Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pricing

Hi guys! I know it has been a very long time since I posted, but I need to put this out there!

If you are trying to make a business of your cakes, you must cover all of your costs (labour included) as well as a profit for your business. If your business does not make a profit (and no, your labour costs are NOT the profits!) then it is not a business; it's a hobby.

If you are not trying to make a business of your cakes, then don't pretend to and then charge ridiculously low prices. Charge what you want, but be clear it is a hobby and you are doing it for the love of the hobby. Stop making it impossible for those of us who are trying to feed our families to actually make a living!

Want a list of things to consider in your pricing? OK... here it is. This is NOT a complete list, and NOBODY can tell you how much to allow in any given category... your costs will not be the same as mine because you live in a different location, use different ingredients, shop at different suppliers, choose different advertising options... etc. Also keep in mind that even if you are not spending all of these things now, you probably will eventually! Save that money so you can afford to do it when it is time!

MmmKay?


So...
  • ingredients (don't forget your cake pan release, the plastic wrap you use to cover your cakes, the parchment you line your pans with, as well as any waste that could happen if you buy a dozen eggs and only use 6, food colours, etc)
  • labour (including shopping time, clean up time, baking time, decorating time, etc. You may choose to allow a different rate for these activities, but they still need to be covered)
  • licences and inspections (you ARE licenced... right? if not, you should be, and this can be a substantial cost)
  • insurance
  • boards, dowels, drums, boxes, labels etc
  • rent & renovations (even if you are working from home right now, eventually you will want to move into a biz location... are you going to double your prices when you do?)
  • hydro, water, heating & A/C
  • equipment (fridge, stove, mixers, scales, airbrush, counters, rolling mats, etc...)
  • tools (impression mats, cutting tools, spatulas, bowls, measuring spoons, stencils, molds, cutters, whatever you have!)
  • cleaning supplies, light bulbs, etc
  • training & books (you don't think you are DONE learning do you? Don't forget about the business training as well as the cake training!)
  • association & club memberships
  • printed materials (biz cards, flyers, signage, contracts, etc)
  • advertising & marketing (newspaper, magazine, samples to other vendors, etc.)
  • bridal shows (entry fee, signage, insurance, samples, dummies for your displays, toppers for your displays, cake stands, your time, table linens, table rental, hydro costs, etc... there are a LOT of hidden costs when doing shows!)
  • cake delivery (time to get there AND BACK, vehicle costs, potentially a 2nd person's time, gas)
  • computer and web site, graphic design (for the love of all things sweet, do NOT use a "free" site if you are running a business. They look anything BUT professional. You can have your own site for less than $100 a year if you do it right, and then you also have your own me@mywebsite.com email address rather than @ hotmail or yahoo or whatever.
  • photography equipment (yes, you can use whatever camera you already have, and yes, you can do without any other equipment, but you are trying to sell your cakes. Does it not make sense to show them in the best way possible? You don't have to have a professional studio, but some lights and a backdrop will make a HUGE difference in your photos!)
  • postage and delivery costs of your supplies
  • book-keeper/accountant
  • office supplies (you don't sign your contracts in blood do you? because... EWW!) :lol:
  • charitable and community donations and sponsorships
  • etc
  • etc
  • etc

Monday, May 26, 2008

Family

Warning: disjointed and random post this morning: seems I am unable to be cohesive yet today.

Went to a family reunion this weekend. This was my Dad's family, which is actually the smallest of the clans I belong to and yet it has been the longest time since we were all together. In fact, the last time was when I got married; nearly 14 years ago. Wow. However, in our defense, we are spread out in both Ontario and BC, which does complicate things.

Some of the amazing things:

Cousins I (before this weekend) still though of as children are all adults now (I'm the oldest of the bunch) and meeting a second (or third?) cousin I didn't even know about were all wonderful surprises.

Seeing all of the similar features on each face reminds me that I'm part of something bigger. My daughter (whom everyone says looks so much like me) actually more strongly resembles both my sister and my sweet cousin Jenna (the resemblance was further enhanced when Jenna braided Kathleen's hair just like her own.)

My son had the best time playing ninja chicken something (Moms are not meant to understand these games) with both my sister and all my giant cousins who took such joy in horseplay with this small sweet boy; he had the time of his life. Most of them had never met him before, yet despite their wildly diverse facial foliage, he took to them like he'd known them all his life.

Talking with my newly discovered 2nd cousin who is only slightly older than me, and who had a serious stroke some 10 years ago. What an amazing, inspiring woman! Conversation is a bit like playing a combination of charades and some odd word association game as she is not always able to make her mouth say the all of words she is thinking. She just laughs and carries on; after a few minutes of talking with her, you forget that this isn't the usual way to communicate. Though it must be terribly frustrating at times, Jill is the most cheerful person I have met in a long time; she refuses to let the past get her down. Something to remember when I'm feeling sorry for myself.

The food. OMG... we are a bunch of fabulous cooks. Sometimes it seemed like all we did was eat and drink! One of my uncles was celebrating his 60th birthday so the last food we shared was his birthday cake (my Mom baked it ahead of time... my job was just the icing and decorating.)

The only negative about the whole weekend was the bugs. The blackflies were swarming like I have not seen in MANY years; you'll likely just see a black mass hovering around some vaguely people-shaped things in all of the outdoor photos we took. Pretty sure we all donated a pound of flesh (or blood) to feed them so I suppose it is somehow appropriate they were in the photos... some of them had more Capyk blood in them than we did.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

It's been a crazy week (as you've no doubt noticed by my conspicous absence here) and I'm just getting back to my so-called normal routines. Nothing exciting of course, just massive piles o' stuff to deal with.

This is a few days early, but as I still have more piles o' stuff, I wanted to make sure I got it posted in time.

Happy Mothers Day... to all the mothers; the almost mothers, the mothers-in waiting, and the loss-filled mothers, the grieving mothers, the forgotten mothers.

For the mothers of multiples, and of singles; of tiny babies, and of big chubby wonders.

For those who live in the NICU or the PICU; for those who are dealing with the terrifying reality of a sick child.

For those of you who have lost a child through any circumstance, whether it was moments after you found out you were pg, or whether your child was a senior citizen; whether your loss was yesterday or 50 years ago.

For those of you who desperately want to be a mother, and cannot; whether it's your first or your fifteenth that you are trying for.

For those of you who are currently expecting or cradling that new babe in your arms.

For those whose child is in the terrible twos, or the equally terrible teens.

For those of you whose children are leaving the nest, or have come back home to roost for a time.

For those of you who have adopted a child, and for those who have fostered a child and given them a safe place to be for a time. For those of you who have given up your child.

For those of you who are single Moms, and those who feel like you are.

For those of you who have made difficult decisions, and done what's best for the sake of your kids.

For the mother-in-laws who have shared their children with another person.

We are the tribe of mothers and this is our day. Some will be pampered or given gifts made by small hands... cards held together with massive amounts of glitter and glue. Some will be ignored or worse. Some will not even be acknowledged as belonging. It doesn't matter. Take this day and make it your own. Give yourself a moment and hold your children dear in your heart.


To all of you I say Namaste*





* there are several different interpretations of the word namaste; these are 2 of my favourites:

I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that
place in me, we are One.


The light within me honours the light that is within you and wishes you peace.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Political Correctness

Saw this on line... no idea of the veracity of the source, but funny as hell anyhow!

The following is the 2007 winning entry from an annual contest at Texas A&M University calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term. This year's term was Political Correctness.

The winner wrote,"Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Missing the Obvious

Sometimes procrastination is not just procrastination. Sometimes it's your own mind trying to tell you there is a better way!

I have been wrestling with doing my book-keeping for over a month now. I have an accounting program available to me, my MIL is a book-keeper, my husband was an accountant.

