Renshaw Americas Brand Associate Partner Karen Vazquez is the owner of Kakes by Karen in Naples, Florida, and has trained under some of the most acclaimed cake designers in the world. Her cakes have appeared in dozens of publications and websites, and she teaches and judges competition pieces worldwide. As a cake designer, Karen loves working with her customers, creating outstanding wedding cakes. We talk with Karen about all things wedding cake, from her personal experiences to her feelings on the ever-evolving trends in wedding cake design.
What was popular when you first started making cakes?
Wow! It has been a bit over 25 years. I remember the very first year I started making cakes was the last year. I covered cakes in royal icing because fondant was introduced in Puerto Rico. Back then you covered your cakes in either a Meringue/Sugar-based icing, buttercream, marzipan, ganache, or royal icing. As far as popular designs and techniques, definitely columns in between tiers, the taller the cake, the more grandiose and they definitely had tons of sugar flowers, and lots of piping. Back then it was believed that the more decor a cake had, the better it looked. It was about showcasing your art as a confectioner rather than about fitting your art skills into a set budget, but the cost of materials was also more reasonable.
Are there any popular wedding cake styles that you miss?
There are a few…I do miss seeing more cakes decorated with elegant icing swirls and tiers divided by sugar flowers, mostly because these are beautiful art techniques that require discipline and patience, characteristics that every cake confectioner and designer should learn to master.
What’s one of the most important skills to learn if you want to start creating wedding cakes yourself?
As far as those related to character, definitely passion, patience, discipline, a good listening ear, eagerness to learn, and humbleness. When related to cake techniques, if one doesn’t master the art of baking, structure, and a good crumb-coat base for your second layer of buttercream or your fondant layer, then it doesn’t matter how many items are on the outside of the cake (to cover your flaws), your client may miss what wasn’t done right with their cake, but knowledgeable peers will not be as forgiving.
What’s your favorite part about creating wedding cakes?
I have to say the entire process is one I love being involved with…but there is something exciting about meeting your client and learning about their likes and dislikes; seeing them ecstatic about cake and learning about their story. And of course; seeing the end result. It is like the birth of the cake! The anticipation, excitement, and then meeting your cake! Learning in the process what you are capable of doing when you set your heart and mind unto something.
What do you expect to see as the big wedding cake trends of 2018?
Definitely the Pantone colors of the year being more integrated into the cake design, which for 2018 are Ultra Violet and Nostalgia Rose. Also, metallics are here to stay, lots of hand painting, and definitely combined textures on a cake. This is the year for textures and yes! We will have to sit and wait for the Royal’s wedding, because their cake usually helps dictate trends in our industry!
What is your favorite wedding cake you have ever created?
There are a few; perhaps because not only have we enjoyed making these cakes, but many times we become friends with the couple and their families; and that alone makes your cake creating experience unforgettable. But one I will never forget was a 7’2” tall cake, divided by separators which were filled with over 500 fresh flowers all in bright, gorgeous colors. I will never forget this cake because transport was a nail-biting experience, and I got to work this one with a Full Staff, amazing vendors, and my oldest daughter who held my ladder while I worked on the last structural supports. Unforgettable!
Where do you get your inspiration for cakes from, if not the bride and groom?
Definitely textures, color swatches, bride’s wedding gown, flowers, invitations, linens, even napkins. I am that awkward person that when I am walking around, if I see you wearing something that is inspiring of a cake, I will stop you and ask to take a picture of your dress’s pattern, purse texture, shoe colors, etc. It has become an embarrassing habit for those around me, but a priceless and creative experience for me. I am a daydreamer! LOL!
Who is your cake hero and why?
This is a tough question because for various techniques I have various cake heroes. I guess my real heroes are those bakers from the past, our oldest generation which some we are loosing without recognition, these are the ones who had to be creative. Making sugar flowers without molds, piping without marking, baking without all the pre-made stuff we have these days…working with passion, love, and anything they could find around the house. I mean, I learned to make many things in the kitchen using a fork and a knife as my tools. Drying items on spoons, and reading the farmer’s almanac to learn about the best baking days and how to adjust your recipe for the not so good days…the rainy ones. I take my hat off to our older generation, they had it tough, but their inventions open the path and our eyes for creativity.
Color trends – Where do you look for the latest color themes?
Definitely, my favorite sources for these are; The Pantone Color Institute, multiple bridal magazines and publications, and believe it or not, seasonal make-up palette’s.