Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Should You Have A Mailing List?

When you have a business, you have to decide what kind of marketing and activities you want to participate in to promote that business. Some things that work really well for one type of business aren't going to do squat for your type, which is why some people swear by Instagram but you can use it and only hear crickets.

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One thing that does cross all lines, though, is the idea of having a mailing list. Keeping your clients emails is important, and for certain types of businesses it's critical. Even for my wedding cake business, there would be times when I would need references, and I'd be able to send out a mass email to my list to get people to write recommendations for me.

If you have a business that sells custom cakes and cupcakes, you could use your list to send out news about specials, new flavors and products, new designs, and limited-edition holiday items.

Using an email list can also grow your business if you put links to let people sign up on your social media pages. People who haven't ordered from you will be able to sign up to get notices about your products, and you might get some new customers out of it.

I use Mailchimp for my mailing list. It lets you add a signup form to your facebook page, and it's format complies with all of the laws covering spam, and unsubscribing. It's free up to a certain number of subscribers, so you can try it out before investing in it. If you want to get fancy with it, you can upgrade to a paid account to automate your emails and get more information about what's being opened and clicked on. You can also manually add people if they give you permission, and delete people you don't want on the list (sneaky competitors, etc.)

By the way,  I'm not getting any referral fees or any payment from Mailchimp for referring people to them, I just like them.

If you don't have a mailing list, you should definitely consider starting one. Since it's a lot easier to keep a customer than to add new ones, it's a good thing to have a list of customers to refer back to.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tips For Russian Piping Tips

I've been helping a local commercial photographer with a project involving the Russian piping tips. He needed to have an example of what each tip does, and he had a lot of them. This is about half of them, I'd guess:

I started practicing with them after asking for some tips from other decorators who had used them, since I'd never seen one in person. I knew that the icing was going to be the main factor, and that was confirmed by several people who had tried them out.

Jan Daniel did this cake and said that you should practice a little to get the feel of how the tips work, and that was my experience too. A combination of the right icing consistency (stiff) and working with each tip to see what pressure to use with it is what  made the flowers work.

So my basic tips for these tips are as follows:

1. Use a stiff icing that you can manipulate with a toothpick if you need to open petals or rearrange stamens. For me, that means a recipe that has shortening in it, as opposed to a meringue. A soft icing will collapse onto itself and won't hold the shape, but if it's stiffer it will keep a distinct shape. I started with an icing that was too soft and didn't get distinct petals, but once I really stiffened it up it held its shape really well.

2. Practice with each tip before using it on the cake to make sure you know how much pressure to use. Some of the tips need a lot of pressure, and some barely need any. Part of it depends on how tall the finished flower is supposed to be, but some of the tips also make flowers that look very different with different pressure, so you could use one tip to get different effects.

3. Experiment to see what shape the tips create with different icing consistencies, because it seems like some of them are intended for use as extra petals and not much else. There are some that are clearly for leaves and filler, and some that are clearly flowers, then there are some that are confusing as far as what their purpose is. They would work for extra petals, but not if the icing is as stiff as it needs to be for the individual flower ones. So be flexible, because you may need to adjust the icing consistency as well.

4. There are a few ways to separate the flowers from the tips. Some people seem to yank the piping bag up to separate the flower from the bag, others just stop squeezing and pull gently. I found that if the icing is on the softer side, you need to yank it to separate the petals the right way, but if it's on the stiff side you don't. But if you yank it, you also run the risk of the petals collapsing onto themselves. If you're feeling like you need to yank the piping bag, try it with stiffer icing and see if the flowers work better. The Korean bean paste that I made to pipe with would work really well with these tips, it was very starchy and kept its shape really well. Too bad it tasted like beans and not icing.

5. Use the regular leaf tip as the filler between flowers. The flowers all pipe out differently, and the tips are large, so you're not going to be able to place them right up against each other every time. You'll probably need a filler, but the tips that create filler shapes are just as big as the flower tips, so it will be hard to fit them between flowers. Use a regular-sized leaf tip to fill in the spaces and make your life easier.

