Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Custom Cake Pricing

How easy is this cake?  Well of course that depends on your skill level.  I've been at it for about ten years and it takes me about four hours to do a cake like this.  I find getting a cake smooth tends to be the hardest part to learn for most people.  All you need to make the rest of this cake is some small circle cutters and a knife.  Well some colors, fondant and an owl template helps a lot.  We charge $3.75/per serving for a round buttercream cake and the. $30/hour for artwork and extra supplies.  This is a 6" and 9" and feeds 34.  34 x 3.75 = 127.50.  I would add another 1-2 hours for extra time.  You would need to account for all the time it takes you to mix all these colors and it adds up.  If I only add one hour/$30 that would make the total cake cost $157.50.  Would you pay that much?  Do you think it is too much?  Think about it for a minute before you read on.  I know if you make cakes your opinion will be skewed a bit.  

Now, I don't know how much a cake similar from a big box store would cost.  Said store probably has all their cake layers arrive baked and frozen and their icing is shortening based and comes in 5 gallons buckets.  I'm not trying to be a "snob" about it, I'm just pointing out some of the reasons those stores are cheaper.  The cost of  the ingredients are of course vastly different.  When you buy butter in four pound packs instead of 1,000 pounds at a time, prices are worlds apart.  Lastly, let's consider labor costs.  I don't know how much big box store bakery employes make, but I'm going to be generous and say $10/hour.  I know that after my years of experience, training and education entitles me to more than that.   I would say if you made this cake from buying supplies, baking, washing dishes, making icing,washing more dishes, and such you would have at least eight hours of time in the one cake.  If you subtract $20 for the supplies (a general guess) $20 for overhead (electricity, rent, licenses, insurance, gas,water trash removal etc) it leaves $117 (157.50-20-20=117). Now $117 divided by 8 hours = $14.63/hour.  Now do you still think we charge too much?  If you were a cake business person, how would you do it different?

Accompanying Smash Cake

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mickey Wedding & Pet Peeves

We will make this week's blog short and a little sour..... Is there something you see in your line of work that bugs the fool out of you? We all do I'm sure. In cake decorating we all start as beginners and I never judge those people. If you charge money, and sometimes a lot of money for a cake then it should be well executed. Piping should be neat and consistent. I'm not the best at piping so I use a small paint brush to even out and blend in my lines. Sometimes, I need to scrape things off and start again . One of the most popular borders are fondant pearls. If you will pay attention some decorators don't use the right product (it needs to be partially modeling chocolate or Fondarific so it will harden in the cooler) and stretch them out when unmoulding or applying them to the cake. It's a minor thing to most, but a pearl border that isn't rounded pearls is not clean work to me.

Last pet peeve is disintegrated dragees. Whether pearl, silver or gold those little balls cannot be applied and then put in the fridge. They break down and loose their sheen all together. This really does stink because you can't apply them ahead of time. I'll give you two things that I do. First, I put them on ahead of time when the icing is a little soft so that they will not just sit on top of the buttercream. If the cake gets room temperature and those dragees aren't pushed in a little, they will slide down the cake. Trust me, we stayed almost until a wedding started just gently pushing those things in before they all slide down. Did you catch that I just told you I do what I said you shouldn't? Well at the last minute, I take the bad dragees out and add fresh ones. Yes it takes more time, but I don't have to measure last minute or get a cake soft before adding the last minute. Oh! Get a gem/rhinestone setter for applying these and not leaving tweezer marks. They are just a little wad of wax on the end of a stick. It is easier to pick them up and apply them (but not removing, stick to tweezers for that). Yeah! I got those things out of my system!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Art Party Birthday

Birthday parties now are fancy! Kids get to have all kinds of parties! Art, laser, pottery, cupcake, bouncy houses, and paint ball just to name a few. We were lucky to have pin the tail on the donkey! We did a little cake to go along with a fun painting party. It was colorful and pretty easy to create. We made a letter template on the computer and just free formed the splatters and drips. The paint tube was a bit more time consuming, but you could skip it to save a little time. I hope we all get a super fun birthday party this year with a matching theme cake!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Walnut Hill Fresh Flower Wedding


How could I ever make flowers this pretty!?!?  I arrive at the venue, Walnut Hill Farm, and the florist has left me the MOST gorgeous bunch of flowers!  Ranunculus, Peonies, perfect roses, hydrangeas and some lambs ear for greenery.   I was in love with all of them!!!  Here are some "professional baker tips" for the week.

1,  Allow yourself PLENTY of time when fresh flowers go on the cake.  If the florist is gone, it's up to you to finish the cake (my opinion and also I agree to this ahead of time).

