Many folks see pictures of beautiful custom designed cakes in magazines and on web sites. When they need a special cake for a birthday, holiday, graduation or wedding, they begin searching for a cake artist who can create a cake that will be the talk of the party. However, they often get sticker shock when they hear a price quote! So their options are...1--keep searching for a baker that offers a lower price; this may be someone with little experience, and the result may or may not end up the way they want; 2--settle for a grocery store cake, which they pick from a book, with little to no customization, and which is often baked and frozen for months in advance; or 3--they realize to get that made-from-scratch, customized, extraordinary cake, they will have to make the investment. So, "why do custom cakes cost so much???"
The following excerpts are re-printed with permission from Lina Sleiman of Lina's Custom Cakes, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Many people think that a baker that makes cakes from their home should charge less than a store front bakery. This is not the case for a number of reasons. A home baker can make the same cake a bakery can make. It requires the same tools, same pans, an oven, mixer, measuring equipment. Not to mention all the same ingredients. A home baker does not just bake one size of cake, they bake many so they need multiple pans. There are hundreds of decorating tools including tons of icing tips of all different sizes and shapes, piping bags, icing spatulas, storage containers, knifes, tons of flower making tools, rolling pins etc. A home baker also is using electricity, gas, water, dish soap, and paper towels just as a store would need and the have to have a location to bake in as well. The only difference is a bakery cooks in mass amounts so they have larger everything so they can make more in the same amount of time but when you look at the big picture and calculate it, each cake from a home baker and a store require roughly the same amount of money to make. Home bakers will put the same, if not more, dedication into your cake.
A cake artist does not just wake up one morning knowing how to bake every recipe and how to properly pipe icing using every tip in different ways. It takes time, practice and patience. That also means it takes many baked cakes to practice decorating, and many pounds of icing, many piping bags and countless sleepless nights trying to perfect the art of making a beautiful buttercream rose or a beautiful basket weave on the side of a cake. There are so many cake flavors a baker needs to be able to offer so they must practice over and over again every flavor until they have the perfect recipe. Not to mention training classes, food safety courses and cake decorating expos they need to go to to keep up with the current trends. It takes many hours, many dollars in testing cakes and frostings and many attempts to perfect the art of cake decorating.
When a customer places an order, there are designs to be drawn up, and often re-designs as many people change their mind between their initial order and the time their cake is actually made. Countless hours are spent to match the exact color in the napkins or dress, or to copy the lace pattern in the picture the customer provided.
And then--oh the beautiful details that make a cake a one of a kind, pop out of the crowd, jaw dropping cake. A single life size rose made of gum paste takes about 2 - 2 1/2 hours to create, after countless months of practice, of course. Every petal must be pressed in a silicone mold to vein it perfectly and each layer of petals must colored to look like real rose petals. Each petal is hand glued using hand mixed edible glue, and shaped and curled to look just right. Each animal on a baby shower cake requires perfect precision, and weeks of practice to be able to get the correct proportions for the head, body, arms, legs, tail, eyes and ears. If something is not quite right, that cute little monkey could end up looking like a cat or worse an unknown breed.
Larger cakes require what most people don't even realize--an entire internal structure of dowels and supports to keep each tier perfectly level and structurally sound. A cake designer's job is a cross between a baker, an artist, an architect, and a mathematician. And every tier must be trimmed and leveled to make building this wonderful work of art structurally safe.
And the ingredients for made-from-scratch cakes are not an inexpensive boxed cake. The best cakes are homemade using bakers sugar, sifted cake flour, real butter, pure vanilla, homemade fillings and organic eggs. Speaking of fillings, something like chocolate ganache is made from the best quality chocolate; fruit fillings are created using fresh fruits that are carefully hand picked; cream fillings or lemon curd are hand made from endless egg yolks and lemon zest. Then the frosting--real butter or whipping cream or both, double sifted sugar, creamed until it is perfectly smooth, not too little, not too much. Over the frosting on many cakes is fondant. Any good fondant is made from scratch, and it takes much time to knead, roll and apply it perfectly to achieve the beautiful smooth look that only a fondant cake can give.
You get the idea. One more thing to think about...when you order dessert at a nice restaurant, you can easily spend upwards of $5 per dessert, and it's a dessert anyone else in the restaurant can order--not a custom, special order cake designed and created specially for you and your celebration.