Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Just a typical week in January …

newday

Words to remember …

This time of year is always a little bit challenging for me, as it’s a notoriously quiet season for cakes. As a business owner, I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you I was throughly enjoying the break from the studio, because even though there’s little coming in – there are still bills to pay! Fortunately, very similarly to many of my friends who are teachers and have to budget for summers without paychecks, I’ve learned how to budget for a few quiet winter months before things start picking up in the spring. And since time is incredibly valuable, now is the perfect time to 1) finally catch up on all the non-kitchen tasks that involve a lot of paperwork and computer time, 2) make a few coffee dates to catch up with other cake making friends & wedding professionals, 3) work on a few designs from my own idea sketchbook, and 4) fill the “inspiration-well” by taking in many other forms of art. And so, that’s exactly what I found myself doing for the first full week of January.

Here’s a few of the highlights from the week of January 6th:

chai_TeaI had a number of coffee dates this week with fellow entrepreneurs in the wedding industry – including a very long coffee date with two other fabulous NJ cake designers. It’s always interesting to chat with people in the industry, as each of us comes to our craft from different backgrounds. During our conversation, I realized that my strength as a cake designer comes from art & design first. Creating unique and modern designs, as well as realistic 3D cakes is definitely my passion. It’s a tricky balance between keeping one’s artistic integrity and making the all-mighty $. Even though a lot of people would consider it “easy money” to replicate designs, I never like replicating other designers’ or even my own work! It seems like the ever-present challenge for me over the past few years has been figuring out ways to translate über-expensive designs into more budget-friendly designs without losing the overall aesthetic.

Adding emphasis to how important the design process is in my cake creation, I was totally surprised to discover during our cake chat that it’s not a mandatory step for my fellow cake designers to create cake sketches. Almost every cake I create (with the exception of 3D cake replicas of objects), is sketched first – and in many cases – revised a few times too! I think a future post on my design process is definitely in store for this year …

theknotbook_sweetelementcakeOne *big* highlight to my week was finding one of my wedding cakes in the 2012 edition of The Knot’s Complete Guide to Weddings book!

sneak_peekOf course, I couldn’t stay completely away from the studio! I started out 2013 with a cake design for the upcoming spring/summer issue of NY Weddings. The photo above shows an in-process photo of a zillion little hand-cut gum paste pieces and a sneak-peek of the finished cake in the bottom right hand corner.

moma_jan2013Mr. Sweet Element & I also had a chance to enjoy our favorite city after the cake delivery to NY Weddings last Wednesday, which meant a long overdue trip to MoMA and a fabulous re-do birthday dinner for Mr. Sweet Element at Empellon. If you’re ever looking for insanely good Mexican – look no further than this gem in the West Village.

2013_01_11_nycwalkAlso in the “filling of my inspiration-well” – I finally got to watch The Black Swan (loved), almost finished Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life” (highly recommended), and got to snap some photographs in NYC on Friday before I met up with a few friends. While I live in the land of instagram & cell-phone photos 90% of the time, I am on a mission this year to improve my photography skills with my “real” camera. I think it’s sad that so many people have DSLR cameras and only shoot in the automatic setting! The pics in the collage above will give you a glimpse into what caught my eye during a 3 mile morning walk from midtown to the west village.

2012 – A Year in Review …

Happy New Year everyone! I’m hoping this is one of the last looooong round-up posts I’ll have, as one of my many resolutions for 2013 is to be more present here in the blogosphere!

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Before I begin the round-up of sweets, I thought I’d let everyone know why the blog was a bit quiet this year. I know I’ve broken probably every rule of a successful blogger, and was barely present blog-wise in 2012. For starters, I blame the ever addictive Facebook. Before the ease of being able to churn out quick posts on Facebook (mostly photos & mostly with my iPhone), I always felt the need to get blog posts together for every project to update everyone on what was going on in the world of Sweet Element Cakes. Then add in twitter (also slacked there in 2012 …), pinterest (still figuring it out),  flickr (almost up to-date), managing my own website (something I think I may finally give up this year), figuring out that having an intern isn’t neccesarily a good thing, getting audited (we survived & owe nothing – thank you to awesome accountants & my OCD about keeping all receipts!), getting into a minor car accident, dealing with a few not-so-happy clients for the first time ever, and oh, the million and one other things that I needed to do – like actually MAKE the cakes and deliver them (many times unexpectedly solo – more on that in future posts) – and I just got overwhelmed.

