Friday, February 15, 2013

How do people come up with this stuff?

When designing wedding cakes, my appointments usually have three phases.  Phase one, "Show and Tell", is where I have my clients open up their folders of Magazine Pages, iPads, and Pinterest Pages to give me an idea of the overall look of their wedding.  This is the most important part of the appointment.  It's during this time, that whether or not the client knows it, I design their wedding cake. 

Phase two, is what I like to consider the "put your money where your mouth is" part of the appointment.  It's when I pull out my albums of Gateaux wedding cakes, to show the client that I can actually do some of the stuff that I'm about to pitch to them.  I bet if you asked most people who met with me, they'd tell you that they thought this part of the appointment was where they got to pick their cake, but in all honesty, it's not.  You see, the Evil Cake Genius has an incredibly short attention span.  While I adore the cakes that we've made in the past, I have absolutely no desire to ever repeat a design.  After all, I've already done that.  Why would I want to do it again? 

Nonetheless, I enjoy the chance to show off my cakes. 

Gateaux's portfolio is split into four albums.  One traditional album, one preppy album, a modern album, and one that I lovingly call "The Weirdo Book".  Most brides and grooms don't have any reason to look through this book, aside from the fact that it's just damn fun to look through.  Let's be honest, the majority of my wedding clients aren't going to end up with a cake topped with two frosting otters holding hands, or the "Fab Five" walking across their bottom tier.  But even the most conservative of clients can appreciate these cakes for the creativity and artistry that goes into creating them.

When looking through this particular album with Cate, Adam, Cate's mom (recent client, responsible for this adorable cake) Kimberly, and Adam's mom, Pam, Pam asked me a question that I hear a lot after people look through  "The Weirdo Book"..."I'm just not that creative...How do people come up with this stuff?" 

She was about to find out.  First hand.

Kate and Adam were getting married at the beautiful Semple Mansion in Minneapolis.  The look would be Old Hollywood - a nod to that golden age of Art Deco decor and Nouveau thinking in America...the Jazz Age.  It made sense, they both worked in film, they even met on a set.  That being said, they weren't about to go theme party with it.

I'm a big fan of having a design scheme, rather than a theme to draw from.  So this was an easy one for me.  I had, on a recent trip to New York, finally gone to the top of the Empire State Building.   Funny, I had been there nearly a dozen times, over a span of twenty years, but I had never taken that pilgrimage until that most recent trip.  I shared that with Adam and Cate, and they agreed that that was the kind of graphic inspiration we should use for their cake.

Onto Phase Three - Free for All.  It's like stream of consciousness with multiple players.  There is no wrong answer, just throw out a bunch of ideas...we'll use some, we'll not use others, but together, we always end up with the perfect wedding cake.  Together.

I ran back to my office and grabbed a few Art Deco patterns that I had been saving for...well, I guess for these two.  We quickly sketched up the bottom and middle tiers of the cake using a Deco Fountain pattern and a great monogram panel, but when it came to the top tier, I drew a bit of a blank.  Then Cate suggested that we use the silhouette of the Empire state building on the top tier.  Adam agreed, and we added a stylized Deco Empire state to the top tier.  I recommended that we have the spire of the building extend beyond the top of the cake as a cake topper - "and you can have King Kong and Faye Wray hanging off the spire".  Great idea, Adam!...Cate...Kimberly...?  Nope, that idea came leaping out of Pam's head.  There was a brief pause.  One of those awkward silences.  She shifted in her chair and looked a little unsure.  Had she taken it too far?

As the cake lady, I knew it was genius the second she said it.  It tied in the Empire State design to the underlying Hollywood and film idea.  After all, they met on a film set!  But, it isn't my wedding cake.  Cate and Adam stopped, looked at each other, we all paused for a moment, and...Nope, not too far...just far enough!! We would replace the traditional bride and groom with Kong (decked in a tuxedo jacket, of course) and his bride.  Fortunately, Adam and Cate have a very talented friend who brought their vision of Kong and his bride to Art Deco perfection. 

And that... Pam, is how people come up with that stuff.  You are now an honorary Cake Lady.

We finished our sketch, and worked up an invitation design that would compliment the look and give their guests a little sneak preview of the wedding decor.  The Bride and Groom even had a little fun with the RSVP options - another little touch of film and humor.

I'm not actually sure if Cate and Adam's cake ended up in our "Weirdo Book".  After all, the cake is one of my favorite examples of a clean, elegant, graphic wedding cake.  It's fun to see people do a double take when they recognize the cake topper.  I think at heart, a lot of us are Weirdos.  Love makes you happy, sometimes even a little goofy.  I love when we can incorporate a little whimsy and humor into a wedding cake.  It's not like you're rolling the thing down the aisle at the church.  The reception is the party to celebrate that love that makes us a little goofy.  So enjoy yourselves, share a little inside joke with your guests, and most importantly, have fun.  Kong would want you to.

