Thursday, December 23, 2010

Champagne Wishes & Red Velvet Dreams

In case you have been asleep or dead the last few years, red velvet cupcakes have burst upon the scene and captured the palate and tummies of Americans everywhere.

We have had great success with our gourmet red velvet cupcakes and have received some high praise about their delectable flavor and texture.  Our first foray with these little red gems was in November when we made a few to supplement servings for our Run Your Race team shirt replica cake (read about it here). 

Little did we know that there would be literally a stampede for the 18 we had made, rather than our fondant-covered shirt cake. We started clueing in as people groaned in delight as their eyes rolled back in their heads from cupcake goodness. Also, Heather heard her sister, Mindy, wax poetic about them on a couple different occasions.

Mindy loves her Red Velvet Cupcakes!
So, we made them for Thanksgiving treats and sold quite a few -- enough so that Heather came up with the idea (via her sister of course) of making and selling them individually boxed and be-ribboned for teacher gifts at the end of the school semester.

It was a good least Heather thought so until she stood in front of the aisle of Christmas ribbon at Michaels.  For half an hour. Seriously. There were so many choices. Should we go red and gold?  Red and green? Silver? She would find three spools of one ribbon and only one of the accent ribbon she wanted. Finally after breaking out in a undecisive sweat and blocking the narrow aisle for far too long, she decided on a silver and sugar-plum purple. After all, our name is Plum Crazy Cake Company. After picking up a few more decorative do-dads, she headed for the register.

But once she got home, she realized she really had no idea of how to put it all together....not being able to tie a bow beyond the shoe lace bunny ears variety. So, she did what any resourceful business person should do: she called in for reinforcements.

Enter stage right, Suzanne Devereaux, good friend and owner of local event coordinating business, Encore Events and Party Planning. There are a couple of people we know who have "it" -- that eye for design and overall beautification. Suzanne is at the top of the list. Give her some baling wire, raffia, green moss and ribbon and we guarantee she could make something stunning in about 10 minutes!

Suzanne Devereaux -- the gal with the "magic hands"!

She's so darn photogenic!
Suzanne graciously agreed to come over and rescue Heather from the jumble of ribbon and other accoutrements on her kitchen table. And just like I said, in about 10 minutes she came up with a beautifully creative concept.

How's that for businesses helping other small businesses?
What Suzanne came up with brought to mind visions sugar plums dancing in our head. We took our business cards and cut them to create smaller tags. All the pertinent info is there and could also be used as a "gift tag" to the receipient. We were thrilled with the results. And, getting the ribbon 60% off didn't hurt either.

Then it was time to make the actual cupcakes. Heather was on the task solo since Launa had worked hard the last two weeks on other projects (remember that two projects a month maximum we try to stick to?). Things started off well. Heather bought all the ingredients she needed and packed all our bins of stuff into the kitchen and fired up the oven. Things started going sideways when she started in on the chocolate bark. She learned many things at this point:

Using a glass bowl without a handle is a bad idea. Glass gets hot in the microwave so using a hot pad glove is a good idea. Unless it's old and worn and both the glove and the bowl are slippery. This causes the bowl to slide out of the gloved hand and onto the tiled floor. Hot molten chocolate with glass shards embedded in it is very tricky to clean up. Hot molten chocolate is also sticky and is terribly difficult to get out of broom bristles. At some point, it's best to get most of it up and then let the rest harden to scrape off later.

After she learned these important lessons, she wisely decided to use a batter bowl with a handle for attempt number two and was successful!  She then moved on to making the red velvet cupcakes. If you've never baked the classic red velvet cupcake, there are a lot of steps and separate ingredients to mix to add in sequentially. Still flustered by the chocolate disaster, she forgot to add the eggs, which made the first batch look weird and taste more like a muffin -- yet surprisingly good if unsellable.

So, on to batch #2, and finally success! Another batch and a half later, and 2 1/2 batches of yummy cream cheese frosting later and the cupcakes were done. The chocolate was cooled by then and then snapped into "bark" pieces. And then it was all assembled and each cupcake was nestled into its own box for delivery.

And from the feedback we've received, they were a complete hit!

And in case we don't get back here to blog again before the clock strikes 2011, we'll raise our champagne glasses and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very, very Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Learning Curve - Part 2

So, as mentioned in Part 1 of our previous blog, The Learning Curve, on Thursday and Friday last week, we were down working on our projects for the week. While Heather worked on cake party stuff, Launa was busy creating our Mocha "Cuppa"-cakes -- an amazing idea that Launa came up with this summer when we did a trio of cakes for our good friends, The Whitfords (read about it here).