I’ve debated about how personal to be here on this lil’ cake blog, and I’ve been inspired this year by reading some very honest posts from cake designers I admire about the reality of our profession. None has struck home more than Mike Elder‘s blog, which I’ve found incredibly bold, very personal and almost therapeutic to read. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in a lot of the craziness that we cake makers & other creative types endure! It’s a catch-22 for me, because I think it’s important to put a positive front out there – especially in such a “sweet” business – but I do think that at times, especially when the going is rougher than expected, that trying to put on a super positive front on-line as well as here on the blog was just impossible. So, starting with this first not-so little post of 2013 – you’ll notice that things will be a bit different here on the blog! I’ll still post all the sweet stories behind my cakes & keep everyone updated on my latest projects, but I’ll also be opening up about the reality of running a one woman cake studio in the NYC metro area. So, buckle up – if 2012 was any indication of what 2013 holds in store – it’s gonna be a hell of a ride!

And now … onto the 2012 round-up!

I was extremely happy to have Sweet Element Cakes featured in the bridal press this year in The Knot, Brides, New York Weddings, both the NY & NJ editions of Contemporary Bride, and numerous blogs.
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And then there were the events … here’s a snapshot of the highs & lows of each.

sweetelement_nyc_glbt_expo2GLBT Expo High: Mr. Sweet Element & I were smart enough to bring along a few extra pairs of hands to help pass out over 6,000 mini cupcake samples over the two-day event.
GLBT Expo Low: My iPhone got STOLEN on the second day. 😦

jen_ramiBrides/bebe event High: Getting to design one of my favorite wedding cakes of the year inspired by a dress design by Rami Kashou.
Brides/bebe event Low: I think I said everything I could in this previous post.

sweetelement_table_jay_inbliss_mamIn Bliss Launch High: Getting to meet some awesome fellow cake designers & NJ wedding pros & also see the Montclair Art Museum for the first time!
In Bliss Launch Low: Getting to meet some not-so-friendly competition. (Unfortunately, the cake world isn’t all sweet y’all.)

thecreamThe Cream High: Having Mr. Sweet Element back from Belgium in time to go with me.
The Cream Low: Me being too totally wiped out from an all-night cake session & him from a crazy business trip and trans-atlantic flight to really enjoy ourselves. (We left with unused drink tickets – for shame!)

bridesstyleshopBrides Style Shop High: Finally getting to meet & have dinner with another cake designer & her husband. Always great to be able to talk to people that get it!
Brides Style Shop Low: Finding out that the cake stands for the cakes were too small to put my extremely fragile cake on which meant leaving it on it’s ugly “transport-only” cardboard board. Ugh.

sweetelement_openhouse_setupIt was also nice to be able to open the studio for a few events this year as well. We had a fabulous turn out for The Sweet Element studio’s 2nd anniversary party in May & our holiday open house in December. Hopefully I’ll be able to plan a few more open studio events for 2013!

A few firsts for 2012:

1st Logo Re-Design! As with many other businesses, after a few years in the trenches, I’ve found that my old logo wasn’t really cutting it anymore and wanted to come up with a new design with more emphasis on cakes. My friend and fellow wedding pro, Meridith Desmond introduced me to 99designs.com – and I had a blast working on-line with a number of designers to come up with the perfect new logo!
Cherry1st delivery of a cake to a wedding reception on a boat! I was super happy to have Mr. Sweet Element with me on the delivery for this one as he had to literally leap from the dock/stairs to the boat with the cake. All along he thought driving the cake for deliveries was the most stressful part – HA! Luckily, everything went swimingly, and both bride & groom loved their groom’s cake! ;D
mr_met_auburn_nygiants_baseball_field_grooms_cake
1st wedding where the catering staff ate ALL the extra cake – including the TOP TIER! To add insult to injury, the catering staff also THREW OUT the custom acrylic topper that Mr. Sweet Element had painstakingly hand cut. Fortunately, the catering staff paid for a replacement top tier and topper, so there was a happy ending.
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1st Icing Smiles Cake for a special little girl in Newark, NJ. It was a pleasure to come up with a fun Yo Gabba Gabba design for her. Personally one of my favorite kid’s cakes of 2012!
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1st Open Air Market in downtown NYC at the Fulton Stall Market for the holidays. As the colder months are notoriously more quiet in the world of cakes, I switched gears yet again during the holiday season of 2012 and switched gears to creating artisan chocolates, cookies & other confections. After some thought about how to market those items – I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring a little bit of sweetness down to to the seaport in NYC, which was hit rather terribly by Hurricane Sandy earlier in 2012. Mr. Sweet Element & I braved the cold (& rain!) every Sunday before Christmas in December and got to meet a number of other really awesome vendors, a few tourists and many locals (& their pups!).
Sweet Element Fulton Stall Market

