About Me

My photo
Durham, NC, United States
My name is Veronica and I own Southern Gold Leaf Cakes. I opened my home-based business in 2008. I am a licensed and inspected home bakery specializing in custom cakes. Since all cakes are made to order there are no frozen cakes here, only fresh and only home made. I am a self-taught baker but I have a strong art background with years of baking experience. It is the most rewarding feeling in the world when you can apply your skills to do something you love. To see my cake creations and view our yummy menu visit us at www.southerngoldleafcakes.com!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

PWG Guild Lunch at Homewood Suites by Hilton Cary

Part I - Lunch at Homewood Suites

The Triad/Triangle Perfect Wedding Guide held their guild lunch at Homewood Suites by Hilton Cary. These lunches are always a treat. They were my first introduction to networking within the wedding industry. Gail Galloway is the lady behind it and her goal is to bring wedding professionals from across the triad and triangle into different venues for a great meal, an informational guest speaker and a little self promotion.
I have been attending these lunches for almost two years. One of my favorite aspects of the lunches is that you are not just having lunch but you are being served lunch by the venue and it gives you the opportunity to know what their services are like. Different vendors are invited and encouraged to volunteer their services to their fellow professionals. It's great way to display your skills to your peers so that they know to add you to their list of preferred vendors when they talk to their brides. Planners can find bakers, photographers, florists, etc. It is also a great way to see new venues so that you have a frame of reference for deliveries and asthetics when speaking with your brides.

You do not have to be a member of the PWG guild to attend the lunches. The lunch fee is $23 and it lasts from 11am to 1pm. It is well worth the cost of lunch. If you're interested you can contact them directly at pwg@triad.rr.com or gail@pwg.com or you can contact Southern Gold Leaf Cakes at veronica.yoshida@pwg.com.  Don't forget to subscribe to the newsletter for more on the wedding industry.

Host - Homewood Suites by Hilton Cary
Catering - VAB Catering
Photography - Blue Box Photography
Linens - A Special Event
Floral Decor - Teacup Floral
Door Prize - Bartending Unlimited
Luncheon Coordinator - Cherished Celebrations

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cold Call Advertising

So this one is about advertisers calling my home. I understand that this is one way that publications get put together and I don't mind, in general, getting these calls but I do mind when I feel like it's a quasi-scam if not a full on scam.

For example,  I received a message this week about an advertising opportunity using a popular social media network.  I call them back and it went down hill from there.  First I had to remind them of who I am, my business name and why I'm calling.
  Hint #1 - If you call someone to do business with them you should be keeping a log of who you called,      when and why you called them.  Having their name and business name, as well as where they are located, is also good.

She explains to me that their business opportunity is to put me up front on this social network and there is only a small up front fee and then a monthly fee.  Since there's not a contract I only have to pay for each month I allow them to boost my business.
  Hint #2 - When using a social network that is already free to use and has their own marketing venue that, while does have cost associated, is minimal and affordable.

Even when I'm intrigued enough to consider I always take 24 hours to think about it.  It allows me to not make an impulse decision I can't get out of and regret and if they are willing to let me take that time and get back to them it is usually a more legitimate offer.
     Hint #3 - They should not have to ask where you are located in relation to other major cities.  Telling you that your closest local competitor is also on the list but they only know that by association of city to city and aren't naming in any names in order to get you to make a quicker decision is not a good strategy.

I end the call telling her I do not make these decisions without 24 hours to think and that I will call her back the next day.  The next day I have three repeat phone calls from this company.  Why three and why within three minutes?  I suppose because when I couldn't get to the phone and my voice mail kicked on they did not leave a message and calling back two more times from two different display extensions with the same number would some how prompt me to answer.  It did not.

I understand that marketing and advertising requires cold calling from time to time but it doesn't mean it can't be done professionally and it also doesn't mean we're all going to say yes.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cupcake Wars

My daughter loves to watch this show with me.  And I get asked quite often if I watch these types of shows.  I don't watch as many as I used to a couple of reasons, one, I don't have as much time and secondly I don't find as many out there are as likable as I used to either.  I DVR The Next Great Baker and occasionally Sweet Genius.  They have few Challenges now but they have Sugar Dome which I'm going to check out.   I find myself more interested in David Tutera Real Weddings.

