You are having a celebration. A wedding, a birthday, an anniversary, a funeral. You want a cake to mark the occasion. So you search the internet for a design you like, create a Pinterest board for cake inspo. Then you get on local social media, google local cake makers or ask friends and family if they know someone.
You find a local baker and discuss your cake. Then they tell you the cost …
Here is where one of two things happen:
1) You are wowed by their design, agree the price and pay the booking fee immediately. The cake is going to look and taste amazing and you can’t wait!
2) Radio silence. You are not paying THAT much for “just a bit of cake” and anyway Aunty Doris has said she will bake it for you and her scones are legendary at the village fete.
So why should you pay that money for your custom cake?
The first clue is in the question. “Custom” cake. Bespoke, unique to you. Combining elements that reflect the style of celebration or the personality of the recipients. You won’t get that from a shop-bought cake. As a cake designer I can create a cake specific to your requirements, including models, themes, flavours and colours that you won’t find in an off-the-shelf cake. Or at anyone else’s celebration. When you get a cake artist to design your cake you can let your imagination run wild. I have made a half-and-half Moana cake for boy/girl twins, the cake was split in half by the parting wave. I have made cupcake toppers with packets of crisps, x-box controllers and superhero logos (all in the same order). Did you see my packet of Haribo Starmix on the last blog? And what about a wedding cake that looks conventional on one side, but reflects the couples love of Harry Potter or sport on the back? The possibilities are endless …
Quality Ingredients. I know exactly what has gone into my cakes, because I have baked them from scratch, using good-quality ingredients. My cakes are made from baking spread, sugar, flour, free-range eggs, natural flavourings* and milk. The buttercream is real butter, icing sugar, natural flavourings and a dash of cooled, boiled water if needed. I don’t make my own fondant/sugarpaste, but I buy a good quality product that tastes nice.
*by natural flavourings I mean real lemon juice and zest, cocoa powder, elderflower cordial etc. I try to avoid artificial essences and flavourings, because I don’t like the taste.
There are 9 separate ingredients in my basic cake with buttercream. Have you looked at the ingredients list on a supermarket cake? Do you even know what some of them are? It’s scary. There are artificial flavourings and colours, preservatives to add a long shelf life to the cake, and E numbers galore. My cake won’t last as long as the preservative-laced mass-produced kind, but it’s not meant to. It’s baked fresh to be eaten within a day or two of the event.
Which leads nicely onto the next point to consider. My cakes taste delicious. Not just nice, not OK, they taste very, very good. I pride myself on making cakes you want to eat. This is, after all, the whole point of having a cake. My daughter recently had a slice of supermarket kids birthday cake at a party. It tasted of air and sugar and not much else. Not memorable, nothing you would go back to for another slice (except maybe for the addictive sugar-rush). Sometimes, that’s the sort of cake you want to eat. But for a special occassion, don’t you want something special? I have repeat customers, they recommend me to their friends and family. They wouldn’t do that if my cakes tasted like they had been magicked up on a frothy, squirty conveyer belt.
I’m sure that Aunty Doris can make delicious cakes with traditional ingredients too, so what’s my point?
Not only will a cake from a professional baker taste good and (hopefully) be made from fresh ingredients (some bakers use “box mixes” packet cake mixes – check with your baker how they make their cakes). It will also look good.
We have honed our skills over many years, perfected the crumb coating, the covering, sharp edges on our fondant, modelling of figures, making sugar flower decorations. Some of us have qualifications, some of us have taken courses or spent hours watching online tutorials, practising to make our cakes and decorations look amazing. Aunty Doris may have wowed the vicar with her strawberry sponge, but has she covered a three-tier cake in fondant, modelled sugar flowers to match your bouquet and then transported and stacked it (appropriately boarded and dowelled to prevent collapse)? Does she know how to do that? Will she know how to tailor the structure of the cake to suit the environment the cake will be sat in? If she does, then by all means, get her to make the cake. I would! Except …
Making a celebration cake takes time. From buying the ingredients and equipment, to baking multiple layers, cooling, filling, decorating. It takes days, sometimes. Does Aunty Doris have time to do that? Do you?
If you are time-poor, then please, pay a professional to do it. In the long run it is an investment, like paying a decorator to paint the bathroom (it took me and the husband two days. I will be paying someone next time! It’s only a small bathroom). Take the stress out of it and let someone who knows what they are doing worry about it for you.
I’ll let you into a secret – I didn’t make my own wedding cake. It was one of those artificial-ingredient-heavy shop brought ones. (The Horror). But three days before my wedding I was struck by flu. The night before I went to bed at 6pm, left my mum to put my then 2-year-old daughter to bed and lay both shivering and sweating in equal measure, dosed on paracetamol and tea. I hadn’t felt that rough since the last time I had had proper flu (when I was breastfeeding my then-5-month-old). There is no way I could have been putting the finishing touches to my wedding cake and then setting it up at the venue the next morning. We also got married in my home village, which is 100 miles from where we lived. I didn’t know any local cake makers and didn’t have time to research any. This was also before I started my business. If I had known then what I know now, (and had the contacts I now have in the industry) then I would have ordered a bespoke cake.
So why does that custom cake cost so much?
Well, apart from the fresh ingredients, the time spent making it, the cost of the ingredients and the equipment? There are the utilities involved in making it – fuel to shop for the ingredients, electricity and gas involved in baking it, the cleaning products I use to maintain my 5* hygiene rating and ensure there is no cross-contamination of allergens, public liability insurance, food safety qualifications and above all, my time. Before you tell me that the price I have just quoted you for your cake is too much, please remember I am a sole-trader small business owner. Not only do I have overheads to pay, I also need to earn a wage from my business. For it to be a successful business I can continue to invest in, it should also earn a profit. How much do you earn per hour? How much do you expect me to earn? I will tell you now, that if it is less than minimum wage then I will not be making your cake for you. I have an MBE for my work in prevention of Modern Slavery. No one should be earning less than minimum wage. That is exploitation. Exploitation is modern slavery. Don’t be THAT person who expects to earn a nice wage themselves but won’t pay for a professional to work for you.
So, there we have it. You know a bit more about what to expect when you order a custom cake, and why it is something worth considering if you want to wow your guests. But if Aunty Doris wants to send some of her scones my way, I wouldn’t say no!