The Cake Girls of Sacramento is my new series devoted to the best female cake decorators in this city. They can turn fondant and frosting into irresistible works of art. My first interview is with Lien Sanchez of The Crazy Cake Company in Davis. The Crazy Cake Company has been rated by local brides and voted The Knot Best of Weddings 2010 Pick, as well as being voted "BEST CAKE" in the KCRA A-List competition!
I was first amazed by Lien's work at a Sacramento Philharmonic fundraiser a few years ago. Check out the making of it here. It's exquisite!
1. How did you get into the business of making/decorating cakes?
I used to be a TV junkie (now reformed due to a too-busy schedule) and watched a lot of Food Network shows. After watching too many hours of cake programming, Ace of Cakes in particular, I decided to pick up a box of fondant and make a cake for my sister-in-law's birthday. With about 5 cakes under my belt from my teenage years, I baked and decorated the cake using whatever I had in my kitchen (eg. wine bottle for a rolling pin, etc.). I made a complete mess of the kitchen but had sooo much fun, I took it up as a hobby. The hobby soon became an obsession as I tested cake recipes every week and practically invented holidays just for an excuse to make a cake. As more and more people commented that I should be making cakes for a living, I tentatively started Crazy Cake Company as a side business and now two years later, it's my full time gig and I love it!
Lien's First Cake
2. Do you have any formal training?
When I realized that I wanted to make cake decorating my career, I looked into getting formal training at a culinary school but after speaking to a few baker friends and weighing the pro's and con's, I decided that it wasn't for me. By that time, I had already studied extensively from many pastry textbooks and had taken baking classes at the local JC and felt that I had a good foundation for cakes. And as much as I would love to have a culinary degree on my resume, it wasn't necessary or practical at the time. That being said, I do love learning in a classroom setting and would welcome the opportunity later on.
3. What is a typical day like for you at your shop?
There's not so much a typical day as there is a typical week. Monday/Tuesdays are office & errand days; Baking for the week starts on Tuesday if it's busy or Wednesday if it's a mild week; Wednesday/Thursdays are for icing and any decorating prep (coloring fondant, gumpaste items that need drying, etc.); and Fridays are reserved for decorating and all the finishing touches that makes my cakes fabulous!
5. What is your favorite material to work with?
My favorite material to work with is fondant although modeling chocolate comes a very close second.
6. What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare?
Time is at such a premium these days, my favorite foods are those that have less than 10 ingredients and are quick to prepare but still have lots of flavor. Conversely, my least favorite foods to prepare are time and labor-intensive - I reserve those dishes for dinner out with friends. One exception: I don't mind spending extra time trying out a new dessert recipe :).
7. Please tell me about any cake wrecks or "bridezillas" you may have encountered. You needn't name any names. :)
I may be jinxing myself but I haven't had any bridezilla clients yet however, I have had a couple of customers whose design aesthetics don't match up with mine, which can be equally frustrating. I have a broad appreciation of most styles of design from the minimalistic to the ornate to the edgier/darker styles but regardless of the style, I always approach my cake designs with an "editing eye" (as Tim Gunn would say), meaning every decorative element placed on a cake needs to add vs. detract from the overall design. Some brides feel that the more decorative elements on a cake, the more impressive it would be when sometimes, more "stuff" just makes a cake look cluttered and too busy. Fortunately for me, in those rare cases, I was able to satisfy the bride's need for "more stuff" by adding smaller additional elements that don't compromise the cake design and by suggesting a more elaborate cake table setup. Win win for all :)
8. What is your favorite flavor combination?
I like all the cake flavors on my menu (otherwise they wouldn't be offered) but my favorite has to be my red velvet cake with cream cheese buttercream. A red velvet cake is really like no other and for that reason is a bit difficult to describe - the cake itself is moist with a fairly loose crumb and a slightly malty flavor while the cream cheese buttercream has a light cream cheese tang without being too thick or sweet like most cream cheese frostings. I love it so much, sometimes I add it to a couple's cake tasting appointment even if they haven't requested it, if I feel that they would enjoy it based on their other choices.
9. In what sort of cakes do you specialize?
I started my company and named it "Crazy Cake Company" because I love making sculpted cakes. There's just something so challenging and rewarding in making a cake that doesn't look like cake.
10. What is your "can't live without" cake decorating tool and why?
Wow, this one is tough.....if we are truly talking "live without" then it would have to be my rolling pin 'cause I can't imagine rolling out all that fondant with my bare hands or a substitute item, but if we are talking favorite tool then it would probably be my exacto knife with a #10 scalpel blade. It's the tool that is most frequently in my hands during decorating and I find that the scalpel blade puts up less resistance when cutting fondant vs. the regular #11 blade, which is probably the same reason why doctors use it on flesh.