So why Cupcake Wars?  Honestly I don't care about the competition at the end, the drama between about who almost made it to the next round.  I'm watching them put their cupcakes together (as much as they show) and I can privately agree or disagree with what they are doing.  My reason was always round one - the eclectic taste competition.  I absolutely adore this round.  These guys know going in they are going to be given weird food combos and they always act like there is nothing they can create.  I have found myself making lists of what's on that table and asking myself, "What would I combine?"  Then my kids started asking,  "Mom, what would you have put together?"  Granted, I'm really glad that I don't have to taste all those combinations.  And in round two, their fondant decorations are always interesting to see but it's round one I care most about.  To be fair, in round two  hearing their own flavor combinations can be intriguing too.

But now, as I said in the beginning, my daughter loves to watch them with me.  She likes to try to predict who will win, ask me what I think and what would I make.  So we've found our own little bonding experience on Tuesday nights watching cupcake wars before she heads to bed.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Update on TeiredCaker

I recently received a wonderful email from the creators of  the app TeiredCaker.  I find I must make an update to my review.  In my review, I noted that they did not do hexagon in their "other" category for shaped cakes.  This was an error on my part.

In the "Select your pan sizes" option you can choose from all the available sizes of pans listed so that it can accurately account for the amount of cake you want to price.  It will only take into account the pans you list.  Since I didn't have those selected for some odd reason they did not show up when I was playing around with the app.  This was my error.  It does oval, petal (both four and six petal pans) as well as hexagon.  

This also showed me a level of customer service that I didn't expect.  Not only did they read the review of their product but they responded themselves and very promptly.  The tone of the email was very genuine and friendly and made me appreciate the fact that I'd done the review.  I know how much it means to get a review from a client that lets you know how your work is received. 

Just to recap - my assessment on the pan shapes was incomplete due to user error not the creator.  They are aces in my book!

Dulce de Leche

I finally got the opportunity to make Dulce de leche.  I've been really tempted to make it before but just never got around to it.  I was really excited to try this recipe I found from Alton Brown Alton Brown's Good Eats - Dulce de Leche recipe and it really was fantastic.

Let me first say, start with a saucepan that is big enough for the job and then double check how much you intend to make.  When the milk begins to foam it will over run your saucepan if you are not careful.  I fixed this by pouring my bubbling concoction to a larger pan, returning it to the heat and the cleaning up my stove top.  Also, make sure you have enough time to complete the recipe and allow it to cool.  I misread the time frame and thought I had about 30 minutes more than I did so mine was still very warm and drippy when I took it to my consultation.  The good thing is that by the time I got there it was still warm but cool enough to eat and drizzle over cake!

The recipe is simple but does take diligence.  You cannot walk away for long periods of time or get distracted and forget it's there for fifteen minutes at a time.  While it doesn't take constant supervision, you want to be able to check it and give it a stir every five to ten minutes.  You need to keep it smooth, well mixed and not stuck or burning on the bottom but you also don't want to incorporate the lovely layer of foam that will be created on the top.

The secret is keeping your heat low after the first simmer.  Alton's recipe has you bring it first to a hard simmer to heat the milk and melt the sugar.  Then you add your baking soda, hence the original foaming, and then bringing it down to a low simmer so that it continues to reduce down to between one and two cups of caramel colored deliciousness.  I have read that some people use salt rather than baking soda and I'm tempted to try that next simply because I think you'll get more of a salted caramel taste rather than the smooth, creamy flavor this recipe provides.

It can be used warm over ice cream, set to room temperature and spread on cake or toast or, I as found out yesterday, can be combined on a spoon with peanut butter, chocolate or bot

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The TieredCaker app

I actually got the app because I saw another baker friend's review.  This was before I got my iPad and was trying to decide on it or a tablet.  So I began searching for similar products for the tablet.  There were a dozen apps about cakes if you wanted games or recipes, not that a recipe app is a bad thing, but nothing like what I saw in the TieredCaker.

I waited until the update came out which fixed a few of the problems I kept hearing about in the first one, such as not being able to get a custom cutting chart or enough odd pan shapes, but those seem tto have been relatively easy things to fix.  While there isn't a cutting chart for custom sizing there is a serving chart to help you determine how many pieces you should be able to get from each sized pan that you indicate you are using.  That is still more helpful than trying to guess.

