Sunday, March 10, 2013


Don't take this wrong, but babies freak me out.  I'm the youngest of four, my husband, The Captain, is the youngest of four, so neither of us have ever lived in a house with one of these mysterious creatures.  I have a darling niece/God Daughter, Kendra who has two adorable little girls of her own now, but she and I sadly, have never lived in the same city.  On my husband's side, we have ten, count 'em ten nieces and nephews.  Most of them do live in the same area as we do, but we were never asked to babysit (possibly due to the constant look of terror on both of our faces whenever we were in the vicinity of an infant). 

Lots of people misinterpret this as us "not liking kids".  That's not necessarily true.  Despite their tendency to behave uncannily like drunk adults (think about it...they fall over easily, are overly emotional, and are prone to throwing up) and the fact that they are perpetually sticky, I don't dislike them.  I'm just terrified of them.  And I've been six feet away from a pride of lions while they killed and devoured an Impala in less than three minutes.  Lions, Black Mambas, African Jumping Spiders...nothing.  Eight members of a TV Crew following me around waiting for me to screw up for three weeks...I got this.  Negotiating the Khan El-Khalili market in Cairo armed with only a dozen words of Egyptian problem.  Swimming on a sand bar full of Stingrays who rub up against your legs like cats...I'll talk baby talk to them and pet their velvety bellies.   Put me in a locked room with a crying kid, and I'll claw my way through the drywall to escape the horror.

Needless to say, I have a lot of respect for my wedding clients who return to me when they have decided to take the baby plunge.  Some responsible, patient, loving folk have to raise the next generation of cake fans, and we know that it isn't going to be me that (Wo)man's up to the task.

This past weekend, we had a rare occurrence at the shop.  No weddings...two baby showers.  Let's start with Ann and Tyler.  Since we made their fabulous "Parrot Head" wedding cake, they have had a darling little girl.  Now that they are expecting their second, they decided that it would be fun for us to make them a "Gender Reveal" shower cake.  For those of you living under a Pinterest-free rock, a gender reveal cake is tinted either pink or blue so that when the parents cut the cake at their shower, the gender of the baby is revealed.  Tyler and Ann dropped off the sealed ultra sound with us a few days before the party so we were the first to know.  Very flattering...I thought, as I opened the sealed envelope, expecting to see that oddly sweet "alien-looking" profile that we've all seen before.  Instead, I got a bottom up view with a little arrow that said "It's a boy!"  I'm no ultra sound tech...but the way this kid was flashing me, I didn't need any clarification.  Modesty, little Tyler!!!

Fortunately for my innocent little eyes, Erica and Josh already knew they were having a girl when they asked me to make baby Charlotte's shower cake.   If you haven't followed the blog for long, check out their beautiful wedding cake etc. here.  As if my car crushing their prize gum paste Dahlia wedding cake topper wasn't enough, they chose a different way to stress me out with the shower cake.  "We want you to surprise us!!"


Nothing (shy of a crying child) stresses out the Evil Cake Genius more than surprises.  Carte Blanche is, needless to say, not my color.  Playing along, I agreed, but asked for a tiny bit of guidance, and here's what I got.  Erica sent me a link to a baby shower that was duck-themed in a beautiful yellow and grey color scheme.  She also mentioned that she loved the "Little Golden Books" and those beat up old vintage building blocks, and that while they loved our tiered cakes, it might be fun to make a trompe l'oeil cake for the shower.  Josh, unbeknownst to Erica, had let us in on her love for her own baby blankie (at least what's left of it).  He even provided us with these "Before and After" photos of the blankie for reference.

He also mentioned that it would be great to see big brother Wilson (their bulldog) represented on the cake. 

So, for over a month, I stressed out.  Planned, changed plans, designed, redesigned, and finally came up with a design that would look like a stack of nursery rhyme books next to an open book.  We could have one of the books be "The Pokey Little Puppy" and have a mini Wilson head sticking out from the pages of the book.  The open book would be a classic, but nondescript fairy tale with a title page that read "Welcome Baby Charlotte".  I had the perfect vintage Fairy Tale book at my house, and once I paged through it, and found that every illustration had something either disturbing, racially insensitive, or downright weird, I moved to "Plan B".  That involved several trips to used book stores, where I found out that my vintage Fairy Tale book was no exception (check them out sometime, they are downright bizarre) and endless hours searching online for the perfect illustrations. 

