It's that special someones Birthday, and you want to get them the perfect cake to suit their personality and taste. With the millions of images out there, where do you start? A little thought can help your Cake Maker give you the perfect cake at the right price.
1. Allow Plenty of Time
Like all good things, cake making takes time. If you contact your cake maker the day before, or on the day of their birthday, you will only be able to get what is available or worse, nothing at all. If you want seven tiers, a sculpted car or a cow, your cake maker will need to purchase materials to build a frame, or wait for a cutter or topper to arrive in the mail.
For a simple cake allow at least a week, for something more complicated we may need several weeks.
2. Think about your budget
It is a good idea to share how much you want to spend with your cake maker from the start. They can then advise what is available for you in your price bracket, for the size of cake that you need. Be aware like many professions we charge by the hour. A hugely detailed cake can take many hours, and has to be charged accordingly. Just like taking your car to the garage, we also have overheads, insurance, power and more to pay for. Your cake maker wants to give you the best experience, so that you recommend us to others. Revealing your budget from the outset, allows us to give you the best cake that we can for that amount. Also to remember, often the most beautiful things in life are simple.
3. The flavour
Have a think about the favourite flavour of the receiver, and also any no-no's like nuts or other allergens. By far the best selling flavours are the classics, chocolate, lemon, vanilla, banana and carrot. If you want a sculpted cake, stick to a firmer flavour like chocolate or lemon, as banana and carrot cakes can be too soft to sculpt with.
4. How many serves do you need?
How many people are coming to your party? Would you like some leftover? If yes, make sure that you are not eating cake for breakfast for the next month! Also to consider is not going too small. If a hundred guests are attending, a small single tier cake will not give everyone a piece.
5. How many tiers?
If you are serving up to 20 people, you probably only need a single tier cake. As you increase the number of tiers, the complexity of the cake will increase, and so will the cost. These days most people want tall cakes, as they look better. For 6 inch high cakes we stack two cakes on top of each other to get the effect. If you like the look of tall tier cakes, be sure to tell your cake maker that is what you want as a standard size cake is 3-4 inches.
6. The search!
Now we get to the exciting bit, the actual design. We always recommend using google or pinterest to search for images to share with your cakemaker. Pictures always give a better idea than words. If you only like certain aspects of a cake, we can take bits and pieces and piece them together to give the perfect design. If you hate fondant, use buttercream in your search terms.
7. The personality of the receiver
Have a think about their personality. Do they love bright colours? The colour of a cake is good place to start when you are not sure of a design.
Are they fun, sophisticated, a lover of nature? Do they have any hobbies? What else do they do in their spare time? eg. Party girl, Art, Gardening, Golf, etc. All of these types of words will bring up lots of designs for you to look at and consider.
If it's for a child, what do they love right now? Common popular themes are superheroes, unicorns, animals, favourite TV Shows.
8. Words and numbers
For young children, its popular to have their name somewhere and a number. For adults a meaningful phrase can be thoughtful. Try not to make the words too long, as they can take over and detract from the design. For an art inspired cakes, words and number are often best left out. Custom designed toppers can be a beautiful addition. Do allow several weeks in front for these. Most will need to be mailed and often take some time.
9. The Big Day!
On the big day there can be so many things to do. For the small addition of delivery, do think about having your cake maker deliver. Especially if the cake is large, expensive, or you have young children to look after. Then you can concentrate on enjoying the celebration. Happy planning!
School holidays are always hard to keep kids entertained and off devices. With the added restriction of self isolation, these can pass an hour or so on a rainy day. We made these with just a few easy ingredients from the supermarket.
Let your imagination go wild with the fillings and toppings. We used fresh blueberries as they are readily available and cheap, but you could substitute with banana, tinned fruit or jam. These are not overly sweet, and rely on the sweetness of the fruit. If you feel they need a little more just sift over a thin layer of icing sugar.
1. Defrost your puff pastry sheets.
2. Lightly brush one sheet with water using a pastry brush and press another on
3. Carefully cut your large square into 9, by scoring into 3 in both directions. This bit is best left to an adult. Use a ruler if you need to.
4. Each square forms the base of your pastry. Here is where you can creative! For an easy shape fold two opposite corners into each other. You can find lots of shaping ideas on Youtube, or each just stick to a square. Whichever shape you choose, make a indent with a teaspoon in the middle and lightly press down to hold the filling. See our shapes below.