I also like being able to include the top tier in your calculations if you choose too.  I offer a fresh anniversary tier so my top tiers are always included in the number of servings.  This allows you to show the difference in how much cake is offered.

It will also help you decide what size your pieces should be if you wish.  In the sizing chart there is a small link that says, "help me decide" that basically offers you slide bars that change dimensions and cake slice size.  Once you reach the slice size you think is best you click "choose recommended slice" and it works from those numbers.  It's a neat little function.

It covers a variety of pan shapes including petal, oval and heart and you can switch between shapes while in calculating and stacking mode which is nice.  It does not cover hexagon or diamond shape so you are still on your own for those.

All of the features for emailing or printing are still there.  The text is nice and large and the navigation is still very user friendly.  I have used the app when in client consultations and it really helped the client get a better idea of how much cake they were getting as well as see the cost differences.

I would recommend app.  It is one of the major reasons I ended up with the iPad as well since it was one of the few apps I've seen that were specifically created for bakers/decorators and it's not going to be made available on the tablet.  

If you are curious it is definitely worth a walk through and a very affordable tool.

The SheetCaker app

I decided to get the SheetCaker app as an addendum to my TieredCaker app.  While sheet cakes aren't as complicated to size and price it is still nice to have a more accurate guide for dimensions than the "approximate" serving.  Most cakes need to be squared or the crustier edges cut a bit so they aren't the exact size that a pan might indicate.  Having the ability to change the pan size to reflect a more accurate finished cake and the size of the cut piece allows for a more accurate quote when talking with clients.  I have also been able to use the app to illustrate to clients how the cake would be cut based on sizing and it reflects the price as well.  This combination is nice as well.  

It has been a great app when putting together quotes where the cake is multi-dimensional or sculpted.  Knowing how many servings are needed and how many servings can be yielded from a cake once it's been changed helps with calculating how much cake might be needed.  

I like the ability to print out a cutting guide as well.  Many times when delivering sheet cake the comment I hear is, "Are you sure that will be enough?"  I am sure this is because they are accustomed to cutting larger than normal pieces of cake.  While it won't prevent them from doing the same thing it will at least visually guide them to the number of servings they should get from the cake.

Over all I like the app as a helpful tool.  It is easy to navigate from calculator to pan size, viewing the cutting guide and either emailing or printing the guide.  Changing the price is easy and the print is large and easy to ready.  This is a very user friendly app and one I would recommend others. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tire Kickers

This is my term for the phone calls I get when someone is truly just looking for prices.  The problem is they never say they are just trying to get a quote.  I'm not sure why.  It would save us both a lot of trouble and probably a shorter phone call or email.

It seems the worst are those that call and go through all the details, ask about all the types of decorating you can do, what colors can we do it in, et cetera and after fifiteen minutes have created a very elaborate cake.  You are able to price things out for them, explain how deposits work and even though you have a sneaky feeling they really are just price hunting you finish the call.  I find I'm generally given the, "Let me check and see if this works and I'll call you back."  I am fairly certain I will not hear back from this person.

In the beginning this really bothered me and I beat myself up about it.  What did I do wrong?  Did I charge too much?  Then I realized it is just part of the process.  Would it be easier for them to just say "I'm just curious about pricing" ?  Yes, yes it would.   Would it be easier for them to just admit that they don't want to pay what you are charging?  Yes, yes it would.  Here's a recent example:

On a Friday afternoon I was called with a question about a baby shower cake for two weeks from that date.  She was looking at the website, new what she wanted, talked about the changes to the cake in question and we chatted for a few moments before she said, "Can I see you tomorrow about the details?"  I had to honestly answer that I could not see her on a Saturday less than 24 hours away for multiple reasons, mostly due to already being scheduled.   She asked about pricing again and when I repeated that she thought that it was too much for so little cake but had a "change of heart" and said she would see if her daughter could meet with us a on a different day to confirm things - she would call me back.  I haven't been holding my breath on this.

I knew before the phone call was half way through that this was someone who wasn't going to commission work from me, for whatever reason, and wasn't going to call back afterwards.  I do not fret about these things anymore.

