Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ask Me Anything - Post 8

Ask me anything is a weekly post where I answer any questions you may have about me. Cake decorating related or not :)

What brand of fondant do you use? If you use store bought could you tell us if you have a home made fondant recipe that works just fine? 

I mainly use Bakels to cover all my cakes and Satin Ice for decorations. I have tried making my own fondant many, many years ago (as part of class) and in my opinion it's more effort than it's worth and the consistency and texture is just not as good as the commercial ones.

What brand or type of powdered colours do you use and where do you buy them?

I only use gel paste colours. I have tried powdered colours but they don't seem to mix well into the fondant (for me) and tend to leave a lot of spots. The gel pastes I use are a mixture of Wilton, Americolor and Sugarflair. The brand I purchase is dependent on the types of colour I prefer. I purchase most of my colours either from wholesalers or through US based cake decorating websites.

I would love to know if you use styrofoam balls as centers and supports for heavy flowers like peonies?

Yes I do. It's not absolutely necessary but it just saves on gumpaste and prevents the flowers from being too heavy when you are finished.

Do you transport your cakes separately or as a whole (all stacked up)?

As much as I can, I always transport my cakes fully assembled. This is because I don't like fussing when I get the the venues and also don't like the additional pressure of everyone watching me while I work. If the cake is too tall, I would just take off the top layer and add it on when I get there. 

This means that I can do back to back deliveries without having to schedule in extra time for assembly/ set up and if the venue is not ready for me, I can just drop the cake off and not have to worry about waiting around for the tables to be set up...etc

I would like to ask how to make your cake taste nice and not too sweet. As I had try making cake cover with fondant. The taste is just too sweet with buttercream and Fondant by itself is sweet too.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about the sweetness. You can cut down the sugar in the cake or bake with flavours that are not as sweet (coffee cake, lemon and lime cake...etc) and also use a less sweet frosting option like dark chocolate ganache. But when it comes to the fondant... well it's pretty much made all out of sugar. I usually don't roll the fondant too thick which might help, but other than that, you just have to remember that most people have a small slice of these cakes and tend not to eat the whole thing :)

My question is what can you suggest for ganaching your cake if the customer is on dairy free dietary needs ?

I personally have not tried this, but I have had cake friends tell me that you can get lactose free cream (which might work if they are allergic) or even use coconut cream as a replacement.

If you’d like to ask a question feel free to email me (creations_at_sharonwee.com.au) or send me a message through Facebook.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cash Flow = Creative Freedom

I have friend who is an accountant (and loves it), and a couple of years ago when we used to work together we would always get into some light hearted banter on which of our job roles were more important within the company.

He always started the argument with the complaints on how much my department (marketing) spends and how we always spend our days on the phone, going out to customer lunches or receiving supplier gifts, while he, the hard working accountant, sat at his desk all day and did not get any recognition from any customers or suppliers.

He was adamant that his job function of overseeing the budgets, paying bills and balancing the books was the heart of the company while I always argued back that without marketing the company would not make any sales and thus would not have any money regardless!

It's not until years later, when I am now sitting at the head of my own small business that I realised that he has a point. A very strong point actually. It's cliche but 'numbers really don't lie'. You either have made money on a cake or you have not. You either have money in the bank or you don't. There is no in between. And I have learnt quickly that if you don't know or keep an eye on your cash flow you hit some walls pretty quickly.

You pretty much need cash flow to do business - advertise, buy supplies, for petrol...etc If you are not 'liquid' enough you suddenly close yourself off to a whole level of potential - extra classes, travel opportunities, new tools/equipment and so on. Basically good cash flow = creative freedom.

From what I have noticed in myself and students in the last couple of years, I can safely say that emotions play a quite a part in effecting our cash flow. Seems weird right? Why emotions?

