Curious about the secret lives of the movers and shakers in the world of cake bakers? Well, look no further: here's a sweet peek into the inner workings of Boofy Cakes, a wonderful custom cake company based in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. What inspires and motivates proprietress Bethany Papciak? Read on:
CakeSpy: What kickstarted your love of cakes and cake decorating?
Bethany Papciak: My earliest memories of cake decorating were when I was a kid. My mom never ordered a cake from the grocery store or bakery. She always let me and my brothers go through the Wilton Yearbooks and choose what cakes we wanted for our birthdays. My mom threw the best themed birthday parties! When I was too old for birthday parties, she let me help her decorate the birthday cakes for my cousins' birthday parties! I then took a job at a local family owned bakery when I was 15, and I worked there for 7 years. I still go back and visit; it's been my home away from home!
CS: Since taking on cake making professionally, has it changed the way you look at baking in general--ie, has it made you more or less critical of other professional baking?
BP: I am critical of professional bakeries because many bakeries charge a small fortune for their items. In the area where I live no one can afford or justify $3-4 for a basic cupcake! The bakery where I worked growing up produced high quality old fashioned baked goods at a reasonable price. The prices were higher than the local grocery store bakeries, but the freshness and quality makes them well worth it. This is something that I apply to my own business. I want to make fun treats that not only look good, but taste good too! And I try to keep it at a reasonable cost. I want my customers to feel that they can afford festive treats for all their occasions, big or small.
CS: You're also an artist and a scrapbooker. Do you feel as if that brings something to your cake making?
BP: When I was in high school I was very involved in the art department. I took all the classes: drawing, painting, sculpting and so on. When I enrolled in a Culinary and Pastry Arts program that my high school offered, I discovered that some of the same techniques I learned in my art classes applied to cake decorating. Then I could apply my love for art to my love for food! I think the art class that benefitted me the most was my ceramics class. Many of the sculpting skills and tools that I used for clay are the same for fondant and gum paste! Making decorative pieces out of fondant is one of my favorite parts of decorating; it reminds me of playing with Play-Doh!
I don't know that scrapbooking brings anything to my cake decorating, but I do know that it means that I spend way too much money on cute cupcake papers and embellishments!
CS: You have a blog--how do you think that plays a role in your business?
BP: The blog is something that I started to work on in my free time. It hasn't reached the point that I'd like it to, but I'm going to be working on developing it more in the near future. The purpose of it is to tell the stories behind my cakes. In my portfolio there are a number of odd cake designs like the PEZ cake and the Google cake. The blog is a great opportunity for me to share my adventures and experiences behind these silly cakes with my customers. My regular customers tell me all the time how they check up on my website to see what new cakes I've been working on and how their children love to sit and look at the pictures!
The blog is also a way for me to share information about events going on in the community. Like fundraisers for our firefighters, and organizations like Easter Seals, Relay for Life, and Care Net.
CS: Tell me a baking tool you couldn't live without.
BP: Most definitely my turntable! It makes icing cakes a breeze!
CS: Tell me about an especially fun cake you've worked on.
BP: I find that cakes I enjoy making the most are actually the ones that aren't for customers! I love having complete freedom in the design! So the most fun I have making cakes are typically the ones for my family. Although there was one cake that I donated to a CareNet baby shower at a local church that falls in to the favorite category. It was a Noah's Ark themed cake and I handmade all of the little animals out of fondant. I had so much fun making it! It has since become one of my most popular cakes.
CS: I feel as if there is a rising trend in "dessert buffets" or cupcakes at weddings or special events...do you think these trends will make the large, centerpiece type of cake go extinct?
BP: I've actually had more cupcake orders for birthdays than for wedding cakes. But I have done both. I can understand why cupcakes and dessert buffets appeal to so many people. In the current economy I think more people are considering having more parties at their homes as opposed to large reception halls. Having small desserts are more convenient when you don't have a service to take care of cutting a wedding cake. Have you ever tried to disassemble a 4 tiered cake and cut it into the proper number of servings? If you've never done it, it can be pretty intimidating! Individual desserts allow the guests to serve themselves. Another great point to individual desserts is that unlike a slice of cake, they still look as attractive once served onto your plate.
While the popularity of cupcakes is rising, I don't believe that they will replace centerpiece cakes. I've noticed that at weddings they still want to hold onto the tradition of cutting the cake. So they just order a smaller tiered cake for cutting and for saving for their anniversary. I've done several cupcakes for birthday parties, but they're still just a small percentage of my orders. I think that the popularity of shows like Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, and the different cake challenge shows will keep centerpiece cakes from dying out.
CS: As a cake maker, what are your feelings on pie?
BP: I don't typically bake pies outside of the holidays. But that doesn't mean I don't like them! My favorite flavor is blueberry. The best slice of pie I've ever had was from a small vegetarian restaurant on the University of Illinois campus called the The Red Herring. It was blueberry mango pie that was absolutely to die for! I'd eat the whole pie if given the opportunity. It's well worth the stomachache!
CS: What is your favorite type of frosting?
BP: My favorite frosting to eat or decorate with? My favorite kind of frosting to decorate with is a basic crusting buttercream. A crusting buttercream gets a real thin layer of crust after being exposed to the air for a few minutes. This is ideal for making certain decorations. It ices smooth on cakes and holds its shape nicely for decorations like roses.
My favorite frosting to eat is a fluff buttercream that I make. Believe it or not, I don't like super sweet desserts. Thats why I love my fluff buttercream! It isn't too sweet and it is light fluffy like clouds! And it doesn't need to be refrigerated like whipped cream. The only downside is that it doesn't ice as smooth and it is too soft to make certain decorations and designs.
CS: If you were to be choosing the dessert for your last meal on earth, what would it be?
BP: I know I said that blueberry was my favorite pie flavor, but I think I would have to choose pecan pie! It's warmth and richness makes it a great comfort food! It brings back wonderful memories of with my family and all the fun I had during the holidays at the bakery where I grew up working.
CS: Do you have any advice or lessons learned that you can pass on to others who might be interested in starting up their own cake businesses?
BP: If you haven't already, work in a bakery. No matter how much you already know, there is always more to be learned. Seeing how another businesses does business is a great way to get started. Pay attention to their lifestyles and the hours they work, make sure it's the lifestyle you thought it would be. The long hours and working weekends and holidays aren’t meant for everyone. Last but not least, love what you do and stand behind your work! It makes waking up in the morning much easier!
If you're in the Chicago area, consider Boofy Cakes for your next special occasion! Even if you're not though, you'll get sweet satisfaction from browsing the cake photos and blog--all online at boofycakes.com.