5. Brush the pastry with soy milk and lightly sprinkle with caster sugar.
6. Place a small teaspoon of custard in the indent and top with a small handful of blueberries.
7. Bake at 200 C for 15 minutes until golden brown.
8. Lightly brush with maple syrup and allow to cool.
These are for anyone struggling for some quick and easy meal inspiration at home. We just had a ‘not another sandwich’ moment at lunch time and made these gluten free and vegan cornmeal & zucchini fritters. I have adapted a recipe we use in our commercial kitchen, and was really please with the result! My zucchini had actually turned to marrows, as the New Zealand summer made them grow at a super fantastic rate.
All of the ingredients are easy to find in the supermarket. These are amazing with fresh mint, but I only had thyme & parsley so stuck to those as my fresh herbs. If you don't have access to fresh herbs, try a teaspoon of dry. Basil, mint or oregano would all complement the zucchini.
You can get creative with the spices too, just don’t go heavier than a teaspoon until you have tasted a tester. You can also use other veggies if you don’t have or like zucchini. If you want to up the protein content you can replace 1/2 the flour with chickpea flour. If you do this make sure you cook all the way through as raw chickpea flour has a very special flavour!
1. Sift dry ingredients and whisk together with a fork or whisk.
2. Add all the fresh ingredients.
3. Mix together with your hands, squeezing to bring the mix together.
4. If the mix seems dry at this point, leave for 5 mins. The water from the zucchini will moisten the mix without needing to add more.
5. Form into fritters and fry in a thin layer of your favourite oil. Avoid using a dry pan as the fat helps with flavour and moistness.
6. Cook on a medium head and flip when you can see the bottom has started to brown.
For a gluten free version you can serve like I did with your favourite salad, a handful of nuts and some guacamole or your favourite chutney. This would also work as a mezze bowl with hummus underneath and some rice to accompany the other elements.
These would make a fantastic filled tortilla. Spread the bottom of your tortilla with your favourite chutney, do lines of crispy salad like spinach, red onion, grated or finely slice carrot, cucumber or capsicum. If like me you love fresh herbs, put down a layer of fresh basil or mint. Lay a line of fritters and optionally some of your favourite vegan cheese. If you like a little hot sauce, add that too, then a little salt and pepper. Roll into a burrito then pan fry the edges until golden. For a mixed mezze adaptation also add some beetroot hummus and falafel.
Fritters are also really good on a baguette or your favourite gluten free bun. Spread dairy free spread on the bottom and top. Next tomato chilli jam or other favourite tomato based sauce, crispy lettuce, red onion and top with your fritters. Really filling and a great way to use up any leftovers.
Did you know that 50 % of all food that hits the landfill is avoidable? This means that half of what we throw away is food that has past the point of being eaten, money we have literally just thrown in the bin, and also a significant cost to the environment.
In the commercial environment it makes economic sense to reduce food waste to the minimum as this is money that can be spent on other things like staff wages, new equipment and of course profit.
Today I'm going to share some tips to help you reduce food waste and your weekly shopping bill.
1. Plan it
You are far less likely to overspend on groceries if you plan dinner and lunch ideas for the week. Get the whole family involved and ask everyone what they might like to eat this week. In our family we choose about 9 days worth of meals, as sometimes the weather may dictate what you want to eat. We then make those other items a priority the next week.
2. Freeze it.
Don't wait until something rotten and then throw it out. With meat items that are getting close to their use by date, either freeze them whole, or chop them up with vegetables and herbs for a pie filling. At a later date you can pull them out and defrost in the fridge over night for a fast meal. If you are not going to eat it all at once divide into containers and date.
3. Blend it.
My favourite way of using left over vegetables at home is to make a soup. Chop up an onion and sweat it off. Add the leftover veggies, (this works with left over roasties too), and simmer in stock. Add some spices, herbs and/ or nuts for a nutritious soup. When the veggies are cooked through, cool down then blend. This is also a great way to hide stuff veggies from the kids! You can also use up those bits of veg like the ends of broccoli that would otherwise be thrown away.
4. Roast it.
Roasting is a great way of using up tired old veg, and you can roast more than you think. Parsnips, Brussel sprouts, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli are all delicious roasted, then added to some leaves and nuts or seeds for a nutritious salad. If you are skipping the dressing, a squeeze of lemon is just beautiful.
