Category: Disasters

Real orchids

Real orchids on buttercream cake

Most couples have a general idea of what they want in terms of a cake design (most, not all!) and at consultations a lot of times I’m told right off the bat “the florist said they’ll just stick some flowers on the cake”.

First, no florist has permission to touch my cake.  I completely respect my fellow vendors and I know they work their butt off, but I’d never presume to rearrange their flowers, they have no business willy nilly sticking stems and leaves onto my creations.  Florists do not have a food handler’s permit or a SafeServ certification.  In short, they are not licensed or qualified to handle food.

But after a particularly bad experience I had very recently, I feel I need to start vocalizing some bigger picture things.

If the cake is supposed to have fresh flowers on it, I get them when I deliver the cake.  Never once in the 3 years of making wedding cakes have I seen these flowers given any special treatment like they will be going on a food product – I’ve been handed stems picked up off the floor, pulled out of the trunks of filthy cars, or wrapped in ratty mold-smelling old newspaper.  These stems are always untreated, meaning they still have thorns, dead petals, extra foliage, roots, dirt, debris, and so forth on them.  And in a very recent cake experience, they were crammed in a box, wilted to hell, and bug infested.  When I said to the florist, “What the hell?  I can’t use these on a cake!”  She said, “why not?”  Then grabbed one of the flowers, blew on it in the DIRECTION OF THE CAKE and started laying them out on the cake table.  I presume this was her scientific way to remove the little critters scurrying around on the buds.

Horrified, I stopped her and told her I’d take care of it.  I took all the flowers meant for the cake to a bathroom sink (which is also completely unsanitary but it was my only option) to try and wash and dry them as best as I could.  2/3rd of those flowers went in the trash and I ended up taking flowers from the centerpieces (and wash them!) to use.  I wrapped each stem in non-toxic floral tape so they wouldn’t seep any sap into the cake and I attached each to a toothpick so I could anchor them on the cake.  This ringamarole took an hour longer for me to do then it should have.  I gladly did it, but it left me wondering:  why doesn’t anyone seem to care about how gross these flowers are?  Why am I always looked at like I am a loon when I deliver the cake then spend another 40 minutes wrapping stems instead of just jabbing them in and getting on with my day?

Think about it:  if a server dropped your french fries on the floor but served them to you anyway, would you still eat them?  If you found little bugs crawling in your salad would you still eat it after the waitress blew on it to make the bugs go away?  Or… what if you found out that the salad you were eating hasn’t even been washed from the field where it was grown in human waste, sprayed with cancer-causing chemicals in 50% higher doses as what is acceptable to the FDA on a food product, picked by individuals not following food handling practices (because, you know, they aren’t handling food), crammed in a filthy box and shipped straight to the restaurant to be tossed onto a plate?  You’d freak out.

And yet – couples are regularly told to use fresh flowers on the cake to save a few bucks.  Google it – I got over 2 million articles.

And if the reality of the above isn’t enough to gross you out, some of the most popular wedding flowers staples like calla lilies, hydrangea, carnations, and tulips are toxic and considered poisonous – and this season’s hot flowers like the ranunculus and many species of succulents can cause mouth blisters, vomiting and actually be fatal.  To say that these flowers and plants should NEVER come in contact with food is an understatement.

I know what you are thinking:  “Jen, you exaggerate!  My Florist would never suggest a toxic flower for my cake!”  Yeah they do.  ALL.  THE.  TIME.  And what’s worse, I’ve also seen several cake sketches made by my competitors that have these toxic flowers all over them.  I feel like I’m being underhanded pointing out to potential clients that if they choose to go with the other baker, make sure they don’t cover the cake with something that can give their guests diarrhea, but I can’t help it.

