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. :)
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