Start to finish…..

Back to cake stuff.  Thank you for bearing with me when I write about things other than cakes…..like puppies, and floods, and family.  I know that this is a blog primarily about cakes but cakes are just one facet of life and occasionally I digress into other areas.  Anyway, thanks to those of you who read the blog about Thistle (someone said that I doomed her to be prickly because of her name), and as I said before, back to cake stuff.

Megan and I haven’t been doing as many cakes lately and I think that may be a mixed blessing.  We love it and miss it when we don’t get to do cakes but it’s also a busy season and so, less cakes gives us more time to do Christmas.

The whole process of planning for a cake is pretty involved for us and includes, as I described it to someone yesterday, a lot of blood, sweat and tears!  We’re not very busy right now but back in September and October we had a lot going on.  Not only do we do cakes for people who ask us to, but we also take cakes along when we visit friends and family (hint, hint…..if you invite us over for dinner, you might end up with a cake for dessert……insert winky smiley face here).  At one point in September, we were taking a cake to a friend’s house when we went there for dinner, two family birthday cakes, a fundraising event for the American Heart Association, a kid’s birthday cake, and an adult birthday cake with a sports theme.  In October we had two more adult birthday cakes and another family birthday.  (It’s easier to write about them after the fact because many times the cakes are surprises for people and if I write about them prior to the event I worry that I will give away too many details and ruin the surprise.)  This is a little of what we go through when we are working on multiple cakes.

Megan and I have a calendar where we write all the upcoming orders.  We also write up order sheets with all the details like size, flavors, theme, etc.  Then, we sit down together to talk about scheduling, timing, supplies and whether we have all of the tools we need for a particular cake.  It’s in this planning stage where the tension gets a little high sometimes.  This is where the rest of the family usually leaves the room while Megan and I work things out, like whether the monkey faces are going to be pink or tan……hmmm….anyway…..I digress.

For example, we did cupcakes for a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.  We begin by looking at pictures of cakes and cupcakes online for inspiration.  Megan and I look at tons of pictures online, as I have mentioned before.  If someone asks us for a particular cake, we look for pictures to show them, to kind of guide them with what they want.  Sometimes they want exactly the cake that they see and sometimes they are willing to let us come up with our own design.  I love it when people sort of have an idea what they want but they give us some artistic freedom.  It’s so much fun when they actually see the cake!!!

Many of the cake pictures that you have seen on Facebook have been our own design but some have been copied from other cake pictures.  The reason that I tell you all that is because it has been my desire, from the beginning, to come up with our own, unique signature style and we were excited to come up with our own style with the cupcakes for the American Heart Association fundraiser.

Once we decide on a picture or a design, we talk about who is going to do what.  This has turned into quite a brainstorming session.  Again, we don’t have a lot of experience under our belts to draw from and it can be very stressful to try to talk things through.  I am the visionary and I know that it frustrates Megan at times, when I get grand ideas for a cake.  It seems like, a lot of times, I have to talk her into jumping up onto my bandwagon.  Sometimes I am successful, sometimes not.  It’s hard for her because she is a very concrete thinker and when I am soaring through clouds made of fondant, I’ve left her standing back on terra firma with a puzzled look on her face as to where I have flown off to.

Other times, I must sit, patiently, and try to answer her questions.  Megan has lots of questions about how a gumpaste creation is actually going to take shape and be sustainable on a cake.  In other words, it’s one thing to think that you know how to make a Leaning Tower of Pizza on a cake, it’s another thing to actually do it.  Megan is very much like her Father.  She’s a concrete thinker who needs to know how the Leaning Tower of Pizza is going to be built so that it doesn’t become the Falling Tower of Pizza once it’s on the cake.  I have to keep in mind that we are two different people with two different perspectives.  It never seemed to be as much of a problem when we were just Mother and Daughter.  Now that we are business partners, it has been a real growing experience to come to an understanding of each other and how our thought patterns work.