Yet every time I start up that program, I just get angry and frustrated. So most days, I just feel guilty about looking at that icon on my desktop, and ignoring it.

For those of you who don't know me... new computer programs do no scare me. I usually LOVE learning stuff. I taught myself Excel, and was known as the resident guru of the office.

I'm not going to mention the name of the program, because I have realized that the problem does not lie with the program... it's all me. I simply do not WANT to learn it. And no amount of self-flagellation is going to change that.

However...

Did I mention that I'm pretty decent at Excel? That I have written entire suites of spreadsheets complete with macros and formulii that would make even a programmer dizzy? Suites that combine purchasing, scheduling, inventory management, shipping schedules and more.

And then the lights came on.

I did all that for someone else.. why not for myself? No restrictions or stupid company policies. No "that's the way it's always been"!

WHY DID I NOT THINK OF THIS BEFORE NOW????

I love making cakes. I love designing spreadsheets. How is it I missed the perfectly obvious opportunity to combine these things?

I can be so stupid sometimes. LOL

So now, I am designing my own Excel-based cake business spreadsheet suite. WOO HOO!!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Competition...

if anyone is near Westminster, MD this weekend, you should really check out the Mid-Atlantic Cake Show & Wedding Cake Competition

Last I heard, they had nearly 100 entries for the wedding cake competition... should be incredible!!!

I had other commitments this weekend, or I would be there with my friends Karey & Lisa who are both competing!

GO CANADIANS!!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Procrastination

Procrastination. We all do it (don't we?)

Personally, I figure that I just can't function without a certain level of stress and guilt. It's the only logical explanation of why I will put off until tomorrow (or the day after, or next week) a job that will take me 5 minutes today.

I get to dwell on the fact that it's not done, and feel bad about whoever is waiting for the results of my inaction. I get to wake up at 3 am with a clenched stomache and complete inability to go back to sleep until 10 minutes before the alarm goes off. I get to over-eat all sorts of junk food and gain 100 000 pounds. Ah yes... the perks of procrastination.

With cakes, I can use the excuse that I want the cake to be as fresh as possible. So I won't start baking until the day before the cake is due. Then, all the little decorative details I had in my mind have to get by-passed since I decide at 3 am that it's time to sleep instead of fussing with the cake anymore. Who knew that I'd still be up at 3am on a Friday night now that I'm in my mid-30s?

See... there's another perk!! I get to fraternise with all the drunken college kids on my way home after baking. Procrastination keeps me young! It just makes me look old.

But wait! There is a solution!!!

According to a professor at Stanford, procrastination can be a good thing... it's all about how you use it! check out his articles on Structured Procrastination and Perfectionism. If nothing else, the time you spend reading the articles will be an excellent way to avoid doing what you should be doing! He also has several other hilarious articles... just follow the "more essays" link on either of those pages.


Well I have to go... there are things I should be doing!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

what's so scary about competition?

I have heard it from so many cake artists that I'm beginning to wonder if there is something to it.

I can't enter competition X; I'm too scared!

Why?

Only the judges will know if you will be seriously out-classed, and MOST competitions have different tiers (beginner, intermediate, master) so there is something for everyone.

SO WHAT if you come in 96th out of 97 cakes? Do it anyway! You will learn, you will get better!

Of course take some time to research what did well last year, find out who the judges are (if you can), talk to people who have entered in the past, etc.

THEN, use this opportunity to stretch yourself, to make the cake you dream of making but is so hugely time consuming that nobody would ever order it! Or the idea that is so out there, that people would need to see it to know that it is stunning!

but I don't know what I'm doing!!! I've never entered a competition before

So? Everyone is a first-timer at some point! Do your research, and expect to LEARN a whole lot! NOTHING compares to being there... IN the competition. You will learn some things by just going and observing, but you'll learn EASILY twice as much by taking the plunge!

Okay, now that I have thoroughly abused my shift button, go find a competition and enter it!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

It's a beautiful day!

I got an absolutely delightful phone call today from a new client who LOVES my cakes! It is so gratifying to have someone that excited about my art, and who gets my sense of humour! She has ordered a fun cake for me to do this weekend and didn't balk at the pricing! Gave me free reign on the design too!

To celebrate, I went out and bought a nice spring/summer dress for doing deliveries in.

The sun is shining... the temps outside are nearly the same as inside; spring is finally here! LIFE IS GOOD!



That is, until Friday when there is a possiblity of snow again. {sigh}

Monday, April 07, 2008

More tips from the land of Bridal Shows

Here are a couple of photos of my booth from 2 different shows:




Just did my last(?) bridal show for this season and I noticed a few things I thought I would share!

  • don't sit. Seriously! All the brides are standing and walking around; you need to be on the same level to catch their eye and engage them. The first big show I did actually strongly discouraged even having a chair in your booth, and that was a 2-day event!

  • get a professional sign or banner made. Yes, they are expensive. Yes, they are worth it. My sign is a bit too small... next year I will get a bigger one! Your sign should be at least 4 feet wide, and don't try to put too much on it. Your company name & tagline & logo, and possibly a cake image (if the word cake is not in your name) is plenty!! The most important part is that it be read-able from across the room! In my experience, the narrowest booth you will get is 5 feet, but they can be as much as 10 feet for a single booth. you don't want your sign looking tiny and lost in that space.


  • always have some business cards in your hand or pocket. Sometimes you'll be stuck in a corner away from your cards and someone will ask for one.


  • don't get stuck in a corner of your booth. Especially if you are claustrophobic. I find it easiest to stand just outside of my booth, then I am able to greet everyone.


  • bring at least one NEW cake to each show you do. I have 8-12 cakes I bring, but every show gets a new creation... remember you will see many of the same vendors & brides at multiple shows; make sure they have a reason to come back to your booth!


  • bring LOTS of cakes... more cakes makes for a more impressive display, and you will appeal to more people (everyone has their favourite!) When I did the large 2-day show in January I brought 12 cakes. Every one of them has a few people that said "THIS is my favourite!" If I hadn't brought that cake, they might not have found anything they liked!


  • bring different heights of risers. If you have a lot of cakes crammed into your space, you need to raise some of them up.


  • make sure the cakes you bring show the range of your skills. each cake should appeal to someone different or they are just filling space. If all your cakes show the same technique (no matter how impressive) people will think that's all you can/will do.


  • bring lots of different toppers. Make sure they suit the style of the cakes. If there are local manufacturers, they may be willing to loan you a couple of their toppers (but be careful... many shows will not allow you to hand out any printed material for a company that didn't pay for a booth) My toppers include a couple of monogram style ones, a couple of crystal cake jewellery toppers, a few different bride & groom figures, some gumpaste flowers, and a fondant bow.


  • About the bride and groom toppers; when I say different, I mean DIFFERENT! I don't have a single plastic couple with tulle & doves, because they are not my style. If they are yours, ONE couple like this is plenty! Everyone has seen those toppers; you're not going to amaze them with a Wilton plastic couple. This year, my "couples" include a gingerbread couple, an "Oscar" gold-leafed couple, a custom polymer clay couple, and the Corpse Bride & Victor. Each one is VERY different from the others, and make people think about different options.


  • TALK to the other vendors! They are your BEST source of referrals. You MUST get to know them, and let them get to know you! Encourage them to taste your samples, make up a pamplet and a set of business cards to give to everyone else. This is the EASIEST guerilla marketing you can possibly do. When else will you have all of these vendors in one easy place? The times when the fashion shows are running will be dead in your booth anyhow, so use that time well!


  • get some nice fabric to use as table skirting. Or buy pre-gathered skirting that gets mounted with velcro or clips. Even if the venue provides skirting (and many do not) you want your booth to stand out.


