Tag Archive | Cake

Book Review/Interview:  Artisan Cake Company’s Visual Guide to Cake Decorating by Liz Marek

Recently, one of my “cake daughters” wrote her first cake decorating book. While she is the master of social media and openly shares her life’s ups and downs with her friends on Facebook, I felt like we could all get to know her and this project better. 

When you dive into the book, you will find actual guidance on support for figures and cakes. Most decorating books on the market do not focus on this info. The part that I thought would be a “must read” for people is The Elements of Cake Design”. As a judge at most of the major cake shows in the U.S., I will tell you that most cakes rise or fail at the design stage. Take her lessons to heart and you can be creating more visually impactful cakes!  

Here is my interview:
1.  What was your favorite project in the book? It’s hard to choose but the owl was my favorite. He was just so cute I wanted to smoosh his widdle cheeks! 

2.  What was the hardest part of writing the book? Writing a book was so much harder than I expected! Coming up with ideas was easy but then practicing the project, working out the bugs, taking photos and writing it in a way that could be understood by even a novice was very hard and I went to bed many-a-night with a migraine from thinking too hard lol

3.  What decorators influenced you or inspired you as you were learning decorating? I loved and still love many decorators I looked up to when there was no fb and only flickr haha. I used to devour photos from karen portaleo, debbie goard, mike mccarey and melody brandon from sweet and saucy. All very different from each other but each had something special that I wanted to achieve in my own work. Creativity, clean work and beautiful details. 

4.  How did you get started decorating? I started by doing. I watched a few episodes of Food Network challenge and Ace of Cakes and got the bug. No youtube tutorials existed yet so I just winged it. My first cakes where not pretty at all lol

5.  What is your biggest wish for your book? My biggest wish is simply that people find my book useful and that it is used. It is not placed on the shelf to gather dust but the pages are worn from use, dog-eared and stained with batter. I want this book to be a tool, not a decoration for a book shelf. 

6.  What did you learn yourself as you wrote this book? I learned that I take way too many photos of my cakes haha I also learned that I work best at night and that I cannot sleep until a project is done. 

7.  Who is your target audience for the book? My target audience is beginner to intermediate cake decorators who need help getting beyond the basics or advanced decorators who need some inspiration to take their ideas to the next level. 

8.  Do you hope your daughter follows in your footsteps someday? I hope my daughter feels passionately about whatever she chooses to do in life and I hope to help her find that passion no matter what it is. I did not find my passion until I was almost 30 years old and spent a good portion of my life thinking I wasn’t good at anything. I want my daughter to be inspired every day and try everything until she finds the thing that makes her happy. 

9.  Tell me about juggling your bakery business with writing a book. Writing a book while baking cakes for clients was a nightmare. There was never enough time in the day to get everything done. I still do not know how it happened. I also was 9 months pregnant and approved my final draft of the book the week I went into labor. I joked that writing a book was more complicated than having my baby and definitely more painful haha. But def love my book like she was my own baby. 

10.  How many copies have been sold so far? We have sold over 4 thousand copies since December 2014 and counting! The book is getting great reviews and the publisher is talking about another book but I’m not sure I’m ready for that lol.

You can buy Liz’s book on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Artisan-Companys-Visual-Guide-Decorating/dp/1937994694
   
    

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Book Review/Interview: Cupcake Envy by Amy Eilert

Recently, I shared with you my list of “must have” books (https://sugarzen.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/ruths-favorite-sugar-art-books/).  At that time, I promised that I would be reviewing some of the new books on the market.  I’m excited to bring you the first of several today!

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I first met Amy Eilert at CakeLove in Vancouver, Canada.  I had heard of her from an appearance on Food Network, but really didn’t know much about her.  I have to say, it was love at first sight!  She has this adorable husky voice that wraps itself around you and makes you want to hang out with her all day.  She exudes joy.  When I heard she had written a book, I knew I wanted to share it with you!  j

This book features what she lovingly calls “cakelets”.  They are NOT cupcakes.  They are precious mini cakes that you create, often as you learn to do carving.  For many newer decorators, carving into a cake is a frightening experience…they just can’t see the design within the sheet cake.  Amy makes it easy.

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I sent her a list of questions that I thought might help you get to know her and her book better.  Here is the interview:

  1. What was your favorite project in the book?

I’d have to say the grocery bag themed design called At the Market. This design is a paper grocery bag cakelet with sugar sculpted groceries.  This would make an awesome cakelet for your favorite food fanatic.  You could can customize the grocery bag with any items this special person loves to cook. I would fill my grocery bag with eggplant, french bread, potatoes, and of course, cake!

