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.