The Struggle is Real
This beautiful cake is a perfect example of the Sugar Struggle. It is a gorgeous Gatsby/Art Deco design in soft colors of blush & sage, accented with deep burgundy. I had been looking forward to creating it, as I am enamored with the beauty & architecture of that era.
The middle tier is called a Double Barrel. That means it is two separate cakes of the same size, stacked & attached together, so they are iced & decorated as one tier. Because our cakes are very tall, our double barrels usually end up being nearly a foot tall. I absolutely love them, & the variation they bring to cake designs.
The stained glass pattern on the double barrel is a mesh stencil by Evil Cake Genius. I’ve made two previous cakes using the stencil & handpainting it. I knew very well what was involved & how long it would take me to do the stenciling, cover the cake, & hand-paint the stained glass effect. But Sugar laughs at the plans–& budgeted time–of mice & cake artists.
It’s been raining for 3 solid weeks. Thankfully, the triple-digit temperatures were gone & it was much cooler, & goodness knows we needed the rain. But the humidity. ūüė¶ Oh, the humidity. And sugar just sucks up the humidity out of the air & turns to absolute goo. The condensation on the cold cake will literally drip down the cake & onto the table. It also drips off everything else. Here’s a picture of the floor in front of our display refrigerator in the front of the studio….every…freaking…day for the past few weeks we’ve had a puddle of condensation!
Before, it had taken me a couple hours to stencil & cover the cake, & another 2 hours or so to paint in all the little details. Interestingly, to do this technique, I have to mix powdered edible pigments with oil to paint over the stencil, as using our typical alcohol would damage the stencil & pull the color off. The oil seals it all in. I found a mix of coconut oil & vegetable oil gives the perfect consistency.
But the pouring rain (humidity!), reeked havoc on my well thought out plan. The stenciled panels wouldn’t dry & would get distorted when I tried to apply them to the cake. NOTHING would dry, I swear. We even had formerly dry gumpaste flowers & leaves wilt & melt away in the oppressive humidity. After struggling for a long time to get the panels on, & having to repair the distortion, I finally got to start painting. I LOVE that part … Normally.
The paint wouldn’t adhere to the cake. What the heck?!?!
The goo that had formed on the cake’s surface was coming OFF with my brushstrokes, & threatening to take the stencil with it. Instead of painting color onto the cake, the goo was sticking to the brush & color was coming off of the cake. The only hope was refrigerating it, which dries it out and definitely not my first option. When I would bring it out of the fridge, I only had maybe 15 or 20 minutes of working time before the goo would reappear. Back in the fridge it would go, until it was workable again. Over & over, for hours, even overnight. Instead of the normal 4 hours, it took about 11 hours in total. We ¬†got it done with barely enough time for delivery, even though we had started early.
In the end it turned out beautifully. The combination of Gatsby-style lines, Art Deco stained glass, & moldings, accented with sugar flowers & silk grapes, made for a stunning display. (No, we didn’t make all those grapes. That would have cost the client an absolute fortune in our labor hours! Sometimes it’s best to go with a good quality cheat!)
Here’s a video with more up-close detail. I didn’t want to get too close though. I can see all those flaws I had to overcome!
We delivered the cake to the elegant Texas Federation of Women’s Club’s Mansion in Austin, TX, where it was met with many ooohs & aaahs from the other vendors setting up, & most importantly from the groom who was able to be there when we came in. I swear he was as excited about the cake as the bride was through the whole process. I love it when the grooms get into the cake! He was thrilled, & his groomsmen all gathered around admiring it. We placed their adorable topper & told them we hoped that all the color didn’t drip off! I told the groom of our struggles & explained that there is not a thing in the world I, or any other cake artist, can do to keep humidity from getting to the cakes once they are out of the refrigerator.
Just a couple weeks before, a client phoned me in a panic a few hours after I delivered their cake. She said the color was dripping off of it. She sent pics, like the one below, & sadly, yes, the condensation was so bad that water was literally dripping from it, & where we had painted some elements, the paint was coming off & smearing down the cake. I felt awful, but it was 97 degrees & misting rain. (I haven’t even touched on heat. That’s a whole other blog post!) There’s not a thing in the world that can be done other than put it in a refrigerator, & this one was way too tall to fit in a normal fridge. They were angry, but that’s what cakes do. It happens in our kitchen when we’re working on them. Believe me, we HATE it too!
I Had To Eat It
So what happens when everything goes wrong & it takes forever? Well, for the client, nothing. I can’t exactly go back to them & go, “hey, it was raining so now the labor costs on your cake doubled.” It’s the risk I take with every quote I make. When I quoted the cake, who would have guessed we would be in a 3-week monsoon? Heck, we were in a drought at the time!
That’s hours & hours I worked, but didn’t get paid for. Or another way of looking at it, my pay per hour was slashed by more than half. And because it took so long, we had to work overtime to get the other orders done on time as well. So costs went up on everything. But I have to eat that. That’s the nature of the business.
Over the years, I’ve gotten better about estimating the time it will take us to complete a cake. Most of the time I get pretty close. But when the train goes off the rails, I take the loss. Not just in money, but in time. Time I’ll never get back.¬† Time to work on other orders. Time to rest. Time to spend with my husband & kitties. Time to do the administrative part of the business, which is a second full time job anyway. Time to do personal errands. All those things go right out the window because the cake & the client are our top priority.
So the next time you order a custom cake, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- This is Texas. It’s hot & humid. Austin isn’t nearly as bad as Houston & some other areas.
- Have compassion & understanding for your cake artists! Despite very difficult conditions, we are working hard to overcome them & present you with a cake that shows no signs of the struggle.
- We hate the condensation & conditions far worse than anyone else. It breaks our heart to see our hard work drip & melt.
- To minimize the conditions, display the cake in a very cool, air conditioned area. It should be illegal to try to have a cake outside, punishable by fines & imprisonment.
And here is how to order you next cake:
- Fill out our contact form at http://CakesRock.rocks. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Include the date of your event, number of guests expected, favorite cake flavors (menu on website under ‘Rockin’ Flavors’), & your ideas of the type of design you would like.
- We love inspiration pictures to help us understand your personal style. Not only of other cakes you’ve seen (Pinterest rules!), but also other items that can be used as inspiration–party/wedding decor, invitations, wedding dress, party dress, fabric, etc. Please note that we CANNOT give a quote based on a picture of a cake alone. We need the other information as described above to be as accurate as possible.
- We will work with you to custom design your cake. Be forewarned, it’s like ordering a car! There are a million options & we’ll need you to answer a lot of questions so that we can give you precisely what you want.
- Speaking of cars, budget is also important. We often get asked ‘how much is a cake’ & the answer is ‘how much is a car’? Do you want the Ferrari or the Kia? Just as the price of cars is all over the road (see what I did there?) according to the make, quality, & options, the price of cakes is too. Each cake is priced individually because most of what we create is custom. Per serving is a terrible way to price a cake, but it’s an understandable rule of thumb for the general public to have an idea of how much to budget. For basic buttercream or naked cakes with no additional decoration, plan on $5 per serving & up, depending on flavor. For decorated cakes, most fall in the $8 to $12 per serving range, but can be more or less depending on level of design. (Minimum cake size is 6 inch round, which serves 12-16, & minimum decorated order is $125.00, minimum buttercream only is $60.00)