  • get photos of your booth!! Snapshots are fine, but you will want to a) see how your booth evolves over time and b) see any flaws or oddities that you didn't notice (so you can correct them next time.) For many of us, bridal shows is the biggest (if not only) advertising we do. You need to get the most out of it, so never stop learning!


  • get photos of other booths that look really great! Not just cakers, but any booth that looks good!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Inventory is your friend

Big ol' tip of the day here that should be painfully obvious: keep a current inventory list!!!

Actually, keep 3.
The first is your equipment... the stuff that you use over and over. Why? So that when you sell a bride on a 6/9/12" wedding cake, you actually HAVE a 6", a 9" and a 12" pan (or 2)! And when you go to your cake supply store to get a few things, you don't buy your 18th #2 tip when you REALLY needed a #1.

The second inventory is your consumables. Your cake ingredients, your colours & dusts... your boards & boxes, dowels and drums. Your business cards. Your contracts. Your office supplies. Tape. Ribbons. Pre-made gumpaste (or other) flowers and decorations. This one is the list that will save you money. Just do it! You will discover that you can stop buying 13" drums, but could really use 14" ones. You will discover that you really do go through a LOT of boxes, and it might be worth buying the big case after all.

There is nothing less professional or more frustrating that not having something you should have, or spending money on something you already have. If you know what you have on hand, you can "sell" someone on a cake that uses some of those decor bits that you have had sitting around forever, or a piece of equipment that you haven't used in a while.

Then there is the insurance aspect. You DO have insurance for your cake stuff... RIGHT???? If anything were to happen, a detailed inventory will make sure you are adequately covered. You might be surprised just how much cake crap you have.

An inventory is also an excellent way to help you prune back when you run out of space! Knowing that you have 3 different (but similar) petal veiners means you can chose to get rid of one or two. Even remembering that you have that <> 1982 staircase & fountain set (yes, I know... you blocked it from your mind as a self-defense mechanism) may encourage you to find a new home for it! (Yard sale anyone?)
If you're anything like me and desperately need to get organized, an inventory will also help you plan your space! Knowing that you have 43,000 dust pots tells you that you will have to allow a bigger spot for them. Knowing that you don't have a 9" round pan means you don't need to allow a spot for it at all. Unless of course you NEED a 9" round pan. Then you can allow a spot for it when you get to order one!


The third inventory is something very different. I touched on it ages ago in a post. Keep an idea inventory! Notebook, folder, envelope full of scraps of paper... doesn't matter! Get an idea for a cake... sketch it! Write notes! WHATEVER!! But once you forget (and you WILL forget)... it's gone. Then, when you need an idea... you have nothing.
Keep an inventory, and you're set! If you are really organized, you could have full sketches made for cakes you want to do. Next time you have a bride in, start by showing her those sketches! She might just order it!!!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bakery Showcase

For anyone who has a cake or baking business of any sort in or near Ontario... you should check out the Bakery Showcase 2008 in Toronto May 4-6:

http://www.baking.ca/bakeryshowcase/bakeryshowcase.html

Meet a ton of great suppliers, get to sample some of their wares, ask questions about their products, etc. It's invaluable to keep up to date with what is available out there!

Also note, this is run every 2 years, so don't plan to go next year!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

wallpaper ranting

WARNING: Wandering off topic here to rant. Feel free to come back tomorrow for more cakey goodness!








WHY do people use wallpaper? And if they must use such devil-spawned ugliness as this:

WHY must they be cheap-asses and not prime the walls?

We've been in this house 8 years now and I have to look at this nastiness daily. However lack if time/money/energy for such a monstrous job as removing it from a 14'x14' room has thus far prevented me from doing anything about it (we did remove the wall paper from another room... we probably should have just ripped out the walls and put in fresh drywall... it would have been faster & easier!)

And while I am ranting... why do people buy a lovely 100+ year old house and put nasty-assed cheap-o ceiling tiles in to cover the ceiling???

Apparently this working from home has made me much more aware of just how ugly this house is. It almost feels like spring outside today... guess it's time for change!

Friday, March 28, 2008

A small kindness...

Becky over at Mommy Wants Vodka is trying to restore our faith in humanity this week with her "do something nice" week. Well once I got done tearing up about the little ones remembered, I had to think about my own way of "paying it forward"

It's simple really. It's doing the little things that mean nothing to you, but are priceless to someone else.

I helped a friend do some editing of something she wrote. It took me all of 10 minutes to do, but would have taken her much longer. I told a silly joke to someone who is stressed out and at wits end. Wrote a kind word on someone's photo on Flickr. Listened to my sister when she needed to talk. Hugged my daughter and reminded her that this too shall pass.

I donated a small amount of money to a group who were helping a friend get a new computer when her old one crapped out. She'd been going through a rough time, and her on-line friends (most of whom have never meet IRL) knew she needed to keep in touch.
Not only did we get her back on-line, but the combined kindness of a bunch of strangers helped lift her out of a funk we didn't even know she was in.

We all do these things now and again... but make a conscious effort to do a small kindness every day of your life! Trust me... you are the one who will be richer for it!

Cookie Sutra... the naughty chocolate cookies


I couldn't resist posting these... busy cookies for my SIL's stag and doe tomorrow!

As an added bonus...

LOOK!!! 2 posts in one day!

Ok, not really... I just forgot to mention that I've added a little poll (over there on the right --->) to see what you think of the new look!

Vote away, and feel free to comment at will!!!

Keep in mind... **I** love green. In case you couldn't tell.

Paperwork... AKA the Bane of my Existance

So today is quiet... finishing up the naughty cake & cookies for tomorrow's events, meeting with one bride to finalize her cake, then it's back to doing my paperwork.

Did I mention I HATE paperwork? I am an artist, people! A Free Spirit! However... the government has other ideas. And they actually want to know how much tax they can charge me (HA!! I have to be making money to pay you... so THERE!) and I have to be able to prove it. So... I learn book-keeping. Egads it is dull. I mean, I knew it would be... but still. I haven't even finished entering my suppliers list and I want to either take a nap or remove my eyeballs with a dull screwdriver just to make things interesting.

I guess this is just more incentive to get REALLY busy and successful so I can hire someone ELSE to do this stuff for me!

It's been a pretty successful week... not financially necessarily, but in other ways.
  • I established a friendly relationship with one of my competitors, with a nice agreement to refer to one another any of our overflow as well as some information sharing. That feels really good.
  • One of my on-line cake friends has promised to nag me like she was my mother if she doesn't see a regular post from me here... so now I have to write or face the wrath of the smileys! (thanks Nancy... just the push I need!)
  • I met with 6 brides this week and had 6 great consultations. I have one more this weekend for a fun suitcase wedding cake.
  • I quoted a nice order of mini cakes... they are so labour intensive, but a lot of fun!
  • I met with an advertising rep and a potential supplier.
  • I get to decorate naughty cookies (does it get any better??? LOL)

I'm also preparing for my 3rd (and probably final for this season) bridal show display in a couple of weeks. I find these shows nerve wracking, but exhilarating too. It terrifies me to be in front of a crowd, yet I love nothing more that to talk cake all day with a bunch of happy brides.
I have learned a few things about bridal shows though:
  1. bring back up: make sure SOMEONE will be around to be at your booth when you have to pee or eat. It really sucks to stand around all day, faint from hunger and crossing your legs while doing a dance. Just not a professional look.
  2. bring water and lots of it. Talking is thirsty work, and if your booth is at all successful, you will be doing a LOT of talking.
  3. wear comfortable shoes. yes the sexy stilettos look better, but the brides really don't want their grooms paying too much attention to the cake lady, and besides... you will be on your feet for the next 8 hours, smiling and looking friendly, dammit! Painful shoes will not help your smile.
  4. Bring samples. People LOVE free food. get used to it. bring chocolate... the grooms will love you.
  5. the cakes you bring are not necessarily the cakes you will sell. This sounds very strange so let me elaborate (go ahead... try to stop me! It's my blog and I warned you that there would be blathering!) Any display cakes you bring should be in the style that you want to be doing, but they are like stage makeup; overly dramatic and there to draw attention. Most brides will order something traditional and pretty; but if all you show them is traditional and pretty, you are not memorable, and you will not get their order.

well enough blathering for one day... Happy Caking!!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who are you and why are you posting?