Finally, at around two o'clock in the morning, two weeks before the shower, I was searching online, when I realized that I could use one of my books.  I had a stack of books that were favorites from my childhood, and figured that "Miss Susie" the squirrel who lives in a dollhouse, might have some great illustrations in it.  I walked out of my office, through the living room on my way to the basement and stopped directly in front of two framed prints on my living room wall.  They were a gift from The Captain, many years ago.  Two beautifully illustrated pages from my favorite version of "The Velveteen Rabbit" just on the pages where he becomes REAL.

I had just read the passage about becoming real a few months earlier while we waited for the vet to bring back our Child, Speck, from the back room where they gave her her latest vaccinations.  Speck is 14 years old.  She is the joy of our lives...a feisty pain in the ass, naughty Westie, who we adore with all of our hearts.  The vet had commented that her hair was thinning around her collar as it happens with older dogs.  I told her that the hair had been "loved off" and as any techno-spoiled girl would, I found the passage to back my reference on my phone while The Captain and I waited for Speck to get her shots.

“What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day... "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Rocking Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Rocking Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Rocking Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

I ran back to my office, and sketched the fastest, most unreadable sketch of my career.  We would swap the stack of books for a present with a Chocolate Paste Velveteen Rabbit coming out of the box.  Instead of frosting tissue paper, we'd make a frosting version of Erica's blankie ("before" version") and, since we adore Erica and Josh, and planned on getting them a shower gift anyway, I ordered a copy of the original book and the plush bunny before sighing with relief and going up to bed. 

The following weeks were filled with moments of doubt that my design was possibly "self serving" or that maybe for some reason, Erica and Josh were the two people on the planet who for some reason hate "The Velveteen Rabbit".  You know, the usual, neurotic crap that The Evil Cake Genius puts her twisted mind through.

Happily, when we delivered the cake, Erica and Josh were delighted.  Erica instantly recognized her blankie, and she seemed to have the same trouble that I did reminding herself that she couldn't cuddle the frosting bunny.

Decorator's Notes

Twinkle Twinkle Cake
We hand-carved the fat little star shape for Tyler and Ann's Baby Reveal cake.  Blue cake turns a horrible green color when it bakes (on the outside of the cake only) so it was nice to carve all of that away. 
The Striped bow was screen printed in blue royal icing using our Striped Ribbon and Message Medallion Screen Set available at our Evil Cake Genius site HERE
The Letters for the song verse were cut out using a combination of upper and lower case letters from the cutter sets available at our Evil Cake Genius site HERE the question mark was created by warping the number 2 from this set.
Charlotte's Cake
Charlotte's bunny was molded out of Chocolate paste.  We were happy to have the real toy bunny at our side during the process for reference, and cuddles.
The bow on the box lid was screen printed with the same striped ribbon screen as the bow on the Twinkle cake.  It is part of our Striped Ribbon and Message Medallion Screen Set available on our Evil Cake Genius site HERE
The two pages of the book were painted with liqui-gel food colors diluted with vodka, then screen printed in black royal icing.  We can't sell the Velveteen Rabbit screen because of Copyright, but the "Welcome Baby Charlotte' screen inspired the "Welcome Baby Plaque and Medallion/Cookie Screen" set on our Evil Cake Genius site HERE


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Repeat Business, Keeping Cake in the Family

Making wedding cakes is a tough business.  Aside from the long hours, Carpal Tunnel-ridden hands, Dish-Pan-hands, constant temptation to EAT EVERYTHING around you, and Chronic bouts of  Catastrophic Cake-tastrophy nightmares keeping you from getting a good night's sleep from late April until November, and mopping...all that mopping, it is a tricky business model to boot.  You see, we love our clients.  Our clients love us.  We have a fabulous working relationship and build customer loyalty that any Fortune 500 Company would kill for.  Then, they get married, we make them an awesome cake, aaaaaand, we're done.

A lot of bakeries would see their clients again for birthday cakes, and baby shower cakes, etc. after the wedding, but we're a small bakery that does big cakes.  So we can only take three cakes per weekend.  So, unless you plan to have a small gathering of 100 or so guests every year at your birthday party, we're probably not going to be doing the cake. 

When I started Gateaux, 17 years ago, I was aware of this little business glitch.  And, while I wasn't rooting for the divorce rates to skyrocket to bring me back some of my favorite couples (I guess they'd be singles) as repeat clients, it did worry me a bit.

After the first couple of years in business, I learned that I was (don't tell my husband this) pleasantly wrong.  While I didn't have repeat clients in the traditional sense, I did have repeat clients in an even better way.  I discovered that if you do your job well and have fun with your clients in the process, they often drag their siblings, friends, even coworkers back to you as soon as they hear of another engagement.  Repeat.  Business.