2.  Allow wiggle room for the type of flowers and their arrangement in your contract.  This cake was supposed to be all hydrangea.  You can see how many I had and I could not have achieved this look with a small amount or with one kind.  I still get sick-at-my-stomach when I knowingly deviate from the contract.  I never want to be the vendor that blames in on another vendor.  "They didn't leave me the right kind or enough".  I should have called the florist and emailed them a sketch/size of the cake they knew what to plan.  I ask the bride to give the extra copy I provide to the florist, but that doesn't seem to happen

3.  If a customer wants to "float their cake on a bed of flowers" this is the easiest way to do it.  Just allow for a bigger board and stick them in the cake.  You could put a smaller piece of Styrofoam under the full cake for the flowers are truly UNDER the cake, but that is not nearly as stable.  Charge extra for that!

4.  Be friendly to everyone at the venue, even when you are stressed out and in a hurry.

It took me a full hour to put all these flowers on the cake, while at the same time fielding questions from the wedding party that was mulling about and grabbing a little girl's hand right before she poked it right into the cake.  I don't want to ever be unfriendly because people remember rude.  But don't you think that very early guests should give a vendor the space to do their job?  They are always on us like we are on a cake show, asking "is that fondant? I hate fondant!" or "how did you do that?".  Like that's an easy questions in the allotted time.  It would be nice if we had nothing else to do but to visit with guests and answer questions, but vendors just don't have that luxury.  Our work, food-flowers-cakes-venue-photography, is very time sensitive and we have to get in and get out.  So please don't think us rude.  We are really sweet :)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cornhole Groom's Cake Photo Tutorial

Whether you call it cornhole, bean bag toss, or Baggo, people are playing this toss game everywhere - tailgate parties,family picnics, and even weddings.  So I guess when a client asked for one as a groom's cake I shouldn't have been surprised.  And since it's basically a sheet cake on an incline, they're actually pretty easy to make.

We'll start with a board to fit our cake (a 12x18), a larger board for the cake to rest on (17 1/2 x 25 1/2) and a small foam wedge to give us our height (8 1/4 x 9 - 2" high).  Start by using the 12x18 cake board to determine where you want your cake to land on the larger board.  I have marked mine on the image above with some temporary masking tape.

Dry fit all your pieces together to make sure they all fit the way you want.  Make sure to mark the placement of your styrofoam wedge.  It should hold the top board flush against the styrofoam, while being centered across the board.  Once we start securing things down there's no going back!!

Normally, styrofoam and hot glue don't mix very well, but I didn't have any extra "gluing chocolate"so I put some down on the board and gave it a couple of seconds to cool down before I plonked down the styrofoam wedge.  Let it dry and make sure the wedge is very secure on that bottom board.

We don't want that old foam wedge to be seen, so the next step is to cut some black modeling chocolate and put it on all 3 sides using piping gel.  We now have the base to place our cake on!

OK, so now the cake is on our 12x18 board and has been iced smooth.  Place it on the board using your masking tape guides and make sure everything is sitting nice and flush.  Once you like what you see, put a couple dowels through the cake, board, styrofoam,  and bottom board.  This will add stability and keep your cake firmly in place.

Now we just simply finish decorating the cake, and that part can be as simple or complex as you like.  I put modeling chocolate (MC) panels on all sides of the cake, but I put a thin layer of black MC on top.  then I covered that with a regular piece of modeling chocolate, making sure my top extended over the edge of the sides, just for a realistic effect.  Use a cookie cutter to gingerly cut out your bean bag hole, and the black from underneath will look just like a hole.  Now just decorate with your particular theme or team until you've got it just the way you want it.  Don't forget to make a bean bag!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Golden Inspiration Wedding Cake

Edible sequins are one of the new big trends in cake design, at least with Chattanooga wedding cakes  We shared one a few weeks ago that had "large" sequins but now we have one with tiny sequins.  I'm just going to say it, I used A LOT of gold! But it's SO pretty! We baked and iced a 6/8/10/12" combination in all buttercream.  We created the lines with a little pairing knife dipped in warm water every few minutes.  The borders were fondant and the sequins were colored quinns painted gold.

You can get a five pound container at Pfeil and  Holing.  Don't kid yourself, 5 pounds is a big container; it should last you a while!

We bought a bunch of these flowers to make the cake more economical for the bride.  As usual, my favorite flowers are the big pretty garden roses from Cal-Java.  They are SO big and pretty and they really popped against those gold sequins!  I hope you get a little bit of golden inspiration from this pretty cake!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Our Cross Country Cake Adventures

 A few months ago I was approached with a rather odd request... make my nephew's wedding cake.  Now I know that upon first read that doesn't seem terribly odd, but let me finish... his wedding was going to be in New Hampshire, and I live WAYYY down south in GA.  Yeah, see?  But Sean and his fiance Kirsten were such a cute couple that I just couldn't turn them down.