Decorator's Notes

The Cake

Cate and Adam's cake was frosted in buttercream and panelled in sheets of fondant to give it crisp perfect corners.  The black and white Art Deco embellishments were all screen printed in royal icing onto sheets of fondant.  We cut out the Deco patterns and attached them to the cake tiers. We weren't sure if the bottom tier's corner patterns would wrap around the corners of the cake without the royal icing cracking, so we planned to cut those in half vertically and attach them separately to each side of the cake.  On Jenna's suggestion, we tried doing one corner with the pattern in tact to see if it were possible to bend the pattern over the corner without the royal cracking if we worked quickly enough.  Fortunately, it worked!
We wanted Kong and the top spire of the Empire state building to be set back on the top tier so that it could be centered, like a cake topper.  In advance, we screen printed the top portion of the Emprire State building onto Mexican Paste (1 Part Gum Paste, to 1 Part Fondant) cut it out, and allowed it to dry with a pick sticking out of the bottom of it.  Once we decorated the cake with the fondant Empire State, we cut off the top of the pattern flush with the cake and replaced it with the set back Mexican Paste topper. 
The screens for this cake design are now for sale on our Evil Cake Genius site HERE - without King Kong, however...those were just for our Cate and Adam.
We'll even customize the Middle tier's in case your client's last name doesn't begin with an "H" ;)

The Cake Stand

We wanted a cake stand that had an Art Deco feel to it without distracting from the cake.  So we had our very own "Magic Phil" cut us three 1" thick squares of particle board.  One 14", one 16" and one 18".  He glued them together and painted them high gloss black.  It has become a very useful stand in our collection, and is quite easy to DIY.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lions, Shepherds and 70 years of marriage

Some of you have read our Blog Post entitled "Style" last year.  This one was certain to be titled "Grace" but I couldn't pass up the Lion and Shepherd thing.  Sounds like the opening to a dirty joke "So this lion walks into a bar..." so I had to use it.

Webster defines Grace in many ways, and shy of the "saying Grace before dinner" definition, Jessica and Peter were a shining example of two people who (whether it be by nature or nurture) embodied this beautiful concept.
Grace : the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful
It started with the groom's cake.  The couple was having a champagne bar at the wedding (something for their guests to indulge in during the cocktail hour) so there was an underlying theme of champagne to the event.  When Peter saw a champagne themed cake that we had done for a 40th birthday, he knew that would make the perfect groom's cake.  Typically, I'd do the champagne bottles with important dates in the groom's life.  But rather than have it be all about him, the couple decided it would be a great place to honor their parents.  
Jessica and Peter went on to explain that between their parents, there was over 70 years of marriage.  Who does that kind of math?  Who thinks to give that kind of credit? Hmmm....Grace.
Now came the fun.  We would come up with custom labels for the chocolate champagne bottles.  His parent's with a Shepherd (his last name being Shepard) and her parents with a Lion (last name Lyon)  We would make the vintage the year of their weddings, and have the top bottle represent the new Mr. and Mrs. Shepard (an inaugural vintage).

That being done, let's move onto another of Webster's definitions of Grace
Grace: ease and suppleness of movement or bearing
This one was allllll Jessica.  When we designed the wedding cake, we couldn't help but pull a bit of detail from her wedding dress.  I drew two options, one that really imitated the gown, and one that just included the beautiful silver lace applique on her bodice.  She had the good sense to choose the former.  We incorporated the monogram from their invitations, the silver ribbon chair ties, and of all things, these little beaded-bobble napkin rings that added this perfect touch of effervescence (like champagne bubbles, but not champagne bubbles) to the table settings.  That whole design scheme, rather than "theme" thing that I love to encourage. 
For the dress detail, Jessica's planner (the awesome Sarah Trotter of Lasting Impressions) provided me with a photo of her dress (shown on a model).  It was a beautiful dress... Very chic, very unusual. But when we returned to the reception on the wedding night and saw Jessica in the dress, it had transformed.  She didn't walk in that dress, she levitated.  I don't know what it was...probably the G-word, but to see Jessica in that dress made the shot from the magazine look flat and lifeless.
I have brides tell me all the time when I see the magazine photo of the dress "I don't look as good as the model in it".   But to see my bride's in their gowns, it always amazes me how no model can capture what it is to be a bride.  They glow, they beam, they are the embodiment of, you got it...Grace.

