People who hand-make things have to compete with global economies of scale, low wages and cost of living in other countries where products are mass-produced for supermarkets, big stores and internet-based sellers. Which actually means, particularly when it comes to prices, you simply can’t compete, and of course you can’t compare. Lots of people bake, and bake really well. However, when you buy a cake from a home-based cake decorator there are so many things that make up the overall cost of the cake.
An typical birthday cake I produce might use 500g flour, 500g sugar, 500g good quality butter, 10 free-range eggs, 15ml of high quality vanilla bean extract, another 400g butter and 400g icing sugar, raspberry jam to fill and coat the cake. A kilo of good quality sugar paste, a thin cake card, a thick cake drum (board), royal icing, ribbon, double sided tape, a cake box, mexican modelling paste and sugar florist paste, food colours, metallic paints, edible glue. Then there’s the baking tools, the tins, the baking parchment, the rolling pin, the cake leveller, the palette knife, all the modelling tools, the turntable. Then there’s the three or four days it actually takes to produce a quality cake – make the models a few days in advance to allow drying time (separate parts of one model often need to dry before assembling the final model); baking the cake and resting it for at least 12 hours to ensure an even finish and no air bubbles under the sugar paste; torte, coat and cover with sugar paste, allow to dry before finally constructing the cake once the sugar paste is firm.
A large part of the time spent baking cakes is actually quoting and designing. For some cakes I may not do a paper design beforehand having had a good conversation (or two or three) with my client to understand what they want, but certainly with tiered cakes and customers who are further away, I will produce a hand-drawn design. I do love the process of moving something from paper to edible reality.
This cake was for a 40th birthday party, the theme was ‘The Only Way is Kent’ which was a great starting point. It was a surprise cake and needed to be an eye catching feature at the party. I decided to work with the idea of iconic brands – the board has a Burberry-influenced print, the largest tier is quilted like a Chanel handbag, the middle tier is hand-painted leopard print and the top tier was ‘vajazzled’ with tiny silver stars in heart and starburst designs! The shoe on top has a red ‘Christian Louboutin’ sole and a hot pink sparkly ’40’ topper with feathers. This design took around an hour to design and quote for, about 8 hours to bake and decorate, and another hour and a half to deliver and set up. The cakes use over 5kgs of sugar paste, 28 eggs, 1.4 kgs each of butter, flour, sugar and various flavourings.
This cake was designed for photo shoot. The theme was gold and the venue featured some stunning wisteria in full bloom. I used a double-height middle tier to give the cake a modern edge and used discs of sugar paste, dusted with gold petal dust to reflect the wisteria. I tried to mix up the tones of gold used to avoid it being too ‘matchy’.
This was a lovely, lovely cake to do. I had a long list of hobbies to include on a cake to serve around 70 people. From swimming in the sea, to rowing at university, to playing tennis and gardening and the recipient’s daughters. The board is covered in marbled sugar paste in blue tones and painted with turquoise piping gel and royal icing to give the the wave effect. The clouds are also painted on with royal icing and the rowing club logo hand drawn using an edible pen onto a sugar paste disc. The tennis net is piped in royal icing so every part of the cake is edible. The modelling for the cake took around 4 hours and the construction another two as many things could only be created in-situ.
I’ve been so lucky that my clients appreciate the hours of skill and attention that go into creating their cakes. I often think it’s me that has a problem pricing them up – it’s very hard to put a value on your time and skills yourself, but it certainly becomes easier with time and experience. Partly what sets cakes like this apart from, for instance, a supermarket cake, is the passion and attention to detail that goes into the process. It’s got to leave the house with my name on it, so it had better be darn good! I hope that other people who produce handcrafted items also have the confidence to price things properly, although I’m sure most of us would do it for free if we could, sadly reality dictates otherwise.