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Thursday
Jan242008

Batter Chatter: Interview with Elisa Strauss of NYC's Confetti Cakes

 

Cakespy Note: Yes, all of the photos in this feature are cakes, believe it or not!


To call Elisa Strauss a baker of cakes, though accurate, would be a vast understatement. For if cake making is an art (and we believe it is) then certainly she's a master of the medium, creating meticulously rendered and painstakingly detailed fondant trompe-l'œil confections which have won her the attentions of the likes of the Food Network, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen (photo left, disco ball cake made for "Paula's Party"), to name just a few. Between making cakes, TV appearance and a great new book (which we own and love!), it's a wonder that she even had time to chat with us, but we're oh so glad she did. Here's what we learned about the glamorous world of baking on-screen, what Martha's really like, and whether these cakes really taste good (hint: no, the cheesesteak cake is not flavored like its namesake)...

 

Cakespy: You studied fine art, but then took a little bit of a different turn and got a degree in Pastry Arts. Do you think your fine art background makes you approach Pastry arts differently? How so?
Elisa Strauss: My art background is a tremendous help when it comes to the cakes. It helps me with both color and design. Even though we make everything from scratch in the bakery, and consider taste the most important aspect of our cakes, I still look at each cake as a work of art too!

CS: When did you decide to take on cake-making as your livelihood?
ES: I had graduated pastry school and was back working in fashion full time (just making cakes on the side…very late at night) when about a year later I couldn’t keep the juggling act going anymore. I had to make a decision if I was going to go for it or not…so I went for it and opened a commercial space, bought equipment, hired employees and took it from there!

CS: You work primarily in fondant icing. Do you ever work in other frosting or icing types?
ES:We make all our fillings and frostings from scratch so we have a wide variety of flavors. From buttercreams to ganaches, citrus curds to fresh fruit, etc. We use a lot of different fillings in our cakes then frost them with a layer of buttercream that sits under the rolled fondant. The fondant gives the most elegant and professional look. You cannot achieve the detail we do with a solely buttercream frosted cake.

CS: Do specialty cakes like yours really taste good?
ES: YES!!! Absolutely. One of the most frequent compliments we receive is how AMAZING our cakes taste. People never think it is possible because our cakes look like realistic objects but they taste great. Again, we make all our cake and fillings from scratch with the highest quality and freshest ingredients we can find….we do not skimp on anything related to taste! Ever! (Photo left, Sushi Cake, credit Alexandra Rowley).

CS: You used to do cookies, petits fours and cupcakes, but have now pared down to just custom cakes. What made you decide to cut down on the other services?
ES: I LOVE doing the smaller items, i.e., cupcakes, mini cakes, cookies, etc…but as a business model it just didn’t work. I could spend all day designing one cookie I could sell for $10 instead of working on one specialty cake for $800….you see what I mean? It just didn’t make sense for the business anymore.

CS: Can you tell us a little bit more about how it feels to work in a commercial space versus, say, a cramped NYC kitchen?
ES: After working in my TINY, TINY apt kitchen for a few years I thank my lucky stars I have a commercial space…I could never go back…especially with my 20 quart Hobart mixer!

About baking on TV...

CS: Do you get nervous about baking on-screen?
Yes! I definitely get nervous….especially with LIVE television anything can happen. The last time I went on the Today Show a light fixture crashed ten seconds before we went on the air…Ann Curry saved Al Roker and my cakes form getting hit by catching the light…and then all of a sudden three seconds and we were on LIVE National TV. I would say it is more of a “butterflies in my stomach” feeling of nervousness then scared! I love doing television!

CS: What was it like to meet Martha Stewart?
ES: Wow, amazing! It is so incredible to meet people who you see all the time…but on TV. She is such an incredible business woman!

CS: About that famous Flaming Sock Monkey Cake. Did it get eaten afterward?
ES: The last challenge on the Food Network: Extreme Cakes…was amazing! Not just because we won but the entire experience was incredible…SO much time and energy went into the planning and making of that show! Unfortunately by the time we finished it was close to MIDNIGHT and after all the photos were take it was thrown out because the studio had to get set up for the next day!

