THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE
29 August 2003
I started a new fotolog a week or so ago--a
"community log." This one is for pictures of cakes. I realized that I have all
these pictures of decorated cake photos that nobody ever sees, and I had seen pictures of
cakes on other people's fotologs, so I thought it might be nice, for those who are
interested in things like that, to have one community log where people could all share the
results of their handiwork.
It hasn't exactly exploded into activity, there are several people who have contributed
photos, and slowly the word seems to be getting out.
Best of all, I'm starting to scan my own cake photos and sooner or later I will have a
slide show of my own favorite cakes--just for my own record, if nobody else's.
In the early years of our life here in Davis, I didn't work and I took advantage of the
then-extensive evening school opportunities. For example, I took not one but two
classes from Martin Yan before anybody had ever heard of him. I still have the cleaver
that he bought for me (it wasn't a gift--I paid him for it, but he went out to buy all of
us the best cleavers you could get). There was a time when I could cook up a pretty mean
multi-course Chinese dinner.
Another course I took was in cake decorating. I had always done fancy stuff with the
kids' birthday cakes. Sometimes it was just drawing a picture on the cake. Sometimes it
was cutting it into some sort of fancy shape that would be frosted into looking like a
teddy bear or a train or whatever was the honoree's passion that particular year.
I thought it would be fun to learn some real decorating techniques. I had no idea where
it would lead. At the time there was no "bakery" in town, except for Safeway,
and nobody really liked Safeway cakes. I began to do cakes for friends. The word spread
and in no time it had mushroomed into a real money-making job.
I had a real jerk for a boss then too. (I was self-employed)
The most fun thing to do was flowers. I remember struggling to learn how to make a rose
and once it all "clicked," I just LOVED doing roses. Seems to me I remember
doing one cake where the entire top of the cake was one huge rose. But my favorite, most
impressive cake, was a flower basket cake. The thing took about 8 hours to make, mostly
because a lot of the flowers were made with egg white icing which had to be made a couple
of days ahead of time and then left to dry. The basket effect around the cake was always a
real crowd pleaser, though much, much easier than it looks.
I became a decorating fool. I made cakes for everything. Of course I'd always
done that (I remember when Jeri missed a special event because she had the chicken pox and
I made her a chicken pox cake). But any time I had to bring food for anything, I would
make a cake.
In time someone asked me to make a wedding cake. I'd never done that before and was
terrified, but it was going to be a very small wedding--just a handful of people, held in
the home of friends (we weren't invited), and I managed to put something together which
impressed everyone. I'd moved onto the next level.
Wedding cakes were great to make for customers because they didn't cost a lot to make,
didn't take that long, looked very impressive, and I could charge a fortune for
them (though by comparison to today's prices, I was practically giving them away. I think
I charged $125 for a 3-tiered cake).
It was wedding cakes that got me a job
in a bakery. My friend Susan had opened Davis' first bakery and needed a decorator. I
worked for her for several months, knowing nothing about large scale cake
decorating! But I did some good stuff there. However, working as a full time cake
decorator was definitely not for me and when she was able to find a professional, I left
I made lots of cakes for The Lamplighters, for
various functions. When the company decided to honor long-time contralto June Wilkins on
the occasion of her retirement, I made three huge sheet cakes, each decorated with a
picture of her in a costume for one of her most famous roles--the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe,
Katisha in The Mikado, and Lade Jane in Patience. I don't know that she ever
knew I'd made the cakes, but one of my proudest moments was standing off to the side
watching her surprise as she cut the cakes.
Another cake was made for tenor Orva Hoskinson when
he played the poet Bunthorne in Patience. The top of the cake was all made of sugar
and was designed as a Victorian valentine, so it was about 5 different layers, each of
which had to be made then dried for a couple of days, and then decorated. It took forever
to make and I don't think Orva ever even saw the cake. Nobody ever mentioned it to me. But
I was tickled just to have made the thing. It was probably the most complicated cake I
Not all cakes were successes. I made a Nutcracker cake once when the kids were in a
production of the Davis Children's Nutcracker. The cake was beautiful, but I started it
too late and it was still warm when I put it together, so by the time I got it to the
theatre, the weight of the layers had caused it to kind of slump in on itself and the
frosting was starting to melt. (I don't think the kids noticed or minded!)
There was the wedding cake I made for a co-worker that I decorated and left on the
kitchen table at night, ready to take it to the wedding the next afternoon, only to find
the next morning that the dog had eaten a chunk out of the bottom layer. You never
saw a cake baked or decorated so fast in your life as I did that morning! (I still
don't know how that short dog got up on that tall table!)
Then there was my good
friend Lynn's wedding cake, which for some reasons which only physics majors will
understand, decided to crumble in the trunk of the car. When I reached the reception,
there was a huge crack down the center of the and the entire outside of the cake just fell
off. I always brought a "repair kit" when I delivered a cake so I could fix any
problems. But this was way beyond anything that a repair kit could solve. The top tier was
OK, so they put that on display and Paul helped me carry the plate of crumbs into the
kitchen and they served cake from there. Nobody ever saw it (I can't remember if I even
have a photo of the fully assembled cake before I moved it out to the car--I know I took
one, but I've never been able to find it)
I haven't decorated a cake in a long time. It got to the point where it just wasn't fun
any more. My eyesight wasn't good enough to do the little stuff I liked to do, and my fine
motor skills started to go. Also, it cost more in supplies than I was willing to charge
for a cake, so I had to either charge astronomical sums or give them away.
It did make me very happy, though, to make the wedding cake for both Ned's and Paul's
weddings. Neds was particularly fun since I used a sort of lace effect around the side of
the cake and into the lace wove titles of Lawsuit songs. I think that I'm fairly safe in
stating that this was the only wedding cake in the history of wedding cakes that had the
phrase "ugly butt" written on it!