the naked truth… about naked cakes

Trendy. It’s a word that we hate and love with equal fervor, especially when it comes to weddings. We want our celebrations to be unique and express our individuality, yet, we are bursting to emulate the latest fab thing we swooned over on Pinterest. How do you stay current, and still express your style and personality?

One of the latest trends in wedding cakes is the “naked cake”. What is it, and why has it disrobed? A naked cake in form, resembles a traditional wedding cake. It is a tiered confection, and is often adorned with fresh or edible flowers, and fruit, and a minimum of buttercream and fuss. No fondant, no frills, no piping or draping. Just yummy cake and dreamy buttercream. Usually naked cakes evoke notions of rustic retreats and barnyard banquets, however it is possible to have a naked cake that is sweet, simple and sophisticated, gorgeous and glam, or rock star ready.

There are a couple of things to consider before you strip your wedding cake bare.

– This is a cake that needs to be made and decorated very close to the day and time of your wedding. Since it’s missing the protection of a thick layer of buttercream on the outside, it is more prone to drying out.

– Choose a cake that is moist. Any cake that has fruit in it holds up well. Great flavors for a naked cake would be carrot, banana, apple or even chocolate.

– Fresh fruit fillings or custards are not as stable as buttercream. They may leak or settle, spoiling the appearance of your cake, so choose your fillings wisely. A flavored buttercream is your best best. Also, remember that different flavors will impact the color of the buttercream, so opt for flavors that reflect the color scheme of your big day. When in doubt, use a vanilla, almond or lemon buttercream, as those will be neutral in color.

– Any flowers or fruits that are used on your cake should be pesticide-free, and non-toxic, so that you and your guests are not getting a dose of chemicals with their slice. Not all flowers are safe for consumption. Consult with your baker and florists about your options.

– Keep in mind the overall decor of your event, and choose similar accents for your cake so that it all makes sense together.

Here are a few of the naked cakes that we’ve done this year. Each reflects the personality of the couple, and the ambiance of their wedding celebration.

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photo credit inije photo

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photo credit julie anne wedding photography

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buttercream & blueprints

i received a phone call last week from a dad attempting to get a custom cake for his twin daughters’ sweet sixteen. nothing unusual there. i get inquiries often. this one was a little different because this would be the second set of birthday cakes for his girls. dad explained that the first set was a cake wreck of epic proportions, and he needed to make it up to them. apparently there was a collapsed tier, a very late delivery, and a final product that didn’t remotely resemble what was discussed. that cake disaster led me to think about the things i do to prevent misshaps in my kitchen, and what you as clients can do to ensure that you get exactly what your hearts (and tummies) desire.

so let’s say you’re in the market for a house. you go online and look at awesome pictures of beautiful floor plans, and decide which builder you’re going to use.

that builder then tells you, “no worries, i’ve built hundreds of houses. never had one collapse yet! and i don’t even use blueprints. i’ve got it all up here (pointing under his hardhat)!”

you wouldn’t use that builder. you wouldn’t trust that he could create what you asked for, and make it safe and secure. it’s the same with your custom cake. your baker needs a guide or plan, no matter how many years they’ve made tasty treats.

when i first started making cakes, i would use a picture of another cake as a reference. when i began designing custom cakes, i quickly learned that i needed a sketch in order to ensure that what was in my head came out in buttercream just the way i and my client had envisioned it. in the beginning the sketches were rough and crude, but now, i’ve honed my drawing skills the same way i’ve become more adept in sculpting in fondant.

those renderings are more than just a pretty picture. they’re a way of communicating between you and me to make sure that we have a shared vision, and that your cake house doesn’t come tumbling down!

quick tips for choosing a baker
– get a solid referral from someone you know and trust.
– ask to see pictures of their most recent work (keep in mind the quality of the pictures can give you insight into the quality of the work. i will not show a client grainy, out of focus, or photobombed images)
– even if there is no contract (small cakes, not wedding cakes), make sure you have a description of the cake in writing, or a sketch of what the final product should look like as well as your delivery/pick-up time.

