Friday, April 26, 2013

Every Cake Tells a Story.

This week, I had the pleasure of creating 2 birthday cakes, for 2 very different women. It's always interesting to hear the client explain their requirements for the cake, and to hear them describe their friend or whoever it is, they are ordering the cake for.

The first cake was for someone turning 40, who had many, many loves. She was very much into her family, skiing, fine coffee, music, and most of all - Yoga and handbags.

Not just any handbags, mind you. It was a Birkin. And the other, an Olympia Le-Tan clutch book bag. Both, very unique in their own right, and both with celeb status.

Needless to say, the person ordering the cake for her, also had a very clear picture of what she wanted the cake look like. I racked my brain for over 2 weeks, trying to accomodate all her requests, and all the little details she had specified.

Finally, after many conversations over Whatsapp (oh, what would I do without you?), we concluded on a cake with yoga silhouettes (they had to be Ashtanga, or nothing else!), the Birkin, the OLT clutch, a Hermes scarf, and I was also going to add a pair of skis as well, on top of the cake. Finished with a ribbon and a single sugar flower.

I think it must have been about 4 days before the cake was due, when I receive a Whatsapp message at 11.30pm. It was from my client. She was at the first birthday bash for her yoga-loving friend that night, and there was a cake there too.

Not just any cake. This cake was 3 tiers, with a figurine on top, in a sitting yoga pose, surrounded by a Birkin, yoga mats, and flowers. Around the cake ALSO had yoga silhouettes.

She was FUMING. I was in DISBELIEF. 

Ok ok, what do I do? 

Keep calm. Think. Of. New. Cake.

So I immediately reassured her, that it's all good. We'll come up with a different idea in the morning, and that I would be in touch.

Sunday afternoon comes, and we are in touch again about the cake. I suggest we move completely away from the yoga/bag theme, and do what I do best, which is something pretty with gorgeous, sugar flowers. 

"Let's do that. All girls would love a pretty, floral cake."

Unfortunately, the birthday girl is all about the yoga. So the cake needs to go ahead with the yoga theme. We finally decide that we will make the Olympia Le-Tan clutch the star of the cake, with a scarf spilling out of it. The yoga silhouettes, are to stay, and I need to make sure they are SPECIFIC Ashtanga poses. Not quite like the other cake, she had seen over the weekend.

By the time I was half way through the cake, I knew I had a winner of a cake on my hands. Every element turned out great, even though I had to forego the sugar flower, and I was very happy with the end result. It was classy, elegant, and most of all, it depicted what the birthday girl was about. This was most important to the client, and that is what makes a successful cake.

The other custom designed cake I had this week, was for a doctor who loved shoes and bags. The cake was ordered by a regular client of mine, for her very good doctor friend. 

She initially sent me the photo of a stack of Chanel boy bags, and from there we changed the stack of bags, into a stack of medical books. She also wanted a shoe on the books, and a stethescope draped over it.

We discussed colours and what would work best. She was so open to any suggestions I had, and I love when clients say, "You know what works best. I'll go with whatever you think".

Aaaah....that's bliss to my cake designer ears. 

It gives me full confidence to push ahead with my ideas, with that creative freedom. 

I chose to do vintage medical books with gold trims and detailing, to match the black bag and gold shoe. I love how everything came together, and I think once the cakes were ganached, it took about 5 hours to ice and finish the cake off. 

I had most fun putting this cake together and when I posted the work in progress pic on Instagram and FB, it created a stir! More so, when my client posted it on her Instagram account, it went off the charts! She really generated a LOT of interest to my business from all possible means of communication. It's been unreal.

If you are reading this blog post, thank you SO much for supporting my business. You can also follow me on Facebook by clicking this link

xxx Miss Shortcakes

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Up close and personal with Faye Cahill

As soon as the Galloping Gus course was over, the next course was a 2 day private workshop at Faye Cahill Cake Design, in Marrickville. If I had to choose my all-time favourite cake designer in Sydney, hands down, it would be Faye Cahill.

I absolutely love her style and designs, using cutting edge techniques and delicate artwork. The private workshop was completely tailored around what I wanted to learn! I couldn't have been happier to do it, even though I was quite tired from the Galloping Gus course :(

Faye and I worked on the course details together via email and we came up with a good game plan. I wanted some fine tuning and polishing on some ganaching and icing techniques (skills which form the most important part of the cake), as well as, learn how to pipe intricate lace and edible beading. She got me to look for patterns on the internet, which would translate well onto cake, and in particular our design.

Shop front

When I arrived at 9.30 a.m., I was greeted by Mav, the senior cake decorator, who was going to be my instructor for the first session. Mav has been with Faye for 5 years, and started there doing work experience. 

Mav made me feel very welcome from the moment I stepped foot into the studio. My notes were laid out, along with my chocolate cake, ganache was ready, and all the tools required were kept neatly in a little basket on my work area. I even had a little packet of popcorn to nibble on :).

