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FAST TRACK YOUR CAKE CAREER

HOW TO BECOME AN EMPLOYABLE CAKE ARTIST (1)

Okay, so you have done a few cake classes, you have your own cake Facebook page, everyone tells you they love your cakes and at this stage you are thinking that this might be something you would like to do professionally, or perhaps you are in the pastry world looking to move into cake decorating. This blog post is about what owners of cake decorating shops are really looking for when they are hiring potential staff. I write this as someone who has employed over 20 senior cake artists in my career, many junior cake decorators, interns and even more teachers. It’s important to note that each cake decorating business has different production methods, so some employers may do things differently, however in general I think the qualities we are looking for are pretty much the same across the board.

1. Invest in some training

The first thing any potential employer will ask you about is training, it’s not impossible to have a decorating career without any formal training but you need to be able to demonstrate the job skills you have learnt with previous employers. The difference between decorators with formal training and those without can be vast. You may not be able to tell on the surface because the cakes from someone with training and without can look the same. However to an employer it is not just what the cake looks like that is important. Can you guess what it is? Yep, it’s food safety and a knowledge of safe cake practices. Understanding how mould develops, what causes salmonella, health and safety requirements for a kitchen and general professional baking and cake decorating techniques are so important, if you have ever had a wedding cake with mould in it or a cake that collapsed I think you would agree. So invest in some proper training, or get yourself an internship, it does not necessarily have to be a 4-year patisserie course, but make sure you have the foundation skills.

2. Specialise

An important piece of advice I have is to become an expert in a few particular areas of cake decorating, always keep your broad skills and be prepared to muck in, but pick a few areas that you love, and really excel and develop your expertise in those areas. My team is naturally split between cake decorators that make wedding or novelty cakes, those that pipe and those that make sugar flowers, figurines etc. So when someone leaves I am looking to hire someone with a particular skill set to fill the gap (I know other employers operate similarly). The advantage of specialising in a few particular areas is that you become very good in those areas in a shorter amount of time and you know where to invest your training. The best example I can give is one of my favourite cake decorators, Greg Cleary who owns a successful business in Brisbane called Sweetums. Greg can make a whole variety of different cakes, however very early on in his career he decided that he would specialise in sugar flowers, he devoted all of his money, time and training in mastering the craft and I would now regard Greg as the #1 place to go to if you want a sugar flower cake in Brisbane.

3. Speed

If you have watched me on TV, you have probably seen me going on and on about time. The reason I make this point is that ‘time’ is what we are selling; each decorator only has 32 production hours to give the business each week. The amount of cakes you can produce in that time obviously dictates your value to the business economically; this applies to all cake shops and patisseries. This is where the talent part comes into the equation, some of my most talented employees have been the slowest, to produce great works of art takes time, however they are able to take their time and produce only 2-3 cakes a week because we have some robust, efficient cake decorators who are able to work very quickly and make up all the slack. It is the fastest decorators who actually keep the business going, not the most talented, this is something very important to understand, and why you should never feel intimidated by another cake decorator’s talent. In saying this, please don’t freak out about speed, we are well aware that until you build up experience and skill you will not improve your speed, at PC we have an induction time for all our new employees and I know other shops do as well. But it’s important to understand that you will be expected to work quickly, I would advise getting some work experience in a commercial kitchen or cafe (it does not have to be a cake one) and just put your foot to the metal and see if you can hack the pace!

4. There is no I in team

Make sure you have some reliable references attesting to what a great team player you are, employers want to know that you will support your team and pull your own weight. Every employer I know of has at least once in their career employed a prima donna. Prima donnas do not always start out bad; however they are hired usually for their talent and not for their team work. Unfortunately someone who thinks they are better than their team mates can be like having a terrorist in your business, it undermines morale and I have always found that these types of employees are a constant source of vexation for everyone around them, the worst part about it is they are almost always unaware that this is how they are viewed, so managing them is exceptionally difficult. Ironically this is where having thousands of Instagram followers may work against you, an employer could be worried that you believe you are entitled to special treatment. The people I am looking to hire devote time to developing other members of staff, they are the employees who never complain about doing the crappy jobs like making ganache or cleaning the kitchen, they are the decorators who will put up their hand and take a late order without complaining. I have had staff like this and I will never forget them, they are literally the backbone of any great kitchen. So it’s very important to prove that you are a great team player, all employers are very nervous about potentially hiring a painful prima donna in disguise!

