Category Archives: inspiration 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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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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duplicate, create… innovate

So much has happened since my last (published) post (let’s not talk about the drafts waiting in the cue), I can’t possibly fit it all in here – I suppose that’s the problem with life; it moves at a frenetic pace. By the time you’re ready to talk about something, something else has transpired. I had all sorts of posts planned in my mind, and then Steve Jobs passed away. That’s when I decided I wanted to talk about him and the impact he’s had on my life. What do Steve Jobs and cake have to do with each other? On the surface, not a whole lot.

What does Jobs have to do with me? The first computer I ever touched was an Apple IIe. The first one I owned – a Performa. Three imacs, an ibook, macbook, shuffle, nano, and an ipod touch later, there is not a day that I don’t interact with something that Jobs influenced or made. His inventions help me be more efficient (on the days I’m not procrastinating). They enable me to make my own website and marketing materials; to blog and facebook and twitter my days away. They keep me sane on airplanes when my seat mate wants to talk me to death, and on the rare occasion I get on a treadmill, my ipod keeps me walking towards nowhere. I am a mac (among other things)!

This is important because Job’s legacy is thinking outside of the box; creating something not only new, but intuitive. Sophisticated but basic. Modern but simple. Complex but easy to use, and at the end of the day, standing alone, all those beautiful pieces of technology are art.

Here’s the cake connection. I get asked often, “what’s the hardest cake you’ve ever had to do?” Truthfully, every one is  a challenge because every cake is new, something I haven’t done before. But after really thinking about it, the most difficult cakes are the ones where I’m asked to duplicate something that’s already been done. Think about all of the remakes of popular songs. No one wants to hear someone sing a classic song and butcher it, or not bring something new to the table. You want it to be better than the original – even awesome – er! Think about how many bad renditions of favorites we’ve heard on American Idol (shudder)!

Don’t get it twisted… I LOVE to make cake. Pretty much any kind of cake, except cupcakes (that’s for another post). But I really don’t want to copy someone else’s cake. I don’t even want to copy my own cakes! I want to take cake, and transform it… create a new cake experience that will truly reflect the occasion and the people being celebrated. Forget Mike; I want to be like Jobs. Truly, with every cake, I want to go further, push the envelope, and innovate. I want for people to want to duplicate me. Isn’t that what Jobs did? How many other mp3 players are out there, that we can name? I think there’s that Zune thing (not sure if it’s still around). Ipod has become synonymous with mp3 players. Yup. When people think cake, I want them to think not a crumb!.

So what do youwant to do with your life, career, passion? Duplicate, create or innovate?

rook cake for a chess playing groom

iphone birthday cake for a tweeting mom!

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progression….evolution

last week i attended entrepreneur magazine’s growth conference in atlanta ( #growthconference ) and one word kept popping up in my head, no matter the session i was in – CHANGE. all of the presenters talked about how change is inevitable and necessary for growth. although i am a change-o-phobe (i think change is all good when it happens to other people), i could hear the wisdom in what they were saying.

the end of the year always brings about a certain amount of reflection – what have i accomplished? why didn’t i get more done? why is there so much left to do?!!!! it’s difficult to see how much has changed and how much progress you have made; the forest for the trees if you will, or the trees for the forest (to-may-toe, to-mah-toe). as i sat in the build your brand session, i thought about how much not a crumb! has grown. to me progress is about evolution, adapting and growing stronger, smarter, better, more FABULOUS! when i graduated from college, a girlfriend gave each of us in our circle, a crystal paperweight. in bold type it said “the evolution of man”. pictured below, there were sets of footprints, leading from primate, to barefoot, to a print of a pair of man’s shoes, to a woman’s stiletto. i thought it was hilarious – that the most evolved version of man is a woman. i don’t believe that to be true (that’s for all the men reading this)! the image always stuck with me; this idea of moving forward.

i want to share a little of not a crumb!’s evolution. i started baking as a kid because my mom baked and i was an only child, so i didn’t really have any where to be but in the kitchen up under her arm… my mom and my godmother had a little business making wedding cakes and special occasion cakes. they had a whole system, my mom would do the baking during the day after work, and my godmother would decorate in the evening when she got off of work. they did that for most of my school years until my godmother moved to the land of the retired, at which point my mom continued on by herself, with me very occasionally assisting. i went onto college never thinking that baking as a career was in my future, returned home and baked strictly for fun, until people started asking if they could pay me to make cakes. i then convinced my  mom to come out of semi- cake retirement. that’s when not a crumb! was born. so for the next 5 years we baked together (not always peacefully – hey we are mother and daughter!), and then i moved to atlanta from ny, and we became a two state operation. it took two years of lobbying, but i convinced my parents to move down to the a this past july, and once again, i’ve got my mom working with, and supporting me!

fast forward 7 years from my move to the peach state, and not a crumb! has surpassed my initial dreams. we’ve moved from a hobby to a business! one of my cakes was spotlighted in a national magazine (get married!), and my cake was featured at the unveiled wedding show in november, and i’ve been making cakes far beyond what i ever thought i could make!

i was cleaning out and going through papers with my mom in preparation for their move and we came across some of our old business cards. check out how we began to build our brand:

the beginnings of not a crumb!

this is what we look like now!

front and back of the business card

change is a good great thing when we allow it to propel us forward, progress and evolve! the end of the year pensiveness was much needed for me. it reminded me that although i didn’t meet all my goals for 2010, i’ve done a whole lot, and didn’t allow negative changes to steamroll me. change is always an opportunity for growth. not a crumb! has even more changes coming, and i can’t wait to tell you about them (actually i can wait, but it’s really, really hard, because it’s such exciting news!).

check back to see what’s up!

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leap and the net shall appear

ahem…can i have your attention please? i just quit my job. handed in emailed my resignation and hit send. there is no turning back, no saying, “my bad. i didn’t really mean to quit.” so i’ve taken the BIG leap of faith, and officially have begun to panic. currently in freaking out mode. (breathing into brown paper bag right now. in… out…in…out)

whew. breathing better now. so what led to this decision? over the past few months ok, year, i haven’t done the greatest job for my cake compadres, or for my boss out there in corporate america. my focus was so divided, and i felt like i was being pulled in several different directions. truthfully, i felt a lot like the dog that lost its head (see the post “the massive fail”). it made me realize that i can’t serve two masters, and since i am the master of my fate and the captain of my ship, i’d rather kick the corporate master to the curb!

the end of one year and the beginning of another, tend to make us reflective and contemplative. it felt like now was the time to take that immense leap of faith. of course that felt a lot better before i hit the send button! as i looked for a piece of clip art to illustrate the jump into the unknown, i came across this quote:

“leap and the net shall appear”

and just like that the pressure in my chest eased enough for breath enough to sustain me. this will be very difficult, and i’m sure that the panic and worry will come and go, but right now, at this specific moment in time, i am excited about what comes next. i’ve opened my hands to receive whatever the new year brings. i’m incredibly energized about having  the space and time to be creative, to get better at my craft.

to my fellow entrepreneurs, my holiday wishes for you, are much success, enthusiasm, prosperity, and perserverance for 2011. leap on!

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the successful fail

much has been said about failure. we’ve got lots of cliches designed to make us feel better when we screw up royally. you know – “if at first you don’t succeed…”, “nothing beats a failure but a try!”, “let’s learn from our mistakes…”. yeah, yeah, yeah. what those cliches don’t say is how much it really sucks when things don’t work out the way you envisioned them.

this past weekend karin, from this wife bakes, and i collaborated on the mother of all groom’s cakes. it was, in a word, stupendous, marvelous, fantastic. ok that was three words, but it was definitely all of those things. a 2 ft tall 3-d sculpted bulldog for an omega psi phi, complete with gold construction  boots, spiked collar and chain leash. see!