This time, we were making them for our good friends at Alphagraphics. Dean and his crew have been good friends to Plum Crazy Cake Company by providing us with our business cards and note cards for a very discounted price and in exchange for some of our treats. It was a good business move for us as we were starting up our business. And, we were hoping that they would feel the same after trying one of our Cuppa-cakes!

First off, Launa whipped up a batch of mocha cupcakes and let them cool. Then she started in on the the "candy cup" that the cupcakes would sit inside. After melting down some of the chocolate "candy melts, she filled wax-coated paper cups with the stuff to create the "cups."

Launa filling the wax paper cups with melted chocolate (aka "candy melts")
After it hardened, she peeled away the cup and pulled out the candy molded "cup."
This is what the finished product looked like...mmmm!
Then, she whipped up a batch of meringue buttercream to act as the "whipped cream" on the Cuppa-cake. We then used an edible marker and made boxes alongside of the cup and marked one a la Starbucks and then wrote the names of each employee at Alphagraphics. After inserting a piece of green sour licorice, we were ready to deliver them. 

To add to the coffee theme, we were able to use three of the serving trays from Starbucks to hold the Cuppa-cakes, which we asked for when we picked up a To-Go Box o' Coffee for the 12 employees at Alphagraphics.

There are really cupcakes in there. See the one on the left peeking through?

They seemed to really like them! 

Dean and Kamray, of Alphagraphics, ready to enjoy some Cuppa-cake!

In addition, we sold our extras to some of the teachers at Launa's son's school and they freaked out over the fact that not only was their name on the cup, they could eat it!!

So, next time you're looking for a different and fun way to serve a treat to your friends, family or employees, think of us and our divine coffee-inspired cupcakes. We promise, you'll like them a "latte." (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Learning Curve - Part 1

It's amazing to realize that we have been operating as Plum Crazy Cake Company for almost five months! Time has truly flown by and we've learned so much about decorating cakes (Heather, in general; Launa, for profit) and running a small business in Fresno.

We started off the month with our first official wedding cake order. The bride and groom wanted a "Winter/Christmas wedding" theme. So, we decided to do a simple white two-tiered buttercream cake with sugared cranberries and some additional sheet cakes with a sugared cranberry on each slice.

Sugared cranberries are yummy!

The cranberries were a big hit!

Thank you to Dave and Denise Roseno for letting us be a part of your special day!

As the month continued, we moved on to other orders. One thing we have learned over the months is to try to coordinate our cake projects on the same day(s) so that when we are using the commercial kitchen we rent, we can spread that cost out to more than one project.

Last week, we found ourselves doing just that as we worked on two different projects: Mocha "Cuppa"-cakes (Launa) and prepping for a cake party (Heather). It's so much more fun to be down at the kitchen together. It makes the time go faster and the extra hands are always helpful in keeping dishes washed and dried and saving one of us from dropping something.

As mentioned, Heather was working on getting ready for our second cake party -- a fondant cake decorating demo for an 8-year-old's birthday party. The first was a test-run of sorts for Heather's daughter, Hayden, and her 8th birthday (read about it here). So, Heather felt pretty confident about running the party with 4 girls -- especially since her first go at running a party had 12 kids from age 3 to 10 at two different stations!

The first cake party was definitely a learning experience. Heather baked two batches of yellow cake in a jelly roll pan, and then had the kids use shaped circle and square fondant cutters to cut out pieces of cake for their 3-tired creations. While a good idea in theory, it proved to be difficult for little (and big) hands to frost each tier due to the unfinished edges. Let's just say the "crumb coat" ended up being full of crumbs, rather than keeping them hidden.

So, we brainstormed a better way to make tiers for frosting that would yield finished edges. We thought about using a 3-tiered cake pan, but dismissed it as difficult for children to cover with one piece of fondant. We then discussed a 3-pan set, but didn't want to have to spend the money to purchase four sets (for the 4 kids) or take up a lot of time by buying just one set and then baking the tiers four times in a row.

We eventually decided on the Tasty-Fill set from Wilton, thinking we could bake the mini cake in the normal side and the flip them over and fill in the depression on the bottom of the cake for the top tier. Unfortunately, it ended up being too small to be a good top tier. Heather didn't figure this out until the day before the party, so she went hunting for the perfect size for the top tier -- and found it in her 1 cup metal measuring cup. So, we ended up baking the top guessed it...four different times! It worked though -- although we're thinking we'll go back to the first cake pan option and then cut the tiers apart.