How many times have we worked out a price for a cake only to reduce it slightly because we 'felt' it was too high? How many times have I spoken to students who although they knew it took them days and many hours to complete a cake, they still 'felt' that it was not good enough and therefore not 'worthy' of charging what they need to charge? How many times have we thought that it's ok to give away a free cake in order to get some 'future' business and because we felt 'guilty' about charging for something we loved doing? And not to mention the number of times I hear my students say that they just can't bring themselves to charge that much.

This is not another post about pricing and customers but rather about personally overcoming our own emotional/ metal obstacles inside ourselves. Sometimes, the problem does not lie with the customer. They truly don't understand the amount of work that goes into designer cakes because they don't make them. I don't blame them, I don't make movies, so I would not understand how long the filming and editing process would take. Therefore, I think we have the responsibilities as cake designers to not only educate the market but also to be confident with our work and to believe we are worth it.

I met a student a couple of weeks ago who was an accountant and when she was asked to price her cake, she worked it all out and then said to me that she was a bit unsure because her price seem a bit high but there was no way she would/could do it for less than that based on all the variables she had costed in. While the other students were feeling a bit uneasy about having to charge 'so much' (in their opinion) and were giving me prices about half that amount. I think we can all learn something from the accountant student of mine - work out the numbers and you will see the truth and know your 'bottom line'.

Some days I think back to my corporate life and how my accountant friend would always ask me 'we're not even making any money on that product, why are we advertising it and spending money on it? In fact we are now making a loss!'. Well, the reasoning from our department was so that we can get more customers to try our products, perhaps sell them on to other things and gain awareness of our brand... sound familiar?

In the earlier days, I would take any opportunity to provide free products to companies and people reasoning to myself that it was free publicity so why not? I would basically, spend hours and weeks baking and decorating only to realise that the products I was giving away was not what I wanted to specialise in and did not lead to a huge increase in sales.

I'm sure this strategy would work if I was moving an every day product (ie. a chocolate bar) but here I am trying to sell designer hand made cakes to anyone and everyone. So all this time I have spent costs the business money, and in certain circumstances, (looking at it from an accountant's point of view) I would have been better spending a fixed amount on a targeted advertising campaign and spend the rest of the time doing something else. I would have been far less exhausted and got a lot more done.

Maybe we can all take a page out of an accountant's book once in awhile - my accountant friend would be so proud :)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ask Me Anything - Post 7

Ask me anything is a weekly post where I answer any questions you may have about me. Cake decorating related or not :)

I'm from the USA and wanted to know, when you show the naked cakes, what type of board is the cake resting on? 

The cake is resting on what we call a 'set up board' here in Australia. This is just a thick board that I cover with clear contact paper and I ganache and cover my cakes on there. Then when it's ready to be stacked, I remove it from that board and place it on the main cake, wipe it down and use it again. It doesn't have to be anything special, as long as it's sturdy enough to hold the cake.

My only question regarding ganache is how much do you apply to the cake...is there a rule of thumb?

There is no set rule of thumb. It all comes down to personal preference. If you love chocolate put more between the layers, if not you can put less. But bear in mind, the more you put between the layers, the taller your final cake.

If you have to do a birthday cake for 150 people. How big will the cake be? My friend wants a three tier cake, and I don't know how big each tier should be? 

There are a few different cake serving charts out there but I personally follow the Wilton Serving Chart. The numbers they have on there I use for dessert servings, and if I want coffee servings, I multiply by two.

As for how to design a cake around serving numbers, again, there is no right way. Typically I allow a two inch gap between all my stacked cakes (ie. 6in, 8in and 10in), that's just what I like. Some people allow one inch some allow three. You need to play around with the serving number and sizes.

At the end of the day you can also either substitute some tiers with styrofoam (if they want a big cake but dont need to serve many) or provide a kitchen cake (if the number of servings just won't fit in the way you designed the cake sizes). There are always options :)

What all are the good books for learning sugar paste modelling?

I own quite a few cake decorating books but not as many compared to a lot of people I know! From those that I own I find the Debbie Brown and Confetti Cakes books the best sources for modelling inspiration

If you’d like to ask a question feel free to email me (creations_at_sharonwee.com.au) or send me a message through Facebook.

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