Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jessica’s Doppleganger

Halloween came a little late at the Cake Art Studio, because this week I made my all-time creepiest cake.

A little background is probably in order. My dear niece Eileen (she has a lovely name, doesn’t she?) and “Jessica” go way back. “Jessica” is a favorite relic from Eileen’s childhood. I won’t go into the entire history here, but I will say that I’ve always found Jessica to be slightly more than a little scary.

When my sister decided to throw a surprise birthday party for Eileen’s 30th birthday, someone, I’m not really sure who started it, thought we should have a cake replica of Jessica for the celebration.

I'll admit that I had way more fun than is probably healthy making this cake. I stacked up 8 layers of pumpkin cake (yes, Jessica is a punkin-head) with cream cheese frosting and carved the shape of the head. The features were too fine to carve out of cake, so I added a base for the features with fondant---jessicas3Oh, sorry, did I scare you? Obviously, the original Jessica is on the right and the half-finished cake is on the left. Next, I added the eyeballs and covered the cake with buttercream. jessicaeyesJust keeps getting creepier, doesn’t it? Finally, I covered the entire head in a layer of fondant, shaped the features, worked in the creases and details, and put on her lipstick. Jessica was ready for the party…jessicaBut wait, first she had to spend a night in the refrigerator. So this is when things got really bizarre. My husband quipped, “this is like Tony Soprano’s refrigerator…open it up and find a head on a plate wrapped in plastic.” jessicarefrig2I told you I had more fun than is probably healthy. I’ll spare you the photos of the cake cutting….

Monday, October 18, 2010

Electric Lollipops

Shortly after I booked Corinne and Dave’s wedding cake, Corinne contacted me because she wanted to surprise Dave with a special groom’s cake at their wedding. She sent me a photo and asked if I could possibly create a cake to look like a Tesla Coil. tesla_coil-t30As soon as I read her email I was excited about the possibility of making the cake. I responded to her immediately and told her that, through an amazing coincidence, she found probably the only baker in the area who actually has a Tesla Coil in her basement, and that I could definitely make one out of cake.

My son, the science-guy, built a Tesla Coil for fun when he was in middle school. You can click on the link above if you want to know how it works but, basically, it’s a big contraption built to produce electricity. When you turn on a Tesla Coil giant bolts of lightening shoot out of the flying-saucer-looking-thing on the top (you can tell my son didn’t get his scientific aptitude from me). All I can tell you is that it scared the heck out of me every time he turned the thing on.

Not only did I want to produce a 3-d version of the Tesla Coil, but I knew that the cake had to have the bolts shooting out of the top.

The plan for the cake was pretty obvious from the start, the black box at the base would be all cake (chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream), the column would be PVC pipe covered in fondant, and the flying-saucer-thingy would be made from Rice Krispie treats, so it would be lighter and firmer than cake. How to make lightening bolts? Hmmmm. Of course, LOLLIPOPS!!!

I made silicone molds in a squiggly line shape, poured in blue melted sugar and then set a wooden skewer into the base of each piece…lollipops. The skewers were shoved into the flying-saucer-thingy and there you have it:teslacloseup2

Here’s the finished cake on site at the gorgeous Brandywine Manor House

teslacoil I hope Dave enjoyed his groom’s cake, I sure enjoyed making it!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Buttercream Beauties

If you watch all those cake shows on TV (and if you’re reading this there’s a chance that you do) you would think that no one does buttercream cakes anymore, or that buttercream cakes are so boring and old-fashioned that they’re not worth a second look. I’m even guilty of this myself. I mostly post photos of fondant cakes on my Facebook page, figuring they’re more fun to look at.

So…I think it’s time to showcase some beautiful buttercream cakes.

When I met with Kim regarding her wedding cake she showed me a bunch of photos of cakes she liked. The cakes didn’t have a lot in common other than the fact that they all had clean lines, were not overly ornamented and were covered in rolled fondant. But Kim absolutely wanted buttercream icing.

Now, there are definitely certain design techniques that can not be successfully replicated in buttercream (see one of my favorite blogs,, for many hilarious examples of buttercream cakes gone wrong), but having a buttercream finish still allows for a wide variety of design details and styling.

