This week I just finished my last wedding cake of the season. It was a beautiful, sparkling, purple, 5-tiered cake with jeweled flowers and glorious ruffles. I delivered the cake yesterday and on the journey home, as I was decompressing from the incredible stress of the week leading up to delivery. I spent a little time reflecting on my experience in creating this cake.
I was mentally totting up the hours I put into the cake design (6 hours making sugar flowers, 2 hours rolling fondant (yup, 2 hours- my poor elbows are testament to that), 5 hours covering the cakes, etc.) I was momentarily horrified – when did I turn into this? When did the entire process of making a cake become little more than the sum of it’s parts?
The cake did look beautiful and I am sure it tasted just as good as it looked; I have spent a lot of time and care over the years working on my recipes and, of course, myself and my little one’s ALWAYS do the obligatory taste test. However, as I considered the vast amount of work that I had put into this cake and how much of that time was spent focusing on the exterior, rather than the interior- it got me thinking.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I JUST BAKED A CAKE; baked a cake for the sheer joy of baking a cake. I can’t remember the last time I made a cake that wasn’t chocolate cake or that wasn’t red velvet.
As cake making has become my career- it’s become something I avoid in my down-time; I’ve COMPLETELY lost my passion for baking – it dawns on me…I hate baking. So often am I completely shattered from the process of making one tiered wedding cake after another, I find myself avoiding baking cake at any cost. I think I reached an ALL-TIME low this year as I placed a store-made birthday cake in the cart for my own children’s birthdays. I was equal parts horrified and ashamed. I was just too darn tired to make their birthday cake.
I love cake decorating, in fact, the decorating aspect of this career is what most appeals to me. As the years have gone on and my career has taken off, I find myself rushing through the baking; finally enjoying the cake making process as I reach the decorating. I hear so often from other cake artists about how they loathe the baking aspect of making a cake -as though it is something that has to be endured in order to reach the part they love. It makes me truly sad, because I don’t recall always feeling this way. It’s startling to see how my baking and decorating priorities have changed.
When did baking become a chore?
I wanted to get back to basics, so over the next few weeks I am going to be digging up some of my old family recipes, baking them and sharing the results. I wanted to re-explore the passion in baking and not just the decorating.
This article is my way of shining the spotlight on the interior of our cakes. It is also my recollection of a simpler time in my career- a time before the focus of my cakes was how they looked, how many shares they received, what magazines they were featured in. Before the quality of the photographs and not the quality of the cake were all that mattered. A time before cake styling and backdrops took over my life. A time before fondant and sharp edges, ganaching and acrylic disks. It’s simply about a time when I would take infinite pleasure in the simple process of baking a cake. Spending time with my mum in our farm kitchen, cracking eggs on the counter-top, missing the bowl, and picking out bits of shell from the batter. A time when I would need a stool to reach the mixer, and would count the number of stirs. When the sound of parchment paper crinkling and the familiar scene of my mum buttering and lining her cake pans filled me with excitement. The heavenly aromas of vanilla beans, brown sugar and glace cherries. The delicious satisfaction of licking the spoon clean.
This is my exploration of falling back in love with baking a simple and delicious cake. It’s also my way of sharing that passion and wonder with my own children. Passing on the baking torch. I feel like the worst parent in the world sometimes. I am so pre-occupied with keeping them OUT of my kitchen for fear of damaging a customer order that I am robbing them of this bonding experience. I want to share my love of cake with my children, and watch them miss the bowl- see them lick the spoon; take pleasure in creating e a home-made, messy cake.
I seriously love our community and this is not meant to ignite fury among box bakers, or, to say that scratch baking is better- I truly have no opinions on whether scratch is better than box and I would be lying if I said I had only ever scratch made cakes. However, I personally feel that whilst there are some cake artists out there that are pioneering the humble cake, so many of us are SO focused on the end product- we just suffer through the baking process. I find myself in exactly this situation.
There’s just too much pressure for people entering this industry to create PERFECT cakes, and that’s just not reality.
So this week I will be baking one of my favorite cakes- coconut cake. I remember my mum used to make this cake for us on the weekend and she would store it in an old biscuit tin. My dad and I would sneak slices of it throughout the week. It’s a simple two-layer coconut cake with a coconut buttercream filling and frosting.
I’ll be using this recipe courtesy oif King Arthur Flour: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/coconut-cake-recipe
It sort of intimidates me to even consider making a cake and then posting a cake to my Facebook page – that is JUST A CAKE and not a cake that is a tiered wonder.
I invite all of you, especially those of you that feel the way I do. Those of you who are eager to reconnect with our simple craft. Those of you who want to just make a good old fashioned cake; to join me in this process!
by Rebekah Wilbur
Rebekah Wilbur is editor of American Cake Decorating magazine and owner of Rebekah Naomi Cake Design, a Virginia based custom cake boutique.