CS: All of your cakes are unusual and unexpected--but have there been any that have really stood out, or been special, for you?
Well, each cake is like a child to me…I usually don’t forget any that I have EVER done! So it is hard to pick favorites…but I will say I am especially proud of a few cakes that stand out: a Victorian Mansion cake (photo left) we did for a couple’s wedding last summer. They got married at the House, and we even matched the paint chips for color! I also loved being on Paula Deen’s show, Paula’s Party (see photo above, by intro paragraph)…where we made her a disco ball cake for her disco themed party! [Also] I do love replicating food…so many of our sushi or Philly’s cheese steak cakes are fun! OK, there are a lot...but I will not go on!

CS: How often do you eat cake?
ES: Quality control is tough but someone has to do it…hee, hee! Not everyday but probably more then I should!

CS: What are some of your favorite desserts?
ES: I would definitely NOT put cake up there…..I am much more of a cookies and ice cream girl! Bread is my real downfall….but I love a good Buckeye ball or Key Lime Pie too!

CS: Have you noticed any trends, or movements, in cakes and cake making in recent years (popular flavors, themes, or anything you've seen emerging)?
ES: I love the fact that most of my clients have moved away from just a traditional cake….even in flavors. We do a ton of Red Velvet, Banana or even Coconut flavored cakes!

CS: Which part of writing your book was hardest--making the cake "patterns" or finalizing the recipes?
ES: By far the hardest things were: making all the cakes, cookies and cupcakes for one week of a photo shoot (we had to shut down doing other people’s cakes for months so we could just focus on making the projects for the books)….and then writing out STEP by STEP directions for EVERY aspect of each project! I really, really want people to be able to make everything at home so we labored over every detail, measurement, weight and direction!

CS: To you, what is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
ES: It should look and taste equally great! It also doesn’t hurt when people don’t know that our cakes are actual cakes!

CS: What makes a "bad" cake?
ES: One that doesn’t taste great.

CS: If you could go back in time and give yourself any advice while just starting your cake business, what would you say?
ES: “Don’t do it”…JUST KIDDING! Honestly, I do not know…I kind of just jumped right in, worked CONSTANTLY and I am still figuring it all out!


Want to find out more? To make an appointment in their NYC studio (they will deliver throughout the tri-state area), or find out more about Elisa and her cakes, visit confetticakes.com.

Want to buy the book? You won't regret it; it's like a cookbook and beautiful craft book all in one! The photos alone are worth the investment; it's available online here.

 

 

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Reader Comments (44)

AMAZING - I loved watching her on The Food Network!

January 24 | Unregistered Commentera.

I can't imagine the patience required...

Regarding Cafe Sweet Posie - I've never been there! I would love to check it out sometime!

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterMallow

wow such an awesome interview and what an amazingly talented lady! I can't get over the Victorian Mansion wedding cake!

January 24 | Unregistered Commentercity

That philly cheesecake is so amazing. I've seen her on Food Network Challenge… she's fantastic.

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterBakerella

Amazing! Thanks for this one! And I loved the sock monkey cake! Off to buy her book. Yipee!!

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterJen Vesper

I am completely awestruck by these cakes - talk about talent!!

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterVeggieGirl

I can vouch for the deliciousness of Elisa's cakes. She baked my wedding cake -- over three years ago -- and everyone is still raving about it!

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterAliLovesCake

a.: Yes, isn't her work amazing!? It was so fun to learn more about her!

Mallow: You said it! And oh, it will be fun! I am going to email you after I get back from an upcoming business trip / cakewalk!

City: I know! I had to do the disclaimer "this is a cake" on the top image, but they're all amazing!

Bakerella: Isn't it fun to learn more about someone you've seen on TV? I think so!

