Post by Merci Beaucoup fine cakes & pastries.
Hello to my fellow cakers....
I have been watching on the sidelines for awhile and have taken a break with the blogging....
But I have been asked by a few to continue my work here at uncovering the truth! (I say this in jest of course)
For my comeback I have decided to (said once again in jest) take a look at the many options out there to achive a "sequins" effect on your cakes.
I will go through the process in the following blog posts so get ready for some information coming your way.
I will be examining four different mediums: gelatin, fondant, quins, and cakelace.
The quins are pretty stright forward....
Fondant take some time, and has been my go to process for creating this effect in the past, refer to the Bollywood Cake on Amazing Wedding Cakes.
and with cake lace there is a little bit more of an investment....
How you will make your sequins is really up to you and the end effect you are looking for...
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME SEQUINS?!
It's that time of year again when The Cake Spouse has to think of new gift ideas for the caker who has everything. No, literally, after a decade in business, we have pretty much everything! So after years of spatulas and cake pans, where do I head for the Holidays in 2012? Take a look for yourself;)
Out of all the shoe forming devices on the market today, our favorite is this new and improved high heel kit from our friends over at Cake Structure. It even comes in a shoebox!! Reva's played around with it a bunch already and loves the new cutter and CS always has high quality silicone molds. Ideal for: Fashionista Cakers.
It's smaller and more efficient, it's the mini turntable!! While at ICES this summer, Reva stopped traffic to run over to the Cake Safe booth and pick up these portable and versatile little turntables. We got a couple 4" and a 6", all of which are great for smaller cakes or especially travel and delivery applications. They save space and hold up to 100 pounds! Ours came in white, the newer ones seem to be clear, but no matter the hue, these are a great gift! Ideal For: Everyone!
Oh beautiful, smooth fondant! What better time than Christmas to stock your caker up on an array of colors of everyone's favorite sugar dough. It's no secret we're Fondx people, so I suggest a half dozen colors from the Elite line. A) they're not so big as to take up extra room in a home kitchen (I'm looking out for you cottage food law cake spouses!) and B) they'll look great wrapped up under the tree. Ideal For: Aspiring Fondant Masters
I'd be remiss if I didn't kick off this year's gift guide with what has become Reva's favorite thing for our home kitchen. From QVC, Temp-tations are available in virtually any configuration and size you could possibly want. Like I said, we have a number of pieces at home and they work great and look great and have been very durable. For the price, we're definitely fans! Ideal for: Home Bakers and Party Givers.
Sur la Table this year has a handy dandy stand for all you Techno Bakers out there who use an iPad (or similar tablet) to display your favorite recipes. For $50 you get a nice stainless stell stand that looks at home in the kitchen, but for $200, you get the stand and a Bluetooth speaker that sits underneath it! Blast some holiday music and get baking on your snowman cookies!! Ideal for: Modern Bakers
From the mad genius of a mind comprised of 60% Aunt Jemima comes the specialty plate we all desire. Uncommon Goods has a set of two plates, complete with syrup resevoir, for $50. Pricey, but does your morning choice of breakfast cake deserve anything less? Ideal for: All Humans!
Fred & Friends consistantly makes some of the most fun products on the market today. Their kooky takes on cupcake molds, cookie cutters and beyond always bring a smile to the kitchen. This year, they got into the cake mold/pan game with this beast of a culinary treat, the Cakewich!! At 3.75" deep, that's two hefty slices of "bread" to fill up with your favorite frosted "meat!" Ideal for: The Whimsical and Sassy Baker.
I've had dozens and dozens of friends and colleagues switch over to the Square card reader to process credit cards this year and from brick and mortar businesses to trade show applications, there seems to be little downside to this easy and portable way to turn your smart phone or tablet into an instant payment option. With a simple 2.75% fee per swipe and next day deposits, it is perfect for small businesses. And now, they have a $275 flat rate, so if you do more than 100 transactions a month, you can reduce that fee even more. Receipts can be emailed too, saving on paper costs and the reader recognizes cards and will automatically pull up the customer's email if they've used the Square before saving on transaction time. The reader is, get this, free, so my business suggestion for 2012 is definitely try it! Ideal for: Those Taking the Next Step.
Can you put a price on sustainable point of sale awesomeness? Yes you can and with this gorgeous hand crafted register from Happy Owl studios, that price is $2,085! Ouch, but with "The Cashbox" model shown here you can get your own custom artwork on the front and it is fully ready to accept your iPad with Square card reader, receipt printer and it has a cash drawer! For less than half, just the top iPad holder is available so you can swivel the tablet over for signatures etc. and look super hip while doing so;) There's a ton of more affordable options on Etsy (just search iPad registers) and we've seen half a dozen that will make your modern cash processing ways look classic. Ideal for: The Succesful Business Owner.