After the cakes were baked and ready and the buttercream was mixed and colored, Heather worked on mixing up the fondant and coloring that. Sofia (the birthday girl) had chosen yellow cake with the colors pink, lavender and light blue for her party.

The day of the party (and the night before too), Heather packed up a tub of all the supplies she would need....silicon mat, fondant rollers, cutters, shape cut-outs, icing spreaders, etc...and put on her Plum Crazy t-shirt and headed out for the party.

Sofia's mom had everything ready and their spacious center kitchen work space make it easy. As Heather set up, Sofia was beside herself with anticipation and kept a running tally of the time when her party would start. And at long last, all four girls had arrived and we were ready to begin.

Heather all set up and ready to get the party started
The girls had a great time and ended up creating some pretty amazing cakes!

Heather helping Sofia add ribbon to her cake creation

All four girls' cake creations
Sofia's mom, Bethany, even got in there. She finished decorating the cake that Heather was demonstrating on, and did a great job.

Then it was cake eating time. Bethany stuck a candle into Sofia's cake and we were ready to sing Happy Birthday.

Sofia ready to blow out that candle and dig in!
A good time was had by all. And Heather left feeling like the girls could recreate the experience -- especially since she left some goodie bags filled with the recipes we used for each girl. And, of course, our signature super duper decorating kit for Sofia.  If you would like to book a cake party for a special person in your life (and it need not be for a child) visit here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We're Running Our Race!

So, we mentioned in our last blog that we fell behind in this week you get the joy of TWO blog posts that should bring us up to date on the state of Plum Crazy Cake Company.

We've mentioned before that we have a little problem with taking on more than we should because we dream big and then have to execute things to make it happen. We never have a problem with ideas...what we lack is enough available time.

And, so, we signed on in the late summer to provide the dessert for our running team's pasta dinner almost two weeks ago -- which was the night before the actual race on Sunday, 11/7....a half marathon of 13.1 miles.

And, yes, we were both on the team and running that 13.1. So, the last thing we should have been doing on that Thursday night was mixing up cake, fondant and buttercream and staying up until after 2 a.m. to finish the cake...but that's what we do! I think we'd both say it was gratifying work and a labor of love for our teammates, whom alongside, we have worked so hard with over the past 6 months.

So, we made a replica of our race day shirt. We did a yellow cake torted with buttercream and topped with blue fondant and white fondant lettering. We topped it off with a "finisher's" medal.
Our team name is Team Run Your Race
We think it turned out pretty amazing. Launa posted a quick snap of it on Facebook and one of our teammates commented that she didn't understand why she was posting a pic of our shirt and how did she get a medal already? She couldn't believe it was a cake. (That's what we like to hear.) We also some red velvet and carrot cupcakes for the kids...

...however, most of those were eaten by adults! We even were "official sponsors" of our running team -- and thus, got logo rights on the back of our race day shirt.

We're on the lower right hand side
(Shirt modeled by Heather's sister)
And by the way, we both ran the half-marathon that Sunday.

Heather, teammate Robin & Launa
(We ran our first half-marathon together two years ago!)
And Launa is even planning on training for a full marathon (26.2 miles) for her 30th birthday in the Spring. (Heather, who has zero aspirations of running a full marathon, will be there cheering from the sidelines.)

After our muscles stopped protesting in agony, it was back to work for two Star Wars themed cakes for our friend (and running teammate), Stephanie and her son's 9th birthday. Back in August, we asked Stephanie and her husband Peter, who own the local sign company, ProSigns, to make a decal for the back of Launa's Plum Crazy PT Cruiser. They did a beautiful job.

They graciously agreed to help us out with our new business by trading our decal for cake (which btw, is a great thing to try to do for new businesses. Just ask to swap what you do, for something else you want. It's a win-win!). So, the time had come for us to deliver and we wanted to wow the Murphy's...and especially little Tyler. So, Launa made a small R2D2 cake for Tyler's slumber party on Saturday night...

...which, reportedly, the boys loved! And then she created an Obi Wan cake with a laminated photo of Tyler's face for a larger family party on Tuesday.

Tyler's photo used with his parent's permission

And, Tyler gave his Obi Wan cake rave reviews as well!

We hope as you see the cakes we are posting here, that you realize that pretty much anything is possible to do with cake. All you need is the vision and the drive to execute something that brings so much joy (and tummy satisifaction) to others.

