Category Archives: how does she do it? musings

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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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.


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.



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.


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 to place your order, or join our mailing list to be kept up to date on our seasonal offerings.


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unmasking unveiled!

now that the last box of cake display stuff has been put away (sort of) and i am emerging from my thanksgiving turkey-induced tryptophan haze, i can tell you all about my experience at the unveiled wedding event in atlanta on november 14, 2010 (!

first of all, i must say that i had a great time! the wedding guys put on a FABULOUS event. they take their time to create a vision for the whole event – this year? zen! i suppose i shouldn’t put an exclamation point behind zen… let me try again.

zen…ohm (picture me sitting in lotus position. on second thought don’t picture that. i’m not as flexible as i used to be)

matthew & bruce, the wedding guys ( provided not a crumb! with a tremendous opportunity, by inviting me to provide the display cake for their reception rotunda. i got a look book with all of the textures, trends, and inspiration that had spurred them forward. i took from that book two main ideas – bamboo and water. my cake concept = zen garden fountain. i’ll share the cake process in another post. i want to share the behind the scenes of getting ready for a bridal show.

there’s a few things you must understand:

  1. there’s always more than you think. no matter how many lists you make, you will forget something. hopefully not the cake (i didn’t, but anything is possible ;)). no matter how far in advance you prepare, you will always be dashing and ripping and running at the last minute. no matter how much you do, there will be more to get done, and don’t forget murphy’s law – whatever can go wrong will! case in point, me breaking my cell phone the friday before the show. grrrrrr.
  2. there is always chaos before the calm. sometimes there’s chaos before the chaos, but one should be optimistic that the chaos is somewhat organized.
  3. you never get the opportunity to record the before, during, and after. hence, my personal paparazzi, jeremiah wallace of j Wallace Photography. thanks jerry for being a photojournalistic phenom!

how things went down

in the weeks leading up to the show, i started making lists (what to bring), drawing diagrams (which cake/table goes where), and stressing out my plastic at home goods, tj maxx, and in the end, i had a living room full of stuff. it took 2 vehicles and 3 helpers to get all of the stuff to the ga world congress center. lucky for us, the wedding guys are really smart; so smart that load in and set up are the day before the show! yay!

unpacking the stuff

it took us about 2 hours to get to a point where we could stop for the night ( i still needed to finish the display cake!). that included chatting with some of the other vendors, and enthusiastically debating the precise placement of the tables.

that’s me, my mom, and heidi murphy (nat’l sales director, unveiled) talking about my shopping prowess. that bird figurine was $6 at kohl’s!

that would be one of the wedding guys, matthew trettel, and i discussing the laundry list of things left to be done. see me ticking things off on my fingers?  i ran out of fingers and had to use them each several times!

the end result of all of all of the plotting, planning, prepping, and positioning? a great display and wonderful fun, lots of new friends, fantastic opportunities, and lots of scheduled tastings with brides! special thanks to the wedding guys and the unveiled atlanta team! see you next year!

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i understand the concept of a weekend. time off after a busy week. believe me; i get it. but why are all celebrations on the weekend? i challenge you to throw off the chains of tradition, and have your birthday cake on a tuesday. baptize on a wednesday. get married on a thursday! i say this because last weekend was very crazy. 25th birthday cupcakes (waiting on pics from the b-day girl), a fashion show/tea party for two sisters, teenage mutant ninja turtle cupcakes, and a very pretty 80th birthday cake. all for friday, saturday and sunday. i’m still tired and it’s a week later! 

spot of tea  lipstick  ninja turtle  ninja turtles  maisie's 80th b-day

lest you think i’m complaining, let me assure you, i am not. i just think we should spread the cake love around. don’t you think the other days of the week feel lonely and underappreciated and underutilized? i do.

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piece of cake redux!

i am a glutton for punishment, a sadomasochist. that is why 2 weeks after sending steve and shonika’s cake to ny, i agreed to send yet another cake to ny for my friend’s mom’s retirement party. first by plane, now by car!
so thursday evening rob came by to pick up the cake to drive from atlanta to ny….i think this one had me more panicked than the wedding cake. well i think all went well since i didn’t get any phone calls from a freaked-out rob…

so here’s the story behind the cake. rob’s mom has been an educator for over 30 years, so the theme of the party was connected to a quote from nelson mandela – “education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world”, you have provided that weapon for years, now the world is yours! rob and his bro gave mom 2 round trip tickets to go anywhere she wants. how cool is that! she’s also really involved in her church sorority and family, so i incorporated words that reflected her interests and relationships. i think it came out really well. i don’t often do dainty pretty cakes; so much of what i do is very graphic and bright, so this was a welcome change.

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piece of cake!

yeah, so anyone who has every delivered precious cargo knows how scary it can be. i’m sure you’re all thinking about your cute precious babies, and no doubt they’re cute, and precious, but you’ve got all sorts of contraptions to keep them safe and whole. imagine cake. well not just cake, but someone’s dreams, expectations, and happy moments, all wrapped up in very fragile, delicate sugar. not fun. downright terrifying. 

since i like to live on the edge, not only do i deliver cake in the metro atlanta area, battling traffic on the downtown connector, and 285, i volunteer to take and send cakes out of state and out of the country. this time – new york, for my friends’ wedding. i couldn’t go and so a deep sense of guilt prodded me to say – “no problem, i can just send the cake with my dear husband; on the airplane. no biggie.”

so after a couple of weeks of panic and planning, i shipped the cake stand by mail, and then the cake (and groom’s cake) via airtran airways, from atlanta, ga to queens, ny. and you know what? it arrived, in one piece, safe and sound without so much as a fingerprint. wanna see how i did it?

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this is how the magic happens!

i get lots of questions about how i do what i do. usually my response goes something like this…”if i tell you, i’ll have to kill you.” this is said in a very ominous and threatening voice. for some reason though, nobody seems to think that i’ll follow through on my threats. oh well. today i’ve decided to share some of the magic that happens when i’m decorating a cake.

there’s a point in the middle where the cake looks like a hot mess, and i wonder if i’m actually going to pull off what i promised the customer, and i’m full of doubt and self-loathing.  but i give it a few more minutes (or hours) and then it’s like, what was i ever worried about! these are some of the pics from my sexy betty boop cake while i was making betty. i will say that i had to remake betty’s legs about 3 times before i got it right (they kept breaking). the whole thing is made out of gumpaste and fondant with toothpicks and bamboo skewers for support. she turned out pretty cute if i do say so myself!

betty boop montage

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