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!