We began with the basics - ganaching and torting. The cake that I was working on was a 7" round, and it was going to be 26cm tall. Mav was very good in explaining how the support system would work with a tall, 2 tiered cake.

We ganached and torted for a good couple of hours. By the time our cakes were ready to be iced, it was almost lunch time. I must say, I did pick up some new tips and tricks on how to ganache properly. Skills which I will use with each and every cake that I ganache from now on. 

After lunch, it was time to ice the cake. Icing a tall cyclinder is not an easy job, hence the request by myself. Faye's studio was kept at a cool 18 degrees, and it was perfect conditions for cake decorating. The icing was firm and the ganache set beautifully hard. If only I had those conditions here in KL, life would be so much easier (and faster!).

Mav demonstrated on her cake first, and she did a marvelous job. Once she was done, it was my turn. The icing was firm, and so easy to roll - a far cry from what I work with in KL. I knew I wasn't going to have any trouble with it the moment I rolled it out. I draped it over the top and began easing it down the cyclinder. Slowly, slowly, the icing covered the cake and then I had to make a long, straight slit down the cake, to create a seam. This would prevent it from tearing and would be the easiest way to remove the excess of the cake.

Mav assisted me when it came to this section, and together we finished it. Once the icing was on, it was time to smooth the cake, and to get those razor sharp edges. Again, this was another skill I had wanted to perfect. Mav showed me that it just a slight adjustment with my smoothers and it made a world of difference! 

Happy days!

I think I must have spent at least 20 minutes just smoothing the icing and getting those edges sharp. Then it was time to pearl lustre the cake. A beautiful finish to the ivory icing. I chose a champagne colour and Mav mixed up the colours and demonstrated how it was done. 

Then it was time to mark the cake, for the edible beading. Faye had already prepared a template and this would help with the positioning of the beading.

I marked it carefully with Mav's guidance and it was such an easy method! Then we covered the board with icing and that was it for day one. 

The next day, it was decorating day with Faye Cahill herself. I walked in at 9.30pm and the studio was in full swing already. There were numerous cakes being cut and ganached, flowers being made, it was busy, busy, busy.

Faye had set up all the equipment required and we talked about our design. She explained what we had to do first and showed me the different decorations that we could use.

I had my eye on the edible beading the moment I saw it, and was keen to learn how it was done. Mind you, I was so wrong when I tried to guess what it was! It'll be unfair to myself if I shared with you what we did, so all I can say is that, it took 2 and a half, back breaking hours to create that look that I wanted. And it was only on a 7" cake! By the time I was done, my eyes were sore and my back needed alignment :). 

We worked on applying the silver leaf after that, and that in itself was a delicate operation. It would take lots of practice with the silver leaf, before I could get it all on without tearing. 

Finally, it last job - the piping. Faye is known for her piping skills and it she does a lot of it. She piped the first few goes for me, and it looked so easy when she did it. I struggle when it comes to piping on a vertical surface. I'm more used to piping on a flat surface. It's a lot easier for me to control the piping bag.

So the practice I got there, and the tips I picked up with Faye, were very helpful and made a lot of sense too.

I was doing it the hard way all this while! 

The finished cake

Edible beading and piping work

From the left : Mav, Faye, and myself

Me and my cake :)

Unfortunately Faye doesn't allow work-in-progress shots anymore in her studio. This is due to some students taking step-by-step shots, and posting them online. It really defeats the purpose of paying a lot of money for a class with Faye, and then someone on the internet could easily pick up how it's done, for free! So fair enough - I could only snap a few when the cake was complete.

I kept my wedding cake and Gus cake for approximately 2 weeks, just so I could admire them everyday :). When the time came to leave Sydney, I had to painfully take them apart. All I have left is this blog and a bunch of photos, but the skills I've gained, with last me a lifetime.

Time for more big cake adventures!


Monday, April 1, 2013

The Amazing Galloping Gus

I was just recently in Sydney for 3 weeks with my boy, J and part of the trip, had to be a cakey one too. I organised to join 2 cake courses whilst I was there and one of them was at the Whimsical Cakehouse in Sydney. I knew I just had to do it when I saw it. It was taught by the uber talented cake artist, Kaysie Lackey from The People's Cake Bakery in Seattle, USA. She's a regular competitor in the Food Network Challenge, and has won 3 battles. Her brand new cake class was called, "Galloping Gus" and the class in Sydney would be her very first time, teaching it. Kaysie did also mention that this was one of her toughest projects to date, to teach.

I was one of the lucky few, to be one of her "guinea pigs". It ran for 3 days, from March 15 to March 17, from 9 a.m. to "finish".

This is was the image that was used to promote her course.

Isn't it insane????

Boy, was I in for some cakey nightmares, or what???!!