YES... I am back! Complete with a brand new look, and a new focus. Or no focus at all as you will soon see! Welcome to my new blog... where my train of thought is routinely de-railed, and when the spelling gets a little creative.


I cannot believe it's been over a year since I posted... but it's been quite a year.


So what's new you ask??





I'm now baking full time (no more pesky bill-paying day job!) and trying to make use of some of this advice I keep spewing! I don't have a storefront (yet!) but I am renting a kitchen for all my baking and decorating. Got a new business name (Wild Cakes) and a new appreciation for just how tough this business really is.

I'm working with a dear friend and fellow caker to start up a cake club and school. We'll be featuring all the classes that nobody offers, but you really wish they would! (at least I hope you wish that... they're the classes that **I** wish someone would offer anyhow!) And yes... I will be teaching a few such gems as custom cake toppers and cake carving 101.

What else....


The kids are growing up at the speed of light... my daughter is now 12 (AARRRGGHHH!!!) and so I had to make an appropriately "grown up" birthday cake for her...


My little "monster-man" is 4 and when asked why he must ask so many questions, simply declares "because there's a lot of things I don't know Daddy!" That'll teach him to ask a 4yo a rhetorical question!


This weekend I have to come up with a clever cake for my SIL's stag and doe.... I've already started on the cookie-sutra gingerbreads, but the final theme of the cake still eludes me. Sometimes carte blanche can be so hard!


"But what about the book?" you cry! Well that's been shelved for now (sorry). Eventually when things slow down again I'll probably pick it back up again, but for now you'll have to content yourselves with just reading my blather here.

And blather it will be! Getting into the business of cake will affect your whole life... not just what you do during the day. So my blog will start to encompass whatever I feel like talking about that day... not strictly cake stuff. Because it's ALL about the cake in the end.



Saturday, January 27, 2007

Favourite Cake Toys... pt 1

This is a topic that's far too large for just one post, so I'll try to break it down into some logical groups. There are so many tools out there now, it's hard to pick a few favourites! Also, what kind of cakes you are interested in will determine what tools/toys you are interested in!

There are baking and mixing tools, which most of us are familiar with, as well as the basic decorating tools like a spatula and piping bags. Beyond that, there are some not-so-basic tools, that tend to be more expensive, but allow the serious cake artist to really expand the boundaries of cake! There are also specialized tools for working with fondant, gumpaste, pastillage and cold porcelain. And then there are tools that were designed for some other use completely (but work great anyhow!)

1. Baking and Mixing

At the very least, you need a bowl, a spoon and a pan and oven to bake it. Of course, nobody would bake without measuring cups & spoons anymore (my grandmother use to make the best bread and cakes in the world, measuing only with her hands and eyes... juggling the quantities by how full the bowl looked, or how the dough felt!)

Of course, Granny never had a Kitchenaid! Perhaps my favourite tool, I really love my KA mixers! The size you choose will depend what type of baking you do (the 6qt pro is a great idea if you're making wedding cakes ar a lot of smaller cakes at the same time, but it may be too large if all your cakes are small birthday cakes!) and the power will depend on your budget, and shopping savvy! Each size is available in a couple of different power levels, so make sure you're comparing the same model when price shopping (the higher the wattage on the motor, the stronger your mixer will be, and usually more expensive!) Of course, if you are going into business, you're going to need a Hobart, but be prepared.. these bad boys are a serious investment (cash and floor space!)

My favourite bowls are still a set of stainless steel... I can heat them over a bain-marie to melt chocolate or start a Swiss meringue buttercream, they chill quickly when required, and most importantly, they STACK! In a small kitchen space, nested bowls are the only thing that makes sense. You can buy many different sizes, and easily get multiples of any size you need a lot. They're great for lining up your ingredients before cooking, don't stain when mixing icing colours and can be tossed in the dishwasher! Also very important, they can be very thouroughly cleaned (important both for general food safety, and for making royal icing, where even the tiniest trace of grease can ruin a whole batch!) I have a few good, heavy duty ones as well as a bunch from the dollar store... I like both equally. If I dent or damage the dollar store ones, it's no big deal!





As for the spoon... I have becone a big fan of the silicone spatulas which have become quite redily available. Tons of different sizes and shapes, they're great for hot and cold (no melting the end in a hot pot!) The only real drawback is the fact that, like plastics, the silicone hold onto grease and is difficult to get 100% grease-free for royal icing (so you have a choice... keep 1 spatula for RI only so it stay grease-free, or use a metal spatula or spoon when working with royal.)





Now when it comes to measuring devices, accuracy pays! Anyone can make a cake using "close" measurements and not worry about accuracy, but if you want to achieve consistent results, you need to be accurate!


The most accurate way to bake is to use weight measurements rather than volume, and that requires a good digital scale.


However, many recipes show only volume mesurements, and until you take the time to convert it, you will need to use the volume measures. You want nice heavy metal cups for dry measuring... thin ones dent too easily, then don't measure accurately anymore. My favourite set is made up of 6 cups rather than the traditional 4... 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, and 1 cup. Using the 2/3 cup measure once is going to be more accurate than using the 1/3 twice!





It's the same deal for measuring spoons... a thick heavy metal bowl will stay consistent for the life of the spoons. I was recently given a set of little spoons to compliment my primary set... it measures a dash, a pinch, a smidgen, and a nip! If you measure spices and things out of bottles, you may wish to get the narrow style which are designed for even the tablespoon to fit into a spice jar! (BTW... avoid plastic measuring devices if possible... they are often inaccurate and they stain and hold aromas and grease!)





Now for liquid measures (and please... don't use your dry and liquid measures interchangeable... you sacrifice accuracy every time!) I generally prefer glass measures, in the smallest size appropriate (i.e if I'm measuring 1-1/2 cups, I use the 2 cup measure, rather than the 4 cup.) I have recently found a little measuring cup from Oxo that measures in tablespoons up to 1/4 cup which is also very handy! It also has an angled scale which means you can read it from the side or the top!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Where do you find your cake ideas?

This is probably the most common question I hear when it comes to my cakes (followed closely by "how did you do that?!?) The short answer is EVERYWHERE! Of course, that doesn't really help anyone who is coming up short on inspiration, so I suppose a longer answer is in order.

For me, the trick is to see cake potential in everything. Because most of my cakes are sculptural representations of actual objects, it is fairly obvious what I was looking at! Why one object and not another? Well that is usually decided by the person the cake is going to be for. I try to get to know the person, and their likes and dis-likes... their hobbies and obsessions. Usually something from that conversation will jump out at me and scream "THAT'S IT!!!"




I've done many birthday cakes for my kids over the years... when my son turned 2, he got a yellow dumptruck cake... filled with fresh fruit. At that point in his life, his toy truck was the ONLY toy that mattered in his life, and Bob the Builder was his hero. Also, the only food I could get him to eat consistently was fruit (and cake, of course!)


My daughter had her birthday party at a local nature center one year, and the focus of that party was making maple syrup (tapping the trees was quite the interesting party game!!) Anyhow, her cake that year was a HUGE stack of pancakes cake, complete with a generous drizzle of "maple syrup."