So what am I suggesting you do?  Well, if you really want fresh flowers on your cake, you should at least insist that they are organic.  That takes care of the pesticide issue, but contrary to what you may think, that doesn’t mean the flowers are food safe.  Unless you get edible flowers grown specifically to be eaten, organic flowers are still considered a decoration, not food.  It still means different growing conditions from what farmers would use if they were growing spinach, and different government guidelines on how they are handled.  It means unsanitary field workers, unsanitary shipping and unsanitary packaging.  And have you seen the cost of organic flowers???

The art of making sugar flowers is not something that every baker or cake artist attempts to learn or has a knack for, but what we make is food safe.  No bugs.  No poop.  No dirt from the field.  No cancer-causing chemicals.  Depending on the flower, they aren’t much more costly then getting real flowers and they are wonderful keepsakes.  They are also  gorgeous.

Just wanted people to know.

Sugarpaste Peony

Sugarpaste Peony. Beautiful, right?

Oh, by the way?  If you are stopping by my blog and think I’m awesome (or even if you just think I’m OK), can you take a moment to VOTE to help me win a grant from Chase Finance and Living Social?  I need 250 Facebook votes to be considered.  Please click on this link, search for Beyond Buttercream, California, San Francisco and VOTE!  Thank you!

UPDATE #1:  I got an email from one of my past brides wanting to know if the story above was her cake.  I didn’t write this post to “out” any vendor – simply to draw attention to how flowers are actually handled behind the scenes based on my experience.  One of the things that sets me apart from other bakers and bakeries is that I have extremely high quality standards.  When I say I use high quality, name brand ingredients, and have an extremely high attention to detail, I mean it and live it.  I really, really do.  I know many caterers and other bakers that advertise that they do, but have seen them use the cheapest ingredients they can get their hands on and call it “gourmet”.

I would never, ever, ever ever ever permit the use of anything on one of my cakes that I would not eat myself.  Ever.  If you were one of my past brides and I just freaked you out, I assure you I took just as much care making sure your flowers were as clean and as food safe as I could before using them.

(Jen’s note: This one has some naughty and crass words in it in my attempt to use humor and sarcasm relating a stressful situation. It’s how I deal with stuff in real life and pretty close to how I talk.  I hope you forgive me.)

I had this small cake to deliver Saturday at about 5pm.

Devil's Food Cake, dark chocolate buttercream filling, dark chocolate ganache

Devil's Food Cake, dark chocolate buttercream filling, dark chocolate ganache, fleur de sel, sugar lotus flowers

As I’m putting it in my car I realized the floorboard of the passenger side had smutz on the rug because (of course) I forgot to get the van cleaned earlier. Being super picky about making sure nothing nasty gets on my cake, I went against my better judgment and put the cake on the passenger seat. It’s only a little cake, I told myself, it’ll be fine! I mean, I could have put it in the skid-proof cargo area, but that seemed silly, such a small cake in the cargo area. So I decided to take a chance.

Traffic was terrible. Terrible. San Francisco doesn’t have “freeways” to get across town, it’s all surface streets and whoever planned them needs a good flogging. It didn’t help that I was coming from a very heavy tourist area and trying to get to an even heavier tourist area, and although I thought I gave myself time, traffic was not moving and I knew I was running late. I HATE being late.

One thing we DO have going for us here is a very funky web of side streets and alleys that we can sometimes use to bypass horrible intersections and slow streets.


Alley. It starts by going under the San Francisco Chronicle building and takes you straight to one of the worst areas in SF - the 6th Street Corridor.

These allies, although mostly lined with apartments and businesses, can be sketchy. But whatever, I’m a city girl, and I had a cake to deliver, so I weaved thru oncoming traffic and managed to hook a left onto Minna to get to the 6th Street corridor. If you don’t know the area, it’s heavy drugs, lots of homeless, and seriously crazy people hanging out in front of half-way houses, needle exchanges, SROs, liquor stores and porn shops. You know, totally normal.

