Saturday, December 03, 2011

Fake wedding cakes? Whats the point?

I got a call from a mother of the bride who was asking about getting a fake display cake and then serving sheet cakes to save money. I am just not a fan of this. Whats the point?

I understand about needing to save some money on a wedding. They are expensive enough as it is. And I am always happy to come up with less expensive options such as a smaller cake with sheet cakes in the back, or buttercream icing rather than fondant. But a fake cake? Why would anyone want to do that. Do you want wedding pictures of you and your new husband beside some dummy cake that's been to 50 shows and is in 50 other brides pictures? Do you want to pretend to cut into it. I just don't like it.

The little money that you save on getting sheet cakes you have to spend to rent the dummy. There will likely be a deposit on the fake cake as well to be sure it is returned. If your caterer/venue is the one supplying it then you might not have the rental/deposit because they know they will be there at the end of the night to collect it.

So you will either be limited to choosing from the dummies that are already available, in which case you may not get the style/colors that you prefer, or you will have to have one custom made. Which is actually twice the work for the baker. No savings there.

The time and materials that are required to make a dummy cake are almost the same as a real cake. Of course you don't have to buy milk,eggs and flour, but you do still have to buy styrofoam dummies and pay to have them shipped - so there is still an expense there (plus you have to buy milk,eggs and for the sheet cakes). Of course you save baking time on fake cake, but that's not really your time that you are standing over the product working on it - the oven is doing the work so you're not saving much there (but the sheet cakes still have to be baked). Exactly the same time and ingredients go into decorating the outside (PLUS the time and ingredients to decorate the sheet cakes) so - don't expect to save much at all to have a custom dummy cake made and then serve sheet cakes. That's actually MORE work. Why not just make the actual cake edible and be done with it.

The blue cake pictured is the one that the mother of the bride called about, it's a dummy cake that is on display at my shop. The cake beside it is a real cake iced in buttercream that I made for a real wedding - and people really ate it. The buttercream option saves money as well as the fabric ribbon (rather than a fondant one), and it looks just as good as the fake cake. It might cost $500, but we're talking about a beautiful dessert that feeds 150 people - at a WEDDING. It's a monumental event. Once in a lifetime (hopefully). You spend thousands on a dress and much more than that for a room. Thousands on flowers/photography/videography. $500 for a beautiful cake sounds pretty cheap enough already. And if you think about it - would you buy an ugly/used/or otherwize not-what-you-really-want dress just to save $50 or even $100? Probably not. Don't let someone talk you into something you'll regret.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cake Cruise 2011

What a wonderful time we had on the Cake Cruise 2011! It was a spotlight cruise (which means that the focus is on one presenter rather than several) with the spotlight this year being on Norm Davis and Zane Beg of The Sweet Life in Annandale, Va. They are wonderful presenters - so talented and eager to share what they know.

They did a couple of demonstrations - one on sculpted fondant figures and the other on handpainting on cakes. It's always so fun and interesting to see how other people do things - I always learn something!

I took a couple of their classes - one on bling - cuz I love bling, and the other on sculpting with rice cereal treats. Fun, fun, fun. Both of my projects made it home in tact so I can display them in the shop.

We had a cold front moving through on the day we left and it was quite chilly. We delivered 4 wedding cakes on Saturday October 1st then caught a 5:30 pm flight to NYC. Of course it was cold there as well and I worried about the weather in Bermuda, but it was awesome. We had some overcast times and a bit of drizzle but we got to see a lot of the island and had some beach swim time and shopping time so it was great! I'd love to go back there sometimes. The entire island is only 20 square miles, but you'd be surprised how huge that is! LOL! There is lots more to see so I'd love to go and ride around on mopeds for a couple of days.

When we got back to NYC on October 9th it had warmed up again so we had a wonderful couple of days seeing some of the sights and looking for scenes from movies - like the apartment building from Ghostbusters, the park from the sorcerer's apprentice, the dolphin hotel from 1408 (yeah, that's not really there).

Our trip was almost foiled by an emergency room visit late on the eve of our flight. Greg was in a tremendous amount of pain - obviously or he would have never gone to the emergency room. We found out he has gall stones, and after a dose of high-powered pain killers we were given the go-ahead to continue on with trip plans. He didn't have any other episodes during the trip. Whew!

We had a blast but it's good to be home. We missed the dogs and the cat, Survivor and the new South Park. LOL.

