Saturday, July 11, 2009

takin' care of business

Where to even begin?! Saturdays are always crazy, always the most exciting, rewarding, and stressful days. I go in early to help finish up cakes that are going out later that day, box up other cakes, help customers that show up at 10 o'clock on the dot to pick up cakes, etc. Lots of my cakes were picked up today including Tink, My Little Pony, the race cars, and most importantly - all the luau pieces. Everyone seemed genuinely happy with their cakes so it does feel quite rewarding.

Ugh, my camera though. Won't turn on even though I charged the battery, switched the memory card, cleaned the sensors. I brought my old point-and-shoot to the cake shop to get pictures today and the AA batteries died after 2 pictures. Great. So then I resorted to Joan's camera again, but even her batteries started to run low. Really out of luck in the electronics department today I guess. There was a moment when I realized that without any cameras, I may not get any pictures of the awesome cakes we were going to do today, especially since it's end of the week and all cakes would be out the door in the next 12 hours. But Joan's camera pulled through, for today. Anyways, onto the cakes:

So, even though today was Saturday, I think it's time for a lesson I've learned about good business cakes and bad business cakes. So grab a cup of coffee, a beer, whatever floats your boat, and get ready to learn:

For the most part, the price is determined by the size of the cake and the # of servings it will produce [we'll call this the volume]. Then, there's the issue of time and labor involved with cakes and I've decided that this can be related to the idea of surface area in architecture: the "efficiency" of building depends on the amount of surface area exposed to the environment - the more area that is exposed, the more easily the building is affected by the sun, wind, etc and the lower the efficiency. Here is a great explanation of Surface Area to Volume, when it comes to buildings...and cakes. The bakers take care of producing the volume of the cake and as a decorator, I am responsible for making every square centimeter of the outside of these cakes look awesome. No pressure right?

So, let's start off with numero uno:
NAME: Weddings cakes
VOLUME: Sure, there is a lot of cake in there - this one is 175+ servings. The bottom layer is 2 x 3"high x 14"diameter round cakes, followed by 2 x 3" x 12", 2 x 3" x 10", and 2 x 3" x 8" cakes with buttercream in between each layer of each tier. So figure the material cost of that volume.
SURFACE AREA: Ok, surface area - 4 tiers covered in buttercream and then covered in ivory fondant. That's a pretty price there too. And the cost of cake boards and dowels in all the tiers. Labor-wise, maybe a few hours.
OTHER: Well there's the 'Fondant + Humidity = Lots of Stress + Swearing' factor because it's hard enough to roll out large and smooth, and almost nearly impossible in the summer weather. And there's also the 'Pressure Coefficient' because these need to be the cleanest and pristinest of all the cakes that go out the door. But in the end, the cakes are repeated almost every week so this helps speed up the process [I've already done 4-5 dotted wedding cakes and I must say, I'm getting much better].
PROFIT: Considering that fondant cakes go at $3.75/serving, you can figure for yourself what this will cost...
BOTTOM LINE: $$$$ / 5

Next up, let's look at another case:

NAME: Cupcakes
VOLUME: Cupcakes are great because they are pre-sized, individually-packed servings. There's no arguing how many servings you're getting, because you are clearly getting one cupcake per person. They still suck up quite a good amount of batter, but there's no structure / dowels / boards to consider [though you do have to account for the tin papers. whatever].
SURFACE AREA: Ok, even though you've taken the concept of a 'cake' and broken into lots of little pieces, surface area is still minimal because I am only responsible for decorating the top of each cupcake [duh]. All it takes is mixing up the right shade of icing, loading a bag, and swirling perfection onto each cupcake. The 30 cupcakes in the picture above took me about 15 mins from start to finish.
OTHER: Then again, some cupcakes involve more detail or in other cases, they can become excrutiating painful in mass quantities. And this is not taking into account the Frosting Flower Factor, because the hours she spends on these beautiful cupcakes raises both the price and the customer's level of happiness.
PROFIT: Not bad.

And finally, the cakes that I get to do most of the time:
NAME: Novelty Cakes
VOLUME: Varies, but they usually start out as basic round or sheet cakes [based on the chart of how many people it will serve], and end up being carved and shaped to resemble something else. These particular dragon cakes were only meant to serve 10 people each, so I only had an 8" round cake each to work with.
SURFACE AREA: By carving and re-building these cakes, they become more complex than the average cake and in most cases, there is all of a sudden more cake [surface area, not volume!] that I'm accountable for. For example, these dragon cakes started out as a round cake, cut in half, and stood upright side-by-side to form the body and then a cupcake for each head:

OTHER: So there's the time it takes to arrange and shape the cake so that it somewhat resembles what it's supposed to look like. About half of the time I am working from a picture in the book but the other half of the time, however, I am usually figuring it all out on my own. With these dragon cakes for example, I worked from images I had found online [she hadn't done any like these before] and quickly worked to make the globby masses look reptilian.

Then, there's the fact that these novelty cakes are usually something iconic, familiar, or at least recognizable. So there's the pressure not to screw it up so badly that it ends up on Cake Wrecks. For example, these cakes looked like iguanas at first, so I tried to make them more dragon-like with the details, scales texture, spikes, tendrils, anything!

They turned out alright, though now they look more like dinosaurs than dragons. Next time our dragons will have wings.
PROFIT: As you can tell, considering the time and labor is > than the material cost with these cakes and in my opinion, it's really hard to balance making a profit and making the cakes look really good. Again, that's where skill and efficiency come in so I need to always be better and faster.
BOTTOM LINE: $ or 0 or -$

Let's end off the day with a happy story. So it's 3:30 and there's one more cake for the weekend. We're and I are going to team up to get it done faster. It will be a large sheet cake covered in fondant to resemble a doctor's uniform like the image below.She tackles the big pieces of fondant for the blue shirt and collar and the white lab coat and lapels, while I do all the small fondant details including the pen, pocket, nametag, tie, and stethoscope [yayyy for metallic silver airbrushing]. It's just like working with clay - rolling, cutting, etc. And yes that is a fondant Bic Stic pen on the right.

The doctor gets dressed and ready for work:
In the end, it looks awesome and just like the one in the picture.
I mean, there's a lot of cake in there [60 servings] and quite a bit of fondant, but together, we got it done in just under 2 hours.

Ok, I'm exhausted and am done for now. Val is actually off next week so I am going in on Tuesday to help Joan bake all the cakes. She said to wearing running shoes because I will literally be wrapping cakes in Saran and running them back to the cooler ... should be interesting... But in the meantime, it is time to work on Chelsea's sister's graduation party cake, watch old Harry Potter movies on television [in anticipation of the Half Blood Prince premiere this week, of course], and pour myself a glass of wine. Ciao!


  1. Love, love, LOVE the dragons and doctor's good! I've gotten a bit behind with my blogs lately, but you might get a few more comments coming your way as I catch up :)

  2. oo yayy, love the comments - hope waitressing is going well!