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.