June 11, 2011

Wedding Cake Inspiration: A picnic at the Central Park zoo

Jen Huang Photography hosted an incredible workshop for aspiring wedding photographers last month.  They gathered at her studio from around the country for intimate advice from Jen, as well as wedding industry insight from a blogger, a stylist, and assorted photo professionals.  The students were able to put their lessons to work immediately since the workshop incorporated field trips, one of which was to the Central Park Zoo.  There, Jackie of Merci New York arranged flowers by the fabulous Poppies and Posies alongside a couple of Sugar Flower Cake Shop cakes.  The result?  A perfect picnic!!!  The cake was devoured soon after these shots were taken.

June 8, 2011

Sugar Flower Cake Shop’s Unveiling Party

There is just no way to accurately describe how fortunate I feel at this point in my business.  Lots of sweat and tears over the past bunch of years have gotten me to the point of being able to unveil my brand new shop yesterday evening to a delightful group of industry professionals.  They arrived, passing through “the booth,” to play matchmaker – a preview of our NY wedding cake tasting parties – where each guest gets a plate, scoops on dollops of our delicious buttercream and bite-size portions of our cake flavors, mixing and matching to see which combinations work best for their palette.

I have so many people to thank for their time, energy and professionalism in putting together this event.  First of all, Tammy Golson Events coordinated the entire thing.  At every step from the moment I presented the idea to her, Tammy was in my head, pulling out all of the details for flow and organization.  I channeled her at every opportunity when making decisions on my own.  WWTGD?  Her guidance is at all times welcomed, presenting it from her vast experience and impeccable taste.

Next up, Ana Dolan from Invitations by Ana did an amazing job creating the invitation using copy by the fabulous Jean Tang of MarketSmiths.  Ana also printed labels for all of the cake and buttercream flavors, plus menu cards from the catering by Lauren Collura from Bacco Catering.  The savory menu was created using the same ingredients that I use in my cakes and buttercreams.

To literally tie everything up in a bow, the lovely Jackie Weppner of Merci New York completely transformed my space with ribbon from Laurie Savino at M&J Bridal.  Jackie has immersed herself into my brand and style, pulling out such wonderful details that even I tend to take for granted.  Every time I turned around during the set up, a new niche looked so much more fabulous than I could have even imagined.

On top of it all, I even enlisted the help of my family.  My parents, with my encouragement, started a pre-retirement embroidery business so they have something to occupy their time when they decide to no longer work.  At this point, they still have plenty of time before that day comes, so they are having fun playing with the machine and tackling all of the challenges their best client (me!) provides them.  Somehow, they figured out how to reproduce my logo on chef and towels, as well as create an embroidered key chain in the shape of a cake as a give away for each of our guests.  Who has better parents than me???

I cannot conclude this post without a HUGE thank you to my darling staff. Pictured:  Elisa, Leah, Christine, Kanene, Katie and I.  Plus, not pictured, Hazel and Stephanie.  I could NEVER have pulled off a seamless event without you ladies.  I am so grateful that you have come into my life!

To see pictures of the event, at this moment, I have a few photos from every bride’s best friend, Chellise Michael Photography, and the effortless self taken photos from the booth by Laura and Ian Londin.  Soon to come, images from the incredibly talented Peter Dressel.  (This man is a gifted portrait photographer, yet agreed to come shoot the event – how awesome is that?!?!?!)  Will post Peter’s photos in another post.

To all who came, I truly hope you enjoyed yourself and Sugar Flower Cake Shop’s new concept in cake tasting.  Isn’t it fun playing matchmaker?!?!?

May 31, 2011

What’s in Season Now – STRAWBERRIES

Anyone who knows me well has listened to my discourse on strawberries, on how when you bite into a fresh-from-the-garden strawberry that the entire berry, still warm from the early summer sun, is red and juicy – none of that white center that you see inside supermarket strawberries that have been picked before they were ripe and brought to full redness through artificial means.  The discourse continues with instruction about how strawberries got their name (my absolute favorite part of growing strawberries):  a farmer carefully lays down golden straw amongst the vines in the berry patch for when they are truly ripe, strawberries descend from their vine, but since they are easily prone to rot from the moisture of the soil, the straw provides a comfy and dry bed.

