Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tackle Box Cake

A few weeks ago, a woman ordered a cake for her husband's 30th birthday. We were so excited to see the order come to fruition because there was a LOT of sugar artwork involved!

She asked us to make a life-sized tackle box filled with grubs, fishing lures, and things that had special meaning to the family.

We marbleized different shades of brown fondant to give the box a wood-grain effect, and the lid of the box was made of Rice Krispies Treats.

The tool tray was made entirely of gum paste. In it, we piled in the grubs, worms, and fishing lures. We also added a hand-made orchid because the family grows & sells them, a sugar pacifier to represent their baby boy, and a book called "Why Daughters Need Dads" because he had given his oldest daughter that book years ago.

In front of the tackle box, we placed more grubs & lures, another orchid, and a side of cole slaw. Cole slaw? Apparently the husband and wife are crazy about the stuff!

Off to the side, we placed a sugar replica of the husband's sunglasses, another orchid, and a spool of fishing line that read "30 Year Test."

We were so thrilled with how this cake came out, and I'm especially proud of the orchids!

Monday, August 30, 2010

My New Love - French Bull

I think I'm in love.

I can't tear my eyes away from these plates by French Bull.

They're made of melamine so they're durable and reusable! And they use these patterns on all kinds of things - table runners, napkins, aprons, bedding, wall art, stationery, etc!

*sigh* I want...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Photo Editing for Cake Decorators

Today, I'm going to show you a few quick things you can do in Photoshop to enhance your cake photos. Of course, this tutorial will be geared towards cake decorators, but the same principles can be applied to many other uses!

For the tutorial, I'll use a photo of a cake I made for my Grandma's birthday a few weeks ago. The cake was iced in ivory buttercream and decorated with whimsical green fondant swirls and gum paste butterflies.

This is the photo straight out of the camera:

Not too shabby, but there's definitely room for improvement! Here's the final photo of the cake after I've made some slight adjustments and added the watermarks:

Again, they were only small adjustments, but I think you'll agree that the cake looks more appealing, professional, and fun!

For this tutorial, I'll be using Adobe Photoshop CS3 and "actions" from both Pioneer Woman and Totally Rad Actions. The action sets are free downloads so take advantage of them! If you like what you see, you can always purchase more, but I do all my editing with the free versions. If you have a different version of Photoshop, your screens will look slightly different, but you should be able to do all the same techniques.

And if you want to see a larger version of any of the screen shots I've included in this post, just click the image.

Step 1: Open Photo and Crop It
Open your image in Photoshop. Then, click "All" from the Select drop-down menu. This will give you a dotted line around your image (see below). Next, choose "Transform Selection" from the Select drop-down menu.

This will change the dotted border around the photo to a solid line with boxes on the corners. Hold down the SHIFT button on your keypad and drag one of the corners in so that it fits nicely around your cake. Holding SHIFT keeps the proportions of your photo constant. That way, if you try to print copies later, nothing gets chopped out of the photo! And if you don't care about photo dimensions, don't bother holding down SHIFT.

When you have adjusted the rectangle around your cake, hit ENTER. This will change the border back into a dotted line (see below).

Now click "Crop" in the Image drop-down menu. Now your photo is cropped! If you need to zoom in a little, just hit CONTROL and the + on your keypad simultaneously.

Step 2: Adjust Curves
The first thing I do is adjust Curves. What is curves? Don't ask me. Photoshop is a program that has lot of potential to do some amazing stuff...but right now, a lot of it is over my head. I know what I'm telling you today, and that's about it.

So back to Curves. To open the Curves box, click the small symbol on the bottom right of your screen. It's a circle that's half black and half white. When you click that, a menu will pop up - click "Curves."

When the curves box pops up, it will look like a fancy graph from math or science class. Ooooo, fancy! Grab the very center of the diagonal light and move it a smidgen to the left. Look below to see where I moved my line. Doing this will very slightly lighten your entire photo. Be careful not to move the line too much - you want all your edits to look very natural! When you're ready, click "OK."

Now, if you look in your "Layers" box on the bottom right, you should have a "Background" layer and a "Curves 1" layer. Click the little eyeball image to the left of the Curves 1 layer to turn it off and on. See what a difference even something that simple made?

Step 3: Dim the Lights
For this step, we're going to use the Dim the Lights action from Pioneer Woman. On my screen, the actions are listed in those colorful boxes to the right. Find Dim the Lights and click it. The whole screen will instantly get darker. I know you're thinking, "Why'd we do that? We just lightened it!" Bear with me, dear friend...