Some of you may remember Marissa and Robb and their Tale of Three Cities Cake from 2011.  Turns out that Robb has a sister who planned to marry in 2012.  I was thrilled when Jacey's wedding planners Amy Zaroff Events contacted me to let me know that Jacey wanted to use us for her wedding cake as well.  Thrilled, and a little worried.  You see, when you're wired for anxiety the way the Evil Cake Genius is, you can turn a flattering situation into a scary one really quickly.  The problem...not sibling fact, Jacey and her brother and his new wife couldn't be further from the notion of it.  But, Cake Rivalry...that is a very real thing. 

I loved Marissa and Robb's cake.  It is easily one of my top five in the past few years.  So, all I could think about was how I was running the risk of disappointing Robb's sister.  And while I'm at it, how about their entire side of the guest list, who saw her brother's awesome cake only a year earlier.  Let's face it, I set the bar pretty high with that cake.

To compliment things more, when Jacey came in for her design session, her parents came along.   Her dad  mentioned that he would be contacting me for an 80th birthday cake for his mother.  The party would be at his house mid summer.  I thought nothing of it, and continued working with Jacey and her crew to design a wedding cake that unbeknownst to them, had to meet a specific level of awesomeness in the Cake Lady's warped mind.  And thanks to a great design session...a bride with impeccable taste, good coordinators, and a Mother of the Bride who has incredible style (it was her suggestion that we make spherical tiers) we succeeded.  The silhouette was exquisite, we added fondant "fabric rosettes" with an ombre effect to the separators, and even tied in the Sheet Music from the song that the Groom would perform at the ceremony.  Beautiful, elegant, meaningful, and most important (to me), just as awesome as the cake we made for her brother! And all was right in the Evil Cake Geniuses twisted head.


Two weeks later, I had my meeting with the father of the Bride, Scott about his mother's 80th birthday party.  I figured, something simple, a nice little gathering, maybe a lovely cake with some pretty flowers on it.  But Scott had an idea.  I good idea.  An idea that he had no idea would send me right back down that Cake Rivalry road. 

His mother loves Ice Cream.  As a matter of fact, his parents owned a string of Ice Cream Parlor restaurants in the Twin Cities for a number of years.  So Scott thought it fitting to make his mother's cake look like a giant Ice Cream Sundae.  I'm in!  I love the idea!  I need to make this incredible...people are expecting great things, I can do this, I can outdo them all, I can make the cake of the century...I have to make the cake of the century, I can't let Jacey and Robb's Grandma down, she's seen Robb's cake, she's seen Jacey's sketches, I...must...make....the best cake ever, win, win!! Weee are the championnns my friennnd....and weeee'llll keeee

Scary, isn't it?

So Scott and I sketched a cake that I honestly had no idea how to make.  But I had a couple of months, so I'd figure it out.  When he left, he returned about a half hour later with one of the old Ice Cream Sundae photos that hung on the wall of their restaurants...and, brace yourself for sweetness...a photo of his mom so I could see the wonderful woman who would be receiving this cake.

No pressure.

Fortunately, many of you know that I have a retired Engineer on my side.  My father in law, Magic Phil, really earned his moniker on this one.  He built me support structure that allowed me to create that perfect Sundae glass shape.  We delivered the cake to the party (exquisitely executed party, might I add) and began our obsession with whether or not Jacey's wedding cake could stand up to such an awesome birthday cake.  It's a truly vicious cycle, the workings of an Evil Cake Genius' brain.

And it did.  Jacey's cake was beautiful.  It lived up to its two predecessors without a doubt.   It has joined the ranks of my favorite all-time cakes.  Which is good, because these guys are one of my all time favorite families.  Until, of course....they order another cake, and I descend right back into cake...madness.

Decorator's Notes

The fondant of Jacey's cake matched the color of her incredible Vera Wang gown.  It was created by mixing Gold Sparkle Luster dust with Nu Silver Luster dust.  A color, we (for sheer lack of creativity) call "Gilver". 
The rounded "topiary" shape of the cake tiers were hand carved.  To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a cake pan that makes this unique shape.
The detailing on the tiers were custom cut stencils, and the sheet music pattern was a custom mesh stencil that we created based off of the actual sheet music from the song that the Groom (Aaron) sang to her during the ceremony (what an awesome guy!)

We've added the sheet music stencil to our Evil Cake Genius Site so other decorators can create this intricate look with Evil Speed too.  Click HERE to see.
The flower topper on this cake was done using the Sheet Music Stencil and our Vintage Vow Flower Tutorial
We were thrilled to find their beautiful antique gold cake stand at Home Decorator's Accessories They have some great stands!