Perhaps one of my most disturbing cakes is the dead crow cake. Two of my co-workers were having a heated discussion about hockey. Well in the end, as usually happens; one team won, and one lost. The winner decided that the loser needed to "eat crow." The rest is history.




One birthday cake I made was for a woman whose gift from her family was a cruise trip...





Looking to make a cake that actually looks like a cake? The inspiration there is no less plentiful, but it is less obvious.

If I'm in a hurry and my brain is fried, I may just replicate a cake I have in my rather massive library of cake books and magazines (yes,I'm a bit obsessed with books!) or one of the many on-line resources for cake artists.


That's fine for the occasional slump in inspiration, but doesn't cut it (for me at least) very often. More likely, I will pull elements from a couple of different cakes if my brain is at least half functional!


However, if I'm feeling really excited about a cake, and I really want that WOW factor, I just go out and look at the world around me (or for a broader view of the world, I Google photos on-line!) In fact, I found inspiration one of the default photos that came pre-loaded with Windows... if you can find the photo called "follow.jpg" on your system... doesn't it look like a bride with her bridesmaids trailing behind? For those of you who don't happen to have that version... it's a photo of FISH. See things, and let your mind wander...soon you too will see cake EVERYWHERE!
(*The Business of Cake blog will not be held responsible for any actions you take based on this new world view...! No nibbling!)

Look to nature for colour combinations... you can't beat flowers for incredible colours and shapes!




Elements from architecture are often wonderful inspiration as they are often faced with many of the same limitations of construction that we are with cake.

Clothing and fabrics are another great source of ideas (details from the bride's wedding gown are often used in wedding cakes for an extra special touch.)

Invitations and other crafty details are another... try wandering down the aisles of your local craft store... look at what's being done in polymer play, in beadwork, in one-stroke painting, scrapbooking, ANYTHING! Old wallpapers (or new ones)... paint finishes... furniture... tiles... anything you love can be inspiration for cake!

(this one was inspired by the little ceramic baby feet favours the Mom was giving out..)


Once last caution...

I have had ideas too numerous to count for cakes that have never (at least not yet!) been built, and too many of these ideas have disappeared forever because they were scribbled on a napkin or scrap of paper, never to be found again!)
I am trying to discipline myself to carry a small notebook with me everywhere so when inspiration strikes, I can scribble the ideas there. In short order, I will soon have a lovely pile of ideas which are all my own, to draw upon when my head is in a fog! I will recommend to you to do the same! EVERY idea, no matter how small should go in the book; whether it's a full cake sketch, an address of an interesting building, just a note or word about a general theme, or the tiniest of details which appealed to you. Don't worry if your sketching skills are not the greatest... that's not the point! Just keep a record of your inspirations!!!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Too much Halloween?

Short little post today for all of you who have left-over halloween goodies...

Take a good double handful of halloween chocolate bars (an assortment - no fun using all the same!) and coarsely chop them up. Toss them on a lined baking sheet (parchment works well) in a big pile and bake at about 300 until they're all melted.

Once this big gooey mess is cooled, chop or break it up into bite-sized pieces. Voila... toss it in the freezer for a month and you have started your christmas baking!!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hubris, and the Revenge of the Cake Gods...

Well I did it... I designed a cake beyond my abilities. I loved that cake.. it was going to be SUCH a feather in my cap! I sketched it out, and planned it out and all was good.

3 weeks before the event I get together with a couple of cake friends, and we had a lovely gumpaste afternoon! I had a bunch of petals made up and drying, just waiting for the finishing touch of assembly & colour.
2 weeks before the event I baked up a storm... baking enough cake for 250 generous servings, and almost all of the IMBC required too! That was one busy day!
The next day, I had a family emergency which resulted in a 4 day trip to British Columbia.

Coming back from that, I had a bunch of crap go down at work, which resulted in my not being able to take Friday off to work on the cake. Fortunately, my good friend Karey offered to come help with the cake I was now calling the "Monstrosity." I think that's the only thing that kept me sane at this point!

She showed up about 6pm on Friday evening and we got to work! By 4am every tier was filled, covered & fondanted. I airbrushed the colours, and Karey made the (non-flower) gumpaste accents. The biggest tier wouldn't fit in the fridge, but fortunately it was a cool night, so it spent the rest of the night in the back of Karey's van. At 9am Saturday, we got back at it, dowelling everything, colouring & assembling the flowers and a few other finishing touches. I nearly dropped the bottom tier when I tried to pick it up by myself, but fortunately, the counter caught it!

I should mention at this point in this little story, that the bottom tier was a 18" square of Toba's delicious (but VERY dense and heavy) Chocolate Fudge Cake (2 layers) with IMBC and fondant... that cake was HEAVY!!!! It was the bottom of what was supposed to be 6 tiers, but I get ahead of myself.
I should also explain that this cake was for a fundraiser that was being put on to benefit my cousin who has been fighting a terribly aggressive form of cancer for several years now. She's a sweet woman, with 4 kids, who just happens to be a dentist & a doctor (she just doesn't know how to stop!) In any case, this cake was my donation to the event. There were to be 250 people for dinner, and twice that for the dance afterwards. There was a performance by the 2 (from different years) Canadian Idol contestants from Caledonia (which is where this event was held), a live band, a silent auction, and a few other fun things. This cake was going to be high profile.

Well Karey and I wrapped up everything we could do by about 11am and she went on her way to go learn about tempering chocolate, and I went home to gather the rest of my equipment that I would need to take with me to assemble the cake. I had had enough stress from this cake by this point, but it appeared to be under control. We drove the 35 minutes to Caledonia without incident, my hubby dropped me & the cake off at the hall, and went to get the kids to his sister (who was sitting for us) and planning to be back to get me in an hour or so (little did we know!) (which would have been about 2pm.)

I will interject here again to mention that this event was full formal, and that I had to deliver the speech my mother was to deliver, except that she was still in BC, and it started at 6pm. Lets just fast forward here a bit to 4pm... the cake has fallen over 3 times at this point (yea, I caught it each time... the last one was close; if it had fallen away from me, instead of towards me, our little story would have ended right here.) I am a mess (both literally and emotionally!) and I can't think straight anymore. We took a trip to the booming metropolis of downtown Caledonia, looking for a cake dummy to replace a tier that had collapsed, and after 6 different stop, returned with a wire thing that neither I, nor the clerk at the store had any idea what it was supposed to be, but it would suffice.
I gave up on my lovely "waisted" tier, and replaced it with this wire thing covered in gold tulle. I attempted to cover the various bumps and dents from the falls, and then notice that the dang wire thing was sinking into the bottom tier! It wasn't sitting on the dowels properly! So I disassembled again, added a glass plate, and all was good. Right up until the top 4 tiers started listing badly again. I was out of dowels at this point, so my DH took a trip to the hardware store while I stood holding up the hex tier, not daring to let go. When he returned, we added an exposed dowel behind the ball tier, painted it gold, and at long last, left. It was after 5pm.

Showered, exhausted and fully gowned, (wearing my 2nd pair of nylong of the evening, as I had ripped 2 holes in the first pair), we returned to the hall... praying for a still-vertical cake! At this point, the cake gods seem to have taken pity on me. The lights were dim, the cake looked okay (and was still standing) and my cousin was enthralled. Mom's speech went fine, my cousin was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support, and I will never again wear those gorgeous stiletto-heeled shoes (ouch!)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Buttercream... the Other Great Debate!

Sorry about the long hiatus... August is BUSY!!! I might as well admit it, right off the bat... the book has not seen the light of day for several weeks now (sometimes you need to put these things away for a while!)

In any case... as the result of some prodding by a dear friend of mine, I am writing about yet another touchy subject in the cake world (who knew there were so many?!?)... BUTTERCREAM.