I'm heading back to the Fred & Friends vault for what might be the classiest way to light the candles on your next birthday cake! Singing opera as you walk from the kitchen to the table is of course mandatory;) Ideal for: Dramatic Cakers.
Of course, if the candleabra is too ponce for your tastes and space is at a premium, try these Light Bites on for size! Yes, I am completing a Fred & Friends hat trick this holiday season with what will surely be under the tree for Reva come the 25th. It's a fork, it's a candle, it's both!!! The only thing that would make this cooler if it was a spork so I could eat this cake a la mode;) Ideal for: Multitaskers.
I'm a nerd, and judging from some of my cake friends out there, it is not uncommon to watch a few episodes of Doctor Who while decorating. So, I give to you the nerdiest, coolest aprons on Etsy from Darling Amy! Aprons are everywhere and make a great gift, but I found these the other day and they are super awesome. She covers everything from Who to Star Wars to anime and video games etc. so all nerds are represented;) Ideal For: Sugar Addicted Geeks!
Last year, I had a lovely cushion gel mat on the list for standing around, but unless you want to fill in a few hundred square feet with mats, chances are you'll be baking on hard floors that are easy to clean and sanitary.... thanks a lot health codes! Reva goes through a lot of shoes and even the best ones will break down quick enough under the stress of all day crumb coating marathons! There's lots of professional chef options out there, but we keep returning to the Dansko line. They come in an array of colors and patterns to fit any personality and really you can never have enough good work shoes so they make a great gift. There's an XP line with "extra padding" in the sole, but we seem to think just the regular is better in the long run. Ideal For: Anyone Who Begs For Foot Rubs.
Yep, I did it. Every childs "favorite" gift from that distant Aunt you never see, I offer up socks. No, I'm not giving up on the list! But to go along with the new shoes, a good pair of socks is absolutely key for those long days in a hot bakery. Forego those cutesy ones with cupcakes on them for consultations and deliveries, you need quality options to support your feet. Spend a little, get some breathable athletic socks from Under Armour or some nice cushiony Thorlos. Buy socks that are meant to take a beating! Leave the $2 models from the bin at Target at home. Athletic socks today are built to support your foot and promote circulation, all of which makes your day in the kitchen smoother. A happy baker is a productive baker!! Ideal For: Shoe Owners
We did it!! Another Halloween contest is in the books and once again, you have proven to the world that our cake friends are the best cake friends anywhere!! You've also proven to be truly twisted as the horror cakes came in early and often;)
First off, congrats to everyone for making this year's Halloween contest an even bigger success than last year!! We topped our entry total from 2011 and the "likes" and comments were through the roof!! We had well over 4100 responses to the entries which is a huge jump in participation as we introduced the fan favorite category for Halloween!
Of course, the decisions were as hard as ever. We have such a difficult time picking winners as so many incredible cakes came in. Nothing was clear cut, but we picked from the heart and pulled out some names to honor with victory but everyone who entered has our admiration. There were some truly amazing cakes. We're applauding you now, listen carefully and you might hear us;) Below are this year's medalists:
Sarah Jones with two wins this year! Congrats to her and all our winners. Each one of you did something special that caught our eyes and we are happy to be sending you some awesome medals that I fully expect pictures of you wearing out in public! No really, we want to see you in a Starbucks ordering a tasty beverage fully medaled.... we're serious.
Okay, I can't say enough how awesome it was this year and how awesome you all are for participating. It made our Halloween season extra extra special! I think we're gonna skip a Christmas contest this year, but look out for a wedding cake challenge in 2013 as we enter "Decade Deux of Merci Beaucoup."
Just like a persistent ghost mocking a SyFy Channel TV crew, it is time once more to haunt your kitchens and whip up something fun, something scary, and something sweet for Merci Beaucoup's newest tradition, our Annual Halloween Cake Challenge!! And yes, two years qualifies as tradition;)
Last year was so much fun, even if the decisions drove us to the judging house of horrors! Seriously, you all knocked your cakes out of the cemetary in 2011, so now it's time to up the proverbial ante. For MBHCC 2012, we will have a grand total of 8 winners!! If you participated in our Holiday contest, some of this will look familiar.