Now select your paint brush from the list of icons on the far left of your screen. Once you select the paint brush, the tool bar along the top will show your brush size. I like to use a brush with 300 pixel diameter and 0% hardness. This means that the edge of the brush is very soft so you don't get really hard, bold lines on your photo. However, if your cake is small, you may need to use a smaller brush size.

Also, make sure that your color selection is correct. The color selection is shown on the bottom left of your screen in two overlapping squares. For this task, you want the top square to be black.

Now, go over to your cake and "paint" over the side of the cake. What are we doing this for? Well, we've just dimmed the lights, but now we're erasing that effect off the side of the cake. When we're finished, it will reduce the glare that any overhead lights put on the top of the cake.

Here is a screen shot while I am painting on the Dim the Lights layer (for those of you who care, this is called editing a Layer Mask):

At this point, you can also edit the Opacity of this layer in your Layers box on the lower right of your screen. If Dim the Lights made your cake too dark, back it off a bit...to 80%, 50%, or even 20%. The percentage will change from cake to cake, so just use your judgment.

Step 4: Boost
This is an easy step! Find Boost in Pioneer Woman's action sets and click it.

Phew, that's a blast of color! But it doesn't look natural, so back it off quite a bit. For this cake, I took the Opacity down to 34%. Again, this is something that will change for each cake/photo.

Step 5: Cooler
Here's another easy step for you. Click the Cooler action on Pioneer Woman's action set. Again, 100% opacity is just too strong for this effect so back it off. For this photo, I used 21% opacity.

This will just take a little yellow out of your photo. For example, if you take a picture of a white cake, it often looks slightly yellow/ivory on the computer. Adding just a little of the "cooler" effect will take that yellow out and really enhance your cake!

Step 6: Boutwell Magic Glasses
You've made it! This is the last photo editing step! This one is so easy because the action does all the work for you! Click Boutwell Magic Glasses from the Totally Rad Actions set. This will sharpen and boost (even further) your photo. Like usual, adjust the opacity so that the sharpness isn't overly done. For this photo, I used 26% opacity.

Step 7: Save the File
In the File drop-down menu, click Save As and save the file as a jpeg. I never save the edited image over the original one. You never know when you'll want to re-edit the photo so keep the original as it is straight out of the camera.

This is my edited cake photo:

Step 8: Add Watermark
If you plan to upload your cake photo to the internet in any form (a cake forum, Facebook, blog, etc.), I highly recommend that you watermark the photo in some way. This can be accomplished even if you don't have a cute watermark like mine (thanks, Mikkel!).

If you have a watermark, just copy and paste it onto your cake photo. It'll be added as a new layer on top of your old ones so you can adjust the opacity and move it around the photo.

If you don't have a watermark, just choose the Text tool from the left-hand bar and black color. Type right on your photo - your name, your website, your business, etc. You can move it wherever you think it looks best (I like mine off to the side of the cake so it's not blocking any details).

I always change the opacity to 40% on both the watermark and the text. It's a number I chose arbitrarily so do what you like.

Step 9: Change Image Size
Often, the image straight out of your camera is rather large - too large to load onto any website. Facebook and sites like that will automatically resize your image somewhat, but it's always best to reduce the size yourself.

To do this, click Image Size from the Image drop-down menu. I just set my height to 600 pixels. If you have the "Constrain Proportions" box checked at the bottom of the dialog box, the program will automatically adjust your height for you. Click OK.

Step 10: Save for Web & Devices
Now, click "Save for Web & Devices" in the File drop-down menu.

A new window will open up within Photoshop, showing 2 images side-by-side. The left image is the original image; the right image will change as you shift the Quality. I adjust my quality so that the right image is approximately 100kb. An image of this size will load quickly on a web page but still shows good quality so people can view the details.

Click Save.

You're done! You made it! Great job!

If you feel intimidated right now, know that you're not alone! I am the furthest thing from a photographer or Photoshop expert. It has taken months for me to nail down these steps to enhance the photos, without changing the way the cake really looked. Photoshop is not an easy program to get the hang of if you have no experience with it. My best advice is to just play around with it. Start with the steps I've described above and see what else you can do! It will get easier if you stick with it, I promise.

If you come across any actions or Photoshop techniques that are worth sharing, please do! Like I said, I'm no expert so let's all learn from each other.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cupcakes and Mini Cakes Galore!

Many bakeries typically define a "busy" week as one in which many orders needed to be fulfilled. Of course, the size of each order always comes into play...and last week was a perfect example of how the quantity/type of each order can really have an impact!

I think we had a total of...3? ...orders due last week. But one of those orders was for 200 vanilla chiffon cupcakes with pale yellow icing and a fondant bow on top.

200 of those? Oh yes.

