Cake Support Crews - Everyone Needs One.

So it has been a little while since I have had the time to sit and write a blog post.  It is great that I have been so very busy with the business of creating cake but it has meant that I have spent a lot of time on my own, which, I am the first to admit is not always the best of times!     

Caking can be a very solitary existence and being in the kitchen baking cakes 24/7 can turn you into a recluse.  Most of the time there are no opportunities for chats at the water cooler, quick coffee breaks or lunches with friends.   Most of what we do is on our own, alone, all by ourselves.  Social media sites like Facebook can provide some light entertainment and interaction, but still, it can be a pretty lonely place.  

Life gets hectic and tough and it is those times when it is great to have some awesome friends to guide you through, bounce ideas and talk you down off ledges but often, as a caker, your mix master or favourite cake recipe isn't enough to get you through!  This is when you need a Cake Support Crew.

I am fortunate to have some very awesome cake friends who continuously provide me with feedback and encouragement.  From talking me through a cake meltdown in the aisle of my local Coles, to the exchange of humorous gifs on Facebook at stupid hours of the night while we work on our latest projects.  What is very cool about being in a creative industry is the inspiration and encouragement that you can receive from fellow creative minds.  It is an unimaginably valuable source of strength and it can be the greatest motivation to challenge yourself and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.  The Cake World offers so many incredibly talented folk who continuously post and share work that blows my mind and there are so many within it that are so generous and kind, willing to freely give advice and guidance.  

Some free advice from me for those of you just starting out in the industry: Embrace it.  Make an attempt to network and make friends.  There is more than enough work to go around so don't get too competitive and nasty, it will not reward you.  Ask questions, seek out someone you admire and reach out.  I am continuously amazed by the kindness of my cake idols, their encouragement and support is the greatest form of reassurance.   

Everyone plays a role in my little Cake Support Crew and just as important are my "non-cake" friends and family who equip me with information on non-cake events occurring in the world (apparently they do exist!) and who, when able, provide me with distance from the crazy world of ganache and fondant.  These people are often required to prove themselves as incredibly patient, empathetic and forgiving as often family weekends or even their own birthdays are filled with cake deliveries for others without much thanks.  They are just as important to my caking career and are often the ones to provide the most objective feedback and advice.  

Some more free advice from me: Love those "non-cake/creative" people around you and give them thanks.  They are often your biggest fans and will provide you with the greatest amount of support and encouragement when others cannot.  If, like my family, they are still willing to speak to you after you have been through your creative process of self love, then loathing, then love again, then they are deserving of your eternal thanks and respect!

They say behind every great man there is a greater woman.  I say, behind every great creative mind, there is an even greater team filled with likeminded souls and the most tolerant families on the earth!

Thank you to my Cake Support Crew (you know who you are!) x

It is just a cake...

I remember birthdays when I was a child.  My Dad would decorate the cake I had chosen from the Woman's Weekly Birthday Book, it would be simple, beautiful and I would be so excited I would often pick the following year's cake as soon as the party had finished.  Occasionally, if it was a special occasion we would order a cake from our local Supermarket Bakery.  A rectangular cake with mock cream, loaded with 100s and 1000s on the sides, piped with a shell border and topped with a personal message written in some strangely delicious jelly piping.  It doesn't seem like that long ago, but boy have things changed!

Those were the days.  The days before Facebook, Pinterest and countless TV Shows showing people making crazy elaborate cakes in within an insane timeframe.  The cakes that used to be considered just for weddings are now commonplace at far less momentous social gatherings and events and even in our conversations around the dinner table.  It is now commonplace to see a fancy fondant covered cake at a children's party (guilty as charged!) or even a Mother's group get together.  It is incredible and the, what seems, insatiable hunger people have for these cakey creations has resulted in the sale of specialty cake products at the local supermarket as standard and also the availability of fondant character cakes (fresh baked.. in Scotland a couple of months ago), easy, done and cheap.  The current obsession with all things cake and creating cake means that right now, access to cake materials and information is at its absolute best.  