There will be four (4) categories, each containing two (2) divisions of experience. They are:
Now we can judge cakes against similar cakes instead of juggling a great Day of the Dead against say a super cute pumpkin;) And you can thank Sarah Myers for the horror category!! Unlike our Holiday contest, we are leaving it up to you to decide which division (novice or pro) that you wish to enter. We do reserve the right to change your division if we feel it is improperly categorized but will notify you prior to any decisions. There will be no entry fee! The Halloween Contest is completely free to enter, so enter as often as you dare..... muwhahahahaha!!!
Once again, we're looking for the most creative, spooktacular cakes you're little zombie food brains can come up with! Wanna enter? Of course you do!! All you have to do is send a pic of your Halloween creation to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading "Halloween Challenge 2012." Include in the email:
Traditional Halloween: You should enter this category if your cake falls into the traditional imagery of Halloween. We're talking pumpkins, bats, owls, candy, cartoonish mummies or zombies, Frankenstein, trick or treating, and light witchcraft. You know, hobby witches, not Blair Witches!
Horror/Scary: To enter this category, you are creating a cake with some fright to it. Realisitic zombies, blood, gore, things based off of movies like Saw or shows like The Walking Dead. If it's a bit twisted, it goes here!
Day of the Dead: One of our favorite themes and one we felt needed it's own category. As you can see, we have allowed entries well past November 1st and 2nd to allow for DOTDers to take part. Sugar skulls, beautiful flowers, piping, use it all to create something for this category.
Fan Favorite: All cakes will be entered into fan favorite! Each cake will receive "votes" by gaining likes and comments on the official contest photo album on our Facebook page. The highest total for pro and novice cakes will each win. The tiebreaker if needed will be "shares."
Because we love you, If you don't think you have the time or reason to make a Halloween cake this year (like our contest isn't enough reason!) AND you entered a cake last year, you may re-submit that cake for Fan Favorite voting only!! It must be submitted again and only "votes" acquired under the 2012 photo album will be counted. Important: You MAY NOT use this generous offer if you are submitting a new cake for 2012. This is only for those who do not have the time to create something new for this year's contest.
Once again we will gather the cake coven known as Reva, Mic and Marc to judge the winners. Last year they went with this beauty:
Do you have what it takes to unseat M.A.D. Crafted Cakes? If so, get cracking on those designs and send 'em on over!! We can't wait to see what our amazing friends will come up with and as soon as we get a few entries, we will create an online gallery on our Facebook page so everyone can share in the Halloween fun and start voting for their favs;) Good luck cakers, may the best tiers win;)
Hold your hats for this fast paced retrospective of the first 10 years of Merci Beaucoup Cakes!!
Preface: I want to begin this week's Shop Talk with a reminder. This series began and continues from the point of view of a full time business owner. This is a business blog, aimed at those who are running a cake business. While much of what we say crosses the boundary between pro and novice, today is definitely aimed at the former.
Those who closely follow us on Facebook, Tumblr, etc. may notice we don't post a ton of cake photos. In fact, rarely is a better term! The reason is selfish; our designs are our designs and we don't always want the world to see them. It's not about pride in our work, or sharing, we love to answer questions and help people out, but when it comes to our "intellectual property," we're guarded.
See, we've been in the cake game long enough to remember when everyone held their decorating techniques close to their chest. It's not that we were waging some cold war of secrets, a talented cake decorator should be capable of figuring out how to make any cake, but there was definitely more of a desire to keep to ourselves. We'd appreciate each other's work, but much like Coke, we weren't giving up the family recipe anytime soon.
Now we live in the world of "sharing." Images of cakes are being posted by the second. From Facebook walls to Flickr to Cake Central and blogs, cakes are everywhere. We're cake nerds, we love seeing the beautiful designs, love it, but is this transparency better? Yes and no. Like the title of this post says, there is sharing and then there is (over) sharing.
And let me clarify, for the purpose of this blog, "sharing" refers to photos. I'm not talking about someone lending some advice or dropping a tip to a frustrated caker tackling fondant for the first time, rather the sharing of our completed work (designs) on a daily basis. This is something new, a sign of the times as we move towards cloud computing and a standard of social media that has us sharing every moment of our lives, both professional and personal. Hey, one of Facebooks primary buttons is "share," look at the impact Pinterest has made, so it makes sense that in this system, there is the potential for a global audience to see our cakes. There is also the potential for that audience to take our hard work and creativity and pass it off as their own. This is the double edged spatula of cake decorating!
You can't share everything, it's just not wise. If you want a competitive advantage of any kind, some times you need to hold back. Even if you are teaching a class on say, buttercream roses, you shouldn't show them everything. It might be great for a hobbyist community, but as a career cake decorator, you need to have your own bag of tricks that is solely for your business.
