Wednesday, 12 February 2014

What is a cake worth to you?


Just recently I have had several conversations about the cost of  my cakes. Now this isn't a rant about the price of cakes or how much work I put into my cakes but more my observations on my experience as a cake decorator.

The first conversation occurred a few weeks ago with one of my favourite people in the world, my dear friend Gem,  we were discussing some up coming cake commisions and quotes I had been asked for. The conversation went something along these lines (I am paraphrasing a bit here!):
 Me: "I have just had a meeting about an exciting cake order, three tiers, lots of modelling, it's going to be amazing."
Gem: "Wow sounds amazing, lots of work for you though, how much will you charge for that?"
Me "It is a lot of work but it will be a good cake to do, I won't take on anything else that week so that I can give it my full attention. I haven't worked out the full price but I think around £200.
Gem: "£200 for a cake wow, that's a lot of money for a cake"
That sentence right there made me kind of stop and think "whoa, what do you mean £200 for a cake?" This £200 cake will be 24hrs of my time without the material costs taken off! Once the indignation died down and I thought some more I started to think "If Gem, who knows how much time I spend on my creations can think this, what hope do bespoke cake makers have in persuading their customers that £200 is a fair price for a large occasion cake." (I should add here that after chatting to Gem she now understands £200 for a large occasion cake!)

On the internet you will find lots of blog posts and articles by cake decorators about how much it costs to make a bespoke cake, and complaints about customers not valuing a bespoke cake. Lots and lots of cartoons and pictures about "cheap cake not being good cake and good cake not being cheap". I am not doing that and I won't break my costs down for you on my blog because it's boring and every cake maker will charge for different things according to their own costings. I feel am good value for money and my customers are always happy with the cost of their cake.  If I quote and they are not happy, I will always discuss different size or decoration options to reduce the cost to make it more suitable to their budget. I spend many hours creating the vision of the customer and although I will never get rich from this business I do love doing this job and I hope one day it will give me a sustainable business which will pay me a living wage. Which brings me to the second conversation about cake pricing and value. I haven't had many people ask for a quote and then not place an order so I suppose I have been very lucky in my first year of business.

Last weekend I recieved a picture of a 2 tier cake along with a message saying how much would you charge to make this cake? The cake in question had a detailed model on top along with lots of other decoration. I quoted £95 for this and the reply to this was "thanks but someone else will do it for £25".  I politely replied that that was a bargain and I couldn't even get all the ingredients for that price! Now I mentioned this on a online forum for cake bakers and lots of comments came flooding in ranging from "that's ridiculous" and "you are better off with out commisions like that" to "I wouldn't buy or eat a cake that cost that little".

This last statement got me thinking again, mainly about quality goods. The old adage "if it seems to good to be true it usually is"  rings more than true here.  With cake this may mean a cake decorator without food hygiene training, an uninsured cake decorator or battery hen's eggs, synthetic flavouring and cheap margarine (instead of pure unsalted butter) or even packet mix cake (shuddering as I type)! And perhaps those things don't bother some people, but I will only make cake that I will eat so for me that means locally produced free range eggs, unsalted butter, organic milk, Madagascan vanilla extract, quality 70% cocoa chocolate etcetera etcetera.

I know it sounds a bit foodie and maybe a bit snobbish but taste a cake made with synthetic vanilla flavour and then try the Madagscan vanilla extract and you will never want to taste synthetic vanilla again. Yes Madagscan vanilla costs 5 times that of the synthetic stuff, but to me it's worth every penny. Maybe that's what makes me different to those other cake makers who can make a 2 tier masterpiece for £25.  I truely love cake and will only eat the best and therefore only produce the best for you to eat too.  So far my ideals are being rewarded with repeat business and a growing reputation as a good place to get a quality cake!

Now, on the subject of  Madagascan vanilla, last week I found a new vanilla cupcake recipe from a fab website Bakehappy, which from now on will become my vanilla cupcake of choice. A lovely moist 'vanillery' cupcake, with a slight tang from the addition of natural yogurt and really quick and easy to make. I will share this lovely recipe with you all as I have been pretty poor at recipes for you all recently!

Perfectly Moist Vanilla Cupcakes

16 cupcakes

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod (optional)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup  naturalyogurt
2 tsp vanilla extract  (I use the Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste with has the seeds in so stops you having to faff with deseeding the vanilla pod!)

Vanilla buttercream frosting:
2 cups icing sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
seeds from 1 vanilla pod (optional) see note above

 1. Pre-heat oven to 175c.
 2. Sift together all the dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and salt.
 3. Cream together butter, sugar and seeds from the vanilla pod until light and fluffy. Then add in the eggs one at a time.
 4. Mix together the yogurt, milk and vanilla extract, the wet ingredients.
 5. Add in one third of the dry ingredients and then add in one half of the wet ingredients.
 6. Repeat step 5 untill all our combined. Just barely mix, until you cannot see streaks of flour in the batter.
 7. Line cupcake pans with cupcake liners, the batter will make 16 cupcakes. Fill muffin sized cupcake liners with 1/4 cup batter.
 8. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golder brown. Let the cupcakes cool to room temperature.
 9. To make the frosting, mix together butter. vanilla seeds from the pod and vanilla extract. Sift the powdered sugar and add to the butter mixture slowly. Mix until smooth. Pipe frosting into the cupcakes