There are many different icings which carry the name buttercream, many of which are neither creamy, nor contain any butter! Following is a brief description of a few groups, and my most definately biased opinion. There are plenty of other opinions out there, many of them completely dis-agreeing with me, so feel free to try them all and form your own!

***

Firstly, there is canned frosting. Containing no actual butter (and in it's place several things I cannot pronounce!) I do not consider it buttercream ('nuff said.)

***

Then there is the ubiquitous Wilton Icing - everyone is familiar with this frosting! Very sweet, slightly gritty (from the icing sugar) and usually containing a combination of shortening and butter or margarine (though I've seen variations that range from all-shortening to all-butter,) I think this is the first frosting we all learn to make. While popular with kids, many adults find this one far too sweet.
On the up side, it is quite easy to decorate with, and because it forms a slightly crunchy crust, you can make decorations and flowers ahead of time, and place them on the cake when you're ready. When it is made with all-shortening, it is quite stable, even in extreme heat.
While it has it's place, this is probably my least favourite of all the buttercreams.

***

Next, we have the boiling water & icing sugar based frostings such as the Whimsical Bakehouse recipe (great book by the way!) Not quite as sweet, but still usually contain more shortening than butter. The biggest perk to this type is that it pretty much eliminates the grittiness found in the first variety, as the icing sugar is dissolved when mixed with the boiling water.
Many grocery store cakes are made with a variation (usually containing no butter) of this type of icing.
The smoothness of this frosting is an improvement, but still not a type of icing I'm overly fond of.

***

The third category of buttercreams are the meringue buttercreams. They are the most complex to make (though still not exactly rocket science!!) and the most fiddly (cakes iced in these should be stored in the fridge, but served at room temperature,) but far and away are the best tasting! Generally containing egg whites (or some use yolks,) fresh unsalted butter and a cooked sugar syrup; they are smooth and rich, without the cloying sweetness found in many other icings.

Depending on your recipe, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour to make a batch of this ambrosia, but the time is well worth it. The flavours are far more sophisticated and adult-friendly than any other I've tried. Meringue buttercreams readily accept a range of flavour additions (try melted & cooled dark chocolate with a pinch of coffee... mmmm), though they can be difficult to tint if you want strong colours.
As you can probably guess, these are my favourite (and the only true, IMHO) buttercreams. When chilled, they are rock hard due to the high proportion of butter (which is helpful when decorating) but at room temperature are smooth and creamy.
Italian Meringue Buttercream and Swiss Meringue Buttercream are 2 of the most popular (though there are others!) and they differ primarily in the preparation techniques.

Some decorators have expressed concerns about the meringue buttercreams due to the fact that the egg whites are not usually brought up to a sufficient temperature to kill salmonella bacteria. Though an extremely rare occurance, it is a valid concern, and one that is easily eliminated by using a pasteruized egg product such as Simply Whites (or you can buy pasteurized eggs.)

I am also particularly fond of the glossy appearance of the meringue buttercreams... flowersbouquet cake
piped from this icing have a wonderful glow, (though it is more difficult a skill than piping with the basic frosting,) as well as the way it smooths onto a cake is just gorgeous.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Photographing Your Cakes


flash comparison
Originally uploaded by
Choc-a-holic.

I'm no expert with the camera, but I've been playing around a bit lately and discovered that a steady hand and natural light are SOOOOO much better for cakes than a flash!

The photo on the left was taken using the flash. The one on the right is the same cake, taken without the flash (but with VERY steady hands!!!) I used the basic auto settings on my digital camera for both (except I used the macro setting) and I have not altered these photos (except a little cropping!)

Note the beautiful translucence of the fondant on the right... that's gone on the left. In its place, you see all the flaws by the harsher light of the flash!

The colours on the right are much closer to reality than those on the left. Also, take a look at the cake plate... that's Mikasa cut crystal... looks pretty blah on the left, but look at it sparkle on the right!

One thing the flash photography does have going for it is that the shimmer from the pearl dust I used is much more visible on the left. On the right, it doesn't show at all on the ribbon roses or the swags. Granted, there wasn't much there so it was subtle, but it doesn't show up at all on the right.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Getting Legal


Anyone who makes cakes thinks about it at some point… maybe I could make a business of this. Maybe I could actually start paying for the hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars I have invested in this “hobby.” Either you’re getting requests from friends of friends, or little Sally’s Mom saw your daughter’s cake at her party and wants one for little Sally, or perhaps you have been selling them a little on the side, and you’re getting a little higher profile. Whatever your reasons, you want to sell cakes for money.

Realistically, if you don’t plaster a big sign on the front of your house, you don’t tick off your neighbors, and you don’t poison anyone, the odds of getting caught are fairly slim. As a home baker of non-hazardous (assuming you don’t bake meat pies, etc) products, you are very low on the list of kitchens to be inspected. Also, it is likely that the first time you get caught, you’ll be told to stop until such a time as you can be classified as a legal kitchen. However, honesty is usually the best policy, and many of the requirements are really a good idea to comply with in any case. So do what you think is right, and even if you decide not to go “legal” at this point, see what you can incorporate into your “business”!

So what now?

Well there is no short or universal answer. Unfortunately pretty much every township has different (and usually unclear) rules and by-laws which govern home baking. The trick is finding out who to even talk to in order to get a straight answer. That too can differ from one city to the next. So… set aside a few hours (and expect it to take a couple of sessions,) get out a pad of paper and a pen, and get comfortable with your phone. Pull out your phone book and start searching the government listings. You will need to deal with local government first, though you may also need to speak to provincial/state government as well.

HOWEVER, before you do that, do your homework and have some information at the ready… the last thing you want to do is have to wait on hold for another 20 minutes because you didn’t have the information in front of you!

Warning… this may not cover every question you will hear, but it’s a good start!!!

  • Your address (you’ll need this when talking to the zoning people!)
  • Do you own or rent (it’s usually illegal to sell goods out of a rented living space!)
  • How much business do you expect to do a week/ month? (Sometimes, if you are selling less than a certain number, they may tell you that you’re fine… IF you get this, make SURE you get the person’s name you spoke to, their title and department! Then if it should come back that they were wrong, you’ve at least got something to back up your claim! If you can get them to e-mail you and put it in writing… even better!!!)
  • What sorts of things will you sell? Cakes, cookies, other desserts, breads? Sometimes the rules are different (especially if you get into meat pies or other baking!)
  • Are you insured? Standard household insurance will likely not cover you if someone falls down on your icy sidewalk while picking up a cake, and DEFINITELY won’t cover you if someone get sick & sues you! Talk to your insurance agent.
  • If you have already applied for a business registration license (this is different and usually separate from having a legal kitchen!!!)
  • If you have taken any safe food handling courses (many municipalities or states/provinces offer these courses at a very low cost! It’s usually a good thing to do, even if you’re not “going legal” but will go a long way towards your goal of getting legal if that’s your aim!)

Things you will want to ask them:

  • Their name and position (and date & time of your call)
  • Am I allowed to advertise? What constitutes advertising? Business cards?
  • Am I allowed to put a sign on my house? Is there a maximum size?
  • What are the minimum requirements to operate a legal kitchen for the purpose of selling to the public? What is recommended?
  • Can I get that in writing? What by-law or regulation is this covered under?
  • How often do I need to be inspected to maintain legal status? What should I expect to happen during an inspection?
  • Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?

In order to have your kitchen certified “legal” you may have to have some or all of these requirements, but these are the most common (there may be others in your area… you need to ask!)

