Tuesday, December 30, 2008


There is a tradition or a food that everyone links with a particular holiday or celebration. With my family, it's Rum Torte and Kipfels at Christmas. Recipes handed down from my grandmother Stella, they are forever linked with our celebration. So much so that, if I don't make them, I should just stay home. It's been said jokingly, but I am not going to test that theory.

The Rum Torte isn't fancy, just a rum soaked pound cake sliced very thinly and spread with even thinner layers of chocolate ganache boosted with yet more rum. There have been a couple of years where it is best not to let the kids have a slice.This cake improves with age, so I bake it a week before Christmas, allow it to sit at room temperature for a couple of days, then frost at least 3 days before we celebrate. Every year the question is asked," How many layers?" The most has been 17, this year just 14. I must be slipping. One year, when Grandma was still alive we each made one to see who was better at slicing thinly! I think she won, maybe I did, there was definitely a debate of what counted as a "layer" of cake.

Kipfels are a rustic cookie made from an unsweetened yeast dough rolled out with sugar and filled with a dollop of apple butter. My one regret is that I didn't get the apple butter recipe from Grandma before she was stricken with Alzheimer's. I do my best with a purchased product from Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. It's almost as good as hers.

This is how we remember our family members, by reproducing their recipes. Bring them, or else!

Monday, December 22, 2008


I am watching Tim Burton's version of WIllie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. As much as I can like Johnny Depp as an actor, I much prefer Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka. And the Oompah Loompah and their songs? Don't leave me humming this time around. Since I am already finding fault with this remake, where are the close ups of the candy? Not nearly enough in my opinion, and I don't feel like snacking on any of the special effects! So, are there films about food that I do like? Absolutely. My all-time favorite is Mostly Martha, a german film found in the foreign film aisle of my local video store. You have to be willing to read sub-titles, but the kitchen scenes were realistic and they made me hungry. That is a definite sign of approval in my book. I also liked Ratatouille. Now, while I appreciated the excellent technical accuracy of the culinary aspects of this animated film, I found the rats a bit too well done. Insert shudder here. My hat is off to the animators, but perhaps they could have been a little less skilled at their jobs? Hmm, I suppose not.
Since I am now humming the original Oompah Loompah song and have no interest in watching the rest of the remake, it is time to end this unsolicited film review and find myself something sweet to eat. Thanks Willie Wonka. I'm off to find the chocolate.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Time to Celebrate

There may not be as many weddings at this time of year, but everyone still loves a party, and I have a couple of favorites right now. Late in November I had the honor of creating a cake that included the patches, wings and camouflage(circa Viet Nam) for a group of Airborne vets. A military history book of the war provided the appropriate patch and wing colors/design, a hat provided the camouflage pattern. For me it is vital I have it perfect when asked to do a military cake. There is no room for error when working with insignia.

My other favorite was just this past weekend. It was a thank you holiday party for the staff of Shriner's Hospital for Children. The idea was to make it big, bright and happy for this hardworking group, and we acheived all three! It brought back memories of my grandfather. He was a shriner and my family attended lots of Shriner Christmas parties when I was a girl. I still have the photos with me on Santas lap.
Two different parties celebrating the season.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thank you....

People like to be appreciated, and a simple thank you goes a long way. A couple of weeks ago Lisa Marie of Allianz Life charged me with creating an edible note of thanks for two of her clients. I was just the messenger, but the smiles I received when I dropped of the cookie box trios was wonderful.
So now it's my turn to say thank you to Katrina of Studio Laguna Photography. She has made my two recent photo shoots enjoyable of nearly stress free. I am glad you enjoyed the treats.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Big Things, Little Packages

I had tea with Sylvia Weinstock. What a gracious lady. A huge amount of talent and experience in such a tiny package! And so beautifully presented in her book of past events. No time for photo shoots she says!

The tea reception, hosted by TCBA’s Wedding Guys, was held just prior to a larger event where she would be speaking to the local chapters of NACE and ISES. Those attending were presented with her new book- personally inscripted, had a picture taken,and could chat one-on-one or in small groups with this amazing woman as we sipped vodka-infused tea and nibbled on sandwiches and scones.

When I was assistant pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead, Sylvia was flown in with one of her masterpieces. After re-introducing myself to her at the reception and mentioning a few details, she recalled everything about the bride and the wedding as if it had just happened last week. Did I mention this was 17 years ago? What a head for details.

Time passed quickly, but she chatted with everyone, shared some favorite cakes from her book and gave freely of opinions, advice and her experience. She is practical, forthright, and will never give less than her absolute best.

Big things, little packages, the book is more than it’s cover.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Can You Keep a Secret?

Many brides surprise their groom’s with a cake, but recently I had a groom reciprocate. Jarrod called me several weeks ago to see if I would help him with a surprise birthday gift. He had asked his new bride, Farrah, what she wanted for her birthday. Her reply was that he make her a cake. Not buy one, make one.

This is where I came in. He called to ask if I would help him bake and finish a birthday cake with her favorite flowers, Stargazer Lilies. I had made them for their wedding cake (as you can see in the photograph from Greg Jansen Photography).

We had fun! For 3 days we baked cake, filled it with mousse, made gumpaste lilies and pretended that Jarrod was at the dentist with a pesky tooth problem. We sat and talked about everything while we worked. Jarrod was great, picked up the technique quickly, and he could honestly say he made her cake, all of it! I simply provided the ingredients and tools, showed him each step of the process and let him go.

Now here’s the part that I would have found the hardest. How did he keep it a secret? I would have let it slip a million times. And the dentist? I would have come up with something far more complicated and never kept it straight. I laughed every morning as we determined it would certainly take another day to fix that tooth.

It was fun for Jarrod, Farrah loved her cake, and I got to be a part of it. I love my job!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Love That Ace of Cake Guy!

I receive many phone calls from people, mostly young women, who have decided after watching Ace of Cakes that they want to be cake decorators. They ask questions and talk about how fun it seems and how should they go about starting a business. Usually friends and family have told them, “You are great at this, you should do it for a living.”

Unfortunately, I think most of these people see the romance of the idea and celebrity successes.

That is, until I quickly introduce them to the reality.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great field. I love what I do and wouldn’t do anything else. Okay, to be honest, after 27 years, I don’t think I am employable in any other field. Regardless, baking (whether working for a bakery or owning a bakery), is not a high-paying or glamorous field. You shouldn’t become a professional baker for the money, but rather do it for the passion of doing it.

Here are the facts according to my experience:

You work nights, holidays and weekends since that is when people schedule their celebrations.

Your refrigerator doesn’t ask permission to quit working. It just does. And, at the least convenient moment.

Your friends and family have to buy your cakes to help you make a living.

Equipment is expensive.

Your legs and back will not thank you for those 20 hour days. And, there are more then these kind of days than you would ever dream of.

Burns and knife scars do not make lovely fashion accessories.

Really, trust me on those last two.

I love what I do. I get to play with cake and make people happy. My job is a gift.

It’s just not a one size fits all kind of gift.