Author & Editor: Megan Ritz
DESIGNING A CAKE FOR A PHOTOSHOOT
To be able to do an uninhibited, unedited version of an inspired idea is the dream of any artist. We love joining Photoshoots despite the extensive time commitment to design & decorate a cake. These projects are worth it for us to get to partner with awesome vendors and for the opportunity to stretch our creative comfort zone. Photoshoots give us this opportunity. It’s not often we get to design and create a cake without having to take the customer’s preferences, budget & servings into account. For a photoshoot, there is a lot we consider, but it really comes down to our creative expression.
There are a lot of elements to consider when we design a cake for a shoot and we take this design process very seriously; brainstorming as a group to help fine tune every element. If you’ve ever been curious about what the behind the scenes looks like, or interested yourself in creating cakes for professional photoshoots, the process goes a little like this…
A photographer or coordinator will reach out to us asking us to partner with them for their project. This steer skull wedding cake, for example, was designed for a photoshoot at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Jenny Mundy Photography (IG @jennymundyphoto) reached out to us with the idea to do a desert styled photo shoot & sent us her inspiration board.
I asked a few key questions to get an idea about her vision and what she would need from us. Checked our schedule to make sure we could fit in it. Talked to our Cake Artists and measured their excitement. If they are feeling inspired, I will do everything I can to make it possible for us to join the project.
Once we decide to join a project, we start brainstorming ideas. We research techniques, find inspiration online and draw sketches to help pull our ideas together and ensure we have a finished, balanced look. Sometimes inspiration strikes and we have a complete, flushed out idea. Sometimes we have half a cake and need to harness the collective genius of our team to pull it all together. Other times we have 10 ideas for the same shoot and can’t decide! Regardless of what we have, we share it with each other. We offer critiques, suggestions, and encouragement.
This process of brainstorming as a group not only gives us confidence, but it gives us more creative, fully-developed ideas.
As the Owner, part of my job during this process is to ensure we keep all the ‘other stuff’ in mind. Some of the questions I ask myself: Do we have the resources we need for this project? What is the price point if a customer wanted to order it? How will it look with the other cakes in our showroom? Does this fit what is expected from the Photoshoot? Is it original? Is it practical for our timeframe? Does this give the decorator an opportunity to stretch themselves, creatively?
As Cake Artists, the brainstorming process is far more complicated. Just a few of the questions they ask when critiquing designs: Does it look finished? Is it balanced? Does it make my eyes tired? How do the colors look? Is it complete? Are there any uncomfortable or distracting elements? What draws my eye? Is there a better technique for any element? Do I love it?
Once we’ve brainstormed & helped the designer pull their idea together. They make a final sketch. This is when we all marvel in anticipation of seeing the finished project.
Making a cake for a photoshoot is different than making a cake for a customer. Photoshoot cakes are designed to last on display for years. Here’s how…
MAKING THE CAKE FOR A PHOTOSHOOT
Making a cake for a photoshoot is different than making a cake for a customer. When you spend hours on a project, you want it to stick around. The goal for a photoshoot cake is to keep it on display in our bridal showroom afterwards. We keep these cakes on display for a year, sometimes several years, before they get destroyed from curious fingers and discolored from sunlight.
So how do you make a cake that lasts for several years?
There are several changes that must be made in the products we use to create a display cake. Anything we make has to be possible out of cake and it has to look exactly the same as it would if it was real cake.
The cake part is Styrofoam. This is simple, we can order any size tier in Styrofoam online and it will last forever. While this is the perfect substitute there are some differences that create a bit of a learning curve for doing a display cake. Icing a Styrofoam tier is awkward. They are so light that they want to move all over the place, unlike a tier of real cake. To counteract this, we ice it with one hand on top, holding the tier in place. Awkward for someone with years of muscle memory but easy to do.
ICING A DISPLAY CAKE
The other major difference with a Styrofoam tier is when we cover the tier. If we iced the tiers in buttercream, we would not be able to keep the display cake in our showroom. To fake it we use royal icing, which dries hard and can last seemingly forever, if kept away from heat and humidity. We add a little bit of coloring to the royal icing to tint it to look like our buttercream, which is off white because we use real butter. Getting the right consistency is a little tricky, it needs to be soft enough to be smooth but stiff enough, so it doesn’t ooze down the sides of the cake as it’s drying. We leave the tiers to dry overnight before doing anything with them. Any imperfections can be sanded smooth with sandpaper, if needed.
COVERING A DISPLAY IN FONDANT
If we are covering the cake in fondant however, we do things a little differently. Fondant does well in the showroom, so we can use our in-house fondant. When we cover a real cake in fondant, we first ice it in buttercream. The fondant sticks to the buttercream, so we need to put something on the Styrofoam for the fondant to stick to before covering it. Otherwise it would be like draping a cloth over a table, unstable and lacking those perfect clean lines we love from fondant covered cakes. We’ve tried several different methods to substitute the buttercream.
Piping gel works well but slides when you’re working with it and is very messy.
Royal icing works well but is unnecessarily time consuming and messy to make the icing and then ice the tiers.
Shortening is the best choice. It requires no prep and it is very quick to simply smear the tiers with it. The fondant sticks to it well and holds its structure perfectly.
DECORATING A DUMMY
Now that we have the tiers iced or covered in fondant, we can stack the cake.
With this faux cake, or dummy cake, we don’t have to put the support in the tiers. The Styrofoam can support the weight of the tier above it, unlike real cake. We just need to secure the tiers to each other. For this we use royal icing, as a glue.
For design elements, we have unlimited options, but if we look at the steer head skull cake again, we can see the unique elements and products used.
The macramé is tediously hand piped in royal icing.
The wood grain is rolled & molded in fondant.
Flowers have been hand-molded from gumpaste.
Skull is sculpted with a combination of fondant and gumpaste.
There are lots of different techniques and tricks to creating a display cake. Whether you are researching for your own showroom, fine tuning your competition skills or just curious I hope you found what you were looking for. We would be happy to answer any further questions you may have, drop them in the comment section below!