Next year the cake cruise heads to Aruba. We are so there! :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Flowers on your wedding cake

Some cake designs are interesting enough that they can stand alone, but many designs are definately enhanced by flowers. Either sugar, fresh or fake, some cakes just need some flowers on them.

Sugar flowers are hand made to order and add considerably to the time required to produce a wedding cake. They must be made days or weeks in advance to be given time to dry. Many are made in several steps, each having to dry in between. They do normally add an additional charge to the price of your wedding cake - as little as $50 or as high as several hundred - depending on the type of flower you want and how many. Sugar flowers are often made with gumpaste which is technically edible, but it dries very hard and shatters like glass - so don't eat it. It is usually just ornamental. Sugar flowers are a conversation piece, as people are fasinated that they are hand made, and they are all safe to place on the cake where some people might worry about certain flowers being poisonous. (although I've never heard of a wedding cake/fresh flower related illness - and I've looked). Sugar flowers will keep almost indefinately as long as they are kept dry and protected so they are a nice keepsake.

The advantages with silk flowers is that they can be purchased and arranged in advance - they can be pricy though. As with sugar flowers, they are safe to put on your cake as long as they are kept dust-free.

Fresh flowers are normally the flower of choice. I do not provide fresh flowers as it's important that they match the rest of the flowers used to decorate the reception, so you should arrange with your florist to bring a few extra flowers for the cake.

Many people ask me "How many flowers should I get". It's hard for me to say. The type and size of the flowers makes a difference. If I tell you to bring 3 flowers for the topper you could end up with a tiny topper or a huge one. If you tell your florist how you want your wedding cake flowers (do you just want them on top, or a cascade, or just a few on each tier)then he/she can determine how many to bring.

Sometimes the florist will place fresh flowers on the cake - which is fine by me. If they are unable to do it or prefer not to I am happy to place fresh flowers for you if they are at the venue when I deliver. Due to other deliveries scheduled for the day I can not wait on flowers to arrive. If the bride has specified that she wants the florist to place the flowers on the cake I always assume that she has discussed the arrangement with them. I have been to deliveries where the florist placed the flowers totally different than how the bride told me she wanted them placed - when that happens I assume that there has been a change in plans and the florist knows best. They are the professional when it comes to the flowers so I will defer to their expertise in all flower related matters. I am always happy to communicate with any florist to arrange delivery schedules, number of flowers, etc...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Referrals - be careful where they come from

Referrals from friends and co-workers are a great way to find out the quality of the vendors you are considering.

Do be careful of where you get your referrals - they are sometimes biased.

I do not get paid to refer any venue or vendor. You can be sure that if I refer them it is based on my personal experience with the vendor, and their merits, and not on how much money I can make from sending business their way. I do not have a mother/father, sister/brother or best friend who are in the wedding business either, so I will not be referring any one to you for the sole purpose of keeping your money in the family.

The customer and my reputation are my concern. I want the happy couple to have what they want for their wedding day - even if it means they use another cake decorator -and if I refer someone to them it because I know that person to be reliable and do a great job - not because I was paid to say something nice about them.

Unfortunately these days we do have to examine a person's motives for saying what they say. If one "professional" says something good or bad about another one just try to determine if there is anything in it for them. Sadly the doller is a great motivator, and the quest for more of it is almost always behind what we hear and see.

Monday, August 08, 2011

ICES 2011 Convention in Charlotte NC

I'm back from the ICES convention. For people who don't know, ICES is an international cake club that holds a convention every year in different parts of the country. There is a cake show that is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday - the cakes are not judged - this is a sharing event and all cakes are solely for the purpose of sharing your passion. This year there was a new event at the convention - a 5 hour cake challenge, where some familiar faces from the TLC and food network challenges competed, as well as a couple of newcomers to competetive caking. There is a vendor area, where hundreds of vendors come to sell their cake goodies - this is usually a fun area to learn of new products, pick up some items at special pricing and to see the different vendors demonstrate various techniques using their products. Fun. There are demos, hands on classes, meet-n-greets and just 5 or so days of constant cake related activities.

I'm sure you would like to hear some name dropping so for starters - Nicholas lodge kissed me on the cheek, Mike Elder held the door open for me and Kerry Vincent almost bumped into me. I passed James Roselle on the street along with many other TV personalities. I took demos with Mike McCarey (Mike's Amazing Cakes), Mike Elder, Carrie Bigger, Geraldine Randelsome, and Betty Van Nordstrand. Famous cake people were everywhere. No Cake Boss was not there.