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you’re not the only one…

so this month, back in August, pastry live, had a 3 day event comprised of seminars, workshops and competitions all for the glory of sugar and chocolate. not sure what bug got in my bonnet, but i decided to throw my hat into the ring for “the art of cake” competition. they had a pretty cool concept – take your favorite artistic inspiration – art, artist, or time period – and translate that into a sculpted cake creation. piece of cake! not. at. all.

first of all, we had to submit both the artistic interpretation and cake flavors for the tasting cake waaay ahead of time. not so great for a procrastinator. or maybe that was great, since it forced me to get my butt in gear early. i decided that since the competition was taking place the same weekend as the occasion for the 50th anniversary of jamaica’s independence, i would select a jamaican artist.

whenever i visit jamaica, i spend lots of my time at my aunt’s house in new kingston. not too far from her home is emancipation park, and central to that park is the bronze statue by artist laura facey – redemption song. at the time it was unveiled, there was quite the uproar about the nekkidness of the man and woman. i mean, di people nuh hav on no clothes! controversy aside, it is a larger than life piece that always speaks to me about the steadfastness, determination, perseverance and pride of the people of jamaica.

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Laura Facey’s Redemption Song

i decided i was going replicate he and she out of modeling chocolate, never mind that i had never used that medium before. you mean it’s not a good idea to try something brand new, when going into competition?

fyi, modeling chocolate is basically melted chocolate and corn syrup, which magically turns into a malleable chocolate clay. it’s different that fondant. very different! it required a whole new set of tools. introducing the newest member of the not a crumb toolkit (drumroll) – a hair dryer! it totally helps to soften the surface of the modeling chocolate so that it is easier to smooth and sculpt.

anywhoo, back to the fantastic inspiration. i didn’t just want to do 24″ of people (that was the height requirement), i thought that would be boring and too simple! (if i had known how much work sculpting he and she would be, believe me, i would have totally only done the people!) mad props to laura facey for making he and she 20 feet tall! my likkle 12″ people almost killed me! from start to finish, they took about 12 hours to complete.

i wanted some color, and representation of the land of wood and water. i looked no further than the artisans of wassi art. they make the most beautiful pottery. it’s handcarved and handpainted, and gorgeously colorful and vibrant.

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Wassi Art Vase

what happens when you combine pottery and nekkid people…

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Jamaica Independence Cake

not too shabby right? i want you to know that at turns during the creative process, i was filled with pride, self-loathing, nausea and delirium. and apparently short-term memory loss, because i didn’t take a single picture until it was done. sorry!

i mean, this competition was not televised, and didn’t have $10,000 prize money, yet i was nerve-wracked! i mean, how do the food network challenge people do this?!

on friday, august 3rd, i headed on over to the summit at perimeter, to set up my cake. there were 8 other competitors, some local, and some not. all of the cakes were awesome, and a testament to all the fantastic things you can make out of cake, sugar, fondant and chocolate. there were piped, carved, and handpainted cakes. all in all, it was a confectionary gallery d’art! once i saw the work of all the sugar savants, my nausea returned with a vengeance! and because the folks at pastry live are so kind, they wouldn’t reveal the winners before sunday afternoon. sigh.

i returned on sunday with my mom in tow (the DH stopped by on friday to support and help ease my nerves). spoiler alert – i didn’t win. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ my mom was kind enough to point out “you’re not the only one who didn’t win.” thanks… i think? jamaican parents have weird ways of reassuring you. in any case she was right. i still didn’t feel better about not being the only loser, but felt pretty good about my first foray into the world of competitive caking.

fast forward five days – i get an email from pastry live. inside were the judges’ scores from the competition. i mean, the competition is completely over, but guess who stops by for a little visit? my nausea from the weekend. talk about an unwanted guest! at any rate, i finally got up the courage to look, and guess what! i came in 4th out of 8! and i think that is pretty darn awesome! gold, silver, bronze… tin? DH says 4th should at least be copper. either way, i don’t care. I think I did damn well. Well enough to brave gastrointestinal distress and try again next year!

