How to Succeed at Baking Projects

Top tips to confidently tackle any baking project

Recently I had the pleasure of designing a cupcake tower for the wedding of a sweet young couple here in Waco. We looked over some ideas that the bride had highlighted and I gathered other pertinent information like wedding invites, colours etc until we came up with the perfect design.

Cupcake Tower

Despite remaining calm and cool, I have to admit I was a little nervous at first simply because up until that point, I hadn’t actually experimented much with cupcakes let alone made 175 cupcakes at one time. However, I am always surprised how my confidence suddenly kicks in when it comes to being in the kitchen. I am not an overly confident person at other times, and in fact, there were things I did not attempt in life because I let my fears or worries overshadow those moments of adventure. But, when I am faced with anything in my kitchen, I believe in myself wholeheartedly. (This doesn’t mean I haven’t made any mistakes- I have had some major disasters!- but I learnt to think quickly on my feet to correct or try again.) When I first started taking risks that paid off in the kitchen, I  found that this confidence began to trickle into other areas of my life. I started to see that I can accomplish things that seemed really daunting at first and the same skill set I used in the kitchen was still with me when faced with other projects.

Although some intuition is involved, this success is not completely by chance and so today I want to share the tips I have developed from tackling projects like my recent wedding cupcake tower. I believe these tips are applicable to any new baking venture, big or small.

Practice and research in advance. I had never really tried my hand at cupcakes before this order. Yes, I had made them and they were good but I knew they could be better so I researched recipes until I knew what would work best and then tried a few different things before finding the perfect cupcake. I did this a week before my tasting with the bride and groom so I had time to keep working if it wasn’t up to par. My first crucial piece of advice is to research and test first! It is also imperative that you test out the recipe in your particular kitchen, with your appliances and your oven. For example, I preferred hand mixing several parts of the batter and adjusted cooking temperatures a couple of times until I was really happy. This isn’t just true of making a wedding cake order but of any new baking venture- I don’t recommend presenting your first try on unsuspecting friends unless you are experienced with the process involved. It’s not like cooking where you can add or easily recreate at the last minute. For the sake of being completely vulnerable, I do not follow this advice all the time but I have certainly been more successful when I spend time at least researching even if I can’t actually practice.

Blue flower cupcakes

Organize your research: Although there are so many wonderful people out there sharing advice and tips, you need a place to keep all this info for the right time. I have a secret board on Pinterest where I pin my on-line research such as great tutorials, tips etc so I can refer back to them during the project. (I keep the board secret in case I am planning a surprise for a friend.) Because of all the variables that can throw you off during practice, (or on the day) it’s so helpful to have those websites on hand  to refer to them in a flash.  Create a system that works best for you.

Plan supplies and ingredients ahead of time. This may sound obvious but taking time to think through every aspect of the project is crucial. Sometimes you might need a particular item that is only available on line and needs to be shipped. Practicing helps to think through all the logistics and ingredients needed. If you are making something for an event you will also need to consider how to store, transport and display your baked goods. Don’t leave anything to the last minute! It’s the worst feeling of panic when you realize you forgot something crucial or worse, you have run out of time.

Plan time going backwards. It is imperative that you plan your time meticulously so that everything is completed and you can remain calm. The best advice is starting backwards. Let’s say for example your baked items need to be ready for 5pm, you should plan your time beginning at 5pm i.e.

cupcake planning

You will note how I calculate the time needed for each step and also allow time for any mishaps or issues at each point where possible. I used to have a terrible habit of calculating time in my head and finding I was completely off in practice so after several panic moments, I learnt to use this method and it has been extremely helpful.

Stay calm, don’t give up, and always have extra. I can’t stress enough how helpful it has been to follow this step. You never know what might happen in the baking process so make sure you have some ingredients to start over if needed. In some cases it’s also best to just make an extra batch. When you have extra on hand, not only do you get to bestow leftovers upon other loved ones, you have a back up plan in case disaster strikes. On one order recently, I had everything ready to go and at the last minute, I dropped a whole box of cupcakes upside down. Although the box was closed and none hit the floor, when I opened the box, they were one messed up clump of cake and frosting! Fortunately, my husband was with me and reading the look of horror on my face, helped me remain calm and think through my options. I had an extra batch set aside and extra frosting in the fridge so all I had to do was prepare another box and off the order went with no further drama. 

I hope you find these tips helpful and it provides you with some motivation to tackle a new baking venture with increased confidence. After all….you could end up creating something you’re mighty darned proud of!

ready for eating

Going to the chapel…

A new dear friend got married this past year and as many of you know, it is an expensive gig! It doesn’t matter how well you save, plan and budget, there are so many things that happen (especially at the last minute) which no one can foresee and that usually involves extra money. One of the things I love about being able to bake and decorate cakes is that I see it as a gift to be shared with others. Perhaps in my wildest dreams, I think about owning a bakery, or being a store front cake designer (and one day maybe that will be feasible) but overall it is something I do for fun and as a blessing to others. As mentioned in an earlier post, my mother and aunt were talented birthday cake extraordinaires and our lavish birthday cakes were the highlight of the party. I think it’s wonderful if someone can afford to go to a cake designer and have the wedding cake of their dreams, or order that perfect immortalized comic book character cake for their family member’s birthday. But, that’s not where many people are at, especially in this economy. My family didn’t have a great deal of expendable cash every month, Mum often went without much needed new clothing items for months so my brother and I could have what we required for school etc. I value these memories of her, and I especially appreciated that she used her artistic talents to make our birthdays (and others’) so very special despite the difficult times. This inspires me especially when making wedding cakes, (and in fact all cakes).  I still have much to learn in the world of cake decorating but what I do know, I want to use to replicate that same experience we had as kids for others.

So, my new friend was getting married and my gift was the time devoted to baking and decorating her wedding cake.   We figured out a minimum budget for cost and had so much fun looking through hundreds of pictures for ideas. Finally, the pencil scrawling on a piece of paper shaped its way onto a humble cake board and into the design you see below.

She and her (now) husband have always been incredible people who give so much of themselves to others so it was not surprising when all their friends and family wanted to rally round to make their special day everything they deserved. I made this cake during an extremely busy work week and was so grateful for the three friends who came over to help shape pearls out of fondant and give me an extra pair of hands with the assembly – without them I would have been up for several nights and exhausted for work the next day.

We rolled and painted each of these fondant pearls by hand.

This continual community effort throughout the wedding celebrations symbolized not just the beauty of marriage and the coming together of two people in perfect union, but also the important part played by the community in supporting that couple in their successful lives. The cake was a microcosm of this spirit and it was truly a blessing to have been part of something that, on closer reflection, revealed great truths about marriage, love and friendship.

Photos taken by the very talented Jennifer James of Or you can see more photos from the Knapp wedding here: