Wednesday, May 28th, 2014
Hello all! I belong to a few different cake organizations and one is a great discussion group on Facebook. It’s a fantastic place for us to discuss the finer points of pricing, client relationship management, baking, construction, new tools, and everything interesting to cakers like me.
Recently a common theme in posts has been cake pricing, and the chasm of difference between public perception of cake costs (low) and actual cake costs (not low). 75% of my job is education and I embrace that. Most clients have never ventured into the world of cakes over $50. So I feel like it’s my job to help educate and inform about all the different aspects of high-end cake making. There is a general awareness that getting a custom cake made for a special milestone event costs more than expected, but sometimes the actual price can be a shock.
There are many factors that go into a cake price, and every baker has a different way of calculating that price based on several factors:
- Where they’re sourcing their materials and ingredients (inexpensive vs. expensive)
- Where they are baking (home, shared kitchen, their own commercial bakery)
- Staff (free interns or culinary school-trained staff?)
- Style (simple and less-expensive buttercream piping or intense molded and carved sugar decor?)
- Cake size (a cake for 150 costs more than one for 75)
- Cake shape (a simple stack or challenging engineering? Is it sculpted to look like a car, an armadillo, or a beer pong table with an operating keg?)
- Cake flavor (vanilla cake mix that’s flavored to order or individual recipes baked from scratch for each flavor?)
- Delivery (a nearby drop off of a simple stack or a two-hour drive to an on-site installation of multiple cakes attached to swings?)
- Florals (real flowers or sugar?)
…and so many more. You get the picture.
So I’m posting this to help bust some old myths around cakes, cake pricing, and client service. Here goes:
1. Wedding cakes cost more than other cakes.
For us, not true. So not true. All our custom cakes are charged the same way at the same price (on a per-person basis) no matter the occasion. I don’t know any cakers worth their salt in Southern California who would swindle a client like this. Maybe in the old days this happened, but not anymore.
2. Round tiers cost less than square tiers.
This one’s actually true. But what’s not clarified when you hear this is that *round tiers feed less people than squares.* So when we charge on a per-person basis, of course round tiers will cost less — because they *feed* less. Ultimately you should order the shape you like — you’ll still need to feed the same number of people in the end.
3. Fake (styrofoam) tiers cost less than real tiers.
For us, not true. The cost of a cake resides mostly in the effort and time involved in decorating the exterior. The interior, cake or not cake, is the least-expensive factor in our calculation. By the way, those styrofoam “cake dummies” are not inexpensive — it costs a shiny dime to source, buy, and have them shipped. If they arrive dented, guess what? We have to spend time returning and getting a new one for you. Then we have to cover it with fondant, which is actually trickier than covering a real tier due to its lightweight nature. That thing will scoot all over the table while you’re trying to cover it! Especially the smaller ones.
4. A “simple” design means lower pricing, right?
Well, that depends on how you define “simple.” In the words of Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” An all-white cake with white sugar lace and a white sugar flower cluster looks very simple and clean. So does an Art Deco style cake. Yes they’re simple and beautiful to look at, but these are not simple to create. For us to make a cake like these is actually harder because all errors will show. Especially with a very orderly design like a stripe, Art Deco motif, or other math-heavy repeating pattern. If one soft piece of sugar decor is dented, smudged, or slightly tilted, it will stick out like a sore thumb, ruining the look. Not Superfine!
5. You can save on delivery by picking up the cake.
Yep, that one’s true. BUT, what will the cost be to you if the cake gets damaged en route? Frequently cake people renounce all liability once a cake leaves our hands. We often lobby to deliver it not to collect additional money, but because we are genuinely concerned about the cake getting there and making it to the table in it’s beautiful original state. Having a friend pick up a cake larger than two tiers is risky for several reasons:
- Cakes three tiers and taller have an increasingly higher center of gravity, making them more prone to leaning and toppling on a vigorous drive.
- Cakes are very susceptible to heat damage. If a cake is in a warm car, it will melt. If a cake is left in direct sun, it will melt. It’s a cake — it melts in ambient or direct heat over varying periods of time depending on the intensity of the heat.
- Is there a dead-flat surface to put it on in the car? The best spot for a cake is in the passenger footwell on a non-slip mat. Put that cake on even a slightly leaning surface (like a folded-down seat) and it will tend to lean and slide.
- Does the person picking up drive a smooth car smoothly? Cake safety is increased in a large non-sports suspension minivan or car driven by someone who takes turns slowly and stops very slowly over a long stretch. I grew up driving stick-shift sports cars, but I drive like a granny when I’m delivering cakes and keep a tally of how often I get the finger. I don’t care — as long as the cake is safe.
I hope all of these help you when you’re thinking about your cake. If you have other myths or questions you’d like addressed, send us an email, drop us a line on our FB page at /Superfine Bakery, or Tweet us @superfinebakery.
Wednesday, May 28th, 2014
It was just another sleepy morning at 6:23 a.m. in our Sherman Oaks home. My iPhone was on my nightstand as usual, and with one eye open, I rolled over to pick it up and see what transpired overnight via email, Facebook, Instagram, etc. My inbox frequently displays names I don’t recognize — inquiries for new cakes usually — and one came across with a tantalizing title: “Congrats from Martha Stewart Weddings.” Hmm, spam? No — spam’s not that specific. I tapped the title to open the email.
“Congratulations! You’ve officially been named as one of Martha Stewart Weddings’ Top 63 Pastry Pros in the country….”
I was suddenly VERY awake, and sat bolt upright in bed. My husband was still home, padding around getting ready for work, and I shouted to him while frantically stumbling out of bed to show him the email. Hands shaking, skin spiking with adrenaline, I held my phone up to him.
You see, my one personal goal for Superfine wasn’t to do the biggest celebrity wedding or the most expensive cake in the world — it was to be acknowledged by Martha Stewart and her tastemaking staff in some way. I thought it might come in the form of a nickel-sized picture in the magazine on a back page. Even a mention of Superfine in a block of text would’ve sent me over the moon. But this? THIS?! ::dead::
I know that jumping around the living room is ill-advised when you’re out of your teens, but as is my nature, I spent the next few days doing just that. Giddy. Elated. Nuts. Springing around the living room, spontaneously giggling in the Starbucks line, and glowing at my local Ralph’s when I purchased six copies of the magazine and the checkout person asked what they were for.
I looked at her and said “I’M IN IT!”
What an honor. I mean, you toil in relative obscurity, work to get your lines straighter, cake sides smoother, recipes better, and then one day you lift your head up and realize someone else has noticed. It means the world, and we’re so humbled and proud to be one of Martha Stewart Weddings’ Top Pastry Pros for this year.
The magazine also launched a companion site with pictures featuring our emerald green Art Deco cake shot by the amazing Hazelnut Photography.
If you look closely at this cover, you’ll see Jennifer Lawrence blending in with the other girls — she’s standing on the far right. My fave!!
“So what’s next, Superfine?”
Good question. Let’s take it to the next level. Let’s turn the page. Let’s step it up a notch. (Please tweet me any cliches I forgot, @SuperfineBakery).
Next: Teaching videos. One’s almost finished in post-production now, and it covers how we do a naked cake. You’ll not only learn how to slice-and-ice a naked cake, stack it, and attach fruit decor to the exterior, but you’ll also learn what it’s like for a working caker to wear false eyelashes (never again). Honestly, I ripped them off as soon as shooting was over. My friend Paty, an on-air correspondent for E! Espanol, tells me individual eyelashes are the way to go. I might give that one last try, but seriously. So far they’ve been SO uncomfortable.
If you have ideas for our next video, please email us, post on our FB page (/Superfine Bakery) or give us a shout out on Twitter at #SuperfineBakery. I’m thinking either metallic treatments on cakes (though Faye Cahill out of AU is the master), or biscotti, or scones. Let us know your thoughts!
Sunday, April 20th, 2014
Naked cakes are so hot right now! We’re being asked right and left to do little ones, tall ones, cake trios of different flavors, and all kinds of decor.
This naked cake was done for Saudia and Brett and dressed in seasonal fruit available at our local specialty fruit source (pssst, it’s the fruit guy at the DTLA flower mart).
I love fruit of all different sizes and colors, so we picked up some red crabapple-type apples that had lovely green swaths across the sides that were shaded during growth. Small fruit on a vine looks great and in the absence of champagne grapes (my favorite, but only available in August or so), we used fresh pink peppercorns and their leaves. The bride wanted a pop of orange on there too, and since kumquats were the right size but sadly, out of season, we sculpted a few out of marzipan and popped some of the leaves from the pink peppercorns into the tops.
You may see a lot of naked cakes with this caramel drip effect, but many look well, sloppy. Really watery, runny caramel is sometimes used and doesn’t look appetizing. Plus it pools at the base of the tiers. Ick! We ran four viscosity tests for this caramel and found that the Fleur de Sel caramel we make by hand did the trick. Put in a piping bag and heated to the right temp, it easily dripped and stopped to be picture perfect on the final cake.
You might also note this naked cake has alternating colors on the sides — this is our Tuxedo flavor, which features layers of chocolate and vanilla cake in each tier, filled with our Fleur de Sel buttercream on the top and bottom and *pure* caramel at the center layer on each tier. What’s that? You can’t see it? That’s true! It’s because we fill the cakes then mask the edges with white buttercream to make the cake look perfect on the exterior.
This lovely naked cake to the right was shot inside the amazing Vibiana in Downtown Los Angeles for the internationally known Beth Helmstetter Events. She requested a cake with berries and powdered sugar in a very rustic style for a Romeo and Juliet styled shoot.
Berries and powdered sugar is a little trickier than your average naked cake decor. Most decor like fruit with skins or flowers can be secured to the cake with toothpicks or floral wire. Berries, however, are full of juice. If you poke them with anything, they’re going to juice all over the cake and stain the crumb (the part of the cake that shows) taking it beyond rustic to messy. So how do you use them?
On a table other than the final placement table, we opened a big towel and set the cake on that. We piled the berries on, and with a big sifter, sifted powdered sugar gently over the top. The sides didn’t get any sugar, just the tops of the tiers, so to take it a little more rustic, Beth asked us to pop a little sugar onto the sides in spots. After that we verrrrry carefully lifted and carried the cake into its final position. A berry or two rolled, leaving a powdered sugar shadow, but we just replaced them and it looked great. If you’d like to see this whole shoot, it was published on Style Me Pretty here.
A little behind-the-scenes note: This is a real lemon cake filled with raspberry puree icing. I didn’t want it to go to waste after the shoot, so I donated it to our local firefighters, the brave (and might I add, beautiful) gents at Fire Station 88.
Last but not least, we have this full champagne cake filled with strawberry puree buttercream. Champagne and strawberries — what’s more romantic than that?!
This naked cake was done for Stacey and Rene, and set as a charming centerpiece to two long tables set under strings of bistro lights at the Ebell of Los Angeles. It’s set on a sweet rustic tree slice about five inches high (many available on Etsy, but make sure they’re LEVEL and cut clean!). Masters of rustic floral design, Holly Flora, worked their magic and decorated the cake with rings of olive twigs and a few flowers here and there.
Securing long twigs and flowers like this can be tricky on a cake — twigs don’t want to bend and sometimes larger flowers don’t fit on the tier edges securely. To affix them to the sides, get a four- or five-inch length of dark green floral wire and bend it in a hairpin shape. Insert it through the face of a flower or over a branch, so that when the kitchen is removing the florals for cutting and service, the wires come off with the twigs and flowers. No one wants to eat wire! So make sure you use as little as possible. If you can, hang out in the kitchen while they do this and help clean the cake.
Here are more pix and angles of the naked cakes above. Stay tuned for the addition of our Naked Cake Video Tutorial, to be inserted on this post and uploaded to YouTube in mid-May!
Saturday, February 9th, 2013
This past year we were invited to help celebrate many birthdays along with our usual weddings, and this special Carnivale-themed cake was made for a soiree designed by Hidden Garden in Santa Monica.
The California Club in Downtown L.A. was completely transformed: Large centerpieces of flowers, feathers and masks towered over the room filled with round tables. Each place setting had an ornate Carnivale half-mask (eyes only) of a variety of bright colors and glittery accents. I loved the room so much during delivery, I wanted to slip on a mask and try to blend in with the rest of the revelers, but the chef’s coat would have given me away ~:\ .
This confection was done in almond cake with pistachio icing (lots of nuts were lovingly salted, roasted and hand-chopped for this one), and stood four tiers high.
The bottom tier was covered in a diamond harlequin pattern made with five different colors in the warm shades the client preferred. Once the diamonds were applied, we loosely edged them in gold to give them an antiqued look.
Whenever we’re doing a geometric pattern like this, let’s face it, that math we thought we would never need comes in handy. If you don’t measure and apply the diamonds carefully, you end up with a wonky overlap in the back of the cake and really, who wants a wonky overlap? We don’t.
The three tiers on top featured sugar “splashes” going up the side, hand-painted in gold. A low patterned border at the base of each tier helped root the look of each color within the cake, and gave it an overall sense of visual stability.
Our favorite and most challenging part of the cake was likely the life-size sugar mask on top of the cake. It was our good fortune to start work in the month before Halloween, so it was easy for us to find a $.99 plain plastic white mask at the local craft store. We covered it with a very light layer of Crisco, then flattened plastic wrap over the top and cut out the eyes and mouth.
It looks pretty spooky (and maybe a little gruesome) at this stage, but I promise it gets better!
After we prepared the surface of the plastic, we laid a thin sheet of sugar paste over top and smoothed it down all the way to the edges. Some gentle repeated pressure over the lips, cheekbone, and nose areas helped us get good definition from the model underneath. A few cuts with an x-acto knife, and voila, we had the mask’s shape in sugar.
The sugar mask in its box, ready for delivery.
Left to dry for a couple of days, the surface hardened enough to remove it and place it on another surface to allow the underside to dry. It takes a long time — don’t think you can do this the night before! Once dried thoroughly, we pulled some pictures from around the web of other Carnivale masks and free-painted the surface with red, gold, and orange icing to match the cake. Yep, not only can you actually *wear* the mask, you can eat it! The final result was stabilized on top of the cake and the gold paint reflected the warm lighting all around the room.
We were honored to find, upon delivery, that the cake was to be the grand centerpiece of a long, winding 25-foot dessert buffet! We loved doing this cake and working with the amazing folks at Hidden Garden. Stay tuned for a full video tutorial on YouTube for the mask! And if there’s a tutorial you’d like to see from us, please comment and let us know.
Love from L.A.,
Friday, March 16th, 2012
Photo: Sara Allen, OneLove-Photo.com
I have a deep and abiding love of fonts, letters, and literature. Whether a clean mainstream font like Century Gothic, or an ornate hand-painted Japanese Kanji, the shapes of letters numbers and ampersands in their various fonts is an art form. I love text in my paintings too. Maybe it’s the English major in me, or maybe it’s my mid-century modern appreciation of clean form. I’m not sure. But fonts, typography, and their role in literature has always held a compelling magnetism for me.
I don’t participate in many photo shoots these days, but when Event Planner Kristeen LaBrot and Photographer Sara Allen called me to talk about making cakes for a typography shoot, I didn’t take much convincing.
Photo: Sara Allen, OneLove-Photo.com
A monogram was the immediate, obvious treatment for the cakes, as they’re always in fashion, but I like to take something that’s a standard and spin it somehow. Reinvent it. Innovate. Why be just like everyone else, right? Sometimes it means going bigger, sometimes smaller, sometimes beyond the predictable space a wedding cake typically occupies.
Now maybe nine cakes is a lot for anyone to take on, but it was the only design that satisfied all my requirements: Typography, all edible, and something I hadn’t seen before. I came up with the bride and groom’s names, Anne and Adam, after learning one of my favorite actresses, Anne Hathaway, was recently engaged (congrats, Annie!). Plus their names were short — I really didn’t want to do this treatment for “Elizabeth & Remington.” WHEW — that cake table would have fed about 500.
This cake set feeds about 150 people and was featured on GreenWeddingShoes.com and includes the full set of photos including gorgeous florals by Gilly Flowers, a paper dress by couture dress designer Beane and Co., and gorgeous hair and makeup by Susie Chhuor.
The sugar flowers on the cake include bright versions of poppies, peonies, sweet peas, sugar ranunculus, and various buds and hydrangea. Here are closeups of the clusters on the first “A” cake and the final “M” cake:
Photo: Sara Allen, OneLove-Photo.com
The ampersand cake was also displayed in our booth at the recent Cream Event at the Book Bindery in Culver City. Thank you to Erin J. Saldana for this lovely shot taken in the booth, alongside our plates of the North Beach Torte set out for the masses:
Friday, March 9th, 2012
This month California Wedding Day magazine featured a long-loved design that’s lived in my head for two years or so. Inspired by the spaghetti-haired girls, plants and reeds of the Art Nouveau movement, we created this gentle homage to the era.
I was particularly excited about this feature because the focus is on flavor, and how the flavor reflects the colors and design on the exterior. The outer design features hand-painted reeds and gardenias and various shades of olive, lime green, and pink accents, all outlined in 18K gold. Sugar gardenias adorn the side of the cake and the table (yes, even those petals on the table are sugar!) and occur in a more figurative style on the cake, so we created the Pink Gardenia flavor for the interior: Pink Velvet cake layered with raspberry puree, whole raspberries and gardenia aromatic buttercream. Slight whiffs of gardenia along with the sweet soft cake and whole raspberries conjure a Summer-garden feel.
If you look closely at the plated piece of cake, you’ll notice the leaves under the raspberries are also sugar — yum!
Behind-the-scenes: Things frequently change during a shoot due to unforseeable circumstances. This time, the four-layer cake slice was *too long* for the plate, so the photographer had to carefully cut off the bottom layer! Luckily the way the image was cropped for publication, it simply looks like the cake continues off the page. Clever, no?
Floral flavors like gardenia (and more commonly lavender and rose) can be very polarizing: People either love them or hate them. I think they’re good if done EXTREMELY subtly. What are your thoughts?
Many thanks to Lara Burnap at CWD and to High Tea for Alice for the lovely vintage cake stand.
Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
We’re thrilled to announce that Superfine has been chosen as the exclusive wedding cake house to grace the floor of The Cream curated wedding show on March 1 at the Book Bindery in Culver City, CA! There will be GOOD gift bags, wine, Superfine cake, sudden bursts of confetti, delicious ice cream, jaw-dropping table designs, nouveau florals, perfect music, hott fashion, and unique furniture and decor all for rent at your event!!
The Cream is a curated wedding show featuring the latest stylings of the L.A.-based duo at Bash, Please, Kelly Harris and Paige Appel. The shows are recognized in national print and on-air media as the go-to for the engaged art & fashion set throughout the US, and having recently completed a successful fourth show in Austin, Texas, they’re bringing their magic back to Los Angeles.
The Culver City Book Bindery will be the largest of their shows yet. All previous shows have averaged a capacity of 300-350, but this one invites 800 lucky ticket holders to hang with the largest crop ever of hand-picked wedding vendors gathered for this event. All previous shows have sold out, so buy your tickets now!
Come by and say Hi to the chef (that’s me, Andrea, over there in the gold sequin shorts), taste some DECADENT cake, nosh on some of our wildly popular Fleur de Sel caramels, and pick up a secret code ONLY FOR THE CREAM ATTENDEES for 25% off our caramels when purchased from our Etsy shop!!
Hope to see you there!
One last thing: We have chosen the winner of our ticket giveaway. The lucky gal is Maria Valentin! Congratulations, Maria!
Sunday, January 15th, 2012
A little Art Deco with a twist of modern sugar succulents on top was just the ticket for Victor and Richard’s wedding on the 54th floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown LA, also known as the City Club. A shimmery lilac decorated the whole event from the linens to the lighting, so I opted to create a lilac Art Deco pattern on their cake and brushed it with a little shimmer.
The Art Deco movement in LA is similar to the style that evolved in another coastal city, Miami. It’s softer shapes that echo clouds and waves, as opposed to the “Zig-Zag Deco” style popular in New York as expresssed with chevrons and sharp sculpted embellishments. Since this cake is in LA, I wanted to make it more architecturally relevant, so here we have the soft cloud motif.
The sugar succulents (yes, they’re all sugar), were made using life models bought at my local garden center. I bought a variety and copied them, all the way down to dusting the color on: Pale blue at the center, and light touches of green on the bottom leaves’ edges. Succulents are great to work on because they’re so varied and strange, some looking like plants from another planet. It’s impossible to make them look bad! I can’t wait to do more…
The stunning florals (like the arrangement above!) were provided by Meg McCarter of The Little Branch, event photography (and the portrait below!) by Leah Lee Photography, and event design was beautifully executed by Seth Matheson of Seth Matheson Designs. Congratulations, Victor and Richard!!
Superfine Bakery supports art programs in K-12 schools, groups involved in animal rescue, and marriage for all. In the spirit of love and marriage for all, we ran a contest on Facebook and Twitter offering a free wedding cake for the first same-gender California couple to get married under the new New York laws, and return to LA for their ceremony. Victor and Richard were our winners!
Saturday, January 7th, 2012
Staci and Rob chose an outdoor setting under a pergola at the gorgeous Ojai Valley Inn and Spa for their wedding dinner for 30, and wanted a rustic sweet cake to go along with it. She’s based in NYC, so we worked completely via email and phone. Staci sent fantastic inspiration pictures for me to draw from, so I created this pink sugar peony, a watermelon-red poppy, and an orange poppy (based on our California state flower!) to create the energy on this cake.
I love big bold flowers, but also believe they need some contrast in color and small detail, so I added a few groups of small green buds and bright yellow to offset the deeper sunset colors of the large-flower grouping. The buttercream exterior was really fun to detail, but after being so oriented to making things perfectly straight and flat, I have to admit it was *hard* for me to snap out of that mode and free up my wrists and brain to make something more randomly textured like this! I love the way it came out though, and can’t wait to do another cake like this for a very special birthday girl in April (hi Karina!).
I loved working with Ariel Yve of Ariel Yve Designs, and can’t wait to work with her again.
Big hugs to you all and happy 2012!
Saturday, September 10th, 2011
Campanile, one of L.A.’s top restaurants, is housed in a historic building constructed in 1929 for the one and only Charlie Chaplin. Owned and operated by a Who’s Who of chefs, it also happened to be the site of today’s Superfine wedding.
Simple and clean was the order of the day. Our bride, Hillary, ordered a white stacked cake with flowing sugar ribbons, and asked for sugar sweet peas and sugar hydrangea to match the other flowers in the room. Hillary also wanted a straight-up chocolate cake for the kids (although a few adults came over during set up to request a piece!).
The cakes we design for children tend to be on the cleaner, more sophisticated side (sorry, no Elmo cakes here :). This one’s no exception: We made a smooth chocolate ganache surface to cover the Black Onyx chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream inside, and popped a small cluster of sugar hydrangea on the top to coordinate it with the main cake.
The main white cake was a stack of Red Velvet, Carrot Cake, and Vanilla with Three-Berry icing (the bride’s favorite). When I do sugar straps or ribbons like these on a cake, I don’t like to leave the back plain: Two straight ends that simply meet at a seam. So I usually take the opportunity to add secret detail that somehow enhances and reflects the mood of the cake and the event.
This white cake had loose flowing ribbons around it, so I ended them with a slant cut and rippled them like loose ribbon ends. I added small sugar buttons as a closure and varied the heights of the ribbons to add some visual interest.
Congrats to Hillary and Manuello, and all the best!