I love the way Kim’s cake turned out and I think it’s a great example of a modern and sophisticated buttercream wedding cake--with nary a column, swag or rosette in sight:


Here are a few other buttercream beauties:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adventures in Baking

So, a few months ago a local production company contacted me about possibly being featured in a new cake show for TLC.  While I wasn’t particularly interested in being on a reality show, the exposure would be great for business. They came out to see my kitchen and shot some audition footage.  Although they liked me and really liked my work, they decided to use a bakery with lots of employees.  Since I work mostly alone they figured that a big bakery would be more interesting for TV because of the interaction among the employees (i.e., drama).

Well, if the cameras were with me this week they certainly would have captured plenty of drama.  It was a week that would be a reality-show producer’s dream.

As you can imagine, June is one of the busiest months for me (brides and graduates) and this weekend was the busiest of the month, so of course this is the week mother nature decides to send a freaky thunder storm my way.

I don’t make each cake from start to finish, one by one. I work assembly line style. I bake all of my cakes for the week on one day (usually Wednesday or Thursday), make all the fillings and assemble the cakes on the second day, and ice and decorate the third day.

So, I was humming along on Thursday afternoon with only two cakes left to assemble.  It was an incredibly hot and humid day, but I was nice and comfortable in my air-conditioned, de-humidified kitchen.  About three in the afternoon the sky darkened, the thunder rumbled, the wind whipped through the trees and the rain started pouring down. The lights blinked once, twice and, the third time being the charm, stayed out.

I quickly collected up all the cakes and fillings and put them in the refrigerator.  I went into the house to wait out what I hoped would be a brief interruption in my schedule.

About two hours into the black-out I a got a little worried that the refrigerator would get over the food-safe temperature.  My husband ran to Home Depot and brought a giant generator to hook up my work refrigerator and freezer (hmmm…so much for this week’s profits). I went back to work for a few hours, but by 8pm it was just too dark to see what I was doing so I called it a night.  By now my refrigerator was packed with two wedding cakes (each four tiers), a three-tier graduation cake, a two-tier birthday cake with a smash cake, three additional single-tier cakes and another smash cake. I had a total of 18 cakes in my refrigerator. I definitely could not afford to let the temperature go over the danger zone (40 degrees).

The generator is huge and really loud, so I didn’t really want to run it all night.  Since I work from a separate kitchen on my home property, I do have to be sensitive the the fact that I’m in a neighborhood and don’t want to inconvenience my neighbors.  So by 11pm we turned off the generator.  At midnight, 2am and 5am I had to roll out of bed, collect my flashlight and make my way out to the kitchen to check the temperature in the refrigerator.  By 6 am the temperature was inching up so I re-started the generator and got back to work.

By now my normally organized work area was a disaster area. The refrigerator and freezer were pulled out into the middle of the kitchen so they could be plugged into the extension cords (which were criss-crossing the entire length of the kitchen), I had no lights, no hot water and stacks of greasy dishes piled up from Thursday. 

Well, there are no excuses for the self-employed so I just had to deal with the situation.  First, I had to ice all the cakes in the refrigerator.  I plugged in my 20 quart mixer to make a batch of buttercream, flipped the switch and the entire kitchen went dead.  Aaaarg!!  I called my husband and asked him what to do (thank God for Michel; my webmaster, fix-it guy and general sounding board for all Cake Art Studio emergencies).  So now I have to unplug everything in the kitchen, make my way through the maze of extension cords, go outside, restart the generator, come back inside and plug all the equipment back in. I learned that each time I wanted to use the mixer or the burner I had to un-plug the refrigerator.  Also, every time I blew the circuit on the generator (which, because I am impatient and do not understand anything about amps or other electrical matters, happened too many times) I had to restart and re-set the air-conditioner in addition to all the the other unplugging and restarting.

By Friday afternoon I was in the weeds and knew it was gonna take a feat of super-human efficiency to get all the cakes done, and done well, and delivered on time.  So I recruited my number-one assistant, my son Joseph.  My dear son came through for me by making dozens and dozens of tiny lady-bugs and hundreds of blossoms and daisies out of fondant.  Thank God for him as well.

About 1pm on Friday, HALLELUJAH, the lights came on. 

The rest of Friday (until 11pm) and Saturday (13 hours) are a blur of icing and decorating.  I finally sent the last cake out at 5pm on Saturday and the best husband in the world came out to wash my dishes and floor.

I love my job, I really do, but I’m very glad to see June come to an end.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Peruvian Wedding Cake

I first met with Paola and Xavier about making their wedding cake almost a year ago. They came in for a tasting and consultation last summer. While they loved all of the samples I gave them, Paola had her heart set on having a traditional Peruvian wedding cake. I usually have a strict policy against using any recipes but my own, but the Pastry Chef in me was curious about this traditional recipe. I agreed to work with them to try and give them their traditional Peruvian wedding cake.

