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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.

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LogoLast night was the big finale of TLC’s Next Great Baker.  Of course, I HAD to tune in.  I actually submitted an application to be on this show, and was even contacted by the casting director to make an audition tape (which I did).  I am totally not familiar with the casting process so I don’t know how far I actually got, but the show I thought I was auditioning for is NOT the show that aired.  The casting call said there would be weekly lessons from Buddy with competition challenges.  It didn’t say anything about having to move to Hoboken to work for Buddy if you win and totally didn’t say anything about a box truck.  A freakin box truck!!!

I went from thinking Buddy was pretty awesome to thinking he was kind of a jerk.  I couldn’t believe that the contestants they got are either bakery owners or are independent bakers so technically they are supposed to be Professionals, yet a lot of work they were doing was an embarrassment to cake decorating.   And that Greggy guy?  Ug.  The whole cliche-flaming-gay-boy routine had to have been hammed up for the cameras, because no self respecting homosexual would ever make that big of a mockery of being gay on National TV without a lot of coaching from a director.  He made me want to throw stuff at the TV at every “totes” and “ohmygods”, and Greggy, if you are reading, The Olson Twins called,  they their headband back.  Sigh.  And that other guy, the plumber?  I don’t even want to think about what jackass though it would be “Good TV” to bring that dick back not once, but twice.  Needless to say, I was SO happy I wasn’t what the Casting Directors were looking for because I would have probably killed myself or others for such unprofessional, undignified behavior.

Not mine.

Not mine.

But then I had a realization.

This is literally the only baking show like this on TV.  Shows like Cake Boss or Ace of Cakes, they show these people making these perfect fabulous monster creations out of cake consolidated to 23 minutes of TV time.  What they never show is the 3 plus days it takes to make stuff like that, the 15 people working on it, the cracks, the mistakes, etc.  And they never, EVER tell you how much those cakes cost.  For example, did you know that Charm City Cakes has a $1,000 minimum?  Most of the cakes highlighted on that show probably cost at least $3,000 or more.  Celebration cakes at Carlo’s Bakery can be anywhere from $8 to $18 per person, and you can bet the cakes featured on the show are in the $18 range.  What this has done is created an inflated sense in the general public of what the average baker/decorator should be able to do, how easy it must be, and a complete misunderstanding of the cost involved in creating those masterpieces.  Top Chef: Just Desserts is was great, but the contestants were all seasoned executive pastry chefs, and they only did 2 (that I can think of) cake decorating challenges.

Which brings me to the Next Great Baker.  I don’t know what type of show the producers thought they were putting together.  Maybe they were hoping for their own version of Bravo’s Top Chef: Just Desserts (which was a totally awesome show) with a sprinkle of Hoboken obnoxiousness.  But what they ended up creating is a window to a world that TV has never really shown before:  Little mistakes like forgetting ingredients or burning/overcooking the cake.  Or bigger problems like putting on and taking off fondant 30 times because it keeps tearing.  Or major problems like dropping a finished cake (which I just did for the 1st time last week and yes, I bawled like a 13 year old girl) and having to completely remake it in a fraction of the time it should take.  The horror of having a vision that no matter how hard you try, it just doesn’t come out the way you see it in your head, the sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are letting down your client.  And the working thru the night hoping to get it right.

So for that, I appreciate the train wreck that Next Great Baker was, I have a new respect for each one of those poor people that had to suffer the humiliation of riding in a box truck, and am so SO glad I was not offered the opportunity to be on that show.  I’d probably make an ass out of myself too.

One final note – one of the contestants that did not make the finale, Brian Stevens or Crazy Cakes, is actually all kinds of awesome.  Here is a cake he made for Blizzard Entertainment as well as a Gollum cake, both melts my brain from it’s bad-assness.  Click on either pics to check out his website.

Cake by Brian Stevens of Crazy Cakes, a contestant that was sent to the box truck

Cake by Brian Stevens of Crazy Cakes, a contestant that was sent to the box truck