the before

the beautiful bulldog

and this was before all of the little details had been added, like his back two feet, laces for the boots. he was a gorgeous 70+ lbs of of yummy chocolate and vanilla cake, strawberry cheesecake buttercream and rice krispie treats. he also lost his head.

we traveled to the lovely ventana’s for the setup and on the way his head started to sag. no worries. we’ll just make a couple of adjustments and we’ll be good to go! the first fix still looked fab due to our quick thinking. however, we soon realized that the cake was going to be a massive fail. first clue? when his head continued its downward descent. second clue? when his chest exploded all over the table. that is no exaggeration… the only thing keeping that cake upright was my hand on his head and my stomach against the edge of the table. at that point all i could think was that i had managed to ruin a very important part of someone’s very important day. i did not cry…yet. we managed to salvage the head, chain, dog bone, and two of the boots, clear off the table and display what was left. the remaining cake was carted off to the kitchen to be served later with dessert. you saw the before. here’s the after.

the after

the aftermath

all i wanted to do was curl up into the fetal position and die of embarrassment. then to add insult to injury, i cried all over the groom when he and his lovely bride told us how beautiful the body-less dog was. not my best moment, as i stood blubbering all over him and his fancy tuxedo. how much worse can it get!

god has a way of teaching you and showing you things in what you perceive to be your darkest, saddest, worst, most horribly humiliating moments. a couple of funny things that happened that night, aside from the dessert debacle:

  1. prior to the dog dying, i almost knocked him off the table, which although it would have been a more spectacular ending, would probably have had me searching for the nearest sharp implement to use to take my life.
  2. me blubbering all over the bride and groom. hey, at least i wasn’t hysterical.
  3. me and karin standing in the middle of the reception hall with  huge chunks of cake innards in our hands waiting for rescue and divine intervention.
  4. me proclaiming that the dog’s ass (pardon my french) was still in perfect condition, and we should just turn it around! not my best idea… it’s not like no one would notice the gaping hole in his midsection.
  5. going to retrieve the box of cake remnants karin had hidden in the stairwell so the bride and groom wouldn’t see it, and finding a wedding guest eating the cake out of the box on the floor and proclaiming,  and i quote, “this is some damn good cake”. who does that! apparently he did, and it was yummy!

i learned a couple of lessons on saturday night. the first is that whenever things are going too smoothly, disaster is lurking around the corner. the second, we all need to have a humbling experience, or two, or three to keep us, well, humble. the third, nothing and no one/dog,  is exempt from the laws of nature, in this case, gravity. third, people are good. period. the bride and groom were so gracious, and kind, and understanding! i mean, i cried all over the groom who comforted me!

you may not know that i run this business in addition to a full-time job. it’s been difficult, trying to achieve balance, keeping myself and my relationships healthy, all the while  reaching for my goal of world cake domination. the biggest lesson i learned from this experience is that i cannot continue to burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, and not expect for things to fall apart and catch fire. in failing, i’ve gained so much – new perspective, renewed energy and determination. so i’m coining a new phrase – “the successful fail”. while i don’t wish misfortune on anyone, i hope that your failures will be as succesful as mine!

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grandma just loves her crosswords!

so yesterday was my dad’s 75th birthday. i called to wish him a happy happy and asked him how it felt to be 75 years old. his reply… ” it feels great!”, and then he goes on to tell me that he was lying in bed and told himself that he’d better get up and go walking so he can stay healthy. i must add that the man gets up every morning at 6 and goes walking for MILES almost every day, hence why he’s 75 and fit as a fiddle.

thinking about my dad reaching 75 reminded me of this cake i did last fall for betty who was turning 90! betty apparently is quite the spitfire who does daily crosswords and sudoku. the colors for the party were red and yellow (apparently betty’s a fan of those colors). the red and yellow theme was carried into the inside of the cake with red velvet cake with lemon cream cheese filling, and vanilla cake with a mixed berry buttercream (see the berries in the bowl? get it? good!)

i hope to be in as good mental and physical shape as betty and my dear old dad… now if i could just put down the brownies… sigh.

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