  • No pets… or at least a way to keep the pets out of your work area (some areas may require not pets in the household, regardless of any barriers!)
  • Food storage usually has to be a minimum height off the floor
  • Appropriate food storage facilities
  • Poisons are not stored with the same area as food (think ant traps, cleaning fluids, etc)
  • Two or three wash-up sinks (washing, rinsing, sanitizing)
  • Note; sometimes a dishwasher with a sanitizing rinse is considered an acceptable substitute for the 3-sink requirement)
  • Separate hand washing facilities on the same floor (usually in the washroom)
  • Anti-bacterial soap & disposable drying towels at that station
  • Separate storage areas for raw foods from prepared ones (yes, that generally means a 2nd fridge!)
  • Sometime a separate oven or range is required
  • Sometimes an entirely separate kitchen, with a separate entrance is required!

Now, departments you will likely have to talk to include:

  • Health department / inspector
  • Zoning By-law department
  • Business Licensing department

Other people you SHOULD talk to:

  • Your neighbors: tell them what you’re trying to do, and really hear their concerns. Assure them that you’ll continue to be a good neighbor. If someone next door has a really fussy baby that sleeps from 2-4, then try to avoid having people arrive during that time (but this is a business, if you can’t avoid it, at least ask your clients to keep it down if they’re arriving in that time frame.) Also, free goodies are a wonderful source of good will! If you’ve got a little cake left over, or bake a few extra cookies, share it around! Offer them coupons for a discount off your baking (neighbors can make good clients too!)
  • An accountant: if you are running a legitimate business, you will need to report your income at tax time. An accountant can tell you what documents and records you need to keep, deductions you may not have thought of, and other information that may help your business.
  • Your insurance agent: I said it before, but it’s important… if something business related happens, you won’t be covered, and even if something non-business related happens (like a fire or a break-in) you may negate your existing household insurance if they find out about your business and you didn’t tell them!

Other things you should consider:

  • Parking: is there a spot your clients can use without inconveniencing your neighbors? (Unless you plan to deliver every cake!)
  • General Safety: are our railings in good order? Is the walk-way clear of toys and obstacles? Have you cleared ice & snow from your sidewalk?
  • General Appearance: first impressions are a big deal in a business. Make sure the front of your house is tidy, and reasonably well maintained. Even a small hanging basket or a couple of flower pots can really perk up a yard. Can’t paint your whole house? A fresh coat of paint on the door your clients will be using can make all the difference!
  • Accessibility: can a disabled person get to you? This is not a huge problem, as you can always bring a cake out to the car for them, or meet them in a coffee shop for a consultation, but you should be aware of this and have back-up plans at the ready (looks MUCH more professional!)
  • Safety: if you have clients coming to your home, you need to be aware of your own security. It’s a sad sign of the times, but you often don’t really know who your clients are. If you’re concerned about safety, you may prefer to deliver all your cakes, or make sure someone else is home when a client comes to your house.
  • Educate yourself: do you know the basics of food safety? Do you know how cross-contamination happens? What items need to be refrigerated? How long can they safely be kept out? Additionally, what are the more common food allergens? Could they have come in contact with (or be contained in) any of your products? Especially if you use mixes or pre-made products, you need to know what’s in them. It’s up to your clients to tell you about food allergies (though it’s always a good idea to ask… you may jog their memory about a guest with allergies) but it’s up to you to know your products. It is okay to tell a client that you cannot accommodate their request if you are not confident, or you can tell them what precautions you are able to take, and let them make a decision. (I recommend as a minimum running every clean item you will use through the dishwasher again with no other dishes in it, then inspecting each one for food that was not removed. A peanut allergy can be fatal, and can be triggered by miniscule traces of peanut contamination. If you can, keep a set of utensils & bowls that are not used with any kind of nut – ever. I usually tell clients that mine is not a nut-free home, but I take the above precautions. It’s then up to them if they want to place an order with me, or find someone who can guarantee a nut-free environment.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Organizing Your Cakes

Quick poll here... hands up everyone who has a pile of photos, scraps of paper with names & phone numbers, and only a vague idea whether or not you're even making money on any given cake?

Up until fairly recently, I was in the same boat. I did have (most) of my photos in a scrapbook, and I had actually managed to tame the scrapheap of paper into one pile. When I put my website together, I got a LITTLE better with the photos (they're all in one place!) but created a new problem. A client would call me wanting exactly the same cake as I had produced before, and what was the price? ... ... ... uh oh ... I don't remember what I charged!! And I had no idea if it was enough or too little to even cover my costs! Or they had been at a party and had one of my cakes, and wanted the same flavour... UH OH!! What recipe did I use?!?

A dear friend of mine (thanks Judy!) had the solution! She has a binder, filled with page protectors. Each page protector contains everything she needs to know about each of her cakes. As well, she keeps a master list of all the cakes. Judy knows EXACTLY what she charged for each cake, and how long ago that was!

Each cake pouch should contain:
- all contact info for the client.. name, address, phone number, e-mail, etc
- how they heard about you
- date & time required
- delivered or pick-up (and where to deliver it to)
- what you charged
- who & what event the cake was for (be specific... Carol's son George's 12th birthday which is actually on the 14th though the cake is for the 12th)
- how many servings
- size & shape of pans you used (even if you carved the cakes!)
- what recipes you used, how many batches, any modifications, any issues, etc
- what colours you used (specific again... what brand, approx how much, etc.)
- A PHOTO OF THE FINISHED CAKE (or several if the back is interesting too!)
- customer comments
- notes about what you would do differently, or things that really worked for you
- notes about the weather / humidity, etc if they might be an issue.
- especially for large cakes (though it's not a bad idea for any cake!) a copy of your contract, and a record of the deposit paid (how much, cash or cheque, cheque number, date received, etc)
- any sketches you made, any sources of inspiration, swatches of fabric, reference to a page in a book or magazine, anything!
** and on the topic of "sources of inspiration"... make sure any time you save a photo of someone else's work, record the cake artist's name & web site! You definately want to be able to give them credit for the inspiration, and you may want to contact them at some point! My experience is that many decorators are happy to give you a few tips on reproducing a certain technique (especially if you're in a different part of the country or world that you're not competing against them with their own style!)

Your master sheet should be a relatively simple list:
* name or number of the cake (I name each one, but I've alse started assigning them numbers for ease of reference)
* client's name
* date of the cake
* any critical notes (like NEVER bake for this person again! LOL! Seriously though... just critical notes... the details will be in the pouch, remember?)
* how much you charged (dollar value, free, just costs, whatever!)

You may find over time that there are WAY too many "FREE" cakes (yes... record them too!) If that's the case (and you're trying to make a business of your hobby) then you should re-evalutate your answer the next time someone wants something for nothing!

Of course, if you're handy with spreadsheets, that's an even better way to track your info, but make sure you have hard copies organized as above (or whatever works for you!) 'CAUSE CRASHES HAPPEN!!!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fondant Comparison... a group of Ontario cake decorators got together this weekend, and we compared fondants. Below is the results!