The advice I give here is based on the qualities that I discovered the very best decorators I employed possessed and I think I made the point that the best decorators are not necessarily the most talented. So my advice in fast tracking your career is not to get bogged down with what’s happening on social media, but focus on developing some of the qualities I have listed above. This is what most employers look for, they honestly don’t care how well known you are, they care about your potential as an outstanding team player and decorator, in essence the whole package.

Good Luck!

For information on our classes click here: www.planetcake.com.au/classes

5 Wedding Cake Myths Debunked

Wedding Cake Tips

The contemporary wedding cake has grown out of several different ethnic traditions, dating back to Ancient Rome, where bread was broken over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple. Given that wedding cakes have been around for so long and so much has been written about them, many of the traditions and some of the information in the wedding industry has gotten a little out of date. So for a fresh take on the modern wedding cake I thought I would debunk some old wives tales for you!

1. Wedding cakes are usually made of fruit cake

Fruit cake has been a traditional wedding cake flavour dating back to the 17th century. However these days only a few of my clients request fruit cake, probably 5-10% at most, and it is almost always only one tier.  Partly due to the fact that many of my clients don’t like fruit cake, but also It is worth noting that fruit cake is often more costly due to the expensive ingredients and long baking times.

2. You must keep the top tier of your wedding cake

There is a time honoured tradition of keeping the top tier of your wedding cake for either your first anniversary or christening. While I think this is a beautiful sentiment the reality can be something else. Firstly, in order to keep the cake, it must be made from fruit cake and preserved with marzipan which most couples find unappealing. Secondly, you have to keep your cake in the freezer for a year, let me tell you those things take up a lot of freezer room! The end result is that many couples are opting out of this tradition, however all is not lost, can I suggest keeping some decorations from the wedding cake, such as sugar flowers, figurines and ribbons and dressing a brand new fresh cake with these to keep the spirit of the tradition alive.

If you are a traditionalist and wish to preserve you cake, there are some great instructions here: wedding cake preservation

3. Having part of my cake made from Styrofoam saves money

If a magazine editor is reading this post, please stop putting this tip in your wedding articles, it is not true! The cost of cakes is largely made up of decorating time, icing, sugar flowers etc.  The actual ‘cake’ is made of eggs, flour etc, and does not contribute a huge amount to the price.  Therefore replacing a tier with Styrofoam, will probably only save you $50 or so as the cake decorator still needs to ice and decorate it. One of the reasons cake decorators use Styrofoam in wedding cakes is for the weight. A four tier wedding cake can weigh as much as 60 kg, too heavy to safely lift, so with bigger cakes decorators will replace a tier with Styrofoam to make sure the cake is not too heavy.

4. It is cheaper to have cupcakes

This is one of the biggest myths of all; I advise my clients that if they want to go with cupcakes for a wedding they can expect to double the cost if they get all the extras. The best way is to illustrate it here, with this cupcake stack we made Megan Gale for 60 guests.

Megan Gale's 30th Birthday Party Zeta Bar,  The HIlton Hotel, Pitt Street, Sydney Saturday 6th August, 2005 PHOTOGRAPHER: BELINDA ROLLAND © 2005

Cutting Cake: $250

60 x $12 Cupcakes: $600

Custom Made Stand: $200

Packaging & Delivery: $200

Total: $1250 (this works out at $20 per guest)

5. It’s customary for guests to take a piece of cake home

This tradition is lovely when you have a nice piece of firm fruit cake to package and box nicely, that will keep fresh for a week or so and not go stale.  However this tradition can get quite ugly if you are the guest who has to fish out a warm piece of squashed chocolate cake from your handbag the day after a big wedding.  This tradition works brilliantly with firm cakes and individual cakes such as cupcakes, however it does not work as well with modern flavours.  It also requires boxes and extra labour in cutting and packaging the cake, it can become quite time consuming and costly and as a general rule I would advise against it unless it’s something you really want to do.