I get many of the same type of request by emails as well.  The result is much the same.  I used to agonize much the same way as well but not anymore.  Those who truly want to commission my work will do so, others will hope to get a cheaper price or all for nothing so they are just kicking the tires.  Remember kids, it's okay to say, "I'm shopping around and comparing prices and work/taste for my event."  I promise, we'll both be happier.

Charging for Consultations

This is a topic that has been covered a lot by many different people yet it always seems to get plenty of attention.  I am asked regularly about whether the consultation that is booked is free or not.  My initial consultation with a client is always free.  I do limit what goes on at the tasting, for example, how many people and the number of types of cakes you can try.  It isn't meant to be a free dessert buffet or a dessert bar with friends.   

My general practice follows a pretty simple rule:  your first tasting is complimentary.  We are also going to work on cake design and any other services that I may be able to offer.  However if we don't cover everything to satisfaction or if we decide for whatever reason a second meeting is necessary, then we reschedule and a small fee is charged.  If the couple books then the fee is applied towards their balance.  If they don't then I have been compensated for my time and I wish them well.

Do you think it's appropriate to charge for an initial meeting? 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Today is just a quick soap box about buying things that don't taste good.  I know, I know, it doesn't make any sense when you read it out loud but it happens constantly.   I will not name names, and to confide in you I was equally ignorant back in the day (more than 15 years ago), but there is one company in particular that continues to put out "edible" materials that are just awful.

In fairness, from my own personal knowledge, they may have been one of the first to market professional decorating materials and techniques available to the general baking public.  Even if they weren't the first, they were definitely one of the few to be able to hit the mark in such a way that they are still on just about every store shelf of every local retail craft store as well as on line and many times sold by and through other large on line retailers.  I know by now you know who I'm talking about but remember, I never mentioned a name.

I remember the first time I used fondant off the shelf.  Remember, this was long before I learned how to make it myself and have since found at least three different recipes I like.  The store bought stuff was hard as a rock, next to impossible to soften and tasted awful.  I couldn't imagine why someone would want this on their cake.  To this day I still have couples tell me that they don't like fondant and sometimes refuse to have it as an option because they have had such a bad experience with the store bought stuff.  This is why I always make sure I have fresh samples of mine at the tasting so that they can see how it was meant to taste.

In the last year or so this same company has started putting out edible icing sheets.   They are preprinted so you just cut them and apply them to your smoothly frosted cake and now you have a new work of art.  These are not new to the industry and can be purchased from a number of more reputable tasting companies.  But they look really great and your cake will look really great so they must be good.  It's still the same company.   I've looked for the expiration date on some of these prepackaged lovelies - I can't find one.  Everything expires so this makes me even more suspect.

With a little time and practice you could learn to make these yourself.  There are tutorials all over the web.  Just like you can make your own fondant, gum paste, edible glitters, sanding sugars and, of course, cake without the box. I know, sounds impossible really, but it can be done.  It takes more time, can be messy and does take practice but in the end it is so much better.

I guess it falls into the category of the "quick fix".  I guess that is why so many are still plucking it up off the shelf.  I am all about making this easier and quicker myself but I will not sacrifice quality to do so.  I will continue to buy a few premade items or ingredients on line either because of quantity or to save time.  But if it's something I can make myself, even if it's not the prettiest thing I put out, at least I know that it will taste great and I will own it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

January 5, 2013

Our first cake of 2013 was delivered to Parizade in Durham for an evening reception.  I was extremely pleased to do this cake.  The sisters who ordered the cake for their mother was very sweet and wonderful to work with.  They wanted something sparkly but needed blue - so we made the cake blue.  Blue angel food cake concealed beneath white fondant, pearls and silver.  The topper was of their mom's design and highlighted with gem stones.

The scroll work on the middle tier is actually very tiny pieces of fondant rolled thing and applied into the desired designs.  We thought it was just the right look for this cake.

Congratulations Emily and Eric

December 29, 2012
Emily and Eric at The Museum of Life and Science

I met with Emily and her sister at the beginning of December to talk about her wedding cake, the date just weeks away on the 29th.  Emily was a bit nervous about the short notice but this was the not first of this kind of timing nor was it the shortest notice I’d received so we were ready to taste and design.

