted into the cake. Being limited on space actually pushes you to make a cleaner and better design. I came up with this after looking at some inspiration on Google. I saw something similar, but different, that was an edible image.

After that, it was a matter of finding a Minnie and Daisy that would fit my theme. I really love Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, and found a screen cap that became my basis for Daisy. For Minnie, I found a different picture on Google images. But it was very much inspired by Once Upon a Christmas. I just had to switch out skates for ballet shoes!

skating

After they were completed to my liking, I figured the most difficult part of my cake was done (boy, was I wrong!). But at least they looked good and were FINISHED.

I used my Tappit letter cutters in block lettering and big funky lettering to write our message. I made a big and small “4”. I could have tossed the small “4”, but I am glad I didn’t! I needed it later.


BUTTERCREAM

I made my favorite Toba Garrett’s decorator’s buttercream, which makes about five pounds of buttercream. I know that seems like an awful lot of buttercream for such a small cake, but I was going to fill it and wanted to do a good crumb coat. Plus, I get very paranoid about not having enough buttercream!

I wanted to show you how I sift my buttercream. First, I weight it. I needed three pounds of confectioner’s sugar.

Then I put as much powdered sugar into my huge sifter that I can fit. I cover it with one of these handy covers. They’re meant for picnics to keep insects off of your food, but using them for this has been a life saver! I get to sift quickly without powdered sugar flying all over the place. I make a big enough mess as it is!

To make that pink frame, I traced my pan onto a piece of paper. Then I figured out how big it could be to allow for my message and my characters. I used this as a guide to make a line out of fondant from my clay extruder so the lines around the frame would be just-right. Then I cut out my rectangle. After filling and crumb-coating my cake, I centered my guide on the cake and used my cake tester to draw a line around my piece of paper.

To make the process of doing a tricolor cake easier, I knew I wanted to start with applying all my buttercream with my number 10 tips. Luckily, I have a bunch of them from when I made a camouflage cake. It makes it so much easier, rather than having to clean them after each color. And then they’re ready if I need to use that color with that tip again.

The buttercream that I made comes out to about 9 cups of buttercream. I measured about 2.5 for the pink and 2.5 for the purple. I used AmeriColor pink (very small amount!) for the pink. And AmeriColor Violet, Wilton Purple and a dash of AmeriColor pink for the purple icing. The amounts and mixing of the colors are all a guessing game.

I used couplers this time so I could switch out the tips for the pink and purple borders with ease. I fill my bags by putting them in cups. The cups hold the bag open so I can add my buttercream easily. For years I didn’t do this, but I am sure glad that I do that now.

And, BONUS, it means I get to break out my McDonald’s Shrek cups, which bring me so much joy. I sealed them off with my bag ties. See more on how to fill your pastry bags easily here: http://www.yourcupofcake.com/2013/09/cupcake-piping-tutorial.html.

Next it was all about filling in. I traced the rectangle with white. Then I traced it with pink.

Then, trying to be neat, but knowing it would get smoothed, I filled in the pink area.

Then I filled in my white area.I used back and forth motions, trying to keep it even.

I tried to get them basically smoothed with my spatula, knowing I would go over them again later. Next, I went up and down the sides with my purple. I knew it would be too much, but when you take away the icing as you smooth, the result is really great (more on that later).

Above is what I would call the FUGLY STAGE. This cake with fugly for quite a while.

I smoothed it with a clean spatula. Then I went over it again with a clean plastic gift card. I scraped a lot of extra icing off. I was able to use salvage the extra buttercream for the bottom border. It’s so much easier to take away icing than it is to add icing!

This is how it looked when I was completely done smoothing it. Or at least I thought I was done.

I put it back into the fridge for a little while so that the buttercream could crust over. Then I took it out and began smoothing it with my Viva paper towel. Be careful to use the SMOOTH SIDE. 

I noticed that there were some spaces on the side that weren’t flush with the top of the cake, so I used my extra icing to fix those spaces. I also put on another layer of white and pink icing. I used every bit of white that I had!

And I had to start the smoothing process all over again. *Sad Face*

I got a bit of the case of perfectionism with this cake because Rachel is such a loyal customer! I wanted it to be perfect. I spent way too much time making it super smooth.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

When I was FINALLY finished fiddling with the buttercream, I added my fondant lines and adjusted them until they were correct. Then it was time to start in on the polka dots. Since I didn’t have a lot of space, I went with my smallest circle cutter. This part was just a bit tedious, but it was worth it in the end. I used my X-Acto knife to cut some of them in half for around the “frame” and around the edge.

I went around the inside edge first.

Then I started the middle, full dots and then the outside dots.

After that I wanted to add my words to the right side. I used a paper towel to help me keep my lines straight.

I didn’t end up using the large “4” because there just wasn’t enough space. I am glad I didn’t toss the small “4”!

I measured “ELLIE!” to make sure that I would place it correctly. I really should always do this.

I placed it as right justified as I could. Then I added the last of the letters. In retrospect, I would have nixed the exclamation point so that everything fit better. You live and you learn!

I switched out my number 10 round tips for my number 18 star tips for my borders. I tried something different than I usually do up top and did a sort of swirl-thing. Then for the bottom, since I was limited on space, I did a regular shell border.

I realize that I wasted my time doing the half circles around the outside edge since they were completely covered by my border. D’oh! Oh, well.

This (above) is how it looked when it was finished in my kitchen. I had to wait until the next day to take my good picture. I wait until the light is good in my dining room, and then I set up my Bake Drop by Sugar High, Inc. I find it so hard to take pictures of sheet cakes. I hate the shadows that I get when I take my pictures, but I don’t want to invest in photography equipment like reflectors… Not yet, anyway.

setup

Here’s how it turned out! I will always wish that I got a backdrop sooner, though we really didn’t have room in our old house.

Minnie and Daisy.jpg

For more on the techniques that I used in this blog post, I really suggest Corrie Rasmussen’s class, The Perfect Birthday Cake on Craftsy. I’ve developed my own style, I think, but a lot of the basic skills that I used are discussed in Corrie’s amazing class.

I am relieved to be finished my last client cake of the summer. It has been quite a humid one and I am eternally grateful to my husband for installing the air conditioner that helps cool our kitchen and dining room, where I do all of my work. It made a huge difference!

And apparently it really IS my year for sheet cakes because Rachel has booked another sheet cake for her son in November! I’m excited for the theme – dinosaurs – because I have yet to make a dinosaur cake.

Until then!
– Nichole

P.S. Here is what I have planned for the rest of the year:

  • Threadcakes 2016
  • My First Dummy Cake
  • My First Festival

90th Birthday drip cakeĀ 

 

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Our Inspiration

My friend’s grandmother has reached a HUGE milestone — 90 years! This was her two years ago — is she not beautiful? I cannot imagine being 90 years young! My friend and her mom wanted to surprise her with a special cake, something simple and elegant. Her grandmom is a fan of the card game of bridge, so that was one of our starting points. My friend’s thought was that we could incorporate a hand of cards. Our challenge was to incorporate cards while keeping things elegant and simple. I also knew she wanted chocolate and vanilla cake, whipped cream, and walnuts.

As always, I made a quick sketch of the order. This would guide me later and help me not forget anything. My friend approved!

sketch

RESEARCH (ATTEMPTS)

I started Googling about bridge; and, my friends, sometimes Google is not the answer! So I turned to Facebook. Someone always knows something or knows someone who is an expert, and they didn’t fail! My friend Jana knows a man who is an enthusiast. She messaged him and he gave two suggestions.

ETSY PROBLEMS

In bridge you get 13 cards. That’s a lot! I ordered cards from an authorized Etsy dealer of edible images. I have had good experiences, but this time was mixed. He just didn’t seem to know what I wanted. At first he sent me a HUGE hand of cards. He completely misunderstood me.

Then he didn’t give me a refund, but said if I wanted to start over, I would have to order another set. What I wanted small individual cards that I could arrange myself. I paid for the extra set because I wanted the cake to be just what she wanted.The second go around, he finally got it right — almost. He forgot a card. D’oh! So I had to make it myself.

MAKING THE CARDS

To make the cards, the first thing I did was mix some fondant with Tylose powder. I use LMF fondant.