5. Get saucy.
We repurpose lots of tired old fruit, veg and herbs by making our own sauces, chutneys and pestos. Soft tomatoes add a beautiful freshness to a tomato sauce. Fruit that is past its eating best and a little soft can be beautiful when made into a compote.
6. Pickle it.
Instead of buying expensive pickles from the supermarket, invest in some simple ingredients and make your own. Places like pinterest have an absolute ton of recipes to try.
7. Batch cook it.
The easiest way to make sure you use everything up is to make a big batch of something. Tomato sauces, cottage pie, pasties, applesauce, and muffins can all be frozen for a future date. At home I will often make double the amount of mashed potato for dinner, then use it to make shepherds pie the next day.
8. Wrap it.
Our favourite thing for lunch in the Sugar Sisters kitchen is to use up all of the leftovers from lunch service in a wrap. There is always a sauce and vegetables., sometimes some protein. The rule is just leftovers, in any weird combination. Some of our best flavour ideas have originated this way.
9. Bake it.
Homemade muffins using leftover fruit, crumbles, granola bars and pies are much nicer than the supermarket versions and healthier for you. as you can moderate what goes in. In the age of convenience we often forget that baking and cooking are important life skills.
10. Eat it.
Savour and appreciate every mouthful. Taste it, enjoy it and use it all!
We get asked this question a lot! This is the first in the series of how things work behind the scenes. Being a cake decorator is a wonderful career. Its creative, fun, and very satisfying to be able to make something really beautiful. Nothing compares to the look of wonder on a small child's face when they see the cake you have made for them. It's also very stressful. Working to deadlines, regular late nights and long hours, and the anxiety of ruining someone's special day if something goes wrong.
1. Commercial kitchen costs
Making food for sale is an expensive business. We have rent, power, telephone bills, internet, pest control, contents and liability insurance, accountants fees, bank fees, vehicle costs, health licenses, equipment to buy and maintain, to name a few. This is before we even purchase a single ingredient and sell anything.
2. Food costs
Buy in bulk and you get things cheaper right? Not necessarily. The wholesale cost of items is often more expensive than the prices you pay in a supermarket. Supermarkets buy everything by the truckload and can discount as its spread across all of the stores. This may not be as easy for the farm who supplies your eggs, or the fruit and veggie supplier who provides your carrots and lemons.
To make your cake taste really beautiful we also buy really high quality ingredients. Good quality butter, free range eggs, real vanilla extract with seeds, and high quality chocolate are not cheap. Can you taste the difference? We think so. The difference between a packet mix and the real thing is like trading your 10 year old car for the top of the range new model.
In professional kitchens we spend a lot of time cleaning. I mean, a lot. Cleaning ovens, mixers, sinks, worktops, sweeping, mopping floors, and washing dishes. All of this can take around a third of your day. That third of your day not making cakes still has to be accounted and paid for. With minimum wage on the rise, many kitchens do not have the luxury of a kitchen hand to do dishes for them.
Like fashion, the style of cakes and trends change. Along with that are the tools to go with it. If you are wanting something different or sophisticated we may need to buy in tools to do the job. Impression mats, air guns, etc are all neat tools that make a massive difference to the final finish of your cake. They also cost a truckload of money.
In addition to the tools, there are the foundations that keep your cake supported. There are cake boards. The boards to support each tier and a cake board underneath. Ribbons to edge the boards, and supports between tiers to stop our creations combusting before they get to the party. There is also grip mat to stop your cake flying.
For finishing your cake there can be a decent amount of fondant, flowers, toppers, edible gold leaf, and all the other bits and pieces that make your cake gorgeous, and expensive.
Time is the enemy of every cake maker. Underestimate your time and it can cost you far more to make a cake than you have charged your customer. For a three tier cake we can spend a day of labour before we even start on decoration. That time is taken up by baking, weighing out ingredients. making buttercream & ganache, assembling the layers, smoothing the outsides of each layer and stacking cakes. Angles need to be straight and level, and everything set up at the correct temperature.
7. The tax man
15% of what we charge you goes straight to IRD as GST. If we make profit on your cake, we pay tax on that too.
Your cake maker is skilled in their craft and often it has taken many years of experience and culinary school to get to the level where they can sell a cake. As such labour costs need to be charged at a level where they can work for more than minimum wage. Many cake makers work alone and absorb all of the costs we have already talked about. By this point their real wage is more likely to be comparable to a sweat shop, or worse, nothing at all.