Since strawberries are my all time favorite food, I look forward to the end of May and all of June every year.  With all of the rain we’ve been having in NYC this May, I was dreading the effect it would have on the bounty of this season.  This past Wednesday, I finally spotted my delicious gems in the Union Square Greenmarket. My excitement caused me to indulge in an ENTIRE quart of berries that morning on the subway and short walk to my shop in the Garment District.  It was slightly unfortunate that these berries were a bit waterlogged due to the rain.  It was like playing strawberry roulette – one in ten was divine and the others not so.

Well, with the recent heat we’ve had the past few days, yesterday’s market caused a state of strawberry ecstasy.  I’m looking forward to the next week when the New York farms will start selling their brilliant red wares.  Because of their more southern location, Jersey farmers see berries before New York farms.  If you have the chance, do a side-by-side comparison of berries from New Jersey and New York.  Soil and temperature differences absolutely impact flavor.  When Berried Treasures has their petite Tristar berries, grab a quart as fast as you can (they go quick!).

So, with all of my hype of the Greenmarkets, wouldn’t it be nice to have even closer access to the thing I love most in the world?  Well, thanks to intern Samantha, I now have my very own strawberry plant growing on the terrace of our Shop.  (How cute is it that she bought me a strawberry plant?!?!?!?)  I planted it yesterday and you can see from the photo that it’s doing quite well so far.  That little white flower (with a little help from some rooftop bees and rich NYC compost) should bloom into a beautiful crimson teardrop over the next week.  I guess this means I’ve begun urban farming.  I just have to find some straw before that berry is ripe (though, I don’t know that I will be able to wait that long!)

Hmm, what wedding cake ingredient should be planted next??  For now, my aim is to never have anyone eat a supermarket berry ever again.  Support your local greenmarket or become a farmer yourself.  Are you with me?

May 2, 2011

Lessons Learned: Avoiding “Minnie” Disasters

This past weekend, we were asked to create a very special Minnie Mouse cake for baby Alexis’ first birthday.  When the cake was ordered and dad first identified himself as Frank Sinatra, Jr., I nearly had a heart attack.  Was the son of ol’ blue eyes really ordering a cake from us???  The conversation led to reveal a simple coincidence in name only, but of course we treated the order regardless of celebrity status.

As in many orders where detailed fondant work is involved, I call in my expert Elisa to tackle important pieces of the cake (upcoming teaser:  wait until you see the Alice in Wonderland and Storm Trooper cakes…).  In this case, she was to create Minnie herself and a pink polka-dotted bow.  I was to create the cake itself and the other decorations.  

If you have ever attempted a figurine in sugar, you know that it is not an easy task.  Elisa decided that Minnie should be made in pieces:  head, arms, legs, and body.  Once dry for a few days, we were to assemble.  As it turns out, it was my job to do the gluing.  Here is where my “lessons learned” comes in:  GLUE THE DAY BEFORE!!!!!!!

The day of the party, a family member was set to pick up the cake from the Shop just after noon.  At this point, assembling, icing and stacking a three tier cake is a straight forward task, so I set about getting everything set as soon as I arrived that morning.  Maybe it took a couple of hours, including time to make the filling and icing.  Once the tiers were set, I began the decor, creating with the additional polkadot ribbon pieces at the base of each tier, then placing the lettering and the flowers.

In our original design, Minnie was supposed to stand on top of the cake.  I set her aside to glue all of the pieces and when they seemed dry decided to put her on the top tier to quickly snap a picture.  My plan was to remove her for transport, but have the place marked so she could be easily repositioned.

So, how long does it take to reach for a camera?  Turns out, it’s just enough time for Minnie to come crashing down – ugh!  Fortunately, we didn’t have a Humpty Dumpty on our hands.  The arms and legs came out where they were glued, no additional damage was done.  I did, though, lose the adorable bow Elisa had created…

At this point, it is almost noon.  Instead of panicking, decisions had to be made!  There wasn’t enough time to fix Minnie so she could stand on her own (her head was just too darn heavy for her body, poor thing!).  Instead, she needed to be placed differently.  I debated standing her against the second layer next to Alexis’ name, but for this size cake, there wasn’t enough room on the ledge.  Instead, I opted for a sitting Minnie.

