In this interview with Rachael Teufel from Intricate Icings Cake Design you'll discover where to begin as a novice cake decorator and how to make that leap from day job to full-time cake decorator!
How did you become interested in cake decorating?
I have always loved being in the kitchen since I was a very young girl. I remember watching cooking shows and trying to find all the ingredients quick enough to cook along with them. And while I grew up baking with my grandmother, I didn't discover my passion for cake decorating until later in life while seeking a creative outlet from my day job. I always had artistic interests, so cake decorating seemed like the perfect activity after a long day working as a physical therapist. I began my passion for cake decorating in 2001 with a few Wilton classes and continued to educate myself by taking classes with top designers like Ron Ben-Israel, Colette Peters and Marina Sousa.
You draw inspiration for your wedding cakes from brides’ gowns. How did you think of that and what else gives you inspiration?
I truly find inspiration everywhere. When you have a creative side and a passion for art, that’s all your eye can see. When I look at an object that appeals to me, I see it in cake. Ultimately that’s what happened with the dress cakes I started creating. I would ask my clients to see inspiration as they were planning their wedding. I realised quickly that the gown really set the tone for the event based on its style. Hence the gown inspired cake designs were created.
We know your grandmother came from Hungary, did she have a big influence on you? Did she like decorating cakes?
Being in the kitchen with my grandmother was how we communicated. She didn’t speak much English but we both seemed to love our time together while cooking and baking. I learned a lot from her in regards to recipes and cooking techniques, but not really cake decorating. Most of our baking was in the form of cookies and pastries, but it set a great foundation for what was to come.
Do you have a ‘typical’ day?
I wouldn’t say I have a typical day anymore. I recently scaled back my business from doing 150-175 wedding cakes per year with a staff of three to doing only 20-25 cakes per year by myself. It’s been a wonderful change that has allowed me more time with my family while still doing what I love.
What advice do you have to give to a novice cake decorator?
I know this is probably a little cliche, but my advice to any cake decorator is to be yourself. No-one else can be you, so find what you are good at and make that your focus. Whether it is a particular style, a specific product, or simply your personality that wins customers over, you have to be true to yourself.
What’s the most complex decoration you’ve ever been asked to do?
In my earlier years decorating, I wasn’t very knowledgeable in sculpting cakes and building armature. I had a client request Frankenstein and his bride as a cake. I was excited about the project but scared as well. The figures themselves were over four feet tall and extremely detailed. It was a learning process from start to finish and still one of my more challenging pieces.
What’s the longest period of time that you’ve ever spent decorating one single cake?
The longest amount of time I have ever spent on one cake was just over four weeks. It just so happens to be my Frankenstein cake. Building the armature, sculpting the figures from rice cereal treats, covering and decorating the figures, making sugar roses and creating three tiers of cake and the pedestal was a lot of work!
Do people have to be really artistic to be a successful cake decorator?
I think more than being artistic, having attention to detail is a key characteristic for cake decorating, especially when it comes to wedding cakes. Cake decorating is a bit of a meticulous craft that requires patience to complete some tedious detail work.
How would you sum up your style and why?
My style is modern, yet contemporary. I love crisp, clean lines and the simplicity that comes with modern decor, but enjoy incorporating the ever-changing trends of today. I’m always looking for something new and different to create that hasn’t been done in cake, so I’d say there’s a touch of innovation in there as well.
You used to be a physical therapist, that’s quite a leap of faith into a totally different career! How did that happen? Would you encourage others to follow their decorating dreams?
As I mentioned earlier, I really just needed a creative outlet. As a person who is very much in touch with my emotions and those of others, I found physical therapy to be draining. Working with people who were in pain was not an easy task for me. I tried several different hobbies like painting, glass blowing and flower arranging. I took a cake decorating class and fell in love. It should not have come to me as a surprise though, as it combines my love of the kitchen and art all into one. Ultimately, I wasn’t happy working in PT anymore and decided I needed to make a change. I started out slow by transitioning to part time, so that I could build my business. In less than a year I was able to quit PT all together and have never looked back. I think anyone who wants something bad enough will make the sacrifices to do what they love in the end.
What are your top three cake decorating essential tools?
The task of only choosing three of my favorite tools is tricky. Does modelling chocolate count as a tool? Because that is most definitely the one thing I cannot live without! I love its versatility and it is what I use to create just about all of my designs. I also love my PME veining tool and my X-Acto knife.
Here’s a toughie – what is one of your favourite decorations and why?
I think lace decorations might still be my favourite. It has an element of simplicity and yet it’s extremely detailed. The design options are endless, since there are so many different styles of lace available. And it allows me to personalise my cakes, since I can create silicone moulds of the exact lace from my client's gown.
Find out more at www.intricateicings.com