If you have a basic line with limited options that you offer, then there's no need to hold back on sharing. Simple designs, Wilton techniques, things that are already widely produced don't trip the alarm. If you're incorporating pre-made decorations, it's probably safe. A Barbie cake, seen all over, is safe. Licensed character cakes are safe.... er, wait.... they're not, but you have to go back to the copyright post for that one;) You get the point. A topsy turvey cake is no longer new. Cheetah print has been done. Those types of cakes are shareable. Quality work is quality work regardless of design, so go for it.
How much should you share? There's no right answer. This post is more reflection than hardened business theory. I think the key to that question is the question itself. Take the time to ask yourself for every cake you make, "should I share this?" Are you risking something that makes you you? A certain color palette, a fantasy flower, a unique stacking design. Ultimately, your style is what will sell cakes, what will make you money. Don't be afraid to pump the breaks now and then. There is no monetary reward for being first!!
Hopefully we can all agree on the importance of watermarking the images you opt to share online. First off, know that a watermark will never protect against someone using your ideas and designs in their own work. It's very presence online qualifies it as "inspiration." If you are protective of a design, don't put it online for all to see. You must decide how to temper pride in your work with protecting your creative voice.
Secondly, applying a watermark to an image is not as simple as putting a line of text on the bottom of the image or a small logo in the corner. Raise your hand if you've seen photos from a red carpet or charity event with those big walls of logos behind the celebrities? Like this:
Awww, the darling Zooey Deschanel...... and Starz and Yahoo! and the Hollywood Film Festival!! You can't escape it can you? There's a reason they repeat those logos so much, so you cannot possibly avoid them. Watermarks should be the same, unavoidable.
You might say, "I put my name across the middle of the cake! And even a copyright symbol!" Great, does it cover the awesome handcrafted marzipan topper you spent a week making? No? Then someone can and unfortunately as we've all learned, most likely will take the image and crop out that section for their own purposes. Overall, we're a great community, but there are some rotten apples out there.
Here's an example. Kati's Cakes recently posted an awesome Hunger Games inspired cake on our wall. I always notice her images because she makes sure to slap her name across the cake (not underneath!) and has a logo in the corner for good measure. This is a good operating procedure, but it's not perfect. Here's the cake as posted:
And here's 30 seconds on an online photo editor (Lunapic):
Is it a perfect crop? Not at all, it doesn't show the awesome tree work on the side or the whole mockingjay design but it is enough for someone to say "I can do Hunger Games cakes!" Or to add to a brochure or a website or even *gasp* use as their avatar! Kati's name is in the best location for a single line of watermarking. She's made it difficult for the scoundrels of the cake world, but if it were repeated two or three times, then we're talking fool proof.
"Won't that clutter up my photo?" you ask. You betcha, but the only cure for the cake stealing blues is to make the image unusable. Reva says it all the time, if you want to claim you can make a cake, go for it. You still have to execute!
If you care about being credited for your work at all times and keeping someone else from taking that credit, it is a necessity. These aren't the images you will use in advertising, or your shop books etc. These are the ones you share on social media. Watermarks are visible, but your friends on Facebook will still be able to see how awesome you are;)
We love ICES. We love the Cake Camp and the CCC. We love showing beginners how to get their feet wet. But none of that is about being a professional business owner. If you want to take it to that level, or maintain that level, you need to be able to skillfully navigate the hobby side and the professional side of the cake community.
It is too easy to snap a pic on your iPhone and have it up on Facebook in less time than it takes for you to formulate the question, "should I share this?" If the answer is yes, my advice is to take a breath and wait till you can apply the proper watermarks and control how your image is seen.
For us, it comes down to a mixture of being a little old school, being a little protective, and our policies on client confidentiality. I'm not saying we need to all stop posting photos, but maybe you hold one or two back every once in awhile. Maybe you only leave them up for a month, cycle out your photos on a regular basis?
This is just our opinion and I hope it generates some good back and forth. Ironically, I hope our call to caution on sharing leads to some serious sharing!! The fact is, people have entered contests using other people's cake photos, so we need to give it some thought. Maybe nothing changes for you, maybe everything, but let's get the conversation started. The best part about running your own business is being your own boss, which means you get to be in control. Let's be in control of our business!
Till next time cakers!!
The other night, we were invited to an event for a well known bakery that produces wonderful breads and pastries. I won't mention their name because they have a terrific line of products and I respect them immensely. In one corner they had a small table dedicated to their modest wedding cake business. It's not where they make their money, but they offer it. We've talked about the need to ABR, "always be researching," so I snagged one of their brochures to examine later. I love 'em, but it was terrible.