More royal icing was quickly found and a crisis was averted.  I even had to quickly whip up a couple of new bows for Minnie’s head.  I chose to make pigtail bows to cover up some of the icing use to ensure she didn’t become Van Gogh.

All in all, I do like the way this cake came out, even if it was different than intended.  We have a smiling Minnie (even when she’s sitting) with a fun, simple and delicious cake (did I mention the inside is a moist chocolate butter cake with fresh banana cream?).

At this point, all I can say is WHEW!  Next time, glue and test cake toppers the day before…

April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding Cake

Royal Wedding Cake
Waking up this morning to all of the talk on the clock radio about the ceremony and dress wasn’t really all that exciting.  After listening to the hype for a few minutes and hitting the snooze button, I thought of my friend and dress designer, Colette Komm, wondering whether she was glued to her TV screen to see the dress.

Obviously, I’ve been waiting to see the cake.  It took almost 900 sugar flowers and five weeks to produce.  The designers reflected architectural details of the room and the cake stood up to the formality of the event.  If you look closely, there are tons of lily of the valley, small daffodils, roses and wild flowers.  The bottom edge is covered in sugar ivy leaves.

My favorite part, though, is not the sugar flowers, it’s the piped lattice work at the bottom of the fourth tier.  My piping skills are not as strong as my sugar flower making skills, so I cannot even imagine the cake designers sitting for hours tracing those patterns in royal icing and carefully placing them on the cake at the venue, hoping not to break these delicate creations.

I do also love the assembly:  three-tiered satellite cakes, topped with a shorter tier and then a four tier cake.  I like that there is a spacer in this cake and am in awe of how clean that mirrored cake base is.  Steady hands placed that cake to make sure no icing smudges were left  behind.

April 3, 2011

What’s at the Local Markets: Carrots!

Carrots, a delightful winter root vegetable, are usually harvested in the fall until the ground freezes.  With a heavy mulch in many growing areas, farmers can continue to harvest these delicious biennials through the cold months.  Stored at 32 degree Fahrenheit with super high humidity, carrots can easily last for several months.

I happen to adore carrot cake.  Though it’s a bit of work to chop up carrots in the processor super fine and toast pecans to bring out their flavor, the result is well worth it!  Topped with either a mascarpone cream cheese icing or a honey maple mousseline…I’m in heaven!

So, I recently learned two interesting carrot facts that I wanted to share:  Did you know that there is a carrot variety for every letter of the alphabet??? They come in a variety of colors and a delightful array of names.  The other interesting bit is that Queen Anne’s Lace (something I’ve always considered a weed!) is actually a variety of wild carrot.  Next time you spot some, think about what we can make for dessert!

Will post my carrot cake recipe soon…unlike many recipes, I do not use vegetable oil to create that smooth texture…any guesses at a substitute?

March 26, 2011

At long last…Pink Velvet Cake

Photo credit: Lux Photo

I have been remiss in posting this recipe.  It was finally developed properly for our first tasting party a couple of weeks ago.  Our next one is coming up on Thursday, so I had better make sure everything is in order!

If you have been following along, I have been on an anti-Red Velvet kick, attempting to eschew the amount of red dye other bakers pour into their cakes.  Sometimes artificial food coloring cannot be avoided in coloring icing, as was the case with our Coca-Cola cake, but my preference is to avoid it in something as wholesome as cake.

Now, you should know that this recipe does not produce a red cake like we’ve seen in the last bunch of years, instead, it’s a fun pinkish tinge on the cocoa brown – more the way it originally was historically.  I’m thinking of renaming it “pink velvet”.  Anyone interested in switching over with me?

Should you wish to convert the following to cake format, I can explain the math, but your eyes might glaze over after a little bit, so let’s start with a recipe for cupcakes…Enjoy!