Delivering a fully decorated wedding cake 17 hours and and little over a 1000 miles away can be a daunting task and honestly one that I didn't feel I (nor my cake) was up to.  So several months ago I started formulating a plan to actually make the cake there.  The venue where the wedding was held was an absolutely gorgeous working orchard named Allyson's Orchard.  I spoke to Fran, the venue manager about my dilemma, and she graciously offered me their kitchen space to work on the cake all week long.  The kitchen had the essentials, oven, sink, and refrigeration, but any other tools I needed I had to bring with me!  GULP!

So I went back to the drawing board, because everything we were bringing (Chaddy and I, a weeks+ supply of clothing, and all the components we needed to make a cake had to fit in our Honda CRV.  It's not a compact car mind you, but it's no stretch limo either!  So I made the decision to bake the cakes and make the icing before we left and freeze them.  That way, the only "major" appliance I would need to bring would be a Kitchenaid mixer to re-whip the icing.  I would place all the wrapped frozen layers in our big marine cooler along with some disposable ice packs (the kind I get when I order chocolate) and we would just stack, fill, ice, and decorate on site.  Theo couple had chosen a mud cake, which is very dense, so I really did feel that the frozen layers would hold up to the drive.  I also began the process of making the gumpaste flowers and wrapping them to thwart the nastiest, kickiest delivery driver.

Well, Sunday morning came and we packed everything up in the cooler, along with our 2 suitcases, and our Rubbermaid tote of kitchen goodies and we left the sweltering Georgia heat on our way to New Hampshire.  We left late because we were up late the night before, so we made it to Frederick, MD (my sister and the groom's Mom's home) really late Sunday night.  I was somewhat worried about the contents of the cooler, but the outside felt cold, so I decided to not risk opening the lid and letting any cold out and just let it ride.  We visited with my sister for a few minutes and hopped in bed.

We awoke (late) the next morning and after a quick shower and breakfast, we were back on the road to New Hampshire.  We drove at a good clip, made a few stops for food anf fuel along the way, and reached our hotel late Monday evening.  I thought I had never been SO tired of being in the car!  We stayed in Keene, NH and was a pleasant surprise it was!  We were within walking distance to downtown and we explored it pretty extensively during our off times.  But I digress...

Tuesday I called Fran at Allyson's orchard and she agreed to meet us and show us the kitchen.  It was a very nice catering space and I knew it would work well, as long as everything had fared well in the cooler (which had STILL not been opened since Sunday morning at this point).  We got the cooler inside, opened it, and believe it or not, everything was still VERY cold.  Those disposable ice packs were still mostly frozen.  The cake gods had indeed smiled upon the work I was trying to do.

I made gumpaste blueberries!
We pulled out the layers and let them thaw a little more while we unpacked our kitchen and got setup for the week.  Over the course of the next few days we worked on the cake a little each day, just like normal, stacking, filling, making the textured bands, and coloring those gumpaste flowers.  When we left the orchard on Thursday the cake was all done and we had the whole day Friday to spend with the rest of the family. who had now joined us at the same hotel in Keene.  It was like a mini family reunion.

I made an extra trip over to the venue on Saturday to set the cake out in the venue space (just a few steps away from the kitchen space I had been using) so that the caterer's would have all the cooler / kitchen space they needed.  A quick trip back to the hotel for a freshen and a change and it was ceremony time!

Now I go to a lot of weddings, but we're there while the linens are going on and the DJ is setting up; We rarely get to see ANY of the wedding, and especially not the ceremony.  It was nice to get to witness all the love and all the pieces of the puzzle fit together so nicely.  Sean and Kirsten had a beautiful ceremony outside by the lake and then the reception with a crazy good BBQ dinner.

When you start adding up gas, mileage, and all the other expenses, this was definitely the "most expensive" wedding cake I have ever made, but I wouldn't have changed it for the world. The new Mr. and Mrs. Seymour loved it, and I loved seeing the smiles on their faces all throughout the night.

And even though I like to preach that other decorators shouldn't take orders they don't know how to do, the lesson to be learned is that it's OK to stretch your wings and go outside your comfort zone on some occasions, just as long as you have a good game plan!

A very special Thanks to Fran and the entire staff at Alyson's Orchard for extending their hospitality, sharing their beautiful facility, and making my task much easier!


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