I notice on my left is a crazy-looking middle aged white dude riding a very janky bicycle on the sidewalk next to me, but he is holding onto a very nice, very shiny bike, peddling like crazy and constantly looking over his shoulder. I also noticed the bolt cutters he had strapped to his very janky bike so I knew he just stole the very shiny bike… and I was observing his get-a-way.

And because karma’s a bitch, I hit him. Actually, he hit me.

Replay it in my head: he was riding on the “sidewalk”, which in this alley is not much of a sidewalk, and he was riding as fast as he could, trying to also hold onto a 2nd bike. I am not sure what he hit to eat shit, if he was attempting to dodge and weave thru all the garbage and junkies on the ground, or if he was just completely drugged-out, but he hit something, flew off his bike and bounced off my fender. I, of course, slammed on my brakes and freaked the hell out.

I sat there astonished as this dude immediately jumped back on his bike, grabbed the other bike, told me “sorry” and peddled his butt off fleeing the scene. I’m like, wait, what? I didn’t know what to do. The dude left! Like in a freakin movie! He didn’t seem injured, I was maybe going 10 mph and he was actually going faster then me. Do I call the police? Do I get out of the car? He was gone around a corner before I could even blink. And although there were probably 20 people hanging about and milling around in this very popular drug alley, not a single one was even looking at me or seemed to have noticed that Mr. Bike Thief just bounced off my fender doing 10mph! In fact, the very non-action of the universe after such a thing happened made me second-guess that it happened at all.

Huh. Allrighty then. I took a deep breath, realized I was causing a traffic jam of cars behind me, and went on my way.

That’s when I realized my pretty little cake had gone flying off the passenger seat when I slammed on my breaks. If it had been an all-buttercream cake it would have been completely ruined. But it was ganache, and although it had some cracking, it was fixable. And miracle of miracles, I grabbed a few spare sugar lotus flowers “just in case” on my way out of the shop which saved my butt because the ones on the cake were broken.

Once the cake was safely at the venue I inspected the van and yeah, it totally did happen. There is no damage, but there is a “clean spot” on my otherwise dirty van that Mr. Bike Thief cleaned with his shirt. Or face. Whatever.

So, why do I tell this story besides to share that I totally just hit someone with my car on Saturday? After the shock wore off I realized that I just got LUCKY. L-U-C-K-Y. If he was a normal person, I’d be all kinds of screwed right now. As I sat stunned in my car practically hyperventilating because I could have just killed someone, I couldn’t help but to keep running thru a checklist of all my insurance coverage and wondering if it would have been enough to cover something like that. So lesson #1, I need to call my Farmer’s Agent to make sure I have a ton of insurance and that my van is completely covered… because you never know when the fist of mighty Zeus might smack down another meth-filled junkie in process of stealing a bike making him eat shit and bounce off your fender. This is San Francisco. It could happen, is all I’m sayin.

And my pretty little cake… it would have been completely fine and would have totally survived the abrupt stop if it had been on the floorboard of the passenger seat or in my skid-proofed cargo area. So Lesson #2, never put a cake on the seat, no matter what.

And finally, I never would have put a cake on the seat if my freakin van was clean enough to put a cake on the floorboard in the first place. So lesson #3, make sure the van is washed if I know I have to make a delivery, even if it was just raining.

So yeah, that happened.

Oh, and before you think I’m a really horrible person, I did call the police after I delivered the cake. They were completely NOT interested in the whole I-hit-him-he-hit-me with the car thing after hearing where the incident took place. Apparently it’s not a pedestrian hit-and-run when the pedestrian flees the scene and there were no injuries. Yay, I guess. However, the officer on the phone took the generic description I had of what Mr. Bounce-Off-My-Fender looked like along with the shiny bike he was fleeing with, apparently that was something worthy of reporting, which made me feel a lot better about the entire situation.

So, if you had a baby blue fancy bike jacked from the 5th and Mission area, I’m sorry but you probably are not getting it back. But if it makes you feel better, I totally hit that dick with my car for you.

You’re welcome.