Brochures in our industry today are universally awful. Reva came home from a bridal faire with a handful a few weeks back and they put me to sleep. Let me ask you a simple question. Why would you spend a nice chunk of change on printing up full color tri-folds and load them up with nothing but words? These things had, on average, three photos of their work.
You have this great opportunity to showcase who you are and you waste 60 to 70% of the available real estate on eye blurring lists and text? No! Bad business owner!! Add another photo, make your logo bigger, but don't spend all this money to give them all the information one can stuff into a brochure only to have them toss it on the way out of the bridal faire.
They want to know if you're cakes look good. You run a business. You've made lots of cakes I can assume. You have photos. USE THEM! Wow them with the visual, peak their interest, then sell them yourself. Which brings me to...
Nothing can stop a conversation from happening faster than the list of flavors. I saw one brochure that had 28 flavors listed for cake and another 18 for fillings. Then they listed the same flavors under cupcakes! It was a full page of information that your client doesn't need until the consultation. There is no bride walking around today that believes a bakery cannot reproduce the flavors she wants. None. We all make the same flavors, so instead of the list of chocolate, french vanilla, white, champagne, red velvet..... and on and on and on, use that space to show yourself off!! All you need is a line like "all popular flavors available," or what we like to use "ask about our specialty flavors!" Think about that sentence. "Ask us." Now you're pushing the conversation, you're giving your brochure new life because it is no longer a slab of redundant information, it is a calling card. It will connect you to the client, not distance you.
Remember Rule #1, you have to sell your cakes. There is no website, Facebook, nor piece of paper that replaces you.
This rule is two fold. First, leave the numbers out of it. Adding prices to your brochure can and will turn off clients. It will also lock you into those prices. What if supply costs change? What if they want something not covered in the brochure and they walk out because they think you're trying to rip them off? People see stuff in print and they think it's law. Leaving out the financial will also make your marketing money go farther. I've had to reprint brochures to replace outdated information which means I've had to throw valuable marketing materials in the trash. Money down the drain.
Secondly, there are too many variables to what we do as cake decorators to possibly list in a brochure. If you try, you end up with a list of 15 or so combinations and the client will think that's all you do. I mean, they took the time to make the list, so that must be their limitation, right? I don't need to talk to them then, so... end of conversation.
I mean it, a brochure is nothing more than a fancy business card. It's a means to enhance your contact information to a targeted audience, usually at bridal shows or from visitors to your shop. It should have phone numbers, web links, even a QR code to lead them to the places where it is more appropriate to load them up with information. Use the rest of the space for visuals. As the old adage says, "a picture is worth a thousand words."
I have also seen huge sections of brochures dedicated to bios about the baker that read like Russian literature. If you want to put a head shot in the handout and a few lines about your training or a funny sentence about your hobbies or pets, great. It humanizes you and you never know what might spark that connection to a client. For Reva, I always love to put "after she's done baking, Reva plans on becoming a cheesemonger." A) it's true, don't make stuff up, and B) countless people have said "I love cheese too!" There you go, now we've separated ourselves not by some lifeless list of fillings, but by being the cake decorator who moonlights as a cheese enthusiast.
All these rules point back to the simplest rule in the world, K.I.S.S. Keep it simple sucka! (I always like "sucka" more than "stupid," but you know, feel free to substitute your favorite "S" word) Avoid redundant information. Don't repeat yourself in the brochure or in your consultation. If you want a list of all you do available, print it up on simple legal sized paper and make them ask for it. It's all about the conversation.
Well, I hope that helps a little bit as you count up your marketing budget. We've made all these mistakes. We've had too many words, too many options, lead the reader down conflicting paths of cake and pastry. Like in anything, don't expect brochures to do all the work. You have to earn your clientele. Always remember, anything you put out there should be a conversation starter and you'll do just fine.
Next week, we talk more shop;)
To coincide with our year long 10th Anniversary celebrations, we commissioned some special re-designs of our logo. Our friend and artist Anne Pennypacker over at Rype Ideas, took our original C.J. Metzger artwork and a rambling email of ideas from Mic and turned it into three wonderful celebratory logos!!
First up, the "primary mark."
We really loved the idea of roman numerals, and after playing with a couple of ideas (including using the hummingbird as part of the "X"!), Anne nailed it with this version. I love the hummingbird "sipping" from the top of the "X."
We debuted these designs on Facebook a couple weeks ago, and this next "alternate mark" seems to be a fan favorite!