Jen: I bet you of all people would LOVE the book. It's so clearly laid out that even WE (well maybe) would be able to make the projects!

Veggiegirl: Didn't she find her exact calling? It's awesome.

Ali: How totally cool! What a lucky, lucky girl!

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

One of the things I like about pie - when they come out looking like crap, I can claim a rustic aesthetic. ;-)

I love these cakes. I can draw or paint, but anything that needs actual structure . . . *shudders*

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterKaryn

The Blackberry is really amazing - cool interview. You can see the art background in her work.

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterNiko

What a fun interview! Her cakes are too beautiful to eat.

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterParisBreakfasts

Great interview!! Those are some truly amazing cakes. Jeesh and to think I'm taking a cake decorating class and we've only learned how to make stars and seashells so far.... long ways to go! :-)

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterVegan_Noodle

Great interview! Cakes like this should be considered works of art and displayed somewhere. I don't think I could eat something so beautiful.

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterGigi

I remember that cake on Paula Deen's show. It's beautiful.

I am amazed that all of the cakes are made from scratch. That's something to be proud of.

Great interview!

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterEmiline

WHOAAAA!!!!

Hey there, Jessie (?) Thanks for coming by my blog and for all the sweet comments. I've been 'checking you out' for the past 15 minutes or so, had a look at your flickr pics etc and I have to say that you guys at cakespy are simply AWESOME! I wish I had more than two thumbs today, so that I could give you more than my two thumbs-up!
I really enjoyed my visit and will be back for more!
p.s I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your art!

You have a very nice blog, good post...keep up the good job

January 25 | Unregistered CommenterSorina

Wow, that is absolutely incredible... Such talent! I don't know how anyone could bring themselves to actually eat the cakes though!

January 25 | Unregistered Commenterbittersweetblog

Great interview! I love Elisa and her cakes. I'm a sucker for the cake challenges on TFN.

those pictures are amazing -- she is such an artist! great interview.

January 25 | Unregistered CommenterKaty

Who's going to say her cakes don't taste good?

These are truly amazing creations—ones that lots of people are making. But I'm a sucker for a cake that looks like a cake and that tastes like heaven. These all have fondant!

Bring me the buttercream, baby—and I don't mean that small bit that sticks the fondant to the cake.

January 25 | Unregistered Commenterdogfaceboy

Karyn: I know what you mean. They're beautiful, but a little intimidating! :-)

Niko: Yes, you really can see her art background! It is so wonderful to see someone find their calling!

Parisbreakfasts: You say too beautiful, but I would take a bite.

Vegan Noodle: Hey, it's a progress--seashells and piping today, blackberry replica cakes next week...

Gigi: Like I said earlier--I'd taste 'em!

Emiline: So cool that you recognized the cake! Awesome, no?

Design for Mankind: You said it! Well put!

Oh for the Love of Food: Thank you!! Cakespy is a team of expert cake and pastry tasters, but I (Mrs. Cakespy) am the head of this dessert detective agency. ;-)

Sorina: Merci!

Bittersweetblog: I think the first taste would be the hardest, but it would get easier to eat the "pretty" cake after that. ;-)

Stickygooey: Yes, aren't those shows addicting?

Katy: An artist is right! So glad you enjoyed it!

Dogfaceboy: You're so right--takes all types of cake to make the world go round. But wouldn't it be lovely to have a slice of one of these with some champagne, pinkies out of course?

January 25 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

its still hard to believe they are all cakes...wow!! and nice job interview too!! :-)

ps, i love the last cake..the cute bag..i wish i can have one for my birthday

January 25 | Unregistered CommenterDhanggit

Love her! I'm normally not a big fan of the Food Network's 'Challenge' series but I stopped while flipping just in time to catch the Flaming Sock Monkey of Death cake and I was floored. That girl's got some cojones!

Erin

January 25 | Unregistered CommenterEB

There is just something about cake...loved this interview. JC

January 25 | Unregistered CommenterJanice C. Cartier
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