Saint Edward’s University Presidential Inauguration Cake

It was truly an historic occasion at Saint Edward’s University! The prestigious university was inaugurating its 24th president, and making even more history as the new president is Dr. Montserrat ‘Montse’ Fuentes–the second female president and first Hispanic female president in University history!

Denise Rocha, the event coordinator in charge of the massive inauguration party, contacted us to continue their tradition of having amazing cakes at their major events. But she wanted this one to be the MOST epic cake they’d ever had, AND to be able to keep it and display it. Due to Covid, instead of making the showstopper cake, it was more expedient to have 600 individually packaged cupcakes to go along with the centerpiece cake.

The obvious choice of cake was the spectacular Main Building, which has been made before, but never in a full three dimensional version. And it needed to be HUGE. Not only to make a stunning visual impact, but also so we could work allllll those TINY details into it! Contrary to popular belief, smaller is NOT easier! It’s more difficult, as the details are tinier.

President Fuentes not only is a woman making history, she also seems like an extremely sweet and fun person! We absolutely LOVED this Instagram post by the SEU cheerleaders lifting her up. How awesome, and she clearly is already beloved by the student body.

Due to weather, the planned outdoor activity under a huge tent was moved indoors, so the cake was stored in an adjacent room until time to unveil. It seems President Fuentes LOVED our cake! We made two small ‘hedges’ from cake so that she could actually do a ceremonial cake cutting of the display cake, without damaging the showpiece. The cutting hedges were our delicious Orange Crush cake with Vanilla Ice Ice Baby buttercream filling.

The SEU Alumni seemed to love it as well. They posted the following beautiful pictures on their Instagram Stories.

Creating the Main Building Masterpiece

This was by FAR the most challenging cake we’ve ever done. The two MOST DIFFICULT types of cakes to create are buildings and cars, and this is a heck of a building! The roofline intricacy alone is insane, plus the gazillion windows, different textures, and all the details. It seems like it would be easier to make a display cake than to make it out of real cake, but it’s not. It’s MUCH more time-consuming to build everything out of plywood and foam core first!

With real cake, there is a lot of effort involved in baking, stacking, & filling of course. But once it’s built, the carving & icing moves relatively quickly. I had NO idea when I decided to create cakes for a living that I should have gotten a degree in Architectural Engineering instead of business! And I didn’t know that I needed the construction skills of a general contractor, plumber, woodworker, etc. Fortunately, I do have some background in those skills from my days of owning a landscaping company back in the 90’s, so I’m good enough with power tools to be dangerous, hahaha.

One thing I do not have at the moment is a decent workshop. Just my home garage. Our bakery is TINY, I obviously can’t cut wood in the bakery due to the sawdust and mess, and our building has no outdoor power or water sources, or anywhere to work. This is one reason I’m actively looking for a new location! We need more space and a workshop for sure! Building this structure took me out of the bakery for most of a week, which is frustrating as I need to be there to answer questions and help my team on the other cakes on our schedule. I also need more tools to make construction easier, safer, and more precise.

The largest base we can get through our bakery door is 31 inches wide. So I sized the cake to fit correctly on a 31 by 60 inch board and worked the proportions from there. The actual structure is 50 inches wide and 21 inches deep. The total height ended up being 40 inches to the top of the tiny cross on the tower. The wings were about 30-ish inches tall overall.

Building the Underlying Structure

Installing the Edible Outside Details

The only surface at the bakery large enough to work on something of this size is the consultation table in the front. That’s also where I conduct our tastings and consultations, so we kept having to move it into the van between appointments, clean off the table, and then move it back in. All the equipment like our sheeter is in the kitchen, so having to carry everything back and forth was also frustrating and added to the time involved. Did I mention we need a new bigger location? LOL!

We also wanted to really emphasize the amazing stained glass windows on the back and east sides of the building. So how better to do that than light them up? Russell expertly adjusted pictures of the windows so we could print them on Simi Isomalt Transfer sheets, and then poured clear isomalt over them so we had a translucent window. To light them up, we used remote control LED under cabinet lights. These things are awesome! At first we tried them lying down, but that didn’t look right once we got the windows in front of them, so we ended up propping them up on wedges of modeling chocolate & hot gluing the crap out of them so they were perfectly positioned behind the windows, and wouldn’t roll off.

The lights were a total surprise, so I was excited that worked out so well.

MAJOR Challenges and the History of Main Building

The history of the building is important. It was originally built in 1889, but was completely destroyed by fire in 1903. It was then rebuilt with state of the art (for the day) fire protection, but was struck in 1922 by a terrible tornado which did extensive damage to the back of the building, and had to be partially rebuilt once again. This poor building has been through some tragedies! (And on a really interesting note–it is built on the highest point overlooking Austin, on top of an extinct VOLCANO! Ummm, this is literally just across Ben White Boulevard from our bakery. How extinct IS extinct, for volcanos? Eeek!)

The reason the history is important is I messed up big time on my calculations. Denise had provided the original blueprints of the building and some historical photos, before the utterly magnificent oaks had grown big enough to obscure most of the front of the building. I was going by the blueprints and planning to use them for templates to cut all the windows. But after doing all the work to blow them up to actual size and cut out the pieces, I realized that the facades of the building had been COMPLETELY changed from the original plans. Fortunately the main footprint was still the same, but now we were going to have to cut all the windows individually by hand. Aaaaargh, that was a big blunder and time-waster on my part.