Along with it though comes some level of expectation and, I guess an assumption, that these sorts of cakes just happen, easy.. Just like Buddy does it, in under half an hour.  There is an expectation that these commonplace creative cakes also have a commonplace price but for those of us that create them, it isn't the case.  What we don't often talk about the real price of a creative cake but if you are trying to compare a custom creative cake's price to that of a Scottish Supermarket Surprise (seriously, pick one up and read the ingredients!) you are no doubt entitled to feel a little confused.  After all, it is just a cake, right?

Wrong.  It is so much more than "a cake".  These new commonplace cakes are edible art.  They are custom made for each customer after careful consideration of the individual, the event, the venue, the temperature outside and of course budget.  They aren't taken from a book or magazine (no disrespect Dad, I loved those cakes and remember them so fondly... that piano cake was my absolute fave (FYI so was that ALF shirt)), they are created, from scratch and often with very little to go on and on a short timeframe, that takes skill and experience.

Without even considering the cost of the ingredients or any actual monetary values, custom cakes are for the most of it, time.  Time to consult, brainstorm, design, plan, to prepare, to bake, to ganache, to cover, to decorate and then often to deliver.  All on a deadline and all while trying to ensure that not only does it look the part, it tastes damn fine too.  Not to mention the time to learn the skills, experience, practice.  The time to acquire the necessary equipment, source the ingredients, find the necessary surroundings, licences, insurance.  The time to answer all the emails, phone calls, prepare quotes, complete invoices and all that paperwork.  The time to ensure the customer gets just what they want on their special (or not so special) day.  Hours and hours and hours, and if I am completely honest (and other caker's will no doubt agree), many of those hours are unexpected and additional to the initial cake design quote, often into the early hours of the morning, and at no extra cost (there are no penalty rates for cakers at 3am in the morning!).  So what the price is, is much more than flour and eggs.  

The cake above, for example, took me over 30 hours to create.  The equipment I used would have cost me over $300 to purchase and the ingredients probably around $70.  Add in my skill and all the extra bits and you can see where the cost is going.  Luckily it was for my daughter who largely left the design up to me, reducing my time in consult and design processes, however I am fairly certain she wont be compensating me for what would be a rather expensive 4th birthday cake (that buttercream piano cake would have been easier and cheaper...).

I love that people now sit dreaming up beautiful, decorated and embellished cakes.  The idea that a cake can be something so special, so personal and so significant is one of the reasons I began making them in the first place.  I am passionate about it and I am truly excited by the idea that so many people are interested and enthusiastic about it too.  After all, it is now my career choice!  

And whilst I also love sitting watching an episode of Cake Wars or Ace of Cakes, I really think that these shows need to be viewed in some sort of context.  The clients who order the cakes are often paying thousands and the cakes, although frequently worked on by a team of designers, are not completed within a 30 minute window!  The exposure generated from these shows is incredible but we must remember that in the real world, not everyone is able to create cakes with embedded fireworks or moving parts (although I am determined that it will be my next challenge!) as not everyone has the means, the experience or to be frank, the creative ability.

Similarly, Pinterest is filled with amazing, wonderful posts but must be considered objectively.  It is a great way to lose half a day looking at what other people can do and is filled with useful information.  (In fact, I actually found the picture below "How Much?" there just recently!)  Most people could spend days pinning pages and pages of tutorials and inspirations but I wonder how many actually consider the creation of the cake rather than just the end result.

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So, next time you are looking though google images or a magazine as you stumble across a picture of your ideal cake, think about the time that goes into it.  The development of the idea, the design and then the execution.  Think about the skill level of the person who created it, the time and money they have spent developing their style and gaining the necessary experience.  Think about all the equipment and materials needed and the know-how it takes to know exactly what that is.  It will give you new perspective and hopefully a new appreciation.... and please, never ever say to a cake designer "but it is just a cake!!".