Grace :disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; i.e.a gracious host
I do a lot of weddings. I have a lot of great clients. The best clients are always those who understand that a wedding is a chance to be a gracious host to your guests. The couples who plan their wedding as though they are planning an albeit brief, vacation for their friends and family. They use it as a chance to entertain.
Jessica and Peter got this.
So when I suggested that we try out a new concept that we had been wanting to try as a combination late-night-snack, reception entertainment, favour.  They were the first couple to take the risk, and try it out.  We decided to do a gourmet popcorn table during the dance.  Everything from Habenero and S'mores (with mini graham crackers and marshmallows, baby!!!) to White Cheddar and Peanut Butter Cup, you name it, it was deliciously there.  And, displayed in champagne buckets! 
When we came back to set up the table during dinner, several guests came down to the bathroom and saw the table in process.  The overwhelming reaction was "they did this for me".  One after another, they all came out with that same idea...that the bride and groom must have known that they loved popcorn, and created the table in their honor.  It was hilarious.  My personal favorite was an uncle who could only say "Good Gravy" when he saw it.  Best. Phrase. Ever.
 Grace: Mercy, Pardon : a temporary exemption : reprieve
Like I mentioned earlier, we had a rare opportunity to come back to this reception to set up the popcorn table.  It was an incredibly busy wedding day for us.  And to get all of our wedding cakes and dessert tables, etc. delivered and rendez vous back at this reception to set up the popcorn was a relief.  That is, until we walked in the door of the now empty reception area (dinner was served on the third floor) to the waving arms of the bartender.  Who showed slow motion (or at least that's how it happened in my mind) that one of the chocolate champagne bottles had taken a nose dive off the side of the cake...during the cocktail hour.  Let's just say.  I've been decorating cakes for 17 years, and never have I seen anything like this happen to one of our cakes.  People always ask "have you ever dropped a cake?"  The answer is no (knock on wood).  But the way I felt when he showed me the blank space where the bottle was supposed to be, I can't imagine I could possibly feel worse if I had dropped the thing.  I hope to never find out.  I looked over at Jenna, who looked like someone had just punched her in the gut.  The two of us were stunned, and devastated.  This isn't melodrama (see the Decorator's notes below) this is that unmistakable feeling that you get when something went horribly wrong and you are powerless.  Can't undo it...stuck.
We did the only thing we could do, set up the popcorn and tried to work out what we had done wrong.  Did we position the dowels under the bottles wrong?  Was the Coconut Creme cake flavor too light to hold the weight?  Did we angle the bottles too sharply?  While working in silence, the Bride and Groom appeared.  They had come downstairs for a moment during dinner and saw us.  I wanted to run.  I wanted to hide.  I wanted to..."Robin!!!"  Too late....they saw me.  I turned to begin profusely apologising, but before I could open my mouth, they were raving about how lovely both cakes were and how much people loved much they loved them.  I mentioned the champagne bottle that had lept to its death during cocktails, to which they replied "I'm sure one of the guests messed with it" and "Our parents had already seen it, we already had photos taken with it" and other reassuring sentiments.   And all the Who's down in Whoville sang...and this Evil Cake Genius saw what she knew was there all along...Grace.

Many thanks to the Fabulous Betsy Wall Photography for these beautiful photos!


We realize that many of our readers are fellow cake decorators, so we've started a new section of our blog for all of you.  This section will be used to share tips on certain designs, sources for products used in the posts, and other insights that only us Cakey Types would truly appreciate. 


 The wedding Cake:

Jessica and Peter's wedding cake was a joy to decorate.  We used lots of techniques that were new to us, and loved the results.  The lace was one of our custom lace stencils.  We copied the actual lace from Jessica's beautiful gown to create a stencil, stenciled it in grey royal icing, then air brushed it silver before removing the stencil.  You can order her stencil in our Evil Cake Genius store HERE

The Cake Stand:

Found this at a local floral supply place.  Actually, didn't find it...I walked in and one of the employees there said "Robin!! We've been waiting to show you this"...and it was mine.  Fortunately for you other decorators out there, it is now available on this web site in square, and is soooooo much cheaper than I paid for mine.  PS, if anyone at this site would like to thank me for the referrals, I'll gladly take one of everything on your site.  Love, love, love it!!!  Gimme, gimme.


The Groom's Cake:

This baby still haunts me.  We actually did a birthday cake with the exact same layout and chocolate bottles about 6 months before this wedding, with no trouble at all... I always say that delivering each cake is like putting your kid on the school bus (to which my husband once pointed out "yeah, if the teacher cut them up and ate them".  Anyway, it's always tempting to not share stories of failure, but I've always been one to fully disclose.  I hope my sharing my trauma will help the next decorator to know that those bottles are heavy, and apparently doweling them might not suffice if they are angled too sharply.  The labels on the Champagne bottles were Screen Printed in royal icing onto fondant.  I haven't released these for sale yet, but we have just added several screens and a full screen printing tutorial to our Evil Cake Genius site We are adding more and more of them as people get familiar with the process and realize how awesome they are to use (not so fun to make, but awesome to use, that's why we're making them for you!)