Originally, we asked for an alternate logo so we could have something a little bolder and striking for use as an avatar/profile pic on Twitter etc. Mic threw out some "big 10" ideas he'd seen in the hockey world, and Anne ran with it and came up with a beautiful robin's egg effect on the "10." It's totally Reva and moves the logo into that area of visual brand recognition we talked about in Shop Talk awhile back. Buttons have already been ordered;)
Finally, we approved a "third mark" from the original ideas:
Of course, all three of the anniversary logos will find their way to merchandise soon as well as popping up all over the internet. Many thanks to Anne for her hard work and for helping us set the table for all the amazing celebrations we have planned for 2012!!!
Now we can relax!! Here are the results from our Holiday Cheer Cake Challenge!!
We've also decided to award Raquel Palacios a special "International Christmas Fondant" award for her wonderful cake that came to us all the way from Australia!!
In the Professional Division we had some good entries in both fondant and gingerbread houses!! Sherry Oram won Fan Favorite for her beautiful ginger house and Alexis Sturgeon sent in three impressive houses including our winner, a replica of the Mission Inn that featured great detail and an intricate construction process.
In the fondant cakes we debated having 1st thru 3rd place awards because they were all so nice. Tina's ribbon inspired tree and Erica Heery's cute mug of hot cocoa and gingerbread men made us smile, but in the end we handed over 1st to Jaime Williams for a full bodied elf that was clean and showed off a number of techniques. Why do you guys make this so hard on us?
Things only got harder in the Novice Division where the fondant debate raged into Sunday morning! The result? We decided to have both a domestic and international winner!! From Australia, we just adored the work of Raquel Palacios. The figures were terrific and the ruffled edges were perfect. Very well done. Stateside it was the composition and execution of Heather Kelley's snowglobe and penguin cake that we just kept coming back to. It tells a fun story and is just brimming with the spirit and fun of the holiday season.
That being said, major props have to go out to Ainsley Stephens for two awesome cakes, a Peanuts theme and a Christmas dog in a box that were adorable and very, very well done. We loved Colleen Ray's fondant tree (our first entry) and Nichole Ferello's Rudolph. Marianne Reitsma, what can we say about your nutcracker? Amazing. Everyone did such fun and wonderful cakes and after a slow start to the entries coming in, we were blown away by all of your participation! Picking a winner is not rocket science and without sounding too cliched I hope, you are all winners to us;)
Julie Freund's "Any Other" winner was a great example of how to work black and white design into a cake!
Next year, we hope this will be bigger and better and of course, I'm looking for some Hanukkah cakes. Seriously, where my kosher cakers at? LOL! Congrats to literally everyone. We know it can be scary to submit your work into contests, but we loved each and every one and appreciate the time you took to join in. We have a full slate of contests in 2012 including more Halloween and Holidays as well as a birthday cake challenge in April and a big wedding cake showdown in August!! This is just too much fun not to keep doing!!
One last note, I wanted to give a special shout out to Alex Kleidon who, after seeing us mention the mini series "Hogfather," rented the movie and then proceeded to make us a "Hogswatch" cake for the any other category!!! There were many high fives and fist pumps when it came in Alex, thank you for stepping outside the box and taking a chance on something new!!
When you live with a professional cake decorator, especially one with a penchant for collecting the gadgets of her trade like mine, you spend 12 months a year compiling a mental list of what you can buy later. Because let's face it, when I'm in Sur La Table with Reva holding a new shiny she must have with those wide childlike eyes staring up at me (I'm like 2" taller), more often than not the business card comes out and our cookie cutter collection hits 4 digits.
But there are those great little baking gifts and ideas I file away and this year, I wish to share them with all of you in our first ever Holiday Gift Guide Spectacular!!!!
Wilton Pastry Tips. They don't have to be Wilton, but chances are that's the brand you'll find;) Available at Michael's, Sur La Table, even Wal Mart, you can load up a stocking full of tips for under $20 and it doesn't matter if you buy one they already have because you can always use more!! Pastry bags and couplers make a great companion;)
Disco Dust! It's all the rage these days and there's a wide variety of colors out there to brighten up your decorator's designs. At $4 to $5 a pop, few of us ever have as many as we want. Sneak a peak in the drawer and pick up some new colors for a guaranteed smile come the 25th. Also see luster dust and pedal dust.
Fondant Sculpting Tools. Ateco is a leading baking supply company and I just had to include this deal on their 9 piece fondant sculpting set now at Williams Sonoma for a ridiculously low $6!! There's more rugged models out there, but for the price, even if they already have a set, these are great to add to your delivery kit or keep at home. It appears to be internet only, so order soon!
Offset Spatulas. Spatulas in general are always helpful in the kitchen, but Reva is always reaching for her small offsets whether working on big cakes, cupcakes, cookies, really anything. They are the kind of tool that will always be welcome in the kit and they come in handy for our next section...