One of my goals for 2012 was to meet other solopreneurs & small business entrepreneurs in the wedding industry, and I’m happy to say that is one goal I definitely accomplished! It’s been nice to be able to grab coffee or lunch with other people in similar shoes in the crazy world of weddings & beyond. I was also lucky enough to be able to personally work with a few of the fabulous wedding pros that I met when Mr. Sweet Element & I celebrated our 11th anniversary in October with a weekend in NYC.  We kicked off the festivities with a super fun photoshoot in the meatpacking district with Meridith Desmond. And if you’re wondering why I look like I have a more flawless face than normal – I had my make-up professionally done for the very first time (yes, EVER – I did my own make up at my wedding!) by the fabulous Sharon Becker of SB Beauty.

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And lastly, here are some of my favorite cakes from this year:

Favorite 2012 Wedding Cake : Lichtenstein Inspired Wedding Cake
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Favorite 2012 Wedding Cake for the Media : Art Nouveau Peacock Wedding Cake
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Favorite 2012 Super Last Minute Cake : G-Shock Birthday Cake
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Favorite 2012 Sculpted Cake : Coca Cola Groom’s Cake
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Favorite 2012 Decorated Cupcakes : Boss & Minion Cupcakes for Bosses’ Day
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Post-Sandy

Photo courtesy of Julian Ribinik Photography

It’s been quite a while since I checked in here on the ‘ol Sweet Element blog. Life got busy this summer & fall, and while there were plenty of cakes made (future catch up posts to come!), there were many non-cake related events that had me busy in and out of the kitchen, leaving little time to put together updates beyond a quick tweet or Facebook post.

Life however, has an interesting way of slowing things down & making us re-evaluate and re-prioritize things sometimes, and that’s exactly what happened as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which caused my studio to lose power and left me with plenty of downtime to think about what’s next for both me & Sweet Element. The studio is still out of power, but unlike many of our neighbors, Mr. Sweet Element & I were super lucky to have never lost power at home. So, since I’ve been ousted from kitchen work for the past week, I’ve been playing serious catch up with the business side of my business, which includes a lot of time spent in front of a computer.

Here’s a few photos of what we found when we checked out the studio after the storm.

Downed Transformer Pole Behind the Studio

Giant uprooted tree on power lines behind the studio.

No power = not a good temperature reading for a refrigerator = goodbye perishables.

Damaged house across the street from the studio.

As a small business owner, I am well aware at how events like hurricanes and other can truly break a business, especially those in food service, where margins are tight to begin with. My heart truly goes out to my fellow entrepreneurs & their clients, as well as the thousands of others who were adversely affected by Sandy. Fortunately, unlike many other small businesses in the area, my space didn’t get damaged. Unfortunately, I did have to cancel a few orders and tastings that were booked last week, as my studio was cold & dark. So while I took a hit in the perishable items in my fridge and a few smaller orders, I could not be more grateful that this storm hit when it did, because a month earlier and the loss of business for me would have been devastating, as September is one of my busiest month of the year (*the* busiest this year), especially with weddings.

My fingers are crossed that power is restored to my studio soon, as I have been receiving inquiries for last minute orders that I would love to take, especially for weddings that have been affected by the storm. In the interim however, I decided to go and check in on NYC and support some of my favorite small, independent downtown eateries and businesses yesterday, and I urge everyone else to do the same. It was eerie to see the streets a lot quieter than normal and a lot of shuttered shops.

I’d like to close by thanking many industry friends, former clients, and many friends and family members who were quick to check in on both me & Sweet Element in the aftermath of the storm. As soon as we’re back up & powered, I’ll be sharing our holiday schedule of events, which I hope to see many of you at!

Stay strong my fellow NJ & NYC friends!

Sweet Element’s 2nd Anniversary Open House!