I got there on Wednesday and stayed until Sunday. They have a cool night of sharing on Sunday but my lame-ass hotel was kicking me out of the parking lot at 5:00 so I couldn't stay. Besides I was ready to go home. I'd been walking around like a pack mule for 5 days, toting my laptop and purchases and I was tired.

So I'm back to work today. Catching up on emails, and nursing my sore muscles. If I owe you an email - it's on it's way!

P.S. I do not recommend the Westin by the Charlotte Convention Center. WAY overpriced! It ended up costing me around $215 a night to have a place to sleep and park my car. It was suppose to be $169 which is high enough, but there were $25 in taxes - PER NIGHT - plus $18 a night to park. SO LAME! The room just wasn't all that. I've had the same amenities in $69 hotel rooms. They charged extra for internet in your room and I didn't have hot water on Sunday morning. Just FYI.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Liberty Conference Center Grand Opening

Last night, June 30, 2011, Liberty Conference Center held it's Grand opening. Located in the old Circuit City building, there are 8 rooms for classes, business meetings, parties and wedding receptions. The 2 reception rooms can be combined to accomidate 300 guests.

Flavors catering provided their usual bevy of incredible food. Cheryl's Secret garden decorated with lovely centerpieces of pink Peonies and white roses and it was my pleasure to provide a display cake and cupcakes for the guests to enjoy.

Thank you Liberty Conference Center for having us and we look forward to providing many party/wedding cakes there.

Don't mind the two ghosts floating around my cake. They were in 3 of the pictures and I thought they were too cool to edit out. :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Please contact me directly rather than through another site

There are a ton of sites online where you can go to search for vendors for your wedding, but you have to be very careful when using these sites. Remember their goal is normally to make money, so many of them are charging the vendor in some way. Some sites require the vendor to pay to even be listed on their site in which case you may not necessarily be seeing the most popular vendors, just the ones who pay them. Some sites offer free listings to vendors but then they charge the vendor for the cutomer's contact info if someone expresses an interest in using them. You may just want to ask a vendor a simple question, but the vendor can't respond without paying for your email address/phone number.

I don't ever pay for leads or for customer's contact info. Serious inquiries contact me directly. In my experience, those contacting me through another site are either not serious about a cake, or they are an aspiring cake decorator who wants to see how another decorator charges or how they answer questions. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily mind answering those types of questions, but I don't like when people are sneaky about it, and I'm not going to pay to do it. Many 3rd party inquiries are from people having weddings 5 hours away who will understandably choose someone closer to avoid extra delivery charges. I'd say the chances of a 3rd party lead being a real bride, having a local wedding, and sincerely looking for a baker is maybe 5 percent. I'd have better chances of breaking even with scratch tickets.

So please - if you have any questions about my services you can call me at 434-941-7182. I prefer a phone call over email because it's much quicker for me! I would prefer to handle a few questions in a 10 minute phone call rather than 10 different emails which may take me a couple of hours. If I don't answer the phone during the day I might be in a meeting or talking to another bride. Please call back.

Thanks! Have a great day!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saving the date -is just the beginning

Saving the date with your baker is a great idea, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

When you ask your baker to save the date to make a cake for you, they will be blocking out an amount of time dedicated to baking and decorating that cake. Since wedding cakes are normally much larger and require more baking/decorating time than a sheet cake, a larger amount of time will be blocked out for which the baker will be turning away other jobs because you were first. If something happens and you decide you can't get your cake then the baker may not be able to fill your slot (depending on how much notice is given) and they may not be able to make any money for that week. Many bakers make cakes for the public in order to help support their families and buy necessities, so it is a hardship to lose a large order. That's why most bakers are not able to save the date for a wedding cake (or other large cake requiring many hours)without a contract and a deposit.

I have, in the past, saved a date for a birthday cake but have found it to be a practice that is sometimes misunderstood. It goes like this - customer calls/emails about a year in advance to get on my calendar for a cake. That's great, I love that, but then I never hear from them again. On the Monday before the cake is due, if I don't have all the details such as flavors, inscription, pickup time, and I haven't heard from the customer in some time then I assume that they have made other plans and I don't make the cake. If someone calls on Wednesday (for a cake to be picked up on Friday)trying to give me the details then, it's really hard to work it in. I schedule my work on Monday and it's hard for me to fit in something new after that, and even though I knew about the cake a year ago, I didn't know what flavor to bake or what colors to mix so it's like a rush job if I don't have the details in time. I normally like to have all details 2 weeks before the cake is due.