  1. What was the hardest part of writing the book?

Writing a book was such a learning experience for me.  I was used to teaching classes and writing tutorials however, writing a book is a completely different beast.  I was very fortunate to have a helpful publisher to walk me through the process.  One thing I had to keep in mind at all times:  Measure Everything!!!

  1. What decorators influenced you or inspired you as you were learning decorating?

I launched Cupcake Envy before the days of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  One place I was able to connect and find amazing cake artists was Flickr.  It was there that I was introduced to the insanely talented skills of Debbie Goard. Debbie’s approach to cake design was unique and her work so distinctive, it really inspired me to keep practicing.

Throughout my journey with Cupcake Envy, I’ve had the privilege to meet and work alongside such incredible artists/teachers. Norm Davis, in particular, has been a huge inspiration and a dear friend as well.

 4.  How did you get started decorating?

I started out stumbling into cake decorating unintentionally.  I was a NJ public school music teacher prior to relocating our family to NC.  I wanted to stay home and raise my sons and once they started school, I started making treats for their class celebrations.  I wanted to make something special for each child which eventually went from creating  cupcakes to mini cake design.  I like to call them Cakelets.  I would practice different techniques every night after the kids went to sleep.  It was relaxing and gave me a new outlet to be creative.  I wanted to get better so I kept my eye out for classes.  That’s when I took my very first class with Bronwan Weber.  After that, the fire was lit and Cupcake Envy was born.

 5.  What is your biggest wish for your book?

I have two wishes for this book.  The first wish is that people will find my book as a useful reference for creating fun mini cakes (cakelets).  I wanted the designs to be easy to create, fun, and approachable for anyone to do.

My second wish for my book is to inspire my sons to follow their dreams.  I always tell them that we are here to leave our mark, whatever that may be and to work hard for what you want.

6.  What did you learn yourself as you wrote this book?

I learned that I am a complete unorganized scatterbrain.  There were many times throughout the process that I said to myself,” you have no business writing a book!”

I learn that I needed to stop looking at the big picture and take it one project at a time.  I learned how to better utilize time and how to organize my thoughts so not to feel overwhelmed.

7.  Who is your target audience for the book?

The target audience for this book is broad.  I wanted the designs to be approachable for beginners.  Many people who have taken my class have never touch fondant before and they would leave the class with designs that excite them and that they are proud of creating.  I also hope the book, which focuses solely on mini cakes, provides seasoned decorators a fun option to add to their decorating arsenal.  A custom cakelet with coordinating cupcakes is a fun option for any celebration.  The guest of honor gets a special mini cake created just for them while partygoers can enjoy custom coordinated cupcakes.

8.  Do you hope your children follow in your footsteps someday?

I learned early on when I tried, unsuccessfully, to teach my sons how to play the piano that they are their own person with their own interests. The same can be said for Cupcake Envy.  I do hope I am a good role model when it comes to working hard and never giving up.  Those are the footsteps I hope they will follow.

 9.  Tell me about juggling your illness with writing the book.

I am not sure if people are aware but I was diagnosed with both Systemic and Discoid Lupus when I was 10 years old.   Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.   As I grew up, I acquired a few syndromes and challenges along the way that has certainly changed my life.  I’ve had my share of difficulties and hospital visits that have certainly impacted my daily life as well as my family’s life.   I am so grateful for family and friends that have helped me through those tough times.  Sometimes it’s not just the physical setbacks but also the emotional setbacks that become the biggest mountains to climb. Ruth, you have talked me through my most recent episodes and your words gave me strength to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Thank you for being there.  I experienced 2 hospital visits during the time I was writing the book which delayed the release date but with the help and support of friends, family, and neighbors, the Cupcake Envy book is finally here.

In the end, I’ve learned that no matter the cards you are dealt, never let it stop you from reaching your dreams.

10.  Who was your first inspiration?

Early on, I became a huge fan of Colette Peters books, especially, Cakes to Dream On.

Even though I  mini cakes, Colette Peter’s book were a treasure trove of inspiration and decorating techniques.  I learned so much about cake decorating from her books.

11.  How many copies have been sold so far?

Honestly, I have no idea but I wish I knew!

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I hope you enjoyed getting to know Amy a little better!  Sometimes, we focus so much on the art form that we forget to SEE the artist behind the work.  If you are looking for a great book to introduce you to mini cakes, this is the one!  You can purchase the book at:  http://www.amazon.com/Cupcake-Envy-Irresistible-Cakelets-Little/dp/0804843686.

 

How to alienate the cake community

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Every day, I see people make mistakes on Facebook, Instagram and other social media.  I honestly think that most of these folks are new in the cake community and simply don’t realize that what they are doing irritates others.  Rather than continuing to read rants from folks about everything these newbies do wrong, I thought it would be nice to take a tongue in cheek look at the things that get on the nerves of the decorating community.  The saddest part is, I’ve seen each of these personally!  If you want to alienate others, here are my suggestions:

Steal Photos of Other’s Work

Choose a photo of a beautiful cake. Go into photo shop and erase their watermark. Put yours on there. Publish it on your Facebook page. Deceive your customers into thinking you are “that good.”

