Three Vancouver-area cake decorating experts offer their advice for making custom cakes at home—including cake decorating ideas, cake decorating supplies and cake decorating classes
Weddings, birthdays, baby showers and anniversaries simply aren’t the same without a decorated cake to mark the day. Lucky for us, Vancouver is home to a growing number of custom cake designers and bakers—experts in the art of cake decoration. Their talents in fondant decorating, sugarcraft and cake design elevate everyday desserts to truly memorable works of art.
Granville spoke with three independent Vancouver-area cake decorating experts about their beginnings, their inspiration and their advice to home bakers looking to try their hand at decorating cakes themselves.
Remember, the icing makes the cake!
The whimsical style of Coco Cake Boutique Cupcakes
Vancouver artist and illustrator Lyndsay Sung founded Coco Cake Boutique Cupcakes in 2008, after her grandmother gave her a pink Kitchen Aid mixer as a wedding present.
“I became obsessed with baking, then subsequently learning cake decorating techniques,” she recalls. “I taught myself everything I could from various cake books, online tutorials and online videos. I took a short class in basic cake decorating and practiced like crazy.”
Coco Cake Boutique Cupcakes is now a much sought-after Vancouver indie source for kids’ birthday cakes, wedding cakes and cupcakes, and custom cakes for special occasions.
Sung’s uniquely bright, whimsical style is evident in all her work, from fun kids’ cakes to elegant wedding cupcakes.
Vancouver artist Lyndsay Sung designed this lion cake for Lucas’s first birthday.
Jen + Ben wedding cupcakes by Vancouver’s Coco Cake Boutique Cupcakes.
“Vintage baking and cake decorating books have always been a source of inspiration, as well as Japanese or Asian styles of illustration,” Sung says.
For this cupcake design, Lyndsay Sung was inspired by Eric Carle’s
The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Sung’s essential cake decorating supplies
For cupcakes, piping bags and open star piping tips help swirl perfect cupcake tops, and colourful cupcake liners make the bottoms look as good as the frosting upstairs.
For cakes, an offset spatula for frosting and a long serrated knife for leveling are essential.
“It's amazing how a cake can go from three layers of baked cake discs that look rather plain and usually somewhat ugly—rarely do cakes come out of the oven perfect and level—to a beautiful piece of art,” Sung says. “Some frosting, a few simple piping techniques and some love will make your cake special.”
Nature-themed wedding cakes a rising trend, says Tartlets cake designer
After working as a pastry chef at Vancouver’s Sutton Place Hotel, Nina Hemmes realized a longtime ambition to work independently as a baker and cake designer when she founded North Vancouver’s Tartlets Professional Pastry and Cake Design.
Hemmes says she rarely knows what direction a cake will take until she starts decorating.
“I rarely know exactly what it’s going to be until it’s done,” she says. But there’s beauty in spontaneity, and Hemmes’s sense of elegance and play are evident in everything from her popular wedding cakes to her one-of-a-kind birthday cakes.
An intricately designed butterfly wedding cake by Ninca Hemmes.
While the bulk of Hemmes’s business comes from wedding cakes that often adhere to traditional wedding colours and designs, Tartlets’ most unexpected trend last year came in the form of nature-themed wedding cakes.
“It was a lot of West Coast forests, acorns and leaves and ferns.”
Cake decorator Nina Hemmes says nature-themed wedding cakes were
a hot trend in 2009, which is when she created this fern cake.
Hemmes’s essential cake decorating supplies
For Hemmes, the most important cake decorating tools are a good rolling pin for fondant, a smoother and a knife.
“There are a lot of other little tools that you can use to decorate afterwards, but to make the base of the cake look nice, you need to have a good rolling pin, a smoother and a good knife.”
Berliosca Cake Boutique born from a childhood dream to make cake
For Chris Hedlund, making cake for a living was a childhood dream.
“My mother recalls me saying that once a grownup, I would make wedding cakes,” she says. “I was 4 years old and I used to tell her that I would make these fancy tiered wedding cakes.”
It wasn’t until Hedlund immigrated to Canada from Brazil that she started seriously pursuing her interest in making a living by making cake.
“When I moved to Canada less than four years ago, I started making cakes for family and friends and the business grew through word-of-mouth from there. I got so many orders that I was able to turn my hobby into a career.” And so Berliosca Cake Boutique was born.
Berliosca Cake Boutique’s Brazilian-born designer Chris Hedlund created
this baby-themed cake with buggy cake topper.
“Inspiration comes from everywhere,” she says. “I often catch myself looking at objects and thinking about how I could reproduce them in cake. When I assist clients in deciding on a design, I often explore their likes and interests and hobbies that can be translated into the cake design.”
“[Wedding cakes] can be funky and fun and reflect the personalities of the
bride and groom in unique ways," says Chris Hedlund, who designed this
Chinese take-out cake evoking the couple's enjoyment of nights in,
sharing noodles from a box.
Hedlund’s essential cake decorating supplies
For beginner cake decorators, Hedlund recommends starting with the essentials.
“If I have a mixer, an oven, a rolling pin, a bench scraper and an X-Acto knife, I can do anything and everything I need,” she says.
“An absolute must-have piece of equipment for me is a bench scraper. Smoothing out the surfaces of a cake can be tough if you are not experienced, and a bench scraper makes it so much easier, especially for the sides.”
For decorating tools, Hedlund uses spatulas of assorted sizes, fondant and gumpaste cutters and art supplies.
“I have one little artist’s spatula normally used for mixing paint, but I use it all the time for so many things,” she says.
Chris Hedlund created this cake based on a client's request to model
it after Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, a children's television program. "I didn't know
anything about this children's television program when my client ordered
the cake, so I watched a couple of episodes on YouTube and got
inspired by the dragon boat episode," Hedlund says. "I’ve actually
had 12 international inquiries from people who saw this cake on
the Internet and wanted me to send just the sugar character figurines."
Cake decorating classes
For those looking to try cake decorating on their own, both Sung and Hemmes recommend taking a class.
“If that’s not in your budget, go to the library and get out some cake decorating books, and spend some time just reading and understanding the techniques,” says Coko Cake’s Sung.
“My advice would be for people to just try it. Just go for it and don’t be discouraged,” Tartlets owner Hemmes says. “The best way to learn is by doing.”
Similarly, says Berliosca Cake Boutique’s Hedlund, experimentation within the bounds of one’s skill level is key for novice cake decorators.
“Any idea or theme for a cake can be developed in different ways to fit one’s cake decorating skills.”
Nina Hemmes designed this salmon cake for a surprise 40th birthday party.
Jackie Wong is a freelance writer in Vancouver. On weekdays, she can be found working at her kitchen table, which is actually a card table, sitting on a chair she found in an alley. On weekends, she enjoys long breakfasts, bike riding, beers and wandering the city with the one she loves. Portfolio | Twitter | Flickr