Tag Archives: cake

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.

Stacked Books Birthday Cake

I had the pleasure of working with Encore Catering on this stacked books cake for a very special 60th birthday celebration at the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ last month.

The client had very specific requests on the book titles and stacking order, and wanted a classic book feel to the overall look.  I thought a marbled board would be a nice accent as well.  I have to say I’m pretty happy with the end result!

All the books were vanilla pound cake, filled with lemon curd, frosted in vanilla moussaline buttercream, and decorated in fondant.

It was wonderful to hear that the cake went over well, as I received the following note in an email from Encore Catering the following week:

“Awesome job on the book cake. The client was thrilled!”

 

A Steampunk Valentine


Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!  I’ve been wanting to create a steampunk cake for quite some time now, and I finally got a chance to with this mini heart steampunk Valentine’s day cake.  The cake is a chocoholic’s dream: devil’s food cake, filled and frosted with chocolate buttercream.  The board is covered in a distressed wood finish fondant and the cake is decorated with fondant & gum paste decor.

This was a very mini-project, as you can see in the in-progress and detail shots below.

Here are a few detail shots of the gears, screws, and other metallic accessories.

This might have been my favorite part of this cake – the heart in the keyhole.  The mini heart is a little less than  1/4 the size of a penny.

Detail shot of the gum paste skeleton key & feather.


Just to give you an idea of scale, here’s the base cake with my favorite Sharpie marker.  Very miniature in comparison to most Sweet Element cakes!

And lastly, just because I think buttercream frosted cakes are simply pretty on their own, here’s the cake simply frosted in chocolate buttercream, before it got steampunked.

Gun Case Groom’s Cake


This rather interesting groom’s cake request came from a Virginia based bride who was planning a wedding at the Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown, NY.  While we never actually met in person, I did receive a number of photographs of the groom’s gun & gun case from the bride to work off of.  While a number of people at the venue thought it was a rather unusual groom’s cake when I was delivering the cake, it made much more sense once I explained that the groom was a military weapon’s specialist!

As you might imagine, I felt just a *little* bit of pressure to get the gun “just right” since that was the highlight of the cake!  While my first attempt was a bit off, I knew I had created a rather good replica the second time around when I posted pictures of the hand sculpted modeling chocolate gun on twitter and I had a few cops message me back with compliments on the gun by model name and a few other cake artists asking where I purchased a gun mold!


This gun case cake was created of one of the most popular groom’s cake combinations: devil’s food cake, filled with peanut butter mousse, frosted in vanilla buttercream and decorated in a combination of fondant and modeling chocolate.  The gun is created of modeling chocolate and the clip and bullets are a combination of gum paste & fondant.

It was a pleasure to find this review of the cake on WeddingWire from the bride while on vacation a few weeks after the wedding!

Fall Cascading Squares Wedding Cake


Earlier this fall I worked on a wedding cake for a lovely couple who had a very intimate wedding of about 30 people at The Peninsula Hotel in New York City.  While discussing design at my cake studio during our initial tasting & design consultation, the groom fell in love with the design below that I had created for New York Weddings magazine back in the summer of 2010.  Given the theme of fashion oriented cakes, I designed a cake inspired by one of my favorite Monique Lhuillier‘s wedding dresses.  As you can see by their final cake above, the design was altered slightly, changing the tiers to hexagons from octagons, switching up the color palette to fall colors & adding on a few orange calla lilies as a topper.

This cake was comprised of a delicious combination of vanilla cake, soaked with Grand Marnier, filled with lemon moussaline buttercream and fresh strawberries,  frosted in lemon buttercream, and decorated in a combination of fondant and gumpaste.

Lemony Buttercream & Orange Orchid Wedding Cake

We delivered this cake to a small home wedding in nearby Maplewood, NJ last weekend.  The cake was super lemony – made of lemon cake, filled with lemon curd and frosted in lemon curd buttercream.  Fresh orange orchids gave a pop of color to top off the cake.

Brown & White Square Wedding Cake with Fuschia Moth Orchids

This wedding cake, a perfect example of a very elegant, modern cake for a couple on a budget, was delivered to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the Time Warner Center in NYC a few weeks ago.  Using fresh flowers, a custom clay topper and satin ribbon as decor is a very cost effective way to get a very big design impact!