 

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Erasing the black mark against fruit cake

Reputation is everything. Good or bad. You’d go to great lengths to protect your rep, because it’s important. I mean, perception of a thing might as well be the truth, right? Except when it’s not the truth. Take the fruit cake for example. Fruit cake has a bad rep. It’s known to be dry, hard, tasteless, and apparently will last until the second coming. That’s what they say… But I know different. The fruit cake I know is sweet, spicy, moist. She also has a bit of an alcohol problem, but who doesn’t?! I want to introduce you to her, but please don’t judge her before you get to know her.

Friend, meet Jamaican fruit cake. Jamaican fruit cake, meet my friend.

Where did she come from? Didn’t I just say she’s Jamaican? Oh, you mean originally. Well her dad was an English fruit cake, and her mom was a plum pudding. When they moved to Jamaica, she got that lovely dark complexion. That’s also where she developed a taste for rum. Not just any rum, but Jamaican overproof rum made by Uncle Wray and his Nephew.

Jamaican fruit cake is sometimes called black cake or rum cake, but at the heart, it’s a celebration cake served most often at Christmastime, weddings and christenings. Jamaican fruit cake is expensive to make due to all of the fruits, spirits and spices, and time involved. It contains mostly dark dried fruits such as raisins, currants, prunes, cherries. Those fruits are cooked down into sticky sweet goodness like preserves, with sugar, molasses, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, almond, vanilla, and mixed essence. Everyone’s auntie, grandma, and mommy has their own special blend, but there’s a whole heap of liquor in the cake. Most commonly, it will contain a sweet red wine, like a port or other dessert wine, brandy, dark rum, and Wray and Nephew white rum. Are you drunk yet? Because I’m feeling a little tipsy myself. Once all of that has been combined, the fruits are left to marinate in that boozy heaven for up to a year. Most people put up, or “soak” their fruits right after New Year’s for the upcoming Christmas. Everyone has a special vessel for their fruits; it could be an earthen jug, plastic bucket or jar. No matter the container, nothing else goes in it except fruits.

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The process for mixing up a fruit cake is like making a pound cake. You want to cream your butter and sugar together, then add your “browning” or burnt sugar. After that you’ll add your flour and fruits, alternating between dry and wet ingredients. While you’ll want to use a mixer to cream the butter and sugar, nothing mixes up a good cake like an old fashioned wooden spoon. Bake low and slow for hours. Once set, you’ll take her out of the oven, cool just a bit, then liberally douse with more wine and rum (I told you she had a problem), cover with foil and let rest. The longer she rests, the better she tastes, so this is a cake you can make a week before you plan to serve it.

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Jamaican fruit cake can be eaten just like that with no other adornments, but it is frequently presented covered in brittle royal icing, a sweet counterpoint to the savory spices, and bite of the alcohol. For brides with a more modern design sensibility, cakes can be covered in rolled fondant.

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If you’re up for the challenge, you can attempt this lovely cake on your own. The Internet abounds with lots of recipes (you didn’t think I’d give you mine did you?). Should you feel like it’s more fun to eat than to bake, be sure to give not a crumb! a call. I’d be happy to bake up some rummy happiness and ship it right to you!

not a crumb! will be taking orders for Christmas cake, packed in festive keepsake tins, beginning October 1st. Please visit us at http://www.notacrumb.com to place your order, or join our mailing list to be kept up to date on our seasonal offerings.

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Girl cakes are easy…boy cakes are hard!

Wait… That didn’t come out right! What I mean is, that it’s easier to come up with ideas for cakes for girls than it is for guys. When it comes down to it, you can always throw a flower or two on a round cake, and voila! instant feminine, girly cake. Man cakes should be manly; they should roar, or beat their chests, or involve tools and grunting, maybe. Cake is soft, and light. Icing is fluffy, and delicate and pretty. So you see the problem right? How to turn all the soft, yummy goodness into macho, macho, man cake. At the very least, there should be alcohol!

So what to do when choosing a cake for the special man in your life? Look at their hobbies, favorite beverage, favorite team or sport! and let the cakeist do her thing. Here are a few of my favorite cakes for men over the years.

