Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Non-Decorating Tools For Decorating

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When I go to the store my cart will occasionally look like this:

When I'm lucky enough to score some pulp trays from the produce section, I do the happy dance out of the store. The reason why is that they're great for drying gumpaste with a slight curve, and they're pretty impossible to buy. Unless you like storing 100,000 of them, since that was the smallest order I could find of them online.

There are a lot of things that you can use for random decorating that are also cheap or free. Go to the dollar store for a lot of them and load up.

Emery boards: These can be used to smooth out rough edges on gumpaste flowers that have dried. You probably have a bunch of these in a junk drawer somewhere.

Coffee stirs: You can use them to attach gumpaste vines to the side of cakes, or to poke small pieces of gumpaste out of cutters.

Poultry lacers: These are intended to be used to truss up a turkey before roasting it, but I use them to get food coloring out of little pots, nudge semi-set isomalt into the corner of molds, and to remove dried gumpaste from the crevices of cutters. You could also use them to decorate cookies or poke holes in fondant to prevent cake tumors from developing. I like them because they're cheap, food-safe, and washable.

Flexible plastic cutting boards: I use these to ice individual cake tiers on so that I can move them in and out of the fridge easily. You can also cut piece out of them to make buttercream smoothers or stencils if  you can find them in the right thickness. You can usually find these at the dollar store.

Drywall scrapers and putty knives: Get the plastic ones and use them to smooth your buttercream. They're dishwasher-safe, too!

Plastic combs: Use these to make a wavy pattern with food coloring or buttercream. You can use them to press a texture into strips of fondant to make a grosgrain ribbon pattern, too.

Baby bottle brushes: If you can't get your piping tips clean, get some bottle nipple brushes from the baby section at the grocery store. You can pick them up pretty easily and you don't have to worry about going to search for them at the craft store.

Rubber stamps:  I've seen some clear rubber stamps being sold for cake decorating recently, but they've been using these for years for scrapbooking. I did a project with my daughter's art class when she was in middle school using them on cookies. Dig around in your craft stash for all the ones that you bought and never used (I know you have some), or keep your eye on the scrapbooking aisle sales, and get some cheap.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at  www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

Friday, January 20, 2017

How To Make Air Dry Buttercream Flowers

If you're looking for a good way to make buttercream flowers ahead of time, you might want to try air-dry buttercream. There's no butter in it so it's really a crisco-creme, but it's useful for a couple of things.

First, the flowers will air dry and harden up enough so that you can handle them gently, but they stay soft inside. If you make these a week ahead of when you need to put them on a cake, people will still be able to eat them without breaking their teeth.

Second, you can use it without the flavoring as a practice buttercream. Pipe it out, scoop it up, and pipe it again. Since there's nothing perishable in it, it will be fine to use over and over. Just don't eat it if you're using it that way (gross).

Recipe for air dry buttercream:
1 pound powdered sugar
1 cup crisco shortening (no butter unless you'll be refrigerating them)
water to add to get to the consistency you want for piping. Start with about 1/4 cup and add as needed.
butter flavoring or vanilla flavoring or both
2 Tbsp meringue powder (optional)

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at  www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

Monday, January 16, 2017

5 Things That Prove You're A Cake Decorator

Here are the first ten signs that you should lighten up on the cake decorating thing a little: 10 Signs That You Need To Lighten Up

And here are a few more:

1. The trunk of your car looks like this:

2. You get mad when they rearrange the baking aisle during the holidays just because all the fair-weather-bakers think it's time to make their yearly batch of cookies.

3. You have a weekend with no cake orders and you spend it doing your hobby: Cakes.

4. You watch an hour-long wedding show on tv just to see if there's a two-second glimpse of a wedding cake.

5. Seeing an ant in your kitchen isn't just annoying, it brings on a full-scale, all-out attack that ends with enough boric acid to eliminate every insect in your yard.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at  www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cake Tutorial for Valentine's Day with Fondant Ribbon Roses and Pearls

A smaller version of this wedding cake would be pretty for a Valentine's Day cake, and it's pretty simple to make, too. The ribbon roses are made from fondant and the oval-shaped pearl beads are also, but you could make them from gumpaste if you prefer. You want to be able to roll the fondant out fairly thin so that you can fold it and it still won't be too thick.

Here's the process of making the flowers and the pearls:

Roll out pieces of fondant into oval shapes and let them dry.

Roll out some strips of fondant and cut them into pieces that are about 8 inches long and 1" wide.

Fold the top 1/3 of the edge of the strips over onto themselves, using a little water to make it stick.


