Just caramel.

Trends come and go, but caramel should ALWAYS be salted.

I was trained to always add salt, preferably fleur de sel, to caramel.  It tastes so much better.  Keep in mind your goal is to enhance the flavor, not to taste salt.  I think this is where many get this trendy flavor wrong.

Here’s a recipe for caramel suitable to flavor your favorite swiss buttercream. It can be turned into a sauce by using double the cream.


4 cups sugar

2 cups water

2 cups heavy cream

1 tsp salt, preferably fleur de sel

2 tsp vanilla extract


Heat the cream to near boiling and set aside.

Add water to a heavy bottom 3 qt saucepan, then add the sugar.  Bring to a boil over high heat, and boil the mixture until a deep mahogany color.  If the sugar is too light, the caramel will be sweet and insipid.  Allow the mixture to get too dark or smoke and the resulting caramel will be bitter and acrid.


Once the mixture is a deep mahogany color, remove from heat and carefully, SLOWLY add the cream.  The mixture will bubble furiously, don’t panic.  Continue to add the cream in a steady stream, pausing if necessary.  Allow the mixture to settle down and then add the salt.  Return the pot to medium heat and briefly  boil the mixture while stirring.  This will dissolve any hardened sugar bits.


Allow to cool a bit and add the extract.  You are done.


Transfer to a container and store refrigerated.  This is a very thick caramel which when rewarmed a bit in a microwave is suitable to flavor  buttercream.  A thinner consistency can be achieved by using more cream during preparation.



Enough with the styrofoam.

Imagine two cakes.

Cake 1 is carefully decorated with sugar roses, hand-painted ivy, orchids, hydrangea, button mums, tree peonies, freesia and sweet pea, totaling roughly 30 hours to create, assemble and color. 75 servings of cake are then baked, filled and finished with buttercream before being coated with fondant, decorated with hand-cut lattice and swags, and artfully combined with the hand-made sugar flowers.

Cake 2 looks identical to Cake 1 except instead of cake, the inside of Cake 2 is styrofoam. Often called a “display” cake, this option is commonly believed to save you money.

But consider this…

Cake 2—the styro-cake—is decorated identically to Cake 1, complete with sugar roses, hand-painted ivy, etc. The decoration for the styro-cake requires the same 30 hours to create, assemble and color. The styrofoam, purchased for an additional cost, is coated with the same amount of fondant, lattice and swags as Cake 1.

However, remember Cake 2 is styrofoam. Serving guests styrofoam is generally frowned upon. As an extra step, you need “back-up” sheet cakes to serve your 75 hungry guests. These cakes are filled and finished with buttercream (as they should be).

I’m left to wonder, which ordering option should cost more? Put another way, why would the assumption be made that Cake 2—a styro-display cake and “backups”—would cost less than Cake 1 when it requires MORE work to produce?

I’ve chosen an extreme example to illustrate a larger point about saving money when ordering an artisanal quality cake. You want your wedding day to be everything you’ve ever dreamed of, but there are certainly other ways to save if you’re on a budget. For example, do you really need the dessert service offered by your venue in addition to your cake? A quality cake in a favorite flavor is really all the dessert you need. Also, less elaborate designs will cost less overall.

Whatever cake design you choose, please, skip the styrofoam.



A look back…

I’m often asked if I have a favorite cake.  Many designers and creative types will tell you their favorite project is the one they are currently producing.  After all, it’s hard not to see these projects like your kids and who can pick their favorite child?  BUT, if I had to pick a favorite cake from all of 2011, it would be the tilted cake with fresh flowers (yes, fresh flowers) shown below made in April of last year.

If you know me or my business, you know I enjoy making all of our flowers from sugar, and the flowers for this cake could have been sugar. I rarely, if ever, add fresh flowers to a cake.  The bride was the soon to be sister in law of a friend and colleague who was her florist, so I couldn’t say no, right?

The sole condition for using fresh flowers on the cake was to make something wild… the bride was game.

Many cakers make tilted cakes, and they present their own set of challenges, however the difference here was we needed to use Oasis floral foam between the tiers to keep the flowers from wilting.  This was not easily accomplished, but I think the result is spectacular. I’m proud of this cake not only for the design, but for the challenge of its construction, which I have not seen with fresh flowers.

This special wedding was held in a rustic barn (see the concrete block walls?)  The flowers for the cake, tables and flatbed truck were provided and arranged by Laura from Savannah’s Garden.

PS The groom went into the woods to cut a base for the cake… this is actually the second base he cut… the first one had split!


I was there when…

Nature’s infinite variety can vex even the most skilled sugar crafter. Or so you would think. Does this real peony look like it could be made in sugar? Do you know where this is headed?

I recently had the luck to learn a variety of sugar flowers from the best in the business, Ron Ben- Israel of Ron Ben- Israel Cakes www.weddingcakes.com.

The class learned a variety of flowers and coloring techniques.

Ron provided real Amnesia roses for the class to inspect before teaching us his rightly famous sugar spiral rose.

Ron is a patient teacher and inspiration to anyone who knows the term “sugar paste”.  So it was a special treat to see the creation of a sugar “feathered peony”.  It’s unknown if anyone has previously attempted this delicate flower in sugar.  Who would try?  While the plethora of individual sugar pieces for this peony variety were created in plain sight by Ron over the course of the class, this sugar beauty magically appeared on the last day to everyone’s amazement.  Wow!  I can’t wait to see one pop up on one of his creations.  I was there when…


Shake it, baby.

We love making tilted cakes.  They’re  so unexpected and hip.  The hand painted  black and white zebra stripes and acid green ruffles make an outrageous design that looks like it could dance right off the table.  Originally conceived as a Sweet 16 cake, this would be great for any milestone birthday or even a wedding. If you are bold.


Emily and George: June 12, 2010

Rhinestone studded monograms are beautiful and can complement a number of styles. However,  I always want the cake to present as a complete package, so I  was  delighted to make a monogram to match this modern cake.  The pattern was copied from the beautiful invitation and recreated as fondant appliqué.  The bride and groom’s initials were created in red gumpaste  to match the cake design. A rhinestone monogram would have been out of place.

Thank you Emily and George!  This was fun to make!

emily and george cake

george and emily cake