 

6 Tips for Buying Cakes on a Budget !

The best thing you can possibly do before you go cake shopping is work out what your budget is, it makes your choices clearer and let’s be frank it’s not a nice feeling to spend more than you can afford to. If you are on a limited budget, then it’s very important that you get the best value you can, this might be readjusting your thinking from the dream cake you had in mind, but it should still mean that you have a great tasting lovely cake, here are some of my tips to help you work it all out.

1. Understand how decorated cakes are priced

The most important thing to know is that the design of the cake affects the price more than the size.  The cake price is calculated not only on how much cake and materials are used but also how long the decorators spend decorating.  So if you want to keep the costs down, simplify your cake design, and ditch the figurines, masses of sugar flowers, complex shapes and piping. This small cake below took 2 days to make and cost $770, it fed 30 people, the cost was due to its piping, number of sugar flowers and shape, all of which are time consuming.

Planet Cake

Planet Cake

2. Value vs. Price

Cake decorating is a craft, and this is in part what you are paying for.  I can assure you that although prices may seem high, most decorators I know make very little money, they do it for the love of it.  Therefore if you receive a very cheap quote there could be a few reasons why this would be so: a) They spend less time decorating your cake  b) they use cheaper ingredients or c) they are inexperienced. Therefore it comes down to a value versus price argument, only you can make that decision.

Source: Cake Wrecks

Source: Cake Wrecks

3. The trick to making a wedding cake look like a million dollars when you are on a budget

If you want to get bang for your buck go with a reputable cake maker to ensure that your cake tastes beautiful and is iced perfectly and have your cake decorated with fresh flowers by your florist.  I also recommend choosing height over detail. Think of it this way, only a few guests will truly appreciate intricate lace piping and delicate sugar flowers, however, all the guests will notice a big cake.

Taller cakes look better in photos, they act as a centrepiece and they have an impact in a reception room. For impact I would recommend a 3-4 tier cake decorated with fresh flowers over a two tier cake with intricate piping detail; you may be surprised to learn they are probably around the same cost. 

Source: The Belle Magazine

Source: The Belle Magazine

4. Serving your cake as dessert

Take the cost of your cake and divide it by the number of wedding guests, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that you could be saving money on dessert and have a dazzling wedding cake at the same time. For example, a four tier cake decorated with scattered sugar flowers and some lace piping would be around $1200, for 120 guests this would work out at $10 per head for dessert. The only thing I caution you to do is please check with your venue as to what the cakeage charge would be to plate your cake.

5. Taste vs. Price

I am just going to put it right out there early doors, if your cake tastes like crap, everyone will talk about the fact that your cake tasted like crap. Sorry but it’s true, don’t sacrifice flavour for a few $$. Great tasting cakes rely on quality ingredients, cheaper cakes are made from a pre-mix to keep costs down, there is nothing wrong with a good quality pre-mix, however the cheaper ones tend to have a salty aftertaste (take note next time you eat one).

Therefore quality pre-mixes or baked from scratch cakes will cost a little more, to mitigate the extra expense, serve your cake as dessert or instead of a hard fondant finish opt for a fresh finish of buttercream or royal icing which are cheaper.

6. Just Do it yourself!

Okay, so finally we come to the last tip which, of course, there are pros and cons to, the pros are obvious, you save hundreds of dollars!! However let’s be realistic about your nerves, are you a laid back kind of person? If so then you might want to give it a crack if you are highly strung or a little OCD please leave your cake to the professionals or you may be spending your cake savings in therapy fees.

