Blog Archive

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Does My Custom Cake Take SO Long To Make?

I've talked about price a lot. Mainly because many people don't understand why custom cakes cost as much as they do. They don't understand that home bakers and cake shops don't operate like grocery store bakeries, expecting to pay little-to-nothing for a cake made just for them.

For home bakers and little cake shops, it's not only about money; it's also about time. Many ask customers to inquire two weeks ahead of time, sometimes a month, and even several months. This is very different than going to a grocery store the day before and asking them for a simple phrase piped onto a sheet cake with a few balloons on it, and most people don't understand why.

Cake artists usually start off by scheduling appointments with their customers. To the customer, an hour or hour-and-a-half appointment may not be much, but the to the artist, all time is valuable. They could use that hour to finish the details on a cake being delivered tomorrow, or to bake some cake for the rest of the week. Instead, they're sitting with the customer, drawing out their vision in hopes of making their event as special as possible.

After the design is set, flavors decided on, and all the details are sorted out, they have to go shopping for supplies if they don't have a bakery stocked with stuff. That's probably another hour out of their lives, not including things that may be special order, like "bling" or molds. Special ordering may also take time, apart from ordering it, like the time it takes to get from the supplier to the baker (1-4 weeks).

This is a 7 quart KitchenAid mixer.
It holds 28 cups of stuff, but you
definitely don't want to overfill it.
Picture via Love From The Oven.
After all of the supplies are gathered, it's time to bake! Professional bakers do much more than add eggs, water, and oil to a cake mix. Sure, a person could probably whip out a boxed cake in as little as an hour. A professional, however, can't go about cake that haphazardly. Ingredients must be measured out carefully, whether on a scale by weight, or in measuring cups by volume, or else chemical reactions in the cake may not go as planned. Some cakes require beating egg whites for 10 minutes or so, some batters require adding ingredients in alternative manners, rather than just dumping everything into a bowl.

Box mixes make approximately 2 1/2 cups of batter, enough for a two-layer 8" cake (12 servings, according to the box, but it can feed more, really). If a customer ordered a three-tiered cake (6-8-10), they'd need 23 cups of batter. TWENTY-THREE CUPS. And that's if the baker makes tiers with two layers. Some make their tiers with three layers. That's THIRTY-FOUR AND ONE-HALF CUPS OF BATTER. (That's nearly 14 boxes of cake mix, by the way.) Not only will it take a while to make all the batter, but a home oven can probably only fit four pans at a time. My guess is that it will take an entire day of baking, if the baker has no distractions, such as everyday life.

Now we make the frosting/filling! American buttercream is pretty easy to make: cream everything together but the sugar, and then add powdered sugar a cup at a time. Other frostings take more time, though. Swiss meringue and Italian meringue buttercreams involve heating egg whites, and whipping the buttercream until it becomes super silky, which can take up to 15 minutes, depending on the amount. Other fillings, such as fruit filling or fresh fruit will also take time, whether it be just cutting up the fruit, or mashing/blending the fruit and boiling it down until it becomes a compote. The frosting may not take TOO long, but it'll take longer than opening a can of pre-made frosting, that's for sure.

Filling the cake takes time because the baker needs to keep the layers even and keep things consistent. When fruit is involved, or any filling that could potentially leak out, certain techniques are used that are more time-consuming than just slapping on frosting. Then the baker will crumb coat everything to keep crumbs from showing up in the outer layer. Many bakers will fridge the cake between steps for stability, which does take up more time, but definitely helps the baker turn out a better cake.

There is no one way to cover the cake in its final layer. Whether the cake is going to be covered in fondant or not, it still needs to be super clean and have nice, sharp edges, which mean it can't look like this:
This actually looks yummy, but not what you're looking for from a professional. Via Cooking With Abandon.
Professionals use different tools, techniques, and lots of time to achieve a smooth finish with buttercream or ganache. It's not an easy feat, nor can a person do it in two seconds (although experience can greatly reduce the amount of time that goes into it).
Look at those beautiful edges, the smoothness of the sides, and the wonderful speckling from the vanilla.
Via Yuma Couture Cakes.
The application of fondant involves much more than those silly Pinterest pictures. For one, there's different types of fondant that act differently under different circumstances. There's also many different things to worry about when working with fondant, such as it sticking to things, wrinkling, rolling it out too thick/thin, not having enough to cover the whole cake, re-applying it if you mess up, etc. If any of those things happen, it'll eat away at the baker's time trying to fix it.

I think it's sort of common sense that any decorations will take LOTS of time. A cascade of gumpaste flowers can take DAYS to cut, mold, form, dry, paint/dust, and assemble. A figure, such as a person or animal, can take hours to mold, days to dry, and a couple more hours to paint.
No, a cake like this cannot be recreated in a day. Don't even think about asking your local cake artist that question.
Via Kara's Couture Cakes.
Custom cakes take time. Lots of time. Professional home bakers don't sit at their computers or phones waiting for people to order from them. They don't have cakes ready to go in the freezer, or cans of pre-made frosting waiting to be slapped onto a cake. For a quality cake, made with care and consideration, order weeks ahead of time. You'll be glad you did.

1 comment:

  1. This is great information! People ask me all the time about the best way to get a "deal" on a cake. I tell them the best way is to give the baker lots of freedom with the cake. If I can do anything I want, I'm much more likely to "give away more" in the decorations.