I liked the idea that there wasn’t a lot of issue or stress on theme or color or tradition.  Emily and Eric were using some bold colors and also some subtle colors, teal and champagne, and the wedding was at the Museum of Life and Science so it was a fun setting.

We chose to go with a diamond shaped cake because it went with the invitation layout and the piping to resemble the beading of her dress which I was lucky enough to get a peek at.  We also decided that some cupcakes for some of her guests with special dietary needs would be good.  Two dozen cupcakes that were gluten free and vegan were done in chocolate with chocolate frosting.  They were delicious as we had to do a taste test on the first batch!

When I arrived to set up the cake I could not believe how the museum had been transformed to accommodate their wedding.  The venue was bursting with color and looked amazing.  I’ve had a few sneak peeks at their photos and they continued to be bold in their use of colors and weren’t afraid to have some fun.  It definitely seemed to fit their personalities.

I am so pleased and have worked with Emily and Eric and to have concluded my baking year with the wonderful wedding!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Congratulations Alex and Zan!

December 28, 2012
Smith-Gormley Wedding at The Carolina Inn

I met Alex and her mom in March of 2012 and from the first moment I was excited to be included in this wonderful event. Admittedly when I received my first emails about Alex and Zan's wedding I wasn't sure what to expect but the fact that they share an almost identical name, Alexandra and Alexander, proved to be almost a private joke amongst those in the know.
Alex and her mom Karen were such a delight to share cake with and discuss designs. They had a pretty solid idea in mind already so the hard part was figuring out what kind of cake to get.  They chose classic pound cake filled with white chocolate ganache and iced in a traditional buttercream.  They had images for me to work from and everything was set.
Fast forward to around August of 2012 and I get an email from Alex’s mom saying they’d like a groom’s cake as well.  This time pound cake covered in luscious fudge frosting.  The had a special topper for his cake that they wanted to share and so we now had two cakes.
Continued reading the email and she decided they wanted to make sure they had plenty of cake so they also got a sheet cake, or kitchen cake, to be cut in the kitchen and served to guests.  No need to leave any boxes!

All I can say is that it was a lot of pound cake but it looked beautiful.  It was a project that, when complete, you could step back and say, “Yep, that’s exactly how it should look.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Year of Green

Pantone has selected emerald green as the color for 2013. I am pretty happy about that since I love all shades of green. If I were a "Steel Magnolia" I would say it was "my signature color." To say that I am happy about this comes from my personal love of the color and my artistic view of the world but to say I can be happy about it as a cake designer; not so much so.
It's a fair enough question with a not so complicated answer. You see, Pantone sets the stage for the color, assigning it a unique number so that whomever in the world that is planning to mix that dye lot will get the same color as everyone else thus making it universal and everyone is painting/dying/mixing by the same color palate.
Now, let's take this theory to any number of bridal shops in any part of the country. We don't need to name them because there are dozens and it's all going to be the same sort of answer in the end. When the bride chooses her bridesmaids gowns in her particular shade of green and gets her color swatch it WILL NOT say emerald green. It will have any number of lovely, ethereal titles - Sea Dragon Green, Deep Irish Green or what have you - but not one swatch will say emerald.

Allow this true example. Last spring I decorated a cake based on the color swatch provided by the bride's parents and it was a lovely shade of blue. It was a color that had to be mixed so that it would match and I would say it was spot on to the swatch. I arrive at the venue and set up and notice that the linens, bridesmaids dresses and coordinated floral arrangements all contain blue - but none of them match. Each and every shade of blue was different ranging from almost turquoise to sky blue meaning that the blue on the cake was its own unique shade at this point. Even though we were given a swatch and it all supposedly came from the same source it was not the same color.

All of that is to say that while Pantone is setting the color stage for the year and in most circles having that unique dye lot number will be exceedingly important it won't mean anything to those of us who will be working from color swatches of unusual names. Most of those colors cannot be ordered and must be mixed and that is difficult if large batches of color have to be done so that there is consistency.
So from my personal point of view I will say yay to the power or green.   My professional feeling on this wonderful announcement is that at least I'll get to work in shades of a color I love.