If you do ask your baker to save the date for a cake try to be as specific as possible about what you will want. If you call and say that you want a simple birthday cake, your baker will allow enough time for that, but if you call a week before it's due and say "Remember me? I called last year about a sheet cake for this weekend, but now I would like a cake to serve 200 and I want it to look just like Elvis Presley." then that might not work. Of course I am exagerating here, but if sometimes during the year you realize you're party is growing and you might need to serve more guests or have a more extravagant cake, just call your baker with a heads up so they can limit orders to allow enough time for your cake.

I understand that everyone has busy lives. Many people that I work with are graduating school or going full time, buying houses, planning weddings, having babies, working....all at the same time. They're busy - I know, so it's understandable when someone forgets to call and I always try to work with them the best that I can. But I do ask for them to call me. I'm just not a pushy person. I don't call people and say "remember when you ordered that cake - do you still want it". That's just not me - I'm shy like that. So please, keep your baker informed of changes in plans so they can adjust their schedule accordingly.

Moral: Just because you called a year ago to save the date does not mean your done. Your baker still needs information and confirmation that the event is still on. No one wants to make a cake for a vague order and then no one comes to pick it up. What if I get stuck eating it .....Do you think I don't get to eat enough cake already? Well I do - I already get to eat plenty of cake! :)

Have a great day y'all!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fondant vs. buttercream

I get asked this one A LOT! "I love the look of fondant but I hate the taste. Do I have to get fondant on my wedding cake?" Short answer - NO. Long answer follows: :)

For those who don't know what fondant is - it's a sugar dough that you roll out (think edible play-dough) and place on the cake in one piece, so it gives that lovely porcelain like finish that you see in all of the beautiful wedding magazines and wedding cake shows on TV.

Although pretty to look at, fondant has the sad reputation of tasting terrible. Not all fondant is created equal. There are good tasting fondants, and there are bad ones. It does require some practice to be able to apply it to the cake without ugly folds and wrinkles so it's not for everyone. Because it is an extra expense for the baker and requires extra time there is normally an extra charge associated with it. All that to say - your fondant cake will probably cost more than a buttercream cake, and depending on the baker might not look/taste like you imagined. Be sure you taste a sample of your baker's fondant and see examples of THEIR fondant work.

In my experience most people perfer buttercream. It's less expensive, tasty and beautiful.

I often have brides bring in pictures of fondant cakes that they love, but they would prefer to have it done in buttercream, and I am happy to do it if it is possible. Some designs have to be done in fondant. I won't do a design with fondant drapes hanging off the top of the cake unless the cake is in fondant because the buttercream might not support the drape and I don't want there to be buttercream falling off of your cake on wedding day. Stuff like that. There are lots of accents that have to be done in fondant/gumpaste such as some drapes and flowers, but many of them can be placed on a buttercream cake.

Some people may still worry if their buttercream cake will be as beautiful as the fonant cake they fell in love with in the magazine. I would tell them that it won't be quite as perfect, but if you can't tell the difference in the examples below then you'll probably be okay choosing buttercream.

A bride brought in the picture of the blue cake. It's a Martha Stewart design that is often duplicated so I knew it was acceptable to make a similar cake. She wanted to change the color and a few other elements, and she didn't want fondant.

I made the cake on the left with the permission of the original designer Becky Rink of About the Cake. It is covered in ivory fondant. I made a very similar version iced in white buttercream.

I made the cake on the left for an issue of Lynchburg Living magazine. It is covered in fondant. I had a bride who wanted it but didn't want fondant so I made her the cake on the right.

There are other considerations of course, such as - buttercream is more likely to be damaged in transport or affected by heat.

Fondant is great - it's cutting edge and impressive. Some bakers won't even make your cake unless you want fondant. But knowing your options is a good thing. So there you go. You should have enough info so you can go to your baker armed with questions relevent to your situation and make the best decision for you.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Your cake - Getting it there.

So you've ordered your special occasion cake and the date to enjoy it is finally here - now what? How will your cake arrive at your party venue?