Next, I cut out my cards with my X-Acto knife, wet them, and applied them to the fondant. Then I let them set up for a few minutes.

After that, I cut them out with my X-Acto knife.

Then I played around with their arrangement, in the proper order, of course.

Using simply water, I stuck them together. I used another piece of fondant in a thin rectange shape to reinforce them. Then I stuck in my toothpicks in the thick parts.

To make the “90”, I went to Microsoft Word, as usual. I printed out a huge 90 in one of my favorite fonts, Bernard MT Condensed. I make a guide by poking through my paper with a pin, then I take off the paper and use my X-Acto to cut out the number. I start with the holes first so that they don’t warp.

BAKING THE CAKE

For this cake, they wanted chocolate and vanilla. I used my favorite Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe and a yellow cake recipe by America’s Test Kitchen.

RECIPES:
Fluffy Yellow Cake   (No changes to the recipe)
Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake (One change: I use fresh, hot coffee instead of hot water)

We had originally agreed with doing whipped cream frosting, but with the temperatures being in the 90s (it’s July), and it being very humid, I decided that was not a good idea. I asked a friend who is a trained pastry chef, and she agreed. So we changed plans to my vanilla buttercream.

And for the buttercream, I used Toba Garrett’s fabulous recipe, as usual. I didn’t use meringue powder this time because I haven’t been digging the taste lately. And it does something weird to my buttercream.

I trimmed down my 8″ board.

For the filling, I made a nice dam and filled with about a cup of buttercream. And repeated with each layer.

Then I slathered on a bunch of buttercream.

I smoothed it with my metal Ateco cake smoother and popped it into the fridge.

To attach my cake to my cake board (which I covered in black fondant a few days before), I made a batch of stiff royal icing.

WALNUTS

I applied and smoothed on more buttercream to get it perfectly smooth and nicely covered. Then, I got out my walnuts for the lower edge.

I slathered on a thin layer of buttercream about 2 inches high from the bottom.

And this part was hard than expected. I had to try to apply the walnuts to the cake. I tipped the cake a bit and tried it that way, which helped. I have watched videos of people doing this and knew it would make a huge mess. And it definitely didn’t disappoint! The walnuts made my fondant weird and sort of oily, so I had to wipe it off with a clean, moist paper towel and hope that it looked okay.

GANACHE DRIPS

Next, it was ganache time! I made WAY TOO MUCH ganache. I used about 16 ounces of heavy cream and 16 ounces of Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips.I heated my heavy cream until it was JUST about boiling, poured it over my chocolate chips, swirled it, then covered it for five minutes.

After five minutes had passed (set a timer!), I whipped it together by hand with a wire whisk. Then more waiting: I put on the timer for 15 minutes.

Next it was time for the drip part. By some act of God, I had just seen on Instagram someone making a drip cake in a special way that I had never thought of! Using a small number 3 tip, which is just an open tip for letter writing, the artist made the drips down the side. They did this as opposed to pouring it on and letting the drips fall as they may.

After going around the entire cake twice, I then filled in the middle. I tried to make it nice and thick, because ganache is just delicious! Then I added my Tappit letters and my ribbon. I didn’t realize while I was doing it, but I started the ribbon on the RIGHT side of the cake. Ugh! I know I could have left it, but I wanted it to be perfect, so I put on a second layer of ribbon to hide the seam.

ADDING THE TOPPERS

I texted my friend this picture and a picture of the cards next to the 90. We agreed that the 90 in front of the cards would look better. It kind of obscured the cards, but just looked so much better. I know, I know, after all that work and frustration with Etsy. Oh, well! All that mattered was that it was a perfect hand. Surely someone might notice.

I had to reinforce the 90 with a little hot glue because the sticks came out (it wasn’t going to be eaten!), and I was done!

The next day when the lighting was good, I took my picture! I tried it from every angle, then I found this crooked angle by accident and was quite happy with it.

I love to end these posts with a picture of the celebration if I can, and here she is! Isn’t she wonderful?? They loved the cake and it had rave reviews from the guests and from the staff at the restaurant. Not much more I can ask for than that!

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Any questions? Please leave it in the comments. See you next time!

Nichole