At over 200 feet wide, the building is WAY too big to get pictures from a flat perspective to use as templates. All the pictures, even the ones from the University, are at angles and the perspective is completely wrong. So I had the idea to call upon my photograper friend Arfan Ahmed to use his drone to get the shots we needed, who was so excited to help with this awesome project. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that either as drones are completely banned on campus. Denise can’t even use drones to lay out her big events! Totally understandable, as it’s for safety reasons, and sadly they’ve had bomb threats and other incidents in the ugly world we live in now. I didn’t know that, as I’ve never messed with drones or know the rules. So once again, we were back to doing it all by hand and eyeballing it.

Fortunately for us about 40% of the building is brick, so we had a texture mat we could use to make the texture. I used the reverse side to texture the roof. The rest is limestone, but it’s in a unique pattern (that also changes on different parts of the building) so there was nothing even close to a texture mat that would work. We had to sculpt every bit of that stone by hand, using mostly aluminum foil, tools, and even fingers, to capture how rough and raised the stone blocks are.

Another major challenge we had this week was the weather. We lost half a day of work on Thursday due to ice on the roads that caused dozens of accidents and closed many major roadways and schools in the morning. The ones who could come in didn’t get there til early afternoon when it was safe. We stayed late that night to try to make up for it, but it really set us back.

Pulling an Almost All-Nighter!

As Friday progressed, we realized this was going to take a lot longer than we had even anticipated, despite the days of hard work already invested. I can’t say ENOUGH of the amazing work ethic and dedication of our team. ALL six stayed til at least 3am to work on the cake and ensure we delighted our client for the 8am delivery. Emily ended up staying til 6am to finish out the tower and dust the stone of the building to REALLY bring out the texture and give it the most amazing realistic look. I went home at 4am, slept an hour and a half, changed to my nice delivery clothes, and came back before 8am. Russell met me to help with the delivery, as this was obviously not something one person can move!

I started physically constructing the building on Valentine’s Day, Feb 14th. I had already previously done a LOT of research and engineering work, so several days went into that. Then we started working on the edible part on Friday, Feb 18th, and STILL needed an almost all-nighter to finish it at the last minute for the Feb 26th delivery! Most have NO idea the incredible amount of time these cakes take.

I know it looks like it’s done in a few hours on the TV shows. It’s not. I’ve been on a couple of them. There’s a lot of behind the scenes prep work. And the TV studios have a magical kitchen where everything you could possibly need appears out of thin air, for free. In real life, nothing materializes out of thin air, and it’s expensive! Home Depot, the Amazon driver, and the cake supply stores get to know you really well as you make a million orders/trips to get supplies and then go back repeatedly to get what you forgot or realized you needed. Haha!

The Big Delivery and Reveal!

In the van and on the way! The cross on top of the tower was only two inches shorter than the clearance of the back door of the van! And fortunately the tower wasn’t far back enough to hit the refrigeration unit, although it was close. Whew!

We Love It When Our Clients Scream!

I hadn’t even sent a single sneak peek to Denise as I wanted to make a big reveal, although I had been texting with regular updates. Plus cakes look AWFUL until the final details go on, as you can see. Oh my gosh, they are total ugly ducklings until the final details finally transform them into the swans they are meant to be. I HATE sending pics of unfinished cakes to clients, and almost never do, as it is SO misleading as to what the final product will be! So no, don’t ask us for progress pics!

When we arrived at the Ragsdale Center on campus, Denise met us at the curb, and I was able to dramatically fling open the side door of the van for the big reveal! She screamed! Yayyyy! Making our clients scream uncontrollably in delight is one of our cake goals!

They brought out a large cart and we wheeled it into the Ragsdale Center, taking a few pictures and videos before it went into hiding for the big surprise later! I was SO MAD when I realized I had forgotten the darn remote control for the lights behind the stained glass windows! Aaaaarrrgh—-my exhausted brain just didn’t remember to grab it as I was focusing on the delivery and the stress of moving this monster! I did run back to get it and bring it to them, so they had it for the ceremony, but it ruined that part of my surprise.

Final Pictures at Delivery

The Video of the Cake

Conclusion and Credits

One of my favorite sayings is “There is no I in CAKE”. It truly takes a team effort. Every single person on our team made significant contributions to getting this incredibly difficult project completed beautifully and on time.

I mentioned before that there were also 600 cupcakes that were the treats for the celebration. Each one was individually packaged. Simon baked delicious Vanilla Ice Ice Baby and Hot Chocolate cupcakes. Cristianna iced the cupcakes beautifully in our Vanilla Ice Ice Baby and Chocolate Silk frostings. Starr assisted in the baking & packaging. Simon delivered them on Friday afternoon for storage on site, as we have nowhere to store 600 cupcakes!

Chelsea came in to help us this week, both with this cake and a couple others. She has her own company, Indian Fig Company, where she does catering and cakes, but she’s an amazing friend that will help us when we need it and her schedule allows. Thank goodness it did this week! She is amazingly talented and the sweetest person!

Emily, Christina, Russell and Cristianna worked so hard on the cake and all the details. I can’t say enough about the talent, awesome attitude, and work ethic of these amazing human beings. They could have all told me to go jump in the lake and gone home to their families instead of staying most of the night to finish this cake, but they didn’t. They were incredible troopers. I am so grateful. Words aren’t enough to express how much I love and appreciate each one of them!

And a HUGE thank you to Denise Rocha for giving us this opportunity, and putting her trust in us to deliver an amazing cake. We had been hoping to work together for a while, and the occasion finally presented itself. All our gratitude to her for her faith and support!

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