There are a few things to bear in mind, whether it is you or a friend that makes the cake.  Firstly, keep your expectations realistic and if you are having a friend make your cake, I beg of you to be kind with your design requests (if you are that friend say NO if you don’t feel comfortable with a particular cake design).

Please bear in mind that cake decorating materials can be costly depending on the design, for a 2-3 tier cake expect your material costs to be around $80- $100. By keeping your designs simple, your chances of success greatly increase, making a cake with a fresh finish and fresh flowers is extremely doable. However, if you are working with fondant icing for the first time, make sure you have a trial or better still attend a class.

TIP: We sell DIY cakes in our online store, these cakes are already iced either in fondant icing or a fresh finish so that you can dress with fresh flowers or decorate yourself. View Planet Cake DIY Cakes

Celine Dion’s Birthday Cake

It’s not unusual when you make a cake for a celebrity that you will get a few odd calls from different sources, the celeb’s agent or management, testing the waters before someone finally comes clean and tells you who the cake is really for.  Therefore I did a double take when I received a phone call from the best friend of René Angélil, Celine’s husband, casually requesting a 40th birthday cake for Celine Dion for a surprise birthday party for that Saturday night.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 27:  Rene Angelil (L) and his wife, singer Celine Dion, arrive at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre February 27, 2011 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

We were given a brief for the cake design, Celine is very family orientated; she had been performing in Vegas for the last five years in a Colosseum purposely built for her and she was in the middle of a world tour, could we please factor all of these elements in the cake? We designed the cake featuring all of these elements with Rene and her son René-Charles as figurines and her mother Thérèse poking her head out of one of the windows of the Colosseum.

The cake itself was amazing, without a doubt one of the best cakes we had ever created and it took at least 40—50 hours to make. Therefore everyone was pretty devastated when we were told a few hours before the cake was to be delivered, that Celine’s surprise party was cancelled and the cake was no longer required. Celine had a sore throat and needed to rest, the feeling of loss was palpable, and we all went home very disappointed, a wonderful cake was wasted.

Diane 29.3.08. design 4
CELINE DION 40th BIRTHDAY

The following morning at around 7am while I was sitting around in Daffy Duck pyjama’s with a noisy five year old in the background,  I received a phone call. It was Celine’s Agent. Although they were no longer having a party could I please bring the cake over immediately?  Rene thought it would be nice for Celine to at least have a birthday cake even if she couldn’t have a party, would we mind? I galvanised the whole family into gear, threw the kid and the cake in the back of the car and zoomed over to the Intercontinental Hotel. Rene was waiting for us in the lobby, I couldn’t believe it, and he looked exactly like he did in magazines, immaculate. He was absolutely charming, thanked us for the cake, and with that he and the cake were whisked away, a job well done.

Just as I sank into a Sunday afternoon of nothingness the phone rang again, it was Rene’s friend, apparently Celine loved the cake, would the team who created the cake like VIP tickets to her concert that evening? So I rustled up the gang, we all jumped in our car’s and raced over to the Entertainment Centre. We all conferred and none of us had ever heard Celine Dion sing before, however we were excited. Our seats were amazing we were almost on top of the stage; she came out and sang her first song. We were all floored, her voice is amazing, her presence is overwhelming, and she is much more beautiful in real life, we were genuinely blown away, it was an amazing concert. However by the end of the concert we were all exhausted, it was a big week and we were all ready to crawl into bed.

Just as we were getting up to leave, a man in a suit approached us, he said that Celine had asked for us to come back stage, she thought the cake was absolutely amazing and she wanted to thank us personally. Good grief and stone the crows, what a shock!!  We were then escorted into the bowels of the Entertainment Centre where we were ushered into a smaller room, full of her entourage and guests waiting for her to appear. It was here that I learned that Celine usually travels with an entourage of at least forty people, mainly French speakers.  She is completely nocturnal, usually rising at 5 pm and going back to sleep in the wee hours. The room was laden with fruit and snacks, we were checked upon a few times to make sure we were okay and everyone was exceptionally polite and lovely to us.

