While you might not land a spot on the Food Network, challenging yourself as a baker and as an artist can be extraordinarily advantageous. Venturing into the art of extreme cake design offers you the opportunity to diversify and improve your skill sets.
Many retail bakers complain about naïve and demanding customers who have Cake Boss expectations, but a supermarket budget.
“They see these cakes being done with all these things on them and assume it’s a $200 cake. And it’s really taken like $5,000 to make with all the electronics,” says Susan Carberry, owner of The Cake Cottage in Murrieta, CA.
Carberry regularly competes in extreme cake competitions. Most recently she participated in the KC CakeFest, a charity cake festival founded by Mike Elder in Kansas City, MO. Carberry submitted an extreme cake themed according to the city’s history and culture.
As many in the baking industry are aware, the cakes featured on televised competitions and reality TV shows are rarely sold at realistic prices. Until consumers are willing to pay thousands of dollars for artisanal cake designs and complicated structures, offering designs appropriate to their budget is the most practical solution.
Before marketing extreme cakes with moving parts and flashing lights, determine whether your customers are an appropriate demographic. If they are willing to pay more for appearance and novelty details, then you may be in the market for some of the nontraditional decorations associated with extreme cakes.
“I think a lot of bakeries are struggling because of the shows that are on television,” Carberry says. “People’s expectations are higher than they should be.”
If your retail store is located in an upscale area, it’s plausible that some extreme cake details could allow you to upsell some of your cake products. By making your cakes appear more unique and specialized, people may be inclined to pay more than they would for a traditional cake. This doesn’t mean you have to build a robotic cake or engineer dozens of moving parts.
Focusing on a cake’s general structure can help you add that extreme look without an extreme amount of effort. But it may require PVC piping and quite a bit of planning. “PVC piping works really well for general structure and it’s not as difficult as some mechanical and electrical engineering,” Carberry says. “The more extreme designs that have moving parts and engines require metal piping, which wouldn’t be worth it financially for general bakeries.”
There are also other simple and affordable options available for making a regular cake extreme. Adding lights to your cake can highlight the dimensions of the cake or help contribute to a theme. This addition is relatively simple and cost-effective. By strategically placing the lights in the cake, you can add a dramatic appearance to the work. For instance, the lights can be used to replicate the lights in a house or the headlights of a model car. Your projects are only limited by your creativity and willingness to try new methods.
Even with these more affordable decorative accents in mind, it’s important to approach an extreme cake project like any other retail production. First, assess the amount of time, labor and materials that have been invested in the project. These projects are only worth the effort if people are willing to pay a price that compensates you for your time and expenses. If they are willing to, then adding some of these features to your cakes could very easily be profitable for your business.