11. What types of flavors can we find in your shop. Are customers limited to a list or will you work with them on requests?
We offer well-known flavor combos like chocolate cake with hazelnut buttercream or vanilla cake with fresh strawberries and cream but also offer some unusual combos like chocolate cake with jasmine mousse or vanilla buttermilk cake with passion fruit mousse. I do also entertain special flavor requests as long as there's enough lead time to source ingredients.
12. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
I have a lot of interests and I used to wonder if I could make a career out of any of them but sadly interests don't always translate well into long-lasting careers. For example, I love to host, decorate, and plan events and have always thought it would be fun to be an event planner. However, realistically, I know that hosting and planning a personal event is much different and than doing the same for clients. Being an event planner relies too much on other people following through on their part and being the perfectionist and slight control-freak that I am, I think it would drive me to drink, lol. Now if you were to ask me same question a few years ago, I would tell you that I'd want to be a cake designer =D.
13. What was the biggest cake you ever made? What was the event? What kind of cake/filling/decorations?
The tallest cake I made was actually for my friend, Kim's wedding. She had close to 300 people at her wedding and while that in and of itself wasn't unusual, what was unusual was that she wanted all 300 servings represented on the wedding cake (vs. having a small cake on display and sheet cakes to supplement). The cake ended up being 5 tiers and over 2 1/2 feet tall. As for flavors, she chose chocolate cake with jasmine mousse, chocolate cake with raspberry mousse, and vanilla cake with lemon mousse.
14. What would you like cakegrrl readers to know about your business? Why are you one of the best?
I tend to get a lot of referrals from past clients and I believe it's because ordering a cake from me is an great overall experience. From the initial contact, the tasting appointment, the design phase, to the actual look and taste of the final product, I aim to exceed expectations. And while some cakeries are content to recycle the same tired cake designs found in their portfolios, I revel in trying new techniques, designs, shapes, and textures that give my cakes that extra wow factor. The below cake, for example, features edible Monarch butterflies made from gelatin, a fairly new technique in the cake world.
15. On average, how many cakes do you make per week?
For quality control, I only accept 3- 4 cake orders per week depending on the size and complexity of each project. During busy wedding season, I average about 3 cakes a week.
16. Is your business strictly made to order or can people buy something from you the same day?
All of our cakes are made to order and baked fresh each week so a same day cake order would be a stretch, however when schedule permits, I will take an order with 3-4 days notice.
17. In your opinion, Is it all about the cake or all about the frosting?
I can eat cake without frosting but I can't eat frosting without cake so by default, cake wins the battle but seriously, they both need to compliment each other to be good eats.
18. When making special projects, what is your opinion about using non-edible materials to make cakes (styrofoam, PVC pipe, etc), or things that aren't cake to support the cake?
I was asked to make a 2 ft human figure recently (a midget stripper to be specific) and although it was a super-fun project, it did pain me that I was only able to put cake in a small portion of the figure (the chest/body) since the rest of the body parts were small or had to be made with rice krispy treats to be structurally sound - while rice krispy treats are edible, it's just not cake. When complex projects like that come along, non-cake structural items are a necessary evil, but I do put cake in as many places as I can and use other edible alternatives like rice krispy treats and modeling chocolate before resulting to inedible supports like styrofoam. And in those cases, I make sure the client is ok with the amount of non-cake items used, otherwise we alter the design to allow for more cake.
19. Have you ever won any types of awards? Please take the time to show off and let me know how you have been recognized.
I'm sure you don't care about awards won in my previous career so cakewise, I've recently been honored with The Knot's "Best of Weddings" award for 2010 and #1 spot on KCRA's A-list for "Best Cake" for 2010. Being fairly new to the industry, both of these awards mean a lot to me because they're the equivalent of the people's choice award and that tells me I'm on the right track.
20. Please tell me about the project or cake in which you took the most pride.
It definitely is the Star Wars AT-AT walker that I made for my husband's surprise birthday last December. The amount of research and planning that went into that cake was unbelievable, especially since I was determined to make it exactly to scale with every detail. You can read more about it on my blog post but it came out great and had my husband even shed a few tears over it (ok, not really but he really loved it).
You can "like" the Crazy Cake Company on Facebook here. Check out more of Lien's fantastic work here.
For more information or to make an appointment with the Crazy Cake Company, call (916) 849-9794.