Makes 24 cupcakes – prepare cupcake pan with liners.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Measure out 243 grams buttermilk (1 cup) – if you don’t have buttermilk handy, replace a tablespoon of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar and allow the mixture to sit for maybe 10 minutes.

Pour 1/4 of the buttermilk into a bowl and lightly beat in 2 large eggs (100 grams, if you’re measuring).

In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine 250 grams cake flour, 300 grams natural cane sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.  Set mixture on stir (lowest setting).

Meanwhile, measure out 114 grams unsalted butter (must be soft) and combine 5 grams cocoa powder (I use Valrhona) with 2 tablespoons reduced beet puree and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.  Add to dry ingredients along with the buttermilk.

For 1-1/2 minutes, turn mixer up to medium (this allows the cake’s structure to form) Scrape down sides of bowl.

Add the egg mixture in 3-4 stages, mixing on medium-low for 15-20 seconds between each addition, allowing batter to just emulsify each time.

Quickly mix together 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar with 1 teaspoon baking soda (this will be super foamy!) and lightly fold into the batter.

Pour into cupcake liners.  Bake for 15-18 minutes.

Top with a mascarpone cream cheese icing.  For the moment, I’m keeping the specifics of this one to myself, but it’s not too difficult to figure out.  Equal parts mascarpone cheese, fresh cream cheese (skip the Philly, please, and use a fromage blanc) and Italian meringue buttercream.  Not too sweet, not to tangy – just right!

Special thanks to Yura from Lux Photo for the pic!

March 12, 2011

NYC Wedding Cake Tasting Parties at Sugar Flower Cake Shop

If you haven’t already heard, we are hosting our very first tasting party at our new shop tomorrow.  I’ve had busy bees buzzing about the kitchen preparing – for sure, they’ve even made some local NYC rooftop honey buttercream!

Tomorrow’s tasting is super full, but others are coming up in the future.  This event is by invitation only, so you have to go through a couple of steps before being invited.  First, check out the invite page here.  Then, click “Contact the Host” on the right side of the page.  You are welcome to skip these two steps and call me directly:  212/993-6441 (note our new phone number – how cool is it that I FINALLY have a 212 number – THANK YOU Rainbow Broadband!!!)

Once we’ve connected and determined that it makes sense for you to swing by, you will receive a special invitation where you can RSVP.  The cake tasting parties are by invitation only.

For tomorrow’s event, I have enlisted the help of some of my most trusted friends in the business.  Here’s a quick bit about who they are and why I love them:

Tammy Golson Events – Tammy is the perfect planner for a foodie, from private parties through weddings here and abroad.  She has a degree in hospitality and instituted a culinary program in Edinburgh.  Every time we get together to eat – no, I should say dine – it is a delightful experience, just being able to soak in her knowledge of food and service.

DJ Gatsby – So, I was at a business meeting a week ago or so and DJ (aka, Jon Simon, but he will ALWAYS be “DJ” to me!) was also in attendance.  He had to address this mix of consultants, service providers and craftsmen/women.  Needless to say, it was an eclectic group!  Well, in just 45 seconds, DJ absolutely WOWED us with a quick rap, showing off his charm, wittiness and ability to work the room.  Needless to say, the entire group was on their feet at the end!

Chellise Michael Photography – I can’t really call Chellise a “photographer”.  When I see her in action, it constantly amazes me how comfortable she is with her clients.  She is at once in the zone professionally, yet super carefree in her interactions.  Somehow, she is able to get her clients to do things that they would NEVER do in real life:  Jumping into a swimming pool with your wedding dress on?  Climbing up into a treehouse?  Sneaking into an abandoned building?  All have made for interesting backdrops for her work.

Sharon Becker, sb beauty – Sharon recently made up my face for an event.  She works quickly, yet take the time to be informative, offering advice normally only my best friend could get away with (apparently, I need to grow in my eyebrows a little bit…)  Sharon’s work comes from within.  I heard her say recently, “I just LOVE doing makeup!”  This is rare – so many artists lose touch with what they are doing when it becomes a “job”.  Knowing Sharon has been a delightful experience.  I admire her chutzpah as she is branching out on her own!