Ninjabread Men. Hi-ya!! Everyone is kung fu baking with this sugar kicking set of cutters from Fred & Friends, the coolest kitchen accessory company in the world! Their products can be found everywhere these days, but our favorite are these aggressive little cookie men;)
Hand Carved Cookie Molds. Also known as "stamps," it's rare to find a large selection of these old world cookie molds outside of the internet, but the variety and beauty of this craft is undeniable. Used on everything from gingerbread cookies to shortbread, there is a mold for everyone. The site I've linked here is the best I've seen. Each one handcrafted so they're moderately pricey, but think of the new tradition you could start by buying a new one each year! And we've used ours a lot, they make wonderful cookies.
Johnny Cupcakes. If you follow us on Facebook, you know our complete devotion to t-shirt guru Johnny Cupcakes. His line of shirts, hats, etc. is all over our closet. Whether you go for the classic cupcake and crossbones logo or one of his limited edition shirts, a JC shirt is what every cool baker should be wearing. Note: If you're near Los Angeles, Boston, or London, Johnny has retails stores in those cities.
Merci Beaucoup Shirts! Hey, I'm writing the blog, I get to pick the gifts;) Limited edition holiday shirts available now and you can even put them in one of our super cool tote bags. A cake spouse has to try!
Super Cute Oven Mitts. Every cupcake challenge on TV shows off fancy aprons, isn't it time to glamor up your mitts?!! The queen of cute aprons, Jessie Steele, also offers up a wide range of designer oven mitts in various styles to satisfy every baker. And, at $10 and under, pick up a pair, you know, for each hand;)
Fat Daddios. Cake pans, you can never have enough of them, nor will you ever have enough storage to keep them neat!! There's lots of great brands out there, but recently Sur La Table started selling the Fat Daddios line and it is a quality pan that will stand up to heavy use for even the most rugged bakery. They have a ton of sizes including extra deep pans and all at a very reasonable price for the quality.
Wilton Gingerbread House Mold Pan. We love gingerbread everything here at Merci Beaucoup, especially houses and this new dual sided pan from Wilton is a great solution if you need to turn out some homes in a hurry. Just the roof alone makes the $25 price tag worth it! You also get some candy canes, gingerbread men, a tree, and a North Pole sign. Another great idea from Wilton.
Silicone Mats. The Silpat revolutionized baking and while most of us still use parchment for so many uses, no kitchen is complete without some quality silicone mats laying around. Our friends over at Caljava recently came out with the biggest fondant mat we've ever seen! At 30' x 30", this is the mat to use when rolling out fondant for your bottom tiers. Oven safe, it can also be used for poured sugar and chocolate. At $75, this is one of the bigger presents you can put under the tree, but a guaranteed grand slam of a gift.
Stump de Noel Bundt Cake Pan. Okay, I admit it. This is on the list because I want one, but seriously, who needs a tired old yule log when you can have a Bundt Stump!!! Gather round the stump children, it's time for dessert!
The Debbie Brown Library. Besides being an awesome cake decorator and an awesome person, Debbie has written numerous books that will open your eyes to multiple techniques. Vivid, creative designs run through each volume and cover subjects such as cartoons and popular characters, weddings, children's cakes, naughty designs, and her newest, Baby Cakes. Reva cites Debbie as one of her biggest inspirations and I know your decorator will love flipping through any of these great books. $20 and under, these books can be found online or in most bookstores.
American Cake Decorating Magazine. While some say print media is dead, in the cake world the presence of inspiration via magazine remains a big part our industry. From brides to bakers, we all love to look at magazines and learn something new or take a mental note on a fabulous design. ACD boils down our obsession to just cake and comes full of great tips and tutorials all year long. $28 for a year's subscription, $50 for two, and worth every penny as the gift that keeps on giving;)
MyCakeSchool.com. If you're eyes grow tired of all that reading, how about an online membership to cake school! My Cake School is a terrific site with great videos covering a wide variety of subject. There is literally something for decorators of all skill levels. Over a 100 videos, recipes and a forum will keep our baker happy all year long. At $30 annually, this is probably the most bang for your buck on the entire list!! When I asked Reva what we should put on this guide, My Cake School was the first thing she mentioned.
Gel Pro Chef Mats. Nothing can destroy a cake design quicker than tired feet. If the dogs are barking, the piping gets sloppy! Okay, not my best slogan idea, but you get the point. They come in a couple different sizes and numerous colors and patterns, but be prepared to crack that wallet. They run $150 to $300, but trust me, the impact on your fatigue level is dramatic. You can work longer and happier and really, what's the price tag on that kind of baking bliss?