Wilton ($35/5lb = $77/5kg)
taste was truly offensive.. "is this really supposed to be a food product?"
workability was very nice… moves well around curves & corners, but does not stretch & sag VERDICT: great for decorations, not appropriate for items intended to be eaten

Chocopan ($55 for 5kg)
tastes like white chocolate
incredibly soft… MAJOR sagging!
VERDICT: definitely not for decorations! would be very dfficult to work with due to softness… taste was a big plus if you like white chocolate

Virgin Ice ($28/5kg)
initially okay taste, but has an odd chemical aftertaste
texture is somewhat spongy and tended to shrink back after rolling… also tended to crack & tear like a marshmallow over corners
VERDICT: could use it for some simple decorations if I had it on hand, but wouldn't go out and buy it

Pettinice ($28/5kg)
initially okay taste, but has an odd chemical aftertaste
texture is somewhat spongy and tended to shrink back after rolling… also tended to crack & tear like a marshmallow over corners
VERDICT: could use it for some simple decorations if I had it on hand, but wouldn't go out and buy it

Mill Lane ($35 for 5kg)
Taste was pleasant and comparable to McCall's
Workability of one batch was good… VERY firm to begin with, and a number of hard little nuggets which had to be picked out, but corners nicely and hold it's shape fairly well (not too much sag) while still providing enough stretch
VERDICT: a good all-around fondant… comparable to McCalls overall, personal preference whether you prefer a firmer or softer fondant
NOTE: we also had samples form another batch which was compared to chewing gum… extremely soft
Note: we also sampled the Chocolate ML… beautifully dark chocolate colour… very nice taste, workability was good, but we also had reports of inconsistent texture from one batch to another

McCall's ($32/5kg)
taste was different than, but comparable to ML… personal preference as to which is better
like ML, there is a MAJOR variation between the samples we tested… the small package sample was so soft as to be un-useable… the larger package was softer than ML, but much more workable than the first sample. Substantially better than Virgin Ice and Pettinice in terms of workability
VERDICT: while we were concerned about the drastic variations between batches, it would come down to personal preference between this one and Mill Lane… this is still a softer overall fondant than Mill Lane

MMF (approx $13/5kg)
taste was okay, but extremely sweet
holds it's shape reasonably well, but cracks & rips badly over sharp corners
VERDICT: very inexpensive to make, a little more workable than scratch, but scratch tastes much better.

Scratch (Toba Garette's recipe) (approx $12/5kg)
taste was very nice (most popular)
workablilty was not great… was not at all forgiving on corners
VERDICT: very inexpensive to make, tastes better than MMF, but not quite as workable.. Would benefit from being mixed with a commercial fondant for workability
NOTE: some of us intend to play with the recipe a bit to try to improve workability
NOTE: as per conversation… this is no more difficult than MMF to make, but much better tasting!

Monday, May 22, 2006

The great debate... Scratch vs. Mix

There is a rift in the world of cake artists. There are the scrach bakers, and there are the mix-based bakers. There are a few brave souls who bake on both sides, but most of us stay in one camp or another.

There are some very goods arguments on both sides, and in the end, I believe it comes down to what you are comfortable with, and what your customers prefer.

I bake from scratch, but that's what works for me. I will eat a mix cake (and enjoy it!) but I prefer a good scratch cake, hands down.

In Favour of Mix:
****************
* consistent results... commercially made cake mixes contain many ingredients to stabilize and maintain freshness which results in a more consistent result.
* inexpensive... you can often purchase cake mixes at a lesser cost than buying the individual ingredients.
* customer preference... many people have grown up on boxed-mix cakes and they prefer that which is familiar. My own husband is happier when I dig out a mix to make his birthday cake!
* can customize flavours... by adding any number of ingredients to a mix, you can "doctor" it up to change the density of the cake, alter the flavour or extend it to fill a slightly larger pan.

Book Recommendation: Complete Cake Mix Magic (Jill Snider)
-----------------------------------------------------------------
(review by a friend of mine...) AMAZING, I like it much better than the Cake Mix Doctor....colour pages and pictures and receipes for everything and same idea here all start with a cake mix, I have made a few of the bundt cake one....so tasty!

In Favour of Scratch:
*******************
* flavour... not every scratch recipe is better than a mix... but the ones that are; well there's no comparison!
* control over ingredients... read the side of a cake-mix box some time... I can't even pronounce some of the ingredients... much less understand what they do to someone who consumes them! Many people are more conscious about what they eat... whether due to allergies, or just general concern about their long-term health. When you bake from scratch, you know exactly what you put into that cake!
*unique-ness... while you can "doctor" up a mix to customize the flavour, there's nothing like tweaking a recipe to make it your own!

Book Recommendation: The Cake Bible (Rose Levy Berenbaum)
------------------------------------------------------------------
My fave recipe book for scratch cakes & fillings & frostings!!! If you bake from scratch, you NEED this one!! And the best part is that she explains a little of WHY each recpie works, and what makes it similar or different from other ones! You get a little chemistry lesson (which you can ignore if you want... it's in a separate section at the end of each recipe) with each recipe! It really gives me the confident to play with and tweak the recipes to suit what I want, because I KNOW what each ingredient does.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Fondant Follies

Fondant (or sugarpaste as it is known in the UK)... decorators love it for the smooth porcelain finish and wonderful modelling capabilities. But when it comes to eating it... well that's another story!

There is at least one major manufacturer of cake decorating supplies which makes a truly in-edible version of sugarpaste. Unfortunately, a large number of decorators use it, not realizing that there are alternatives.

There are several manufacturers whick make some very tasty versions... my personal favourite is Mill Lane brand available at www.creativecutters.com in both the USA & Canada. I have also heard good things about Chocopan, which is based on white chocolate (but is a little pricey.)

If you want to make your own, there are several good recipes out there, there's one in Toba Garrette's book which I've used with good results. I don't find that the homemade versions are quite as workable as the commercial ones, but I may not have found the right one yet!

I would be remiss if I did not mention Marshmallow Fondant (MMF for short.) Similar to homemade in flavour and cost (which is substantially less than the commercial varieties) it is MUCH sweeter, due to having about 1/3 again as much sugar as scratch recipes. Many people believe it to be easier to make, but in reality, you only save one small step (mix gelatin into water...)

Most recipes I've seen list the glycerine as optional... I would not leave it out... that's what gives you the stretch to make it really workable... in fact I often double the required glycerine!

Whenever I work with rolled fondant, I always roll it approximately 1/4" thick... any thinner and it become much less forgiving! I also provide a substantial layer of buttercream underneath for those who don't wish to eat the sugarpaste

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Parchment Paper.. the baker's security blanket!

As per Wikipedia...
Cooking parchment (also parchment paper, kitchen parchment, greaseproof paper and cooking paper) refers to a form of silicone-impregnated paper used as a substitute for parchment in cooking. The silicone renders it grease- and moisture-resistant as well as relatively heat-resistant. A common use is to eliminate the need to grease cookie sheets and the like allowing very rapid turn-around of batches of cookies in a commercial bakery. It can also be folded to make moisture-proof packages in which food items are cooked or steamed.

A few things I've learned about cooking parchment

1. Use it. Use it every time. It's SOOO not worth taking the chance that you needed it and didn't use it. Just use it!

2. It's washable and re-useable... many, many times. I just wash mine in the sink with the other dishes and rinse well. Make sure you dry it flat 'cause curled edges are no fun.

3. Store them IN YOUR PANS!!! You'll never have to search for it, it's always stored flat and safe, and nobody needs ANOTHER storage thingie in their kitchen.

4. Buy a roll, take some time while watching TV one evening and just cut one out for EVERY pan you own. Repeat every couple of years, or when you buy a new pan! The shape should be SLIGHTLY smaller than the base of your pan (you don't want it up the sides at all... go back & trim if necessary.)

5. Do not replace it with waxed paper. Especially when using Sugarveil (but that's another coversation!) Waxed paper looks cheaper, but you can't re-use it. Waxed paper is just that... waxed. Do you REALLY want to add WAX to your cake ingredients?

6. Did I mention you should REALLY use it?!? LOL For most cakes, just the bottom is fine (I never bother with using it on the sides of a cake)

7. TO USE PARCHMENT:
...a) grease your pan however you like.
...b) insert parchment into base.
...c) Grease the parchment.
...d) Flour the whole thing (unless you're using a grease with flour in it)
...e) Fill as usual.
...f) Sing the praises of Choc while releasing your cake from the pan without trouble.
...g) repeat.

8. If you're baking another batch of cake right away, wipe off any crumbs and re-use it. You don't have to wash it if it's going right back into the oven (you don't want the water there anyhow) HOWEVER... please don't store it away un-washed... ICK!!! LOL

You can also use it to roll out pastry, bake cookies on... it's a wonderful thing!