Paola sent me recipes for the “Torta de Nueces” and the “Manjar Blancperuvian cake 001o” filling. I did a trial run of the recipes and was not happy with the results. The cake was too light and crumbly and the filling was so thick I couldn’t spread it between the layers. I could picture the servers from Sage Catering (the caterers for the wedding) trying to cut and serve this cake. It was not a pretty picture.

I re-worked the recipe to make the cake a little denser and the filling a little softer. I also split the cake into four layers instead of the traditional two layers. This way there would be three thinner layers of the filling, which I generally prefer.

Over the holidays Paola and Xavier picked up a small sample cake and they were happy with the result.

I delivered the cake to Appleford Estate in Villanova yesterday. It looked so pretty in the garden setting. I hope Paola, Xavier and their guests enjoyed their traditional Peruvian wedding cake. I sure had fun creating it!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

The 2010 Let Them Eat Cake Competition was so much fun. I always enjoy going to this premier Philadelphia Wedding Cake competition. The event is the brainchild of Philadelphia Wedding planner Mark Kingsdorf from Queen Of Hearts Wedding Consultants and all of the proceeds from the day benefit City of Hope cancer research.

This year was extra fun because I won a prize!! From the more than 50 cakes entered the judges voted mine as the “Most Artistic Cake”. This award is especially gratifying because the design was inspired by my mom’s interest in art and drawing.

The theme for this year’s contest was “A wedding through a child’s eyes”. Well, when I heard about this theme my first thought was a big “UGH”. Generally I’m not really into the princess-y/fairy tale type of wedding cakes, I much prefer modern and streamlined designs. I really could not muster up enough excitement to design a cake around a nursery rhyme or Disney story.

I was visiting my mom one day and she was showing me her newest sketches and art supplies. She’d just bought a book about fairies, and in that book I saw this picture:fairyinspiration

Well, of course, being immersed in the world of wedding cakes this first thing I see is a wedding cake topper. Et Voila, I have the theme for my cake. There were also drawings in the book showing child fairies riding on hummingbirds---they would also find their way into the final design.

So, based on the pictures in the book I came up with my sketch: ltecsketch-blogI’m not sure how other cake designers operate, but I start with an idea in my mind and a general sketch. As I often tell my customers, the exact details tend to work themselves out as I create the cake.

The first step was to begin making the flowers and fairies. Sugarpaste flowers are extremely time consuming and detailed…and I love making them. I was especially happy with the Morning Glories since I’ve never made them before. I couldn’t find any directions how to make them or any special cutters for them. I had to create a process to make them and I was thrilled with the result.

Ok…umm, this is a photo of the fairies in the early stages. ltec2010fairybodies-blogI know, I know, they look pretty creepy--like some sort of psycho-amputee-mannequins. But the heads and torsos need to dry before adding the face, then the arms, then the clothes, then the legs, then the hair and then the “accessories”…and they must dry between each step.ltec2010fairies-blogAll together I spent about 25 hours making the flowers and probably almost the same amount of time making the fairies. Soooo, if you ever wonder why the sugar flowers and figurines are so expensive you can see why. Overall, this cake took about 75-80 hours to complete.

Oh, and the top tier with the sunflower spun around so the fairy bride and groom looked like the were dancing over the cake. In 20 years as a pastry chef it’s the first time I’ve made a cake with an “extreme” element. I’ll explain how I made that work in another posting.

Here are some photos of the finished cake:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Doctor Seuss!!

My friend Dorothy is the librarian at St. Norbert's School in Paoli. She asked me to create a cake for Dr. Seuss' birthday.  Here’s the inspiration photo for the cake.  It had to be The Cat in the Hat…

I decided to make a fake cake so she could save it and re-use it every year (well, at least for a few years since they do tend to fade over time). I sent along a couple of sheet cakes for her to serve to the students.

Since the “Hat” is the most important part of the design I worked on that first.  It’s pretty hard to get the movement of the hat in styrofoam.


Making a fake cake is actually way more difficult than making a real cake. It's a lot easier to carve cake than it is to carve styrofoam---and a lot less messy!  The static is a killer….


Here’s the naked cake.  After carving each of the tiers, and before covering them with fondant, I set up the tiers to make sure I like the shape of the cake.


This was so much fun to make. I hope the kids enjoy it!