Next up, we are taking orders for gourmet cupcakes for Thanksgiving. (For ordering info, click here.) And after that, we have our first wedding cake, a company party cake and a cake-themed party for a sweet 8-year-old girl. Busy, busy!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Three Birthdays & A Holiday

The past month has been a whirlwind for the gals at Plum Crazy Cake Company. Between the two of us, we've had two children's birthday parties to plan (and cakes to make), one of our own birthdays to celebrate (and no, we didn't make that cake), one women's retreat to sing at, Halloween cupcakes to make and deliver to our kids' classrooms, and finally, quarterly taxes to file.

At long last we've been able to catch our breath and now we can catch you up on where we left off. The middle of October had us doing our first cake-themed party. We tried out the concept on Heather's 8-year-old daughter, Hayden. She wanted a "Cake Boss" party...which inspired the idea of doing cake parties in the first place. Heather entitled it a "Cake Diva" party and made cut-out cake invitations for a few guests...which turned into 13 kids at two different tables.

Heather whipped up several batches of buttercream frosting and mixed up several color of fondant, keeping her KitchenAid mixed, "Mabel" humming.

Each child created their own tiered cake masterpiece, covered in buttercream and topped with fondant. It was messy, but the kids enjoyed it. Hayden picked her two favorites and they each received a prize.

The birthday girl received a special "decorating kit" with tools and recipes to use in her future baking endeavors, and the party goers received a similiar "favor" bag to take home.

It ended up being fun, tasty and pretty darn cute. So much so, that we've booked our next one in a few weeks. Good thing we had more bags printed up from our friends at Pro Signs.

After Hayden's birthday, it was time to start thinking about Launa's daughter, Autumn. Her first birthday was quickly approaching and of course, Launa was plotting something spectacular...a gradually shaded buttercream 4-tiered cake, adorned with autumn candy melt leaves.

I promise...those leaves were really made out of candy and were completely edible. I think everyone at the party was a little afraid to take that first taste to make sure.

After Autumn's birthday, Heather celebrated hers....ironically with no cake in sight!  But Launa did come up with a pretty awesome birthday gift: Starbucks gift card and a decal to make "Mabel" official.

And then it was time for Halloween parties at the kids' schools. Heather went for the easy mini cupcake topped with a swirl of buttercream.

And, here's what Launa made...

...and she didn't stop at cupcakes either. She made cake pops...ghostly cake pops with sheets of fondant. October is done and November is halfway there. Be on the lookout for the next chapter of our saga featuring Star Wars cakes and a very special t-shirt cake.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vultures & Buttercream

Vultures and Buttercream aren't usually two things you would associate with each other, but this week they paired up nicely for us at Plum Crazy Cake Co.

Continuing on our busy streak from our last post about being "officially" official and doing a cake for a friend's baby shower, we followed up with our popular Minnie Mouse cake.  This one was for little Emma and featured an added "eyelet lace" border on the bottom.

Happy Birthday, Emma!
Launa had about two minutes to catch her breath after the Minnie cake before our big week last week that started on Thursday morning -- which found us both there nice and early as we prepped for our first cake decorating class and cupcakes for an event that Saturday.

The decorating class, Basics in Buttercream, had room for eight people. We filled every spot, but due some last minute cancellations, we ended up having a manageable six. But before we knew that, on Thursday morning Launa mixed and baked eight 6" round cakes and mixed up two batches of buttercream icing. As sometimes happens, we had a little mishap and two cakes didn't cook all the way through. One was salvageable to be Launa's demo cake and the other one was used for cake pops for our Saturday event with Laura Roberts' Interiors. (Waste not, want not, right?)

Meanwhile, Heather focused in on mixing up and baking the cupcakes and then preparing the buttercream icing for later that evening.

And, so, when Thursday evening rolled around, Launa took on the decorating class, while Heather stayed in the kitchen and continued working on things for Saturday's event.  She was a little distracted so she didn't think about what might happen if she had her trusty KitchenAid stand mixer, Mabel, on high speed while adding in the confectioner's sugar.

On the other hand, Launa was cool, calm and collected and she instructed the students how to make the perfect buttercream icing and then how to professionally frost their cakes.

Launa, the cake diva, at work

She followed that up with some tips on how to do simple decorations and then had the students go for it.

Helen showing off the cake she decorated for her hubby

Before dismissing the class for the night at 9 p.m., Launa gave them some parting instructions on bringing back a fully frosted cake for Saturday's follow up class.  After some quick clean-up, Launa joined Heather in the kitchen. Heather had been busy frosting each cupcake and rolling it in the crushed up Pecan Sandies cookie crumbs (with some help from "sous chef," Marina).

Anyone like Pecan Sandies cookies?
Since our client was having what they called a "Vulture Sale," we went with a western/desert theme for our cupcakes and display. So, Launa started on the process of making the candy melt cacti and vultures to stick in the top of the larger cupcakes. First, she melted down the candy melts. Then she added the right amount of color we needed.