For Bonus Points:  Build a photo album completely comprised of cakes made by others. The more famous the sugar artist, the more cakes of theirs you should use.

For Bonus Bonus Points:  Apply for a TV show using cakes you did not make. Brag about your work in chat groups. OR tell your customers that the famous decorators pay you to post their pictures. (You’re just helping them out.)

Whine About Being left Out

Complain loudly and often that you were not included in a collaboration. Bitch that the TV producers never give you the time of day. Whine that your cake picture has been ignored and is not receiving hundreds of likes. Cry that no one answers your desperate pleas for help when you need that tutorial for free right now so you can do someone’s cake order. Who cares if you promised a cake you don’t know how to make? People should help you.

For Bonus Points:  Write hateful letters to the collaboration organizers, complaining about how unfair it was to leave you out. Write demanding letters to the person who just posted the cool cake–they owe you an explanation of how they made it!!

Pick an Unwinnable Fight

Tackle divisive issues like politics, religion, same sex marriage or box v. Scratch. Do this in a pleasant, fun cake chat group. Argue with anger. Use hurtful words. Be intractable. Never, ever agree to disagree.

Bad Mouth Your Customers or Competitors

Talk about how stupid your customers are. Show screen shots of conversations. Never explain the order process to them. Assume they know as much as you. Ridicule the work done by other decorators. Publicly humiliate them at every turn.

Bonus points for:  Not blocking the names of the “innocent”.

Bonus Bonus points if you can make a decorator cry or quit caking altogether.

Undercut your neighbors

Always offer to make cakes at ridiculously low prices. When competitors post cake photos, post a comment about how much more cheaply you will do it. Tag your friends on their photos. Conduct business on another bakery’s page.

Demand Classes and Tutorials for Free

Clearly, everyone should help you run your business. You should not have to pay for something that you NEED. Your need surpasses their right to get paid. It isn’t fair that they have this knowledge…even if they experimented for days to develop it. Isn’t caking about sharing?  Then tell them to share or else they are being mean and unhelpful.

For Bonus Points:  Take information from a paid tutorial or class and share it with the world. Why should anyone else have to pay?  Teachers are rich.

Shout that the Competition was Unfair

You should have won at the cake show. The judges are too old/too young/too behind the times. Let the world know that you deserved first place. Tell everyone how crappy the other cakes were. Brag that everyone said YOU should have won.

For Bonus Points:  Tell off the judges or show directors. This is even better if you scream and yell in public where everyone can watch.

Teach the Class You Just Took

You paid good money for that class, so you can do what you want with it.  You can share the tutorials with screen shots for your friends.  You can offer the same class you took – just remove the owner’s watermark and put yours in its place.  Steal their handouts and use them as your own.

Arrogantly Call Someone a Liar.

See an awesome cake.  Make a point of telling the designer that it is not real cake, even if they swear it is.  Even when the person posts pictures of the cake served, refuse to apologize.  You are ALWAYS right.

Tell People How They are Doing it Wrong

Wait for someone to post a recipe.  Tell them that they are making it wrong.  Announce how it should really be done.  Always be belligerent to the sweet person who posted the recipe.  It is even more fun if you list the ingredients you changed and complain that the recipe did not turn out.

Use the Dreaded “f” or “following” in a Thread

No matter how many times the administrators of groups show you how you can click on the top right corner and get notifications for a thread, it is just more satisfying to throw that “f” or “following” out there and see how many people you can upset.

Never, Ever Google for Cake Ideas, Tutorials or Recipes

The cake community is there to do your research for you.  You don’t have time to open a Google window, click on images, then enter your search terms!  It is so much more fun to go into a chat group and ask them to do the work for you.  It is even more fun if you post it in multiple groups at the same time!

 

I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of things, but this is a good start.  If you saw yourself in any of these, please take a moment and think about how your actions affect others.  Please take responsibility for your work.  Please stop stealing.  Please stop being mean.  Let’s all spread a little good in the world.  The Golden Rule isn’t just for Sundays!

The Cover Band

Step into a smokey bar somewhere and you’ll find a cover band. They make a living singing songs made famous by others and getting as close as they can.

This encompasses many beginning cake decorators. They are recreating something designed by another artist. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as you are honest with yourself and others. My bakery seemed to create a lot of hits by Anne Heap and Lauren Kitchens. We never, ever acted like it was something we dreamed up.

Every now and then, brides and customers let us work with them on a custom design. On those days, we were closer to being a singer/songwriter. We were sugar art DESIGNERS. We created something different.