6. Make sure the piped shape is attached to the surface you're piping it onto before lifting the tip up. It's pretty easy to pipe out something and not have it attach, so if you have to pipe out a little to connect the flower to the cake surface before piping the actual flower, do that.

7. Clean the icing off the tip if it starts getting messy.  Some of the tips didn't work at all if the surface of the tip had extra icing left on it. This was especially true for the ones with the very thin cuts.

If you've used these tips before, leave any other hints that I may have missed in the comments below!

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and

Friday, August 26, 2016

Russian Ball Tip Piping Tips and CUPCAKES

If you know me, you know that cupcakes are not my thing. But I made some for a party this weekend and decided to use the Russian ball tip piping tips that I've been working with this week to decorate them. Here's the result

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and

Monday, August 22, 2016

5 Awkward Places I've Had To Hear About Other People's Cakes

No matter where I go, if the question of what I do arises, people feel compelled to tell me about how someone random who they know also makes cakes. I know that they're just trying to make a connection and be chatsy, but it's usually just awkward. Here are some places where I've been forced to pretend to enjoy cake small talk.

1. The grocery store. This is awkward because the cashier, upon seeing the amount of flour, sugar and butter I'm buying, will inevitably tell me that someone she knows makes cakes too. And how they got the BEST cake at the Walmart bakery and how cheap it was. I'm forced to stand there and be polite and smile and nod.

2. A Focus Group. I did a focus group about grocery stores, which is a topic that people in my area are strangely obsessed with. The people in the group started reminiscing about a grocery store that used to be in town, and how fabulous their bakery department had been.

I know that this particular bakery wasn't any different than any other grocery store, but that people in Richmond were also strangely obsessed with the particular grocery store so they thought it was magical. After an hour of people bringing up the miraculous cakes they got there, I had to interject my two cents, which was basically that I was a baker and I'd tried to be polite up to that point, but I couldn't stand it anymore, then they all had to hear my rant on how grocery store bakeries work. I think that I ended up telling them "all those cakes are, are basic, straight-up cake mix and icing with no butter in it." So maybe that was more awkward for the rest of the group...

3. On The Phone With The Staples Sales Rep. I spend so much money at Staples, they assigned me a "personal account representative," which is just a sneaky way to get you to answer the phone when they call, if you ask me. The first guy who called me saw the name of my business and trapped me on the phone for about fifteen minutes telling me about how his wife makes cakes "just for friends and family" and how she doesn't get paid to do them. Awesome, another person flooding the cake market.

As an aside, this guy also REALLY LOVED fondant. He was really enthusiastic about how much he liked fondant, it was a little scary.

4. During Any Type of Home Improvement.  Whenever I have a plumber or electrician come to the house to do anything, I can pretty much guarantee that they have a relative who does cakes (just for friends and family, not for money, of course) and they'll be ready to tell me all about it. That's okay if it's a flat service call fee, but if they're charging by the hour I just want them to fix the faucet for God's sake.

5. During Medical Procedures. I've discussed cakes during many routine medical appointments. Let your mind go where it will and you'll be there. I turned 50 this year and just had my routine colonoscopy and I now know all about the doctor's wife's cakes and the nurse's daughter's cupcake cakes. At least I got a good anesthesia nap out of it. (And by the way, don't be afraid to get a colonoscopy, it was super easy. That's my public service message for the day.)

Are there specific places that you always seem to get trapped into listening to other people's cake stories? Leave a comment below.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and

Friday, August 19, 2016

Tips For Using Pearl Border Molds

There's a photo of a cake that people keep sending me, asking how many pearls they'll need to buy to make it. My answer is always "way too many" because the cake is made with a mold that makes a border that looks like pearls.

I've seen the molds that are used to make the pearl strips that are wrapped around the tiers, and I decided to make one of my own since I do happen to have a ton of silicone and a bunch of pearls.

When I was using the mold, I ran into some issues with it that I suspect are common. As I mention in the video, I looked up some of the molds and noticed that the pieces of fondant they showed next to the molds had some of the same flaws I was coming up with. I think that the molds aren't as simple to use as they look, so here are some tips that ended up being helpful for the cake I was working on:

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and