The necessary evil of every job these days. Taking telephone calls, photographing work, updating a website, sending invoices and generating quotes. They all take time, which costs money.
How can you help to keep costs down?
A good start is to decide how much you realistically you are prepared to spend. We cannot make a cake like either of these above for $100 or anywhere near. It is good to share what this budget is from the outset, so that your cake maker can work on the best option for you.
Also helpful for us to know is how many people need to eat the cake, any special diets and the flavour you want. A picture says a thousand words and can also help us to work out a cost for you. But do not send us 10 cake pictures and ask us to quote each. Choose either a design, or a budget you want to work with and we can take it from there.
Operation Sugar is a New Zealand Non Profit Organisation that provides free Custom made Celebration Cakes to children who are impacted by critical illness and require frequent hospitalisation. The organisation was founded in 2012 by Mum Rachel Jenkinson and is based on similar organisations across the world. The original concept started in America with Icing Smiles. The idea is simple: Rachel matches volunteer bakers to families in their area. The baker designs a cake based a simple idea from the family.
We registered as Bakers around 18 months ago and we were excited to receive our first assignment. The concept behind this is very special to me as my own journey as a professional baker started with gifting birthday cakes so that my son with a special diet wouldn't miss out on getting some cake.
Here is the cake we designed for a Special girl on her 9th Birthday with a love of the gym. Seeing the smile on your face when the cake was delivered was the best feeling in the world and something we can't wait to do again in the future. For more information on Operation Sugar and their incredible work go to www.operationsugar.org.nz
.Congratulation to Shalvi, Sugar Sisters Trainee Pastry Chef for being awarded a Silver Medal at the National Hospitality Championships. She represented Sugar Sisters at the NZChefs 2016 National Salon, at the Auckland Food Show on the 27th July 2016
Shalvi competed in the Live Dessert Challenge in the Trainee Category. Competitors had just 60 minutes to produce four identical desserts featuring fruit. They were judged on the standard and quality of their food, and the efficient use of energy in creating the dish. We loved Shalvi's recipe so much we thought we would share it with you.
Spiced Apple Streusel with Blackcurrant Mascarpone Cream, Blackcurrant Coulis & Apple Crisps
Granny Smith Apples 350gm
Cinnamon Stick 1
Star Anise 1
Ground ginger 1 tsp
Caster Sugar 35gm
Water 2.5 tsp
1. Dice apples; Put them into a pan along with cinnamon, star anise, ginger, cloves, caster sugar and water.
2. Cover the pot, bring it to boil and then down to simmer.
3. Cook for 5 minutes until water has evaporated. Add more water if the mix is dry to prevent caramelisation of apples. Cook apples to just tender.
4. Let it cool in a colander to sieve out excess water. Place in a ring or rectangular mould.
Standard Flour 25gm
Brown Sugar 20gm
Ground Cinnamon ½ tsp
Rolled Oats 20gm
Whole Almonds 20gm
Ground Ginger ½ tsp
1. Melt butter.
2. Chop Almonds and mix all the dry ingredients.
3. Add melted butter to dry ingredients and mix.
4. Bake at 170C in a lined baking tray for 6-8 minutes until golden.
The streusel can either be baked on top of the apples or deconstructed and served cold like Shalvi. Both are delicious!
Frozen Blackcurrants 300gm
Water 140 ml
Caster sugar 75 gm
Lemon juice (optional) 2 tsp
1. Cook blackcurrants water and caster sugar together until berries release their juices.
2. Let it cool and mix in blender until smooth.
3. Pass through sieve and reduce in saucepan if required to achieve the correct consistency. 4. Add more sugar or lemon juice to taste.
Mascarpone cream 80gm
Blackcurrant coulis 50 gm
Vanilla 1/2 tsp
Smoothen the mascarpone and whip cream with black currant coulis until firm. Adjust sweetness with icing sugar if needed.
Make it Dairy Free & Vegan:
Make it Gluten Free:
Make it Nut Free:
Who can resist this season's lovely feijoa's, especially when baked into muffins! Feijoa are have a short season for a few short months in New Zealand are rich in Vitamin C. They also contain folic acid, magnesium and potassium, making them great for a vegan diet.