When I found out that the other artists in my building complex were having their annual open house in early May, I thought it would be a great opportunity to open the doors to the Sweet Element studio too to celebrate our 2nd anniversary with friends and neighbors.  It feels like just yesterday that we were celebrating at our grand opening – ah … how time flies when life is sweet!

While I never made it upstairs to do the full studio tour, I did manage to run to the gallery set up on ground level to see some of the artists’ work.  I just adore the little pig heads!

What’s a party without a little S.W.A.G.? 😀

Two piece chocolate boxes with caramel & peanut butter bon bons for the chocoholics.

Individually boxed cupcakes in a variety of flavors were packaged in sweet little boxes with built-in handles for the perfect sweet take-away!

Aerial shot of the cupcake favors (from left to right): red velvet, confetti, pistachio, double chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and almond!

A few thermal cups with some postcards.

A view from the back of the shop of the S.W.A.G. table and main tasting table!

A glimpse from behind the main tasting table.

We opened up the space by moving this display rack to “hide” a rack of tools and fondant behind.  Putting that backboard on the rack to conceal what’s behind was definitely worthwhile.  From this picture it almost looks like the cakes are just in front of a purple wall!

Pop of purple from a small potted orchid brightened up the main tasting table.

A close up of some peanut butter bon bons.

I thought that the open house would be a great opportunity to have a variety of sweets & art lovers vote on the final logo options.  I was thrilled to see that my favorite was also the crowd favorite by an overwhelming majority – it got over 51% of the votes!  I’ll be debuting the winner soon, right here on the blog – so stay tuned!

This is what happens when Mr. Sweet Element & I plan events. ;D
Here’s a close up of the logo voting box that everyone fed their votes!  No hanging chads with this system … 😀

And lastly, one last photo of me chatting with a few of our visitors (thanks to Susan from Naturally Susan’s for this shot!).  I’ll have to remember to ask one of my many photographer friends to come and document our next event, as I never seem to have shots of me – I’m either behind the mixer or behind the camera apparently!

Oh, hello there blogosphere!

Before the entire month of April goes by … I wanted to sneak in at least one post!  Like many months as a solopreneur, the month of April was one of ups and downs, unexpected opportunities, and a lot of lessons learned.

I’ll be posting in more detail about all of the below soon … but here’s a quick recap of all the goings on at Sweet Element this past month!

To start things off, here are a few of this month’s cakes!

This first cake was a vanilla cake, filled with dark chocolate ganache, and frosted in vanilla buttercream for a shabby chic birthday party for a very sweet one year old in Edgewater, NJ.

This sweet little red velvet birthday cake, filled with cream cheese frosting, and iced in vanilla buttercream was ordered as a surprise by a very sweet son. 🙂

These three wedding cakes were designed for a super fun modern Marie Antoinette themed wedding. I’ll be posting a lot more detail on these in another post next month!

Lastly, this fashion forward wedding cake was one of the two wedding cakes that were specially designed for the launch of Rami Kashou’s bridal line at Bebe.  I’ll be posting more on this event soon too!

There were a few more really fun cakes that I had the opportunity to make and would love to share, but I’m awaiting publication … so, as soon as I find out more, I’ll be updating everyone here too!

I was also extremely fortunate to get to know a number of fabulous folks in the wedding & event industry this month, including fellow cake designers, photographers, event planners, florists and make up artists.  I even got to make wedding cakes (yes, you read that right – cakeS!) for a super sweet make up artist ~ who had an awesome wedding at the Loew’s theater in Jersey City, NJ!

I was so excited to finally have a few professional headshots taken by the lovely Mikkel Paige in SoHo, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in NYC.  The most amazing thing to me about these shots was that they were taken after I had only gotten four hours of sleep, having stayed up to the wee hours to finish cakes for a last minute shoot (more on that shoot coming soon too!).

And last but not least, here’s a glimpse of some of the much needed *fun* that Mr. Sweet Element & I got to enjoy this month!

Clockwise from top left: Mr. Sweet Element & I on the beach in Asbury Park – my first time there!; Traditional ice cream cake from Parm in SoHo, NYC – worth every calorie!  The sandwiches were so good (& I was so hungry), that I never got a photo.; My first Yankees game of the season in the Bronx.; Nagle’s ice cream parlor in Ocean Grove, NJ … can you see a theme here? 😉

Sweet Element Holiday Pop-Up Shop in SoHo!

