If your heart wants Cake Boss, but your wallet says grocery-store bakery, new products are coming out to help give cakes a high-end look for a low-end price.
The market is responding to America’s obsession with all things cake. If you need proof, just turn on the television. Not an hour goes by, it seems, without a show about cake, cupcakes, cake competitions or cake decorating. We can’t get enough of it.
But the more we stare at those fancy-schmancy cakes, the less content we are with an ordinary bakery cake to celebrate our birthdays and other occasions.
Baker LaVada Holman has seen firsthand how tastes in cakes have changed dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s not unusual for her to get requests for three-tiered cakes decorated with fondant icing for a baby’s first birthday party. The kind of cake that was once reserved for weddings is becoming common for birthdays and other lesser events.
“People don’t want the same old grocery store cake. They want something special. They want something to impress everybody else,” Holman said.
A simple layer cake with icing flowers, the birthday standard for years, is no longer acceptable for many people.
But the price of a three-tier fondant creation can stop customers in their tracks. Cakes seen on television typically come with price tags in the thousands.
That’s where companies and entrepreneurs are finding their niche — offering decorations to give plain cakes an expensive look.
Charynn Olsheski, a chiropractor who lives outside Butler, Pa., caught the bug from watching cake-decorating shows on television. She began practicing with fondant icing and later started baking cakes for family and friends.
The cake decorating was a way to help her and her husband, who also is a chiropractor, make ends meet while establishing their practice and paying off their student loans.
What Olsheski discovered, however, was that no one wanted to pay the kind of prices she had to charge to make the detail work, particularly during the recession. Customers wanted the designer look without the designer price.
That’s when Olsheski started to make and sell fondant decorations that customers could use to dress up either a homemade cake or cupcakes, or less expensive cakes purchased at the grocery store.
“I found that people wanted these Cake Boss-type cakes, but did not want to pay me even the kind of money that I wanted,” she said. “I came up with this way to send things to them so they could decorate their cakes and cupcakes into something real high-end. They keep the prices down and still make it something fabulous.”
From her website, www.twosugarbabies.com, Olsheski has been selling the decorations to customers all over the world and she’ll make them to customers’ specifications. Most of her designs sell for under $25, and will dress up either a dozen cupcakes or a standard eight-inch layer cake.
Olsheski was one of the first to offer such a service, but now competition is cropping up everywhere. Similar decorations can be found at www.edibledetails.com. To keep ahead, Olsheski is now selling toppers for brownies and sugar cookies as well.
For an even lower-budget option, Wilton Enterprises, which sells cake decorating supplies at mass retailers and craft stores like Michaels and Walmart, is offering its own take. The company recently introduced Sugar Sheets, colorful premade sheets of edible decorating paper, which can be cut into fanciful shapes using a punch similar to the die cutters used by scrapbookers.
Holman, who teaches the Wilton cake decorating method at Grandma’s Cupboard in Springfield Township, Ohio, said the sheets were designed to appeal to those who enjoy scrapbooking. “For convenience decorating, the customers absolutely love it,” she said.
The sheets sell for $4, the punch base for $15, and inserts for the punch in a variety of shapes — hearts, flowers, leaves — are $6 each. The sheets are an easy way to dress up homemade cupcakes.
Also offering quick and easy cupcake decorating is Cupcake Cuties ( www.cupcakecuties.com), a California company that sells kits for decorating two dozen cupcakes. The kits include wrappers for the bottom of the cupcake and toppers to match, to turn plain cupcakes into high-style party-themed treats.