The Evil Cake Genius never went to culinary school. Nope, not one lick of formal training in this noggin. It makes me a tiny bit self-conscience at times because nobody ever handed me a diploma or certificate saying "you're done", "you've got this", or even "you're ready to go".
To some, this may seem like a handicap. But as it happens, it makes me better at what I do. You see, nobody ever told me that I was done learning. Because, in fact none of us are ever done learning. And in this way, having no formal training means that I am still in training...so I'm currently in my 18th year of my Evil Cake Genius "degree".
Enter Michelangelo, yup, the big "uomo" himself.
Several years ago, my husband "The Captain" and I took a trip to Italy. In preparation for the trip, we studied up on our Renaissance artists, and one particular book, "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" ended up being one of the most influential books I've ever read. The Captain read the book before we saw the Sistine Chapel and while I and the 30 or so other tourists in the room stared blankly at that magnificent work of art, he was actually seeing it. He whispered to me some points of interest about the ceiling and the process of creating it that he'd learned from the book so I could appreciate some of the finer points, but once we got home, I felt the need to read it myself. And what I got was an understanding of the human behind the work. I always assumed that Michelangelo was one of those few who were given a "gift". But in fact, the man had to struggle, and work, and rework his craft. And at the age of 87, he is recorded as saying "Ancora Imparo"- "Yet, still, I learn."
Now what does this have to do with the Evil Cake Genius, and decorating cakes? Trust me, I am not comparing myself to the big Mich, or any Master artists for that matter. But I find great comfort in knowing that, that when the frosting falls off the side of one of my cakes overnight in the fridge, I'm walking in the footsteps of Michelangelo, discovering an entire section of his completed fresco ceiling on the floor of the chapel when he came to work the following morning (and I'm sure that we shared the same choice words, after all, %@#! translates perfectly between English and Italian).
Now onto Ong and Brandon...
Ong has an eye for style. From her amazing wedding dress, to the incredible floral decor of her reception. She created one of the most timeless and romantic weddings that I've ever had the pleasure to be involved with. We designed her cake with an ombre of pink ruffles leading into two tiers of hand-painted floral patterns. It would be exquisite. I also had no idea how I was going to do it.
The one thing I did know was that I'm not one of those "gifted" folks who can just freehand an amazing design on a cake. So I researched, and found a beautiful floral pattern. Then, I traced the outline and created a mesh stencil so that I could transfer the pattern to the cake. That was the easy part.
Now I had to learn to paint. So I looked to the best cake and cupcake painter I know, Nina Evans Williams, of Mon Cottage Cupcakes. I emailed her for a few tips and bought her tutorial. And I tried it. And I sucked. Her technique was fabulous, but I was too slow and too inexperienced with painting to get my flowers to look as beautiful as hers.
I couldn't get the colors to blend. By the time I painted one section, the color next to it was dry, and my roses looked like cubist representations of flowers, not the beautiful classic roses I wanted. So I did what came naturally... I whined. You see, what Michelangelo didn't know, was that if you bitch and moan long enough, people get sick of it, and try to solve the problem for you. I was bitching to Jenna, that my edible "paint" (a mixture of petal dust and vodka) was acting like acrylic or watercolor paint, when what I really needed was oil paint. Oil paint doesn't dry for a while, so if you're meticulous and slow like me, you can still blend the colors. "Well, why not mix the petal dust with cooking oil?" And with those words out of Jenna's mouth, the heavens opened, and this old genius learned a new trick. And painting those roses went from stress-fest to an absolute joy. No, not exaggerating. This cake became a relaxing, enjoyable, and highly rewarding process.
Once we finished the painted tiers, I looked over to my baking racks, where a little frosting version of Ong's beloved St. Bernard, Lincoln was waiting for his big debut. For any of you who don't already know, The Evil Cake Genius makes these little pooches for lots of her dog-crazy clients. We stash them somewhere on the wedding cake, and the full price of the pooch gets donated to the ASPCA. Well, Lincoln had some color issues. Where I had painted his markings, was streaked, and brush stroked. I have always struggled with this on my multicolored pooches, but had no real solution...until now. I mixed up some petal dust with oil, and went over all of his painted areas, and they blended beautifully.
Ahh, applied knowledge.
But, after we delivered Ong's cake, I was deflated. I wanted more, more I tell you! So, I decided to transfer my newfound technique into other designs. How about using my edible oil paint with one of my acrylic stencils? We thickened it up a bit, and used it on this watercolor Southwestern Chevron pattern. (Can't show the whole cake until it's published, but damn, it's cool!)
Or how about for Christmas cookies? I've always loved those little pieces of art, so I traced some vintage Holly and Mistletoe patterns and created a set of Cookie Mesh Stencils. I put on a little Nat King Cole, mixed up some Petal Dust "oil paint" and had some holiday "me time". As easy as those "paint by number" sets I used to do as a kid, only instead of a portrait of a horse that, once completed, ends up in a shoebox full of artistic achievements that no one actually wants to display, these little babies can dress up your Christmas Cookie Platters, and then be chomped down by some clueless uncle at your Caroling party. Not a much better fate for fine art, but it's all about the process anyway...?
Who knows where my new favorite technique will show up next? And now that I've put it out there to other cake decorators, I can't wait to see what all of you Evil Geniuses do with it.
As for "still learning" at age 87? This Evil Cake Genius will be happy just to be "still breathing" at that age. But, one thing I can say for sure is that as long as I'm learning new things, I'll be sharing them here.
Ong's cake had that beautiful Ombre of ruffles that went from deep lipstick pink to Ivory. The Evil Cake Genius has always struggled to get a vibrant pink color in fondant. Until one day, I whined about it on Facebook, and someone suggested that I use Pink oil-based Candy Color in my fondant. Once again, oil seems to be my friend. The oil based colors don't dull in the least once added to fondant. So I added these colors to the Evil Cake Genius site. Click the photo below for a link.
The Classic Rose Pattern that we used on Ong's cake has been a fabulous seller on Evil Cake Genius. We include a full tutorial for using the Mesh Stencil on a cake as well as a tutorial for painting the pattern. We've had many decorators send us photos of their Rosy Successes, and we know you'll love the process too. To shop bot the Classic Rose Mesh Stencil and the new Shortened version for standard-height cakes, click HERE
We even put together a Petal Dust set of the colors that we used to paint Ong's flowers, so there's no guesswork for matching our color scheme.
Our Southwestern Chevron Acrylic stencil is available HERE
And our Mistletoe and Holly Mesh Stencils with complete photo tutorial are available HERE
Along with our Petal Dust set with the colors you need to replicate our color palette for the painting.