With any celebration, there's a cake for that. Cake creations today, whether miniature or multi-tiered, are expressions of someone's personality. No longer are organizers of festivities running out to buy the standard iced sheet cake.
Instead, cake lovers are reaching for gourmet cupcakes, layered cakes made with several different flavors and fillings, and miniature versions of intricately designed cakes.
“People are going beyond the typical sheet cake and they are seeing that you can put your own personality in it,” said Teri Dixon, owner of What-a-Cake! in Winona.
Since the mid-2000s, a swarm of reality-based television shows that focus on artistic bakers cluttered the primetime lineup. According to “Modern Baking,” cake sales have steadily increased over the last five years. The average weekly sales of cakes at U.S. stores in 2011 were $2,968, compared to $2,882 in the previous year. Decorated cakes are the most lucrative type of cake, comprising 30.8 percent of sales, followed by dessert cakes at 19.4 percent and cupcakes at 12.2 percent.
By now, many people have weaved the terms fondant, gum paste and sugar flowers into their culinary vocabulary, as they carefully follow the most elaborate work created by today's celebrity bakers. In local craft stores, classes are available for the amateur baker, to allow them to design their own celebratory sweetness.
The trend of cake design and innovation over the last few years is evident here in East Texas. There are plenty of bakeries and cake shops to satisfy the sweet teeth of all residents. From cake pops and three-dimensional cakes to upscale cupcakes and table-length, themed creations, the world of baking is ever-evolving, everywhere.
Let Them Eat...Cake Pops And Cupcakes
Fluffy dollops of a whipped, flavored cream top cupcakes, which range in flavors such as salted caramel and lemon curd-filled lemon cake. Everything is hand rolled and baked with fresh, local ingredients.
Mrs. Short, the mother of two, has baked since she was knee-high and returned to her love of baking after leaving the nursing field. She opened her store in March 2010. There, she employs people who range from “very experienced home bakers” to “employees who have artistic talents.” Her grandmother always made ganache, a type of icing, hence the name of her bakery.
“I decided to do my next passion, which was baking,” Mrs. Short said.
She bought Jen's Pop Shop at the peak of the cake pop phenomenon. Cake pops, which are rich and fudge-like, not only are used as party favors, but Mrs. Short said some people have used them as centerpieces at weddings instead of the traditional wedding cake.
“It's very trendy,” Mrs. Short said. “A lot of people like them because they can grab and go. People like it at weddings, graduation, anything. It really starting taking off in when L.A. and New York started having them at the candy shops and then it's come into smaller towns.”
Mrs. Short wants to take her cake pops to Hollywood. They have submitted the treat to be included in the “swag bag” for the daytime Emmy Awards.
“We're hoping to get on the Ellen DeGeneres Show with the cake pops,” she said.
The wrong temperature in the store and of the ingredients can throw things off. She typically bakes early in the morning but by the afternoon, she works with cake pops and decorations.
“If it's hot in here, these don't feel the love — at all,” Mrs. Short said. “They will flop off in the chocolate or they'll go through the stick.”
She added, “It's mad science, actually. That's what baking is. Baking is truly a science.”
Creating the more intricately designed cakes takes time and costs a lot more than traditional cakes. Bakers can spend up to three days working on a sculpted cake.
“We have a lot of people who will order from us but what they don't realize is when they want that sculpted Angry Birds cake they saw on TV, they don't realize how long it takes,” Mrs. Short said. “We can do it. We've done them but it costs a lot of money.”
From Home To Storefront
With the allure of creating whimsical gourmet cakes, it's no surprise that the cottage bakeries are attracting people who've always dreamed of running their own shop.
“That's how I started,” Ms. Dixon said. “It was a necessity for my family.”
Ms. Dixon, who'd been baking since she was 15, already owned a bakery in Tennessee but she moved back to her hometown of Winona to look after her ailing father. She said other people in her community bake cakes from home and share ideas on Facebook.
With the help of the new law, she began operating a “cottage bakery” in November. However, today, she's transitioning into a full-service store front operation.
In between this transition, she's made wedding cakes, sculpted cakes, cupcake bouquets, cake pops and specialty treats such as strawberry bouquets.
Her specialty flavors include chocolate strawberry and pina colada. She also makes her own fondant with marshmallow.
“I'm very artistic and I'm able to express my artistic flair through my cakes,” Ms. Dixon said. “The biggest thing that I love about my cakes, and this is my motto for my business: we create smiles with our creations. I get a big kick out of seeing someone flabbergasted after seeing their cake for the first time.”
Keeping Up With Cake
Ms. Dixon's prediction for next year's hot item is Sugarveil, a bendable sugar that looks like a doily of lace. Brides want to recreate the lace patterns on their wedding dress for their cake.
“I believe it's going to be the next popular thing,” Ms. Dixon said.
She also believes themed cakes for parties, or movie premiers, and elaborate grooms cakes will continue to trend in 2013.
Mrs. Short said she believes next year's trend will lean toward simplicity: classic, elegant cakes. She also favors butter cream frosting with fondant accents instead of a cake covered entirely by fondant.
Right now, smash cakes—individual cakes made just for a one-year-old to smash on their first birthday—are a hot item. Gender reveal cakes are also the rage at baby showers. Bakers make blue- or pink-centered cakes to indicate the sex of the curious couple's baby. Sculpted pregnant belly cakes, complete with the impression of a baby's foot inside the tummy, have been another baby shower favorite.
Mrs. Short makes macaroons, more specifically, Parisian macaroons, filled with a ganache or jellies. Vegan, sugar-free and gluten-free cupcakes are also gaining momentum.
“Everyone wants their own flavor and with cupcakes and doing a gourmet shop like that, everyone can have that, along with people with special diets,” she said.
Mrs. Short said Tyler is a good place to try new things.
Ganache will reveal a new concept in food to East Texans in October. Mrs. Short is tight lipped about the news, but says people on the east and west coasts are raving about this gourmet treat. Whatever it is, it's “affordable, beautiful and extremely unique.”
“Ganache will debut that with a large party and we will also have it at a Mistletoe and Magic booth,” Mrs. Short said. “It is super top secret but it is all over New York and LA. We are going to be the first ones to bring it to Tyler. It's going to be big.”