Roll the strips up with the folded edge on top to give it a smooth appearance. Roll it fairly tightly so that the edges are against each other and the flower isn't very open. I made mine about 1" in diameter.

Pinch the end when it's rolled up to seal it shut.

Using your fingers, gently spread the edges open a little to give it some movement. You won't be able to get them very far apart, but just get them slightly opened up in a few spots.

Brush the ribbon roses with a few different shades of petal dust and pearl dust.

You can make some smaller ribbon flowers by rolling unfolded strips and pinching them in half to make shorter roses. This will make them smaller in diameter because there won't be a folded edge to make the top edge as wide.

Dust the pearls with pearl dust.

To pipe the pattern on, I'd use pink for a Valentine's design and change the little leaf pattern between the scallops and the roses to hearts:

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at  www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

State of the Cake Union For 2017

Things have definitely changed with cake decorating since I started in the business 20 years ago. In fact, it's all starting to be one of those blurs where you say to yourself "that happened five years ago? It seems like yesterday."

The past year was a bit of a calming-down period, as far as I can tell. The big "cake build-up" that started about 9 or 10 years ago (but maybe longer, like I said, I can't remember anymore) has died down. There aren't as many cake decorating shows on tv, and many of the people who were featured in those shows have moved on to other things. Some of them seem to be more interested in being judges on other tv shows, and some have started their own "cake education" websites.

That seemed to be the trend for 2016, and it will probably continue into 2017. Subscription-style websites where you sign up to get tutorials, video lessons, etc., and the person who runs it doesn't sell cakes to the public. Or rarely does. That's a different business model, though, and it doesn't really make sense to compare those types of businesses to a business that sells cakes to the public.

That's the big lesson that needs to be taken away. The cake decorating market has split into two separate industries. One is information-based, and one is product-based. The information-based businesses are selling products to other decorators, and the product-based businesses are selling actual cakes to actual clients. You need to be aware of which type of business you're dealing with if you're looking for inspiration on how to run a business. Looking at someone who's running an information-based business and saying "how are they doing things" isn't going to work if you're in a product-based area.

To complicate things a little more, there are the supply companies, like mine, that are product-based, but who don't sell cakes to the public. 2017 will be the first year that I'll sell no cakes at all, and will be operating online only. So there are basically three branches to this industry, with the information arm of it having been the one that's grown the most over the past few years.

Why the information-based arm has grown so much is directly related to the changes in the product-based arena. So many people entered the cake decorating arena in the past five or six years, competition has increased and created a buyer's market. That made it impossible for many people to create an actual income from cakes, so they diversified into the information area. How valid some of the information they're passing along is, is the issue.

There's one person who claims to be a pricing expert who recently said that she wasn't making any money on cakes. She now works on other forms of income, including ad income from blogging about pricing cakes. I don't know what kind of advice she gives out about pricing, but maybe you should be careful about taking pricing advice from people who also say they're not making any money!

This just points out that there are a lot of information-based businesses that hand out information that isn't working for the person handing it out. If you do decide to take the advice of someone, make sure that they have a background in what they're talking about, and that they were actually SUCCESSFUL in that area. If I had a widget company that went bankrupt because I couldn't figure out how to make it work, I shouldn't be handing out advice about widget businesses. Just do your research before handing over your money. And make sure there's a money-back guarantee.

As far as the product-based business area goes, you do need to be careful with your pricing in the upcoming year (since we're on that subject). Since we're currently in a buyer's market, there's still a lot of cake cheapness going on, and people can generally find someone to make an elaborate cake for the cost of the ingredients plus $3 an hour for the decorator. This isn't good.

My summary for last year suggested diversifying your products, and I think that's still good advice. You need to be more sophisticated about your business these days since there's so much cake out there. It isn't enough to just post on facebook anymore, you need to understand your market and where your customers are coming from. Years ago there was a "cake lady" who everyone in one area would go to. Now there are fifty "cake ladies" and they're all competing for customers. You need to figure out why those customers should come to you, then figure out how to let them know about you and why they should be your clients.

Other resources are my pricing guide (yes, I made well more than a living wage every year so I know what I'm talking about on this one), and  Home Baking For Profit by Mimi Fix. For those of you who are saying "I can't afford to pay for that," I'll give you the typical "you can't afford NOT to get them" response. If you want your business to be successful, you need to invest in it, and invest in yourself. You have to know what you're doing, and figuring things out along the way isn't efficient. If you don't take your business seriously, nobody else will either.

So to sum up...For 2017, you're going to need to be aware of your goals and what you need to do to get to those goals. You'll have to be more aware of specifics and who you're buying from, and it's going to take some real planning to keep growing your business.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at  www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com