But that was the easy part. The second order was for 200 mini cakes covered in blue fondant. Then, a white ribbon was wrapped around the base of each cake, and they were decorated with white icing polka dots.
Here they all are lined up in a box to be delivered to the lucky group! (They put them on cute plates at the party.)

Oh, and they also had individual monograms piped on them. Each party attendant had her monogram on her cake. 200 different monograms.

And what was the third order for? A classic, elegant gold anniversary cake:

It was iced in white buttercream and textured with a quilted pattern. Gold dragees were settled at the intersection points, and the whole cake was topped with a gum paste gift bow.

So, we only had 3 orders in the bakery last week...but it was FAR from what some may call a "slow" week! But you know what? After re-reading this post before sending it out to all of you, I'm thinking you really can't get a good idea of how time-consuming TWO HUNDRED of those dang little blue cakes were! So...just trust me when I say that we were beyond tired of seeing them by the time they went out for delivery. And now I feel like I need a nap after reliving the whole thing for this post...phew!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cute Wedding Ideas - Table Numbers and Photo Ops

A friend of mine tied the knot in December 2009 and uploaded her wedding photos to Facebook. After perusing them, I just had to share some with you!

They labeled the reception tables with these photos:

How cute is that?! I'm really into the Dorothy Gail feel of the red slippers!

And then their photographer, Bellamy Photography, came up with this next idea. They created a faux wall with empty frames for some really great photo ops! These are just a few of my favorites:

And, coincidentally, Ms Debbie's Sugar Art (before I worked there) made Nicole's black Damask wedding cake!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sesame Street First Birthday Cake

The same week that we did the Pink & Brown Cowgirl Cake, we also replicated a Sesame Street cake a Mom brought us. She wanted the cake exactly how it appeared in the photo!

So I iced the two tiers in blue and yellow...wrote "Happy Birthday" in fondant...made sugar figures (Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird)...

...made a Sesame Street-like sign with the birthday boy's name on it...

...and sprinkled polka dots all over it!

And, like usual, we provided a matching smash cake since it was a first birthday!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

True Florida Map

I just had to share this with you. This is a true Florida map:

For those of you unfamiliar with Gainesville and/or Newberry, FL...we're smack dab in the middle of the red space representing Rednecks!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Camo Groom's Cake

It's Saturday, and we've got a LOT of work to do in the bakery today...so I'll keep this short and sweet. Here's a groom's cake we made for a wedding not too long ago. The cake itself is pretty simple and straightforward.

What you see is all buttercream. But it's the set-up on the groom's cake table that really made all the difference.

First, the bride found this hilarious cake topper to set next to the cake.

And then she surrounded the cake with photos of the groom and his many, many "catches."

The hunt is over, dude!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pink Princess Cake

I love this cake because it is sooooooo simple.

It's just an 8-inch round cake iced in soft pink buttercream. We textured it with the quilting pattern and put sugar pearls at the intersection points. The name and number on the top are just fondant cut-outs, and the crown is plastic! A clean, pure design but it still looks regal enough for a 4-year-old's birthday party.

It's a perfect example that you can get a cake for any budget. Of course, the more you're willing to spend, the more out-of-the-box and show-stopping your cake will be! But this is a great cake, don't you agree?

How to keep costs down if you've already blown your party budget:
-Avoid sugar work. Use plastic figures or silk flowers wherever possible, but don't compromise on the appearance! For example, this is a cute crown. Don't get a cheap-y looking one that will ruin your cake.
-Stick with minimal decorating. While it's definitely more boring for us decorators, keep the decorating simple. The less time a decorator spends on a cake, the less money you'll probably spend on it.
-Avoid fondant. Many decorators, though not all, charge slightly more for a fondant-covered cake. Why do they charge extra? It's logical really. Covering a cake in fondant requires both more time and more material - they've got to cover those costs.
-Tell your decorator your budget. Yes, really! Many decorators are willing to try to work within your budget. They can give you options on your cake to show you what you can get for your money. Just ask! But don't insult your decorator by trying to get a cake dirt cheap - respect her time and effort. If you realize that you just can't afford the cakes, be "man" enough to tell the decorator and order a cake in the future when you can.*

Now, having said all that, I also have to add that cake decorating is an art form. If you can afford it, set aside a little extra money for the cake. Many decorators will really amaze you with what they can do in sugar!

Oh, and that reminds me...I'm going to do a series of posts about how to successfully compete, and hopefully win, in cake decorating competitions. If you have any specific questions, post them in a comment or email them to me!

*I'm giving you this advice because it's truly what I believe. I do not take cake orders so none of this is inspired from a particular experience. It's just a little bit of insider information on how to get an adorable custom cake if you can't afford to get the kind of cakes you see on TV. If you have your own opinions, we'd love to see them in the comments!