Sound System. Long days in the bakery go by quicker with some tunes to drown out the mixer. While we all know the Bose, with buttercream and disco dust flying about, you'll probably want something a little more affordable for the kitchen;) There's lots of great option from $80 to $200 like the Klipsch model I linked here. Do some research, make sure the speakers sound full and by all means, load up the iPod with some new music for your decorator on Christmas morn!
Ledson Wine. If you're so inclined, the Ledson Winery produces some of our absolute favorite wine anywhere. We didn't even really drink wine until we were exposed to their label (thanks for the expensive habit Uncle Earl!). Not available in stores, you either have to pick it up at their gorgeous tasting room in Kenwood, CA or order it online through them and trust us, it is worth it. If you don't trust us, send us a bottle and we'll review it for you;) Pricey, but phenomenal, Ledson's entire line is delicious. Try their "Sweet Ida May" dessert port with some chocolate and you're sweet tooth will never be the same! What better way to relax after a long day of baking?!!
Well, that's a pretty full list and trust me, I haven't even scratched the surface yet! You could drop a couple hundred on fondant alone not to mention the seemingly billions of kitchen gadgets out there for cake decorators! Hopefully we've helped you think of some ideas for your gift list this year but no matter what, never forget the best part about the holidays and baking.... eating the finished product!!
Happy Holidays from The Cake Spouse, a.k.a. Mic
It's beginning to look a lot like we're having a Holiday contest!! Reva's making her list and checking it twice before stuffing it under my pillow, so while she's dreaming of an iPad, I thought I'd rip the wrapping off our first ever Holiday Cheer Cake Challenge.
Ho, ho, homemade treats are at the center of this expanded contest. After our test run at a Halloween contest, we wanted to make our next one bigger with even more opportunities for people to get their name on the winner's list;) So, read carefully, and let us know if you have any questions because there are a lot of moving parts this time around.
(Please note: Thanksgiving is NOT included in the "any other" description. December Holidays only.)
For the Christmas cakes, we will place your cake in the proper category based on which medium is used to represent your theme the most. Ex: If it is buttercream icing with lots of fondant figures, we will put it in "fondant" because the execution of your design relies heavily on the fondant work.
In addition to all those categories, we're also going to have two levels of competition: Professional and Novice. That's a total of 12 winners!
Novice: anyone who bakes and decorates primarily as a hobby. A novice most likely is in the beginning stages of their decorating career/business. It should not be your primary source of income, but it is okay if you are selling your product in modest amounts.
Professional: to enter the professional categories you should consider yourself a full time cake decorator, this includes grocery stores or any other work for businesses other than your own, including freelance. You should have a business name and a wesbite and/or a well cared for Facebook page as your business. You will probably have some training and/or multiple years experience.
Anyone can enter the Professional level if they wish, but if you enter the Novice level and you appear to be a professional decorator, you will be notified. This is important because a change to this contest will be an entry fee for Professional entries
This fee is to help alleviate the cost of awards for a contest this size. We want to do 4 to 5 contests a year and with one this size, we feel it appropriate to attach a modest fee. It is also to lend some weight to the idea of presenting the winners with an award that states they won a "professional" level competition. Pricing is on par with your standard county fair.
A 6 pack of entries, one for each category in the professional division, will be offered for $5. That is for anyone who wants to enter each category once. We will also offer any 10 entries for $7. All other combinations will be $1 per entry. You do not have to buy an entry for a specific category, you can use your entries for any category you like unless you buy the 6 pack, in which case you will be assigned one entry per category.
Novice entries will remain completely free. Simply follow the rules and email us your entry. We appreciate your honesty when entering. We would like to reward young decorators for their hard work.
There are no limits to how many times you may enter for either level!
Obviously, each contestant has a unique set of circumstances and if you are unsure of which level to enter, just let us know and we'll figure out the best level for you.
If you're familiar with county fairs, you know of the sweepstakes prize. The contestant with the most points will win the sweepstakes. The more you enter, the more chance you have of winning sweepstakes!
In the event of a tie, the highest placement will be considered first. If still tied, multiple firsts etc. will be considered.
All entries will be posted on our Facebook page in special albums for each category (levels will be combined). Each "like" and comment will be counted as 1 vote. The most votes will earn the Fan's choice award. NOTE: voting for Fan's Choice will remain open till January 6th, 2012! This will allow later entries to earn votes.
All 14 winners will be announced on January 7th!
That enough for you? Our Halloween contest was so much fun and we hope this time is even better. Best of luck everyone!