Your baker probably offers delivery - for a small fee of course. Speaking for myself, I charge $25.00 for local delivery within 15 miles of my business. Outside of that area I take into consideration the mileage AND the time it takes to to travel to the site. A site that is 50 miles away may take consideralby more/less time to get there than another depending if I'm traveling up a mountain, through traffic, etc...So the more time required then the more the delivery charge.

Some people would prefer to save the delivery charge and pick the cake up themselves, which is certainly an option, but please prepare yourself. It's not quite the same as going to walmart and picking up a pack of donuts. You can't just toss it in the backseat and be on your merry way. So please read on to ensure that your special occasion cake arrives at your destination in-tact.

1) Drive an appropriate vehicle to your cake pick-up. Many of my cakes are either tiered or are packaged in rather large boxes. Don't arrive at your bakers in a sports car or an open bed pickup truck - please bring an SUV, van, hatchback or other vehicle with an airconditioned flat area. A tiered cake should NEVER be placed on the car seat, nor do I even like to place a sheet cake there. Remember that cake is suppose to be soft and moist - they might look like a house or a shoebox or a dog but they are still soft inside (hopefully) and must be handled with care and kept as level as possible. There is this pesky little thing called gravity, and if you put your sheet cake on the car seat it might end up squashed against the side of the box. Your tiered cake is held up with a system of dowels inside the cake and if it is kept at an angle those dowels could break through the soft cake and it will collapse. Please - bring an appropriate vehicle. Oh - traveling with the cake in your lap might work for some cakes, but it's really not that great of a plan either. As soon as the driver applies the brakes too quickly the cake will likely end up all over the dash/seat.

2) Keep the cake cool. If it's summer and you've ordered a buttercream cake then remember that if the cake gets too warm the buttercream will soften and ruin the beauty of your cake. Put the AC on in the car and wear a jacket. It is not a good idea to stop off at the mall and shop for an hour if it's hot and you have the cake in the car. When you get to your venue do not leave the cake in front of a sunny window for too long. If you want to display your cake outside or by a window, wait as long as you can before you put it there. If you have ordered a fondant cake then it withstands the heat much better.

3) Swerve those potholes! Gravel roads and potholes can shake the buttercream right off of the cake if you hit too many of them too hard. I have delivered buttercream cakes down gravel roads - it's doable -but go slow.

4) Try to keep the G's down when you're going down curvy roads - especially if you're traveling with a tall tiered cake. It could topple over. It will have a dowell from top to bottom to help keep the tiers in place - but if you're hitting those curves too fast it could still get slung to the side of the car - all the dowells in the world won't help you there.

5) Plan on 2 people to move a tiered cake. I know on the TV shows they have small young ladies carrying around huge tiered cakes with one hand and opening doors with the other - it's the magic of tv I guess. In reality a tiered cake is pretty heavy and one person carrying it tends to lean it towards their body. Not good. First they might get the cake on their shirt, second there could be some structural damage that might lead to a leaning cake later. Have at least two people move it and keep it level.

6) Remember that many items are placed on the cake after delivery, so if you're picking up your cake then your baker will probably not be placing toppers or fresh flowers. That's normally not a big deal - but it is something to keep in mind.

7) I'm sure I'm forgetting something that I'll have to add later, so for now my last piece of advice is this - remember that if you are picking up your cake, then your baker is not responsible for it after it leaves their hands. I always take every precaution that I can to ensure the safe arrival of a picked-up cake, but I have no control over how it is handled once it leaves my shop. So it is really worth it to either pay for delivery or to be as cautious as possible.

Now that I've probably scared you half to death I'll add that I have people picking up cakes all the time. They almost always arrive in perfect condition. I've had a groom pick up a three tiered cake and drive it to North Carolina for his wedding and I've had a family pick up a 4 tiered cake and drive it to South Boston. You can do this - just be careful. Remember - It's a cake. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Great news to share

January has really been full of blessings so far. We learned that we won The Knot's Best of Weddings 2011 award which was a pure thrill of course, and then today received word from Wedding Wire that we won their Brides Choice Award 2011 - AND we also learned that we made Momentville's 2011 Hot List. So we are overwhelmed with joy and are quite honored and thankful to have worked with so many wonderful brides who reviewed us for these awards. Thank you all so much!

AND on top of all of that - I finally got a chance to work on my website. I added about 50 pictures of cakes from 2010 that I hadn't previously posted on the site, plus added a bunch of pictures that everyone has sent me for the "cakes in action" page. So please check it out and tell me what you think.
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