When most people find out that I am a former trial attorney, they have a lot of questions: Why did you quit? Are you a trained chef? How disappointed are your parents? How did you become a professional food stylist and recipe developer? I try to answer all of the questions honestly: I quit because I am a terrible liar and felt impaired by the profession’s toxic atmosphere. No, I am not a traditionally trained chef or stylist. And as to my parents, ‘very’. The answer to the last question is a bit convoluted. My patent answer is: I am an accidental foodie. The reality is, I have been stumbling towards this career for decades. From growing up baking daily treats to gifting handmade chocolates throughout my twenties to touring Scottish whisky distilleries instead of castles on European vacations, it’s been a long time coming. Fate has slowly guided me on this awesome path and I have an unyieldingly supportive life partner whose only wish for me is to be happy… I truly have no complaints. And along the way, I have picked up quite a few tricks. Many of these are integrated into my recipe tutorials and food styling on this blog. And since I know most of my lovely readers are ambitious amateur foodies, I thought I’d divulge one of the trickiest of tricks I have up my sleeve: The Professional Cake Illusion.
Like I said, becoming a professional food stylist and recipe developer was a long time coming. As a creative outlet during law school, I freelanced as a cake maker. Yup, you heard me right… law school was so hellish that I actually chose to relax by baking other peoples’ cakes during the handful of hours I actually had free. I anxiously volunteered (out of dire need to create something pretty) to make one friend’s tiered shower cake in lieu of her purchasing it. Business exploded. Bachelorette parties, baby showers, birthdays, and charity events consumed my valuable free time. And honestly slaving over those milestone sugar mounds are some of my happiest memories during that bleak period. Can you tell I hated law school with the fire of a thousand volcanos? (Quick PSA: Stay in school, kids. As much as I complain, receiving my J.D. was a magnificent educational gift and life experience that can never be taken away. Always take advantage of an education you are lucky enough to receive!) Back to the Professional Cake Illusion. If you are strapped for time and need to throw together a stunningly elegant cake for an important affair, it’s actually quite simple. You do not need years of training or mad buttercream skills to pull it off. All you need is fresh flowers and a yard of ribbon. Okay, you need a cake and some fondant too, but really that’s about it.
To show you how simple this really is, I did not fuss over the cake in the photos. I limited myself to 10 minutes from cake layering to placing the final petal. It’s far from perfect but with the simple tricks laid out below, it pulls off the great Professional Cake Illusion. Here’s how to do it…
Step 1: Bake the cake
Literally that’s it. Bake 2 or 3 nine-inch round cakes. Top them on one another with a little cream or frosting between the layers and boom. You’re done. Psst! Come closer so I can whisper this next part in your ear: if you’re strapped for time, just go to the store and buy a plain-frosted layer cake in the bakery department. *shhhh*
Step 2: Cover that puppy
Roll out some (dare I say) store-bought fondant and cover the cake. You do not have to be an expert in fondant, it’s pretty self explanatory. Plus, the average person is so intimidated by fondant, the mere fact that you used it at all will impress them (regardless of the end lumpy result). Or if you feel confident in your frosting skills, then by all means go to town with spatula in hand.
Step 3: Make it work!
Take the yard of ribbon and wrap the cake like a gift box. Either tie a bow in the back or overlap the ribbon ends and pin into the cake using a toothpick. Plop some fresh flowers on (strategically if you’ve done a lumpy fondant job) and voila. You have what looks like a professional cake on your hands.
Now imagine your end result if you are a little less reckless than I was throwing this baby together. Creating the Professional Cake Illusion really is much easier than it looks and I challenge those of you who have never decorated a cake to try it. I’d love to hear back from you and see your creations. Extra points if you’ve also quit a toxic, dead-end job… it somehow makes your cake taste better.