We’re switching gears from cakes to chocolates & cookies for our pop-up shop in SoHo this Saturday, December 10th at Ruia NYC (65 Mercer St.) from 12pm-6pm!

As with all of our Sweet Element cakes, we believe that you should be able to try before you buy, so we’ll have free samples of chocolate bark, rocky road and a variety of cookies out for you to taste!


We will also be joined by these fabulous vendors selling excellent gifts for the holidays including: unique children’s clothing & accessories, hand-sculpted porcelain, natural & organic skin care, healthy chocolates & handmade jewelry.

I hope to see you there in support of small & *local* businesses!




M.B. Jewelry

Come Visit Us!

Sweet Element will be the featured cake designer at the Lord & Taylor trunk show sponsored by Brides magazine this Friday & Saturday at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ.  We will be handing out cake samples & there will be a wedding cake giveaway (up to $1000), so I hope you’ll come out and visit us!  You can find all the details below.

Goodbye 2010 … Hello 2011!

Wow. I just realized that an entire month went by – BLOGLESS!  For shame!  As you might imagine, December was a BUSY month – both work-wise & personally.  While I was thrilled to get a large repeat order for holiday corporate gift boxes, it definitely reminded me why I chose to focus on cakes & not a traditional retail bakery. Instead of one or two days of baking (production) & many days of cake decorating (creative outlet), this gift box order had me in cookie & chocolate production mode for two weeks straight & then turned all cake production areas into packaging central, which left me feeling creatively untapped & simply wiped out. It’s amazing how much time & energy it took to package over 500 individual items & then arrange them & package them into individual gift boxes, all while figuring out timing so I could actually have a semi-presentable client consultation space in the midst of it all.  As you’ll see in the pictures below, near the end, production took over my entire office.

Oh, and did I mention that I, in my ultimate stubbornness, refused to hire holiday help?  I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Mr. Sweet Element managed to work his full-time day job and then stay up till the wee hours helping me at the studio for two weeks straight, without killing me (I think the cookie bribes helped.).  Yet again, I don’t know what I’d do without him!

Here’s a quick recap of the month of December for Sweet Element (& me) in photos. Hope you enjoy!

Slowly my office turned into storage for all finished gift box products

That was a consultation table …

Somewhere under there is my desk.

A finished gift box: chocolate brownie cookies, white chocolate peppermint bark, mixed nut, cherry & cocoa nib bark, pistachio cranberry biscotti, apricot almond biscotti, bailey’s mint chip cookies & rocky road.

The final packaging begins …

Last night of the 2010 gift box marathon: Mr. Sweet Element with the complete gift boxes ~ 3 AM

Jay & I at his office holiday party.  A *MUCH* needed break for us.

Florida oranges!  Best OJ ever – straight from the tree to the juicer.  This year, we planned a one week vacation to visit Jay’s parents down in Florida from 12/18-12/25, so there was definitely a tight deadline to meet to get all those gift boxes out! A week of R&R and warmer weather was definitely motivation to work tirelessly for 2 weeks straight.

Jay & his mom on Christmas day, right before we left for the airport.

2010 Blizzard.  Somewhere between our front railing and that tree is our driveway.  I was SOOOO happy we flew back to NJ on 12/25 – narrowly missing all the airport chaos & allowing us to be trapped at home for 2 days before our street was plowed out.

Jay & his lime cheesecake NYE birthday cake

New Year’s Eve cream puffs – a crowd favorite & definitely a great way to close out 2010!

The Man Behind the Cake

I thought I’d take a moment to thank the “man behind the cake” that never fails to be the supporting backbone of Sweet Element.  Without him, many of my creative cake ideas would never be able to be brought to reality!  From structural design to carpentry (i.e. how to get cakes like this to stand and building the understructure for a cake like this) he’s *the* resource for me.  I’d also be remiss if I didn’t credit him as the all around AWESOME delivery man & during insanely busy times – dishwasher/cake decorator/secretary/sanity-checker (as in he makes me keep mine).  Oh yeah, and he’s also the Sweet Element TECH team too (website, servers, etc.).

And the craziest part of all … he somehow manages to work a highly demanding full-time job in Manhattan, since he only works for Sweet Element (pro bono no less) during his downtime.

Whatever I did to somehow snag such an all around awesome guy I have NO idea, but I am definitely glad I did whatever it was!

Thanks Jay!