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The epic battle…. Buttercream vs. Fondant

I like cake. I suppose I should, since I bake it. All. The. Time. I like pie and brownies even better… but I digress. I kind of like icing, but I could live without it. I could eat cake all day with no icing, just plain; warm out the oven….mmm… I’m going to my happy place in my mind ๐Ÿ™‚

Funny enough though, most of you out there want cake and icing together. That’s fine I get it. Makes my job easier. It would be harder to decorate a cake without icing. Yup. Infinitely harder. What’s hard for you is that you’ve got choices to make – buttercream or fondant to make your cake dreams reality, but it seems that not everyone knows exactly what each of those are and what they can do, no matter how many reality cake shows are out there. Welcome to Icing 101!

What is buttercream?
Buttercream is a whipped icing that is made with hot sugar syrup, egg whites or whole eggs, and butter. That’s it. This is not to be confused with that “buttercreme” stuff they sell in those refrigerated cases, that are made of shortening and confectioners’ sugar. If you’ve never had the real stuff you have been missing out!

It’s got a silky texture and can be flavored with everything from vanilla to lemon, and can be used both as a filling, especially when blended with fruits or liqueurs, and as decoration. It can be piped into flowers, textures, and designs. It tends to be the most popular icing choice for wedding and special occasion cakes.

What is fondant?
Fondant is a pliable sugar dough. It is made of confectioners’ sugar and a sugar syrup. It too can be flavored. It is used only for decoration and not filling. Fondant can be sculpted into flowers, bows, or ribbons, and forms to what shape cake you place it around. Fondant is gaining in popularity because it gives a very clean or realistic finish depending on the cake.

Buttercream vs. Fondant
– Buttercream is very sensitive to temperature. It doesn’t like warm environments, so buttercream is not a good idea for an outdoor summer wedding reception.
– Fondant holds up better to changes in temperature and because it goes on top of a layer of buttercream, helps to keep your cake moist.
– People love the way buttercream tastes. It’s super yummy. Because fondant is a dough, it’s chewy, and folks aren’t used to chewing their icing, so a lot of people don’t like it.
– People love the way fondant looks. When executed well, it is immaculate, with a porcelain finish. You get very true colors with fondant, and it works exceptionally well for 3D and sculpted cakes.

You can get the best of both worlds with a combination of both buttercream and fondant.

No matter what you choose, be sure your cake lady (or man), is skilled at executing in that medium. Buttercream can be made ultra smooth, or fondant could be lumpy and bumpy depending on how experienced your baker is!

Here are some of my most favorite buttercream and fondant decorated cakes!

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Buttercream with silk ribbons and flowers

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Fondant with fondant draping

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Buttercream with fondant label, cap, and cigar

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Buttercream with fondant banner

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Buttercream with fondant letters and top

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keep on keepin’ on

this past week i chatted with a couple of friends in the wedding/event industry. we were talking about the fact that our busy season is winding down, and trying to figure out what to do during the slower holiday season. one of my friends was feeling a little bit down in the dumps about having to take on freelance work with another business to keep money flowing in.

it’s a hard thing to work for someone else when you’ve committed yourself to being an entrepreneur. i mean, at some point you told “the man” to “take this job and shove it”, and now you’re having to say, “my bad, i need to come back for a couple of days, weeks… maybe a month or two, pretty please with sugar on top”. isn’t that a step backwards? i don’t think so.

lots of businesses fail, not because the idea is faulty, or the skills are lacking, or because they don’t work hard,ย  but because people run out of capital. let’s face it, you need cold, hard cash to buy supplies, ingredients, and to market yourself. you also need cold, hard cash to keep your house in order – rent/mortgage needs to be paid, lights need to stay on, and food needs to stay in the fridge. so it’s all about short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.

you become a small business owner, to fulfill a dream; not to stop working, but to control the way you work – who you work for, when you work, how you work. whether it’s your customers or someone else’s, you work for the customer and for reasons of your own choosing. what makes your dream a reality is your hard work.

i was readingย  preston bailey’s blog, and this post resonated with me. the bottom line? keep on keepin’ on, even when you get discouraged, and/or broke ๐Ÿ˜‰

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