Tomorrow, we’ll be able to “ask the experts” and see what hot tips, trends and ideas they each have.  Should be fun!

March 1, 2011

Calling all NYC Minority and Women Business Entrepreneurs

If you’ve ever sat down with me to talk business, you know how I go on-and-on about FastTrac.  It completely set me on a path in my business from which I can never look back.  A couple weeks ago, I was talking with my friend Sharon Becker and I started talking about the things she needed to do as she launches her services within the wedding world. Sharon is a FABULOUS make-up artist, with tons of experience in TV and editorial makeup – she happens to specialize in HD makeup – how cool is that?  Anyway, I whipped out my phone, giving her a telephone number to write down and instructed her to call, without very much additional information (would I steer her wrong???).  Luckily, she agreed and now have a ton of additional information about the program.

Well, for those who are tired of hearing me talk about FastTrac, or for those of you who have listened to me and have actually gone through the program, I offer one more resource for you:  Strategic Steps for Growth!

If you are a Minority or Women owned business, this program looks AWESOME!  The businesses that they are looking for generate between $500,000 and $10 million, have been in operation for three years and has a full-time employee.  My total revenue numbers aren’t quite there (YET!), but based on my growth history, I’ve been given permission to apply.  Certain companies will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Just think, a three-year growth plan will come out of this class and you don’t have to spin your wheels doing it all by yourself.  I cannot tell you the VALUE of having a business plan.  Go to FastTrac if you are operating your business without one and sign up for this class with me to take your business to the next level.  The next semester starts in May.  Deadline to apply is March 14.


For more info, click here.

To apply, click here.

Let me know if you want to be put in touch with the people who run the program so you can get more information.  I’m happy to whip out my phone and pass along some more numbers.  As it turns out, last October, I made the wedding cake for their new program manager.  Funny how the world works…

February 23, 2011

NYC Wedding Cake World, meet Frankie!

As you may know, I have moved into my very own baking space.  It is incredibly exciting, taking my business in this direction.  I have had to be completely resourceful, borrowing money from friends and family, and have done my best to try to find the right connections that are going to help my business expand in the direction I envision.

Despite my hard work, sometimes, I simply consider myself the luckiest girl in the whole entire world.  The night I signed the lease on this new space, I headed to Hudson Station for a celebratory drink.  It’s just around the corner from my new location.  I’m at 336 West 37th and this bar is on the corner of 35th and 9th.  Definitely, if you are in the area, it’s the coolest sports bar around – the kind of sports bar that I would go to (and, if you know me, I don’t spend much time in sports bars, but for Hudson Station, I make an exception).

Anyway, a friend who works there encouraged me to share my news with the owner.  I explained the emerging vision for the company and about my plans to be resourceful and head to the Bowery to find some deals on baking equipment.  Well, the owner, since they opened only a few months ago, just recently went through major equipment purchases.  Their kitchen is beautiful.  He told me not to waste time on the Bowery; instead call Frankie.

Well, I’m now officially in love with Frankie 😉  Look at him pictured with the oven he brought me today!  For those who have been following my minor oven setback, I now have a full-size Moffat E32.  Five racks to accommodate 18×12 sheet cake pans.  Remember my complaint that Frankie doesn’t speak “baker”???  Well, he admitted his translation skills weren’t so great.  Apparently, he mostly speaks restaurant and thought I was talking about cookie sheets…

But, get this, once we realized the mix-up with the original oven, Frankie took time out of his day yesterday to come and look at what I was talking about and then asked to borrow my specific pans to bring back to his warehouse just to make sure that they would fit in this new model.  THEN, he came back TODAY with the new machine.  Seriously, how cool is that?  I’m the luckiest girl, for sure, to have been connected with someone who really takes his job seriously.

So, if you are in the food business and need equipment, PLEASE call me so I can give you Frankie’s phone number.  He saved me thousands of dollars, getting me the best deals on what I need and he did it all with that adorable smile!

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