Green and brown candy melts ready to be bagged up
and then she started piping on the appropriate color on the wax paper she overlaid on the image she chose.

Filling in the white on the vultures.
Next, we worked on making cake pops with cake crumbles and icing. We put a small stick in each of them and then stuck it on to a small cupcake. From there, Launa piped on the cactus blossoms and a purple desert flower ("plum colored" actually).  And, then it started to fall apart a little.

The kitchen space we are renting is a/c free currently, so despite the fact that it was almost midnight in October, it was close to 90 degrees in there. And, the frosting and candy melts started...well, melting. So, we had to do what cake makers don't like to do...we had to refrigerate our cupcakes. Dry cupcakes vs. melted cupcakes. It's not really a tough decision, but a bit painful.

Early Friday morning found us stumbling out of there and headed for home. After a few little things to be done later that day, we set up our display that evening along with our friends at Encore Events & Party Planning.

Heather with Suzanne Devereaux from Encore

Suzanne and Janet helped work their magic and here's how it turned out....

Our spread for the 2nd Annual Vulture Sale
We think our display turned out pretty cute. Here are some close-ups.

Our "tablescape." Hopefully a desert landscape comes to mind.

Cactus Cake Pops, Cactus Candy Melt and mini cupcakes topped with chocolate candy rocks

People tripped out on these candy rocks. They were edible and yummy, we promise!

Close up of our cactus cake pop with thorns and plum colored bloom

Later that day, Launa finished up the second part of our "Basics in Buttercream" class. We're already planning on getting a "Fun with Fondant" class on the books for January. Stay tuned in to our Facebook Events Page for dates and times.

And, so we closed out another busy week and while all that was going on, we booked a wedding cake for this month and are meeting with a client to book one for December. The crazy thing is that we are actually booked up through the end of the year. Yes, we're only doing 2 cakes per month, but that's about all we can handle right now, and we feel very blessed...albeit a bit tired!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Now It's Officially Official

So, even though we started Plum Crazy Cake Company in July and have been working like mad to get the business end up and running, and even though we've made several cakes for events, we had not yet made our first cake for profit.

Until this week.

For some reason, starting this particular cake with the knowledge that this one was the official first made us all the more focused -- and a little messy. You should have seen the kitchen -- our storage bins were spewing out the cake supplies and tools of the trade; there was  fine dusting of powdered sugar all over the floor; the smell of baking cake was in the air; and the KitchenAid mixers were whirring away making buttercream frosting at high speed.

Launa is the cake gal. Heather is the business gal. The original plan was that Launa would take on this cake solo and Heather would relax at home. Then Heather got a crazy idea -- "why not take the limited knowledge of cakery that I've received from Launa and bake a cake for my sister's 32nd birthday?  And, I can do it simultaneously!!"

So, we were both there early Friday morning getting things ready and then baking our respective cakes, and mixing up batches up fondant and coloring them. And then we came back that evening at 8:30 after the kids went to bed. Launa had some other things to do liking preparing the candy melts and mixing in the colors for some butterflies and flowers atop the cake. Heather cut out a bunch of tiger stripes for her sister's cake.

Midnight came and we were both there still. Heather finally packed it in, and did some dishes, before heading home to sleep for about 4.5 hours before meeting our running team for the Saturday's long run. Launa wouldn't leave for another 2 hours!

Saturday dawned and Launa was back early to prepare the cream cheese filling, work on the candy melts, and cover her cake with fondant. After checking in after getting back from her run, Heather packed up the 4 kiddos to help clean up the kitchen for the next group that had reserved it. (By the way, it's really hard to sweep a floor with a baby clinging to your leg.)

By 10:45 a.m., our client had arrived and we said goodbye to our first official labor of love. Knowing that it was going to our mutual friend, Erika's, baby shower made it even sweeter.

And later that afternoon, Heather took her first solo cake over to her sister's house. She enjoyed putting those tiger stripes on so much, that she made a mini cake for her parent's anniversary and put zebra stripes on that one -- creating an "Africa" feel to the celebration.

Heather's sister, Mindy was impressed.

A Tale of Two Sisters

And if you are impressed at all with what she created, then all credit goes to the fabulous Launa, who has taught Heather everything that she knows (and that's not much) about making and decorating cakes. (This is where I insert the plug for you to register for one of our cake decorating classes.) And Heather says that if she can do it, then anyone can.

Next up....a Minnie Mouse Cake fit for a princess!