When my 14-year-old turned one (in 2009), I decided that for her party I wanted to have one of those fancy new fondant cakes we were all seeing on the Food Network Challenges. Of course, at the time, it really seemed like Food Network was the only place one could find them, and even if I were able to locate one at a local bakery, it would be very expensive. Since I’ve always been a crafty gal and had actually taken a very basic cake decorating class in high school, I decided to try my hand at decorating her first birthday cake out of fondant all by myself.
….and THOSE are the famous last words, folks.
What began as a way for me to have a special connection to my daughter’s birthday while also saving a very minuscule amount of money on a professional cake has become an expensive hobby, a go-to conversation starter, and a lifelong passion.
It’s now been (counting backward) 13 years and probably over a hundred cakes later, and I am an amateur cake decorator. It’s a part of who I am, just as much as I am a Saints fan or a brunette. I’ve made wedding cakes, groom’s cakes, and baby shower cakes. I’ve even made funeral cakes and a very special cake that I knew would be a loved one’s last birthday cake. Gender reveals, surprise flavors? Check and oh- Check!
It had started out more or less slowly. I made a few birthday cakes, and then I made some rice Krispy treat crawfish for a crawfish boil. The part of the cake that was actual, well- CAKE was the pot, and I sculpted the crawfish, corn, and potatoes. I was- as they say- hooked. From that point on, I found it difficult to turn down a request to make a cake, and I often over-extended myself, often having a two or three cake weekend- while also working a full-time job and being a wife and mother.
For a few years, my passionate hobby became a little sour. I said yes to cakes I didn’t really want to do, duplicating things I had done before, working on slim notice, and frankly- making cakes for people who I wasn’t that close to and who maybe didn’t realize that I was sacrificing time with my family.
I eventually decided to scale back big time, and I now make only 10 or 20 cakes a year, if that. I do still make wedding or groom’s cakes, but only for very, very special people in my life. And I’ve come to recognize limitations- I’ll never make 2 cakes in one weekend again, it’s way too much. I also will rely on the tricks I’ve learned along the way.
For some of my earlier cakes, I thought scratch baking, that is- following a recipe instead of using a pre-made box of cake mix- was the way to go. I spent a lot of time and money on premium ingredients- creaming butter, whipping egg whites, and sifting flour, only to have people react almost precisely as they did to a cake-mix cake.
This was absolutely infuriating to me until I found a kick-ass recipe online for swiss buttercream. The baker stated that she used fancy-pants icings and toppings because that’s what people notice, and she just stuck to a mix for the cake. I’ve followed this sage advice and have never looked back. Of course, that being said, not all mix preparation is equal. I’ve seen it all with cake mixes so you don’t have to.
(If that sounded like it was a segue into a part II, you’re absolutely right!)