IN ORDER TO CALL YOURSELF A CAKE DESIGNER, YOU MUST BE TWO THINGS:
A BAKER – AND AN ARTIST.
Written by Kristen Wagner :: Photos by Royce Sihlis
“My philosophy is that cakes can’t just look good – they need to taste good too,” says Anna Craig of Sweet On You Designer Cups and Cakes. “Usually for weddings, people are really focused on what the cake looks like, but I think the most important part is what it tastes like. No one’s going to care what it looks like if at the end of the day it tastes like cardboard.”
A cake that tastes as good as it looks is the result of hours of work in the kitchen and at the drawing board. Sweet On You offers eight distinct cake flavours and more than twice that many icing flavours, and each recipe is the product of extensive research, trial and error. Anna looks for recipes that are moist and hold up when decorated; she also strives to find recipes that bake well as both cakes and cupcakes.
The science behind baking appeals to Anna’s technical and scientific way of thinking, but the design element is where she really gets to have fun. “I think that’s why cake decorating appealed to me. It was a good artistic release,” she says. “I’ve never done anything artistic in my life until I started baking cakes.”
Anna’s passion for cakes dates back a few years to her daughter’s first birthday, an occasion that demands a celebratory cake. “My mom always baked cakes for me,” she says, “so I thought it would be special if I made a cake for [my daughter].”
That creation proved that the only direction left to go was up. “It was the worst cake ever,” Anna laughs.
But with a little outside training, this hidden talent quickly gained traction, and Anna began providing cakes for a variety of functions, including birthdays, showers, non-profit events and weddings—anywhere a dessert is required to be both stunning and delicious.
She’s not limited to cakes, either. Wedding orders range from a single styrofoam cake for the picture, all the way up to a multi-tiered wedding cake, cupcakes for each guest and cake pops for wedding favours.
All those options mean more decisions for a stressed-out bride. “Some people know exactly what they want right from the start—they give you the date and how many tiers they want and the flavour and the whole deal—and other people don’t have a clue what they want,” says Anna.
Those orders demand an ongoing dialogue to determine the number of guests, cake or cupcakes, delivery requirements and budget. “It’s a lot of back and forth to make sure I understand exactly what they want, and they understand what they’ll be getting.”
But of course the best-laid plans—and the most skillfully-decorated cakes—can still go awry. For those days, Anna has an arsenal of useful tools to ensure a cake looks bakery-fresh right up to the moment it’s cut. When she delivers a cake, she makes sure she’s prepared by bringing a collection of tools for cake repair: extra icing, a piping bag and tip, paper towels, spoons, toothpicks and vodka—not for frazzled nerves, but for cleaning marks off fondant.
With all the effort that goes into ensuring a cake looks right, tastes right and arrives at its destination in pristine condition, positive feedback is appreciated. Anna says customer reactions are often the best part of her job. “It’s nice when a bride or birthday girl or someone calls or sends an email after, saying that the order was perfect and everyone loved it, and it made the day and was delicious, there were no leftovers,” she says.
Recognition from peers in the cake design world is welcome, too. In 2012, Anna was asked to contribute a photo of a cake to Cake Central, an international online cake magazine. She eagerly accepted, set to work brainstorming ideas to accommodate the “less is more” theme, and solicited Barnett Photography to take photos of her masterpiece. In the end, she was surprised and honoured to see her cake grace the cover of the magazine. “It was really cool and fun, and one of those things that you think is only going to happen once in your life,” she says.
Anna’s business is built on once-in-a-lifetime moments, but she has learned not to cling too tightly to that perfect completed cake. She is often asked if it’s hard to watch a single knife stroke to cut through hours of work, but she says she’s at peace with it. “Cut away, eat away,” she says.
“That’s what pictures are for. To remember what it looked like and document that I did it. Cake is meant to be eaten.”