All tiers of this cake were red velvet cake, filled with cream cheese frosting, frosted in vanilla buttercream and decorated in fondant, satin ribbon and gigantic fresh fuschia moth orchids.  The super cute topper was made by Bitter Sweetz.


Close up of the bull dog bride & groom topper.  These are just beyond adorable!


Super Nintendo Groom’s Cake

‘Tis the season for groom’s cakes!  This surprise groom’s cake was a life size recreation of the SNES (or Super Nintendo Entertainment System for you non-gamers out there!), and included a sugar copy of Dr. Mario.  The cake was delivered to a rehearsal dinner at Il Vicolo in Livingston, NJ last Friday.

This cake was comprised of vanilla confetti cake, filled & frosted with vanilla buttercream and decorated in a combination of gumpaste, fondant & modeling chocolate.

Veuve Clicquot Birthday Cake

Last Friday I created this Veuve Clicquot champagne bottle cake as a surprise for Jonathan from his boyfriend for a party in Hells Kitchen, NYC.  As a special touch, I created special personalized sugar labels with the birthday inscription & birth year.  As you might have guessed, Veuve Clicquot is Jonathan’s favorite champagne!

This cake was comprised of devil’s food cake, filled with peanut butter mousse and frosted in vanilla buttercream.  The exterior decor was a combination of fondant, modeling chocolate & gum paste.



Why Are Sculpted Cakes So Expensive?


Like many of my fellow cake designers, I have definitely noticed a large trend in clients requesting elaborate sculpted cakes for birthdays, groom’s cakes & other special occasion cakes.  With the prevalence of these kinds of cakes being featured on numerous television shows, I am not surprised that these requests keep increasing.  What does constantly surprise me however is that many of these clients are floored when they discover how much sculpted cakes cost.

So, I thought I would tackle that very question: “Why are sculpted cakes so expensive?”, in the second installment of the “Did You Know…?” series.

While I can’t speak for all cake designers, I know that I have a policy of pricing sculpted cakes on a by design basis at Sweet Element, meaning that each cake is priced depending on the level of design complexity, and never really by the slice.  While I give a guideline of pricing on my FAQ page, with sculpted cakes starting around $10-$20 per serving, that really is just a ballpark so that potential clients can see that sculpted cakes are indeed some of the most expensive cakes.

And here are the reasons why.  Sculpting cake involves a lot of all of the following things:

  1. Time
  2. Support
  3. Cake

Sculpted cakes typically take a lot more time than traditional tiered cakes to plan out as there is usually a fairly intricate support structure holding up all the funky shaped cake tiers together, that changes for each and every cake.  For instance, in the Gnome Cake above, steel rods, secured into wooden bases were used as support structure in the two legs to support a fairly top-heavy cake, which involved carpentry & a fair amount of construction to get just the inner structure completed before any cake was involved.


In addition to the time spent in figuring out the structural elements, there is also a fair amount of time spent on ensuring that the cake to be sculpted is carved to scale, so that the cake being carved really resembles the object it is being modeled on, which involves a LOT of measuring and an eye for detail that is much different from simply stacking wedding cake tiers so they are level.  Scale also plays a major role in the overall cost of sculpted cakes, since in most cases, the size of cake that a client envisions usually serves far more people than they need to feed, thus making “pricing by the serving” irrelevant.

What also surprises a lot of people is how much cake actually gets thrown away (or is left to make into cake balls) when sculpted cakes get made.  I often use the analogy of cake carving to sculpting marble or wood, which usually makes it easier for people to envision.  In order to get curves and dimension, these sculpted cakes start out a lot like blocks of cake and then slowly turn into objects by having pieces cut away.

So, with all that being said, if you have your heart set on a sculpted cake, but your wallet just isn’t cooperating, there *are* a few ways to cut down costs …

  1. Talk to your cake designer (that would be me!) & see if there is a less complicated way to create the 3D sculpted cake of your dreams.  Simplifying design = cost savings!
  2. Contemplate the idea of a more traditional sheet or tiered cake with 3D sculpted gumpaste or fondant decor instead of a full blown sculpted cake

Oh, and I probably should end this post by recommending that if you do order a sculpted cake – definitely pay the delivery charge & let your cake designer deliver it!  These are usually some of the most fragile cakes, especially as most of them need to be mostly assembled prior to delivery (unlike stacked wedding cakes which are usually stacked on-site), and require VERY careful driving to get them safely to their final destination!