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.
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!!".