The cake flavors and fillings are never a problem.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been married for 34 years and I love to bake so I already had tons of cake recipes to draw from and if I can’t find what I need in my own library, there are multitudes of cake recipes online.It’s funny how people keep offering cake recipes to us.  I think that it makes them feel like part of the process and, believe me, we’ve found lots of wonderful recipes that way.  My Mother has got to get the credit for a few of my recipes, especially my signature chocolate cake.  I always thought that it was her recipe but I found out, after talking with her about it, that it actually came from my Grammy, her mother-in-law.

Next, we start talking about what needs to be fondant on a cake and what needs to be gumpaste.  How sturdy or intricate does something have to be?  What color does it need to be and should we color the fondant or paint it?  Different creations require different strategies.  Everything must be edible so we use spaghetti internal supports whenever necessary.

We’ve also made countless trips to cake and hobby stores for supplies.  Right now, as I write this, we are looking for some special cookie cutters in very specific shapes.  We did a Tuscan themed cake and we needed some new leaf cutters to simulate grapevines.  There are a couple of local stores that we use but I also order online if I know far enough ahead of time what I will need.

I’m like a kid in a candy store at the cake supply store.  “I want that, oh, and can I have that……and I’ll take one of those…….”  We have to be really careful to not go overboard with buying tools.  We’ve learned that we usually only buy what we need for whatever cakes we have coming up.  We always have an eye out for unusual cake stands too.  We love HomeGoods and Marshalls for things like that.

Lastly, we buy our baking supplies.  We make lots of trips to the grocery store for eggs, milk, flour and vanilla.  Sometimes I wish that I would have kept track of the supplies that we have used from the beginning….how many pounds of flour, sugar and powdered sugar…..wow, I can’t even begin to imagine.

Then, as we have time, we start working on the components for the cake.  If we are doing gumpaste figures or decorations, we start several weeks in advance to give everything a chance to dry.  We have also learned to make extra, mostly as a result of failures; like the time we made the curly pieces for a birthday-present-shaped cake.  They were wrapped too tightly around the surfaces where they were drying and they cracked and broke as we tried to take them off.  Live and learn!!!  We say that A LOT!!

The actual baking is the last thing that we do.  We like our cakes to taste as good as they look so we’re very careful about making sure the cakes are fresh.  We never freeze cakes ahead of time and we never make box cakes.  Fresh, fresh, fresh.  I don’t want to deliver a cake that I wouldn’t want to eat myself.

I’ve said it before, we’ve learned so much this year.  As I sit here thinking through this whole process in order to write about it, I realize that we’ve learned so much more than just how to do cakes.  We’ve honed our time management skills, we’ve learned how to be much more professional with the way we handle our cakes, we’ve learned how tolerant our family is of ‘cake stuff.’  Most importantly, Megan and I have learned how different we are and I really believe that, as hard as things get sometimes, we have learned to love and communicate to each other in new ways.  I also have to say that cakes have opened up the door into people’s’ lives that we would never have any other way.  For those of you who have had cakes from us as part of your celebrations, THANK YOU, for allowing us to mark milestones with you, to welcome a new baby with you, to be part of your wedding, to celebrate your accomplishments and rejoice over finishing the race!!!

We hope that 2012 brings us lots more opportunities to share in your lives and to share what we do here on the blog.

P.S. – Thatcher is crawling now, look out world.

P.P.S.  Just thought that I would give an update on Thistle for those of you who are interested in my little bundle of energy.

This is Thistle when I try to fold laundry.  Notice her hanging off the bottom of my jeans.  Rick said that, “When we go somewhere, we don’t have to crate her, just let her latch onto something and hang her up.”  aaaaaaand then she spotted the cat….

We’re still going for our daily walks and, even though it’s not enough to tire her out, it is helping.  She’s definitely calming down and she actually sat still for about 3 minutes and 49 seconds on my lap.

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