To me, people are cake decorators, cake designers,or a combination. Cake DECORATORS recreate cakes from Pinterest, books and the Internet. Cake DESIGNERS sketch and create designs for their customers. Both are sugar artists.

I think many of us are a bit of both. There are some notable exceptions who refuse to do cakes they have not personally designed. While that works for them, I find that the majority of bakeries that do a bit of both are the most profitable.

Are you a cover band or a singer/songwriter? Or are you like me?

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The Last Minute

What is it about a deadline that makes us focus? Why do we become our most create five minutes before something is due? I read this quote and it got me thinking:

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.
(Leonard Bernstein)

Procrastination without planning usually is a recipe for disaster. If you don’t know how to create an internal structure and you start the cake at the last minute, the bookies in Vegas will lay odds that your cake is going to collapse.

I’m sure I look like a procrastinator to folks a lot of the time. On the last day, I turn in my class applications to teaching events. However, if you could get access to my cell phone, you would see the lists of class ideas I have there. I’ve often been designing in my head as I drive across the country to get to my next teaching location. I probably have more “in process” new class parts laying around my house than anyone except Norm Davis.

I’m hoping that if you are a “Last Minute Lucy (or Linus)” that you are building a plan in your head as you watch that TV show. I hope you are watching tutorials as you kill time. The plan is often where you spend the most time.

I wish you greatness in those last few minutes of your work day.

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The Real Decorator

I have participated in 20 marathons and half marathons since 2005. I am a fast walker and love these events, but always feel like an imposter around “real” runners. Each time I make a comment about not being a true athlete, my Boston Marathon friends are the fastest to correct me and tell me that I am, indeed, an athlete. I came across this quote and it probably says what my friends have been trying to tell me for years. If you run, you are a runner. If you do athletic events, you are an athlete.

I constantly hear decorators say that they are “just a hobby baker”, “just a home baker”, or just “not a real decorator.” In their minds, they consider the real decorators to be those who run storefronts or large, busy operations. They think you have to be famous to be real. They think that they have to have a pastry degree, ICES certification or some other recognition. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My grandmother was a real decorator. She was a nurse by trade, but loved to make all our birthday cakes. The joy we felt receiving them meant that she was absolutely a decorator. Every person who takes the time to bake a cake (scratch OR box), who ices that cake and attempts to embellish it, is a real decorator. Even if you are peeling off Royal icing decorations from a sheet you bought from the grocery store, you’ve still decorated.

Sometimes, I find that some of the established cake artists post about customers making derogatory remarks, e.g., “Her mom “”decorates”” cakes…then why isn’t she doing the cake??!!). What we forget is that these artists have at least acknowledged that the cake they are ordering is beyond their skill level or time availability. They might not tell you that, but most of them know their limitations.

Just as there are a myriad of athletic levels and abilities, the same is true for cake decorators. There was a joke going around law school as I took the bar exam. Do you know what they call the person with the lowest passing score on the bar exam? A lawyer. Words to think about.

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Letting Go

When I decided to close my bakery three years ago, it caught the cake world by surprise. I was running a fairly large, successful shop. Why would I quit when I was successful? The other day, Courtney Clark announced that she was selling her business. With small children at home, she decided she had something more important to focus on. Today, my friend Michelle Klem, announced the closing of her bakery.

I’ve actually had a fair number of friends close in the last few years. The reasons are as varied as each person and each business. Some simply could not financially justify the shop any more. Some wanted more time at home. Some wanted to semi retire and do fewer cakes from home. I found my leukemia coming back and knew I had to cut out the stress of 16 employees and a crazy busy bakery.

Whatever the reason, you will find that you have to go through a mourning period. Even when you want to close, it feels like a piece of your heart is being cut out. I knew my life would never be the same and I would not see the employees, who were more like family, nearly as often.

Watching others move out your ovens or pastry cases is monumental. Driving by the site of your shop will get to you for a bit. But it also frees you up for the next adventure in your life.

I love the show “You’ve Got Mail”. Meg Ryan’s character is going under financially. She meets with a friend and co worker to give her the bad news. Her friend tells her: “Closing the store is very brave. You are giving yourself permission to imagine another life. ”

How often do we let ourselves stay in jobs, relationships or situations just because we are scared to do something for ourselves? All too often, I’m afraid. I had wanted to close my shop a year and a half before I did. My heart was in teaching and I was resenting my time tied to the bakery.

The day I told my employees it was over, was the scariest day of my life. I was surprised to find that the majority of them had been wanting to embark on new futures themselves. All of a sudden, we all had permission to live the lives of which we had secretly been dreaming. Letting go was hard, but living fully was the best decision I’ve made in a while.

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