Day one. The hardest day of ALL. I seriously struggled and didn't think I could get it done. We had to build the skeleton of Gus, from metal piping and tubing, nuts and bolts, using all the tools that you'd find in a hardware store.

This immediately was trouble. My brain does not work when it comes to engineering and using boy tools. Kaysie would yell out, "Take the male connector and screw it onto the 2", then take one nipple and insert that into the 3" and then hand tighten. Make sure this one is tight, the other loose. Use a wrench if you need to". 

Me: "Is this it?", I look at her blankly.
Kaysie : "No hun, that's the 2 1/2", this is the 3".
Me :"Oh. Ok. I knew that."

I think it must have taken at least 4 - 5 hours for everyone one of us to complete the skeleton, prepare and drill boards, and cut bases out of foam core, for the cake to sit on.

Once the first half of the class was complete and we all had lunch, it was a HUGE relief for me. I could finally see a horse skeleton and the image of Gus was looking clearer in my mind.

Kaysie didn't have any reference material for us, and this I found very difficult. It was like working blindly. Hopefully in her future classes, she will have these ready for her students.

The next stage of the class, was carving the cake into a horse shape. This I found a little easier but again, we had no reference material, and had to walk back and forth to her demo cake. 

The shape of the horse itself was very well defined and quite complex. Then, it was time to ganache. No problem here for me, and I even had time to help a few of my neighbours with the ganaching.

That was the was the end of the first day, and we were done by 6.30pm.  I still had an hour's drive ahead of me, back to the apartment.

Day two. We played around with modelling chocolate and fondant, and using modelling chocolate was great fun. It opened up my world into it's endless possibilities and capabilities to a "seamless" way to finish decorations.

We created the neck and prepared all the limbs, made some horse shoes, and most importantly, we worked on Gus' head.

Check out her cake tattoo on her wrist :)
Once all of that were done, we had the most daunting task of icing the ENTIRE horse, in ONE piece, except for the head.

"It's doable", Kaysie says. "Let me show you how".

Ok, you do that, Kaysie.

Lo and behold. She did. It was just a matter of strategically cutting a few seams in the horse, to make it look like it's part of the horse.

While she was smoothing the icing out, I was nervous at the task ahead of us. I certainly did not want to be ripping the icing of the cake, and having to re-roll the icing, patch up the ganache, and clean up the mess. Everyone in the class were gasping and oohing and ahhing over the way Kaysie handled the icing. We were all on edge! Suddenly I had the urge to pee. "Excuse me, I need to go pee", I casually announced to the class. 

LOL! Everyone burst out laughing. 

I felt better after, and ok, I admit it, I psyched myself up in the toilet before opening the door.

It was time. Time to show the icing and the cake, who's boss.

I cleaned my bench meticulously, organised all the tools required, and made sure I would be ready to tackle the horse, once the icing was draped onto the cake.

Knead, knead, knead, roll, roll, roll. I was good to go.

I picked it up in one piece, and carefully draped it over the cake. And there was no turning back now. Smooth, smooth, smooth, cut here, snip there, tuck it in there, tuck it in here, smooth, smooth, smooth. I was FOCUSED and determined to get it done properly. Nothing could distract me at this stage. I worked on it, and eventually, I got there. Gus was iced in one piece, with no tearing or ripping, and he was a smooth looking horse. 

I was well chuffed.

Day two was almost done. The last task of the day was to put on his ears, so they would dry overnight. I was done by 7.30 p.m. that night and completely exhausted and drained.

And there he is, smooth, and looking slick.

The class in action
Day three. 9 a.m. sharp. I arrive and all is well. Gus is still standing and is waiting for his grey coat to go on. This is definitely the most fun part in cake decorating.

Kaysie demonstrated a technique called "dappling" and this was used to create that smokey effect of the horse's coat. Since I chose grey, it didn't have an undercoat like the others. I had to start from a white base and slowly build up the colour.

Kaysie's horse, before the dappling.
After the dappling. Doesn't he look great?
I think I must have spent a good 3 - 4 hours alone, just on the dappling. It was so much fun putting on the finishing touches. Then we created his blowing mane and tail, added on the saddle and blanket, and by that time, it was late. Very late. And I was T.I.R.E.D.

I didn't manage to put on his mask, but I was still very pleased with the entire project in itself. I finished at 8 p.m. on the last day and there were others who were there till 9 p.m. at least, I had heard.

Here's my finished Gus!

Kaysie and I, with our horses.

Kaysie, thank you for sharing your knowledge and being such a wonderful teacher! I am truly, truly grateful that I managed to attend your course. Looking forward to more brilliant projects in the future! xx

And to all the fantastic ladies I met during the course, it was SO nice to meet you and I had such a good time working with you all! xx

Next up....a private wedding cake class with the amazing Faye Cahill of Faye Cahill Cake Design.