Today I made a display cake for the Prop Shop to put in their showroom, and I thought it would be interesting to explain the process of coming up with the design.
A lot of brides come in with a set design that they've seen in a magazine, or pictures of cakes that they like from websites, and I'll design a cake based on those pictures. It's often better, though, to let me just go with it, and do the design as I'm decorating the cake. There are times when something seemed to work on paper, but when you put it together on the actual cake, it didn't really look the way I wanted it to. If the design has been set and the contracts signed, though, there's not a lot I can do. If I have the flexibility to change things to make the cake better, it can only improve the final product. That's the art student in me talking...
I started thinking that I wanted to do something with leaves, since this was going to be a cake for a fall-themed display. Okay, so there are plenty of cakes that have leaves on them, been there done that. I wanted to make it a little more interesting, then as I was watching Mad Men I saw THE DRESS.
The clothes on Mad Men are fantastic, I have to say. I used to design costumes for the theater, and I love period pieces. The costume designers on Mad Men get it soooo right, and the dresses are particulary perfect for the time. So anyway, I was watching the episode where Betty is having the "fundraiser" for the sleazy politician, and the dress that she was wearing was gorgeous. It was a really pale greeny-blue, with coppery leaves on it. I tried to find pictures of it online, but I couldn't, so I just used it as a jumping-off point.
I started with tiers that were 6" tall instead of the usual 4". That gave the cake a little more height and made it more upright as opposed to more of a pyramid. I covered it with a light blue fondant, and stacked the tiers. I usually just let display cakes sit for a while after I stack the tiers so that I have time to look at them. Sounds weird, but it gives me a chance to think about what I'm going to do, I guess.
In this case, I had planned on doing really heavy leaves on a branching stem, which was similar to the pattern on the dress. As I thought about it, I decided that branches are another been there, done that, so I decided to go in a different direction.
First, I imprinted leaf shapes into the fondant using the cutter that I was going to use to cut out the 3-D leaves. I then painted some vining swirly shapes and leaf outlines on the fondant using a copper luster dust, and then applied fondant leaves in those areas too. I painted the leaves with the same copper color that I used to paint the swirls. At this point I started to think of it as the "blowing leaves cake," since it looked more like leaves blowing in the wind, as opposed to just being on a branch or a vine.
I then went to go eat lunch, which is an integral part of any project. When I came back, I could look at it with a fresh eye, and decide what to do next.
I decided to apply more leaves on top of the copper ones, then paint them with a combination of the copper and a green color. This gave them more of a patina feeling, and added a second color to contrast with the blue and the copper. I thought about adding some darker yellow leaves, too, but decided against it because I thought that the metallic colors I already had made more of a statement without anything else.
I really like this cake, and I think that it would also work in different colors, although I like the blue with the autumn colors. The process of coming up with the design took a few turns, and I ended up changing what I was originally going to do, but sometimes that happens when you actually have the cake in front of you, instead of just having a drawing on paper.
Edited to add: I came back into the room later and thought that the cake needed something else, so I added some gold to it. It think that it's an improvement, it makes the colors pop more. It's true that walking away and looking at what you're working on later will give you a different perspective!Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.biz and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com