After an hour or so of waiting I was very tired and exhausted, it had been a long and stressful week. All my makeup had rubbed off and I must have looked awful. It was at this moment Celine appeared. Surrounded by minders with Rene close by, she was wearing a fur and dripping in diamonds she was incredibly beautiful and very tall!!! Quite quickly she was handed a microphone and in a beautiful French accent started to address the small audience in French and English.  She thanked her dancers and the staff and everyone who supported her that evening. She then turned to us; I have never felt so plain and underdressed in all my life as she thanked us for the most beautiful cake she had ever received. She then said that she loved the cake so much that she would like to sing to us. At this point someone started playing the piano, Celine lifted her microphone and started singing in French and I couldn’t understand a word, however someone decided to put a spot light on me, so it was just me and Celine Dion, I have never felt so overwhelmed or awkward in my entire life with Celine Dion looking into my eyes singing, however it was one of the most incredible and bizarre moments of my cake career. I am still recovering to this day!

Celine Dion

It goes without saying that Celine Dion is everything a super star should be, gracious, kind, polite, beautiful and extraordinarily talented. The way she and her husband treated us was exceptional and it was one of the greatest experiences of my career. I would like to thank them and their amazing staff for the care and respect they showed me and the Planet Cake team, a rare experience in today’s world.

Where It All Started

In 2003 I experienced two life changing events, I had my daughter Estelle and I bought a little cake shop called Planet Cake.  At that time Planet Cake was a very small store down a suburban street in Balmain, Sydney. The shop itself was very old and cramped to work in. The consultation room was no bigger than a bedroom, the decorating room was even smaller and out the back was a very old and small domestic kitchen. Although the store had a bathroom, everyone used to go to the toilet at the pub down the road, as the toilet in the shop was too close for comfort. In fact my heart would sink every time a customer asked to use it! The store itself could only comfortably fit three people at a time, so if more than one customer turned up the second party had to wait out on the street.

OLd Planet Cake

Planet Cake had been operating for seven years before I bought it and the owners were making around 8-10 cakes a week, it was struggling to turn a profit and they were tired and over it. This happens when you work so long and hard in such a small space, I would be over it too. The shop itself had a space theme, bright blue walls and a cupid feature wall covered with postcards and photos. The land lady lived alone upstairs and was extremely odd, sometimes friendly and at other times absolutely feral. She was also an alcoholic, we knew this because of the over flowing recycling bin which was so full of wine bottles we needed to help her with getting her bin onto the street each week.

Inside the Old Planet Cake

It may be difficult to comprehend now but at the time I bought Planet Cake there were only four real cake decorating businesses in Sydney. Decorated cakes were fairly unpopular and to sell a decorated cake was extremely difficult, the average price that people would be willing to spend on a wedding cake back then was around $300. It would be a long road to making Planet Cake successful, and my friends and family thought that I was quite possibly making the biggest mistake of my life. However I had a dream, and in my heart I knew it was going to work, it just took a lot longer than I expected, and became a lot bigger than I ever hoped!

Inside the old Planet Cake 2

Welcome

A confession is a statement made by a person acknowledging some fact that the person (or the group) would ostensibly prefer to keep hidden.

You will be pleased to know I will not be confessing anything naughty or lurid!! However as someone who has worked in the cake industry for over 12 years, I have lots of stories, some funny, some heart breaking, some weird, all of them are true (and can be verified) however they are all stories I have never shared with the public before. I have been telling these tales to my friends at dinner parties and BBQ’s for years and my friends always urged me to write my memoirs as they cannot get enough of them and would ask me to tell them over and over again. However I thought I would share them with you in a more casual setting, so grab a cup of tea and prepare to be entertained with stories of staff, clients, cakes gone wrong, cakes that delighted and things that happened to me in the cake world. Of course all the names will be changed to protect the identity of those involved however needless to say in the last 12 years I have seen it all, although that’s what I keep saying and then something else happens!