This little green fruit pairs well with apple and is really popular in a hot crumble dish. When I first arrived from the UK I found this little fruit intriguing. The flavour reminds me a little of bubblegum, and I hadn't tasted a fruit quite like this before. You can eat them like a kiwifruit using a spoon to scoop out the flesh, or slice them up to throw in your crumble dish.
This recipe is naturally egg free. You can make this recipe vegan, or substitute the dairy free spread and milk for regular milk and butter if you prefer. When Feijoas are out of season, you can substitute other fruits like apples or pears, or mix with berries for a flavour sensation.
Makes 8 regular size muffins. They are best eaten on the day of making, but freeze well and okay for a few days in a sealed box at room temperature. Print a PDF of this recipe below.
Meeting a new oven is like meeting a new partner. You don't know their personality. They can surprise, amaze and disappoint you. You are about to enter into the unknown and anything can happen.
Oven's of course are not human. But I do wonder if they have a little personality sitting inside just waiting to burst it's way into your baking. Yesterday we encountered our new kitchens' oven demons for the first time.
We made fifty bread rolls sitting waiting patiently to be cooked. Over the last few hours they have been kneaded into submission, proofed, prodded and rounded. They are now waiting for their final encounter - a hot blast in the oven.
We found some lovely big trays left by previous occupants; perfect size for the larger of our two ovens, or so we thought. Oven heated, water bath sorted, we fling open the doors and throw our trays in as fast as possible. "Shut the doors", I shriek. But we cannot shut the doors as the trays are too big for the oven. "Take them out", I cry.
Okay, so not disaster. We transfer to smaller trays, let the oven reheat again and go for gold. Take two. Trays in, so far so good. Ten minutes pass and I peer in expectantly. Peering back are bread rolls paler than my freckled face.
Instead of feeling a rush of hot air I am met with a gentle autumn breeze. The pilot has gone out. The oven is a 100C instead of 220C. We frantically relight the pilot and try again. We leave the rolls in as we are worried they will deflate like balloons. By some miracle after fifteen or twenty minutes they look okay.
Take three. Tray number two. Same thing happens. We dash the rolls over to our smaller oven which is electric and powerful. We end up with flat dark brown discs as we have had to transfer to even smaller trays in the oven spring stage of cooking.
Take three and we get our break. The pilots stay on and we get two trays that cook okay. Not my finest work or website worthy but they are okay.
The oven demons did not defeat me. Today.
Share your own kitchen nightmare and be in to win a cake this Easter Holidays. Wellington & Hutt Valley Residents only. Vegan and gluten free options available.
If you are hitting the kitchen this weekend here are a few tips from Sugar Sisters to help you wow your friends and family.
1. Be precise
Digital scales give you better precision than cups. If you do prefer to work with cups fill the cup rather than scoop with it, then level it off at the top to get a more even result each time.
2. Precision part 2
Whether you are making biscuits or bread rolls, get your scales out again and weigh each one. Not only will they be all the same size, but will also cook more evenly in the oven.
3. Don't be heavy on your metal
Non stick baking pans require gentle care to keep them non stick. Never use a knife to cut slices in a pan. Use baking paper and lift the whole thing out onto your chopping board. When it hits the sink keep your steelo or scourer away. Soak the pan and everything will lift off.
4. Think like a toddler
Silicone baby spoons are perfect for helping to lift muffins and tarts out of your pans without scratching them.
5. Follow the recipe!
The first time you attempt a new recipe follow the instructions to the letter. There is a better chance that if something goes wrong it was the recipe rather than you not you failing to follow it.
6. Then don't follow the recipe
Once you have made something a few times it's time to start playing and tweaking to make the recipe perfect for you. Pick one element at a time to change.
7. Supersize me
To get café style muffins you really do have to fill the cups to the point where they are almost the same size as you want them to look cooked.
8. Get to know your oven
Like people, ovens have their own personality and traits. The commercial ovens in our work kitchen need a very different approach to my lovely SMEG at home.
9. Keep the door shut
Yes, I know you have heard this one before but keep the door shut and close it as fast as possible when checking what's baking. Letting the temperature drop is a great way of sinking a cake if you open it at the crucial rising time.
10. Keep practicing
Pastry chefs and commercial bakers produce amazing baking by making the same thing over and over and over again.
Thanks for reading. Do you have a top tip you would like to share? Sugar Sisters would love to hear from you.