Choosing the Perfect Cake

There are lots of things to consider when choosing a cake to celebrate your special event.  Here are a few things you should think about when deciding on your celebration cake, whether it be for a significant birthday, wedding or just because.

Give yourself the time to plan and organise a cake fitting for your event but also give your Cake Designer time to plan and prepare.  Some Cake Designers make several cakes every week and cakes often take days (or sometimes weeks) to plan before the baking process even begins.  Baking to order means just that, most Cake Designers don't have a freezer full of emergency cakes (who would want that!) and sometimes there just isn't enough time in our week to squeeze in another order.  While most Cake Designers would love the opportunity to share cake with everyone, they also have families and there are only so many hours in the day so please make sure you think ahead and plan where you are able!  The more time you allow the more likely your Cake Designer isn't already booked out and the time is available for the design process.  Nothing rushed is ever at its best.

Look for inspiration anywhere and everywhere!  Check out magazines and websites for ideas and put together a file of things you like.  Google is your friend and whilst there is nothing wrong with getting inspiration from cakes you see online, they are best used as an idea to assist in the creation of your own cakey masterpiece.  

Consider trends, look at options and be prepared to hear what your designer has to say.  Sometimes simple things like, venue or a wedding dress can be the full inspiration for a cake, but it is also useful to think about what is special or important to you to include in the cake.  Is there a story behind it?  Is there some way your Cake Designer can personalise it with a colour or decoration that will really make your heart sing?  It is the smallest of details on a cake that can make all the difference, whether it be a personalised number plate on a 3D car cake, a tiny little detail on a figurine or a duplication of an important piece of jewellery?  These things make the cake that little bit more personal and therefore special and memorable.  Most Cake Designers love the opportunity to grab onto these details, it gives them a real chance to create something really wonderful for you and after all, that is the business they are in!


Be Honest About Budgets
No one likes to talk about money but it is really important to be honest with your Cake Designer about your budget.  Doing so means that they can create ideas for you that are actually realistic.  There are lots of different ways to translate your ideas into a cake, more elaborate designs are more expensive but less is often more so it doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune to get exactly what you are after.  Don't believe the tabloid journalism that Cake Designers unreasonably inflate prices for weddings or special celebrations, they don't.  They look at the cake and what it takes to create it, for all the time, hard work and talent that goes into creating it (there is actually quite a lot to consider!).  If you are looking to save some money and are working with a tight budget that really is fine, but it is important to be flexible with the design, perhaps a cake with lots of hand piping and hand made sugar flowers may not be for you this time but a simplified version would be perfect.  Cake Designers are in the business of making people happy and they are there to work with you, trust them!

Portions Dictate Size
Portions should dictate the size of your cake, not the other way around.  Think about how many people you wish to enjoy the cake.  Is it the only desert or just to have with coffee, or maybe just something sweet for your guests to take home?  The size of the cake is one of the biggest considerations when designing a cake so if you only need to feed 10 people, then perhaps a three tier cake is a little excessive or likewise, a single tier cake will not usually feed 160 people!  It is sometimes handy to refer to a portion guide however your designer is the best to advise you on this as serving size is influenced by additional sculpting or shaping of the cake to suit a design. 

If you do have your heart set on that big tiered cake to make an impact, then think about using foam layers as tiers.  These can be decorated just like cake so that no one will notice and they will enable you to have the cake a little bigger.  Similarly, if you want something a little more modest, consider the use of an additional kitchen cake to cut and serve to guests.  


Like Your Cake Designer's Style
Just like all artists (and everyone else for that matter!), Cake Designers have a style too!   All designers all have a particular something special about their work that stands them apart from others in their field, Cake Designers are no different.  Have a look at the work your chosen designer has completed in the past.  Check out their Facebook or Instagram accounts, look through their website and make sure you like their work and how they present it.  This will go a big way to managing your expectations and will also allow your designer to really give your cake design that special little touch that only they can give.

At the end of the day, trust your Cake Designer and never be afraid to ask their help, they usually know their stuff!