For the third installment of the “Did You Know…?” series, I thought I would discuss why it is so important to book your cake order in advance. As a solopreneur, I typically take only a few cake orders a week in order to give each and every client & cake ample attention. Unlike larger traditional bakeries, Sweet Element does not keep any pre-made cakes, fillings, frostings or sugar flowers on hand, but rather bakes and creates all cakes & components from scratch for each order. Surprisingly for many people, I consider “last minute notice” three weeks or less before an event.
So, why the need for so much lead time?
Design Time: While many of my clients come to me with a basic idea of the cake design they are looking for, many others have either too many ideas that need to get edited or no design concept at all. In any case, I typically need at least a few days (or weeks in some cases!) to work on cake designs and have a dialogue, usually via email, with clients to perfect the final cake design.
The three sketches below of our Louis Vuitton cake are a good example of the process of whittling down ideas with a client who wanted to include a variety of elements – Louis Vuitton luggage, shoes, a ringbox & makeup all in one cake.
Cake Contract & Payment: Once a design is finalized, the next step in the cake ordering process is reviewing a cake contract and securing your order date with a deposit. Like many small businesses, Sweet Element is a cash & check only business. As many of my clients prefer to pay by check, I require a minimum of 4 weeks lead time for a deposit, which allows ample time for the deposit check to clear, or for me to handle any oddities (i.e. check getting lost in the mail, etc.) directly with the client well in advance of their event. For last minute orders placed within 3 weeks of an event, Sweet Element only accepts cash upon delivery of the cake.
Time to acquire special supplies &/or tools: As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are a number of times when specialty cake orders require the purchase of special supplies (i.e. structural elements for sculpted cakes). Also, as I am always pushing the envelope as a cake designer and trying out new techniques, many of these require the purchase of specialty decorating tools, or even require me to make my own molds or custom cutters. All of this requires a fair amount of lead time in order for me to place an order with a third party and obtain these supplies before even starting on cake decorating. In many instances, there is also a fair amount of trial and error with new techniques prior to using those techniques on a client’s cake … all of which takes time so that the technique can be perfect for the final cake!
Complexity of cake order (i.e. Cake Timeline) – Unlike the magic of “cake TV”, cakes are generally NOT created all in one day. If you will note – none of those extreme cake makers are actually BAKING those cakes or making the fillings or frostings on those shows. Here’s my typical time line for creating cakes after all design work has been finalized:
(Up to two weeks prior to the process below for floral wedding cakes: create sugar flowers)
Day 1: Obtain all ingredients needed for cake/filling/frosting/decor
Day 2: Bake cakes
Day 3: Make fillings & frostings & stack cakes
Day 4: Carve sculpted cakes or cover wedding cake tiers in fondant
Day 5 & 6: Decorate cake
Day 6 or 7: Deliver cake
For last minute orders, I usually recommend more traditional style cakes, as the time line above can be pulled in quite a bit (usually to 3 or 4 days) for smaller one tier birthday or other special occasion cakes with minimal decor or decorated with chocolate plates, as in the Mets Birthday cake below.
If you have a specific cake designer in mind, especially if they work in a small shop like mine where everything is made to order, I strongly recommend that you allow at least a few months lead time for specialty cake orders and up to a year for wedding & groom’s cake orders so you will be able to work with the designer of your choice!