Cake disasters. The words alone make you shiver, don’t they? No one wants to encounter a cake disaster, however, NO ONE can avoid it either. It’s a rite of passage.
As disastrous as it sounds, cake disasters are good for you in the long run. They teach you valuable lessons and things that you should NEVER do again! But, as always, my mission is to save you valuable time, so in this blog post, I’ll be retelling some of my most disastrous tales and imparting the wisdom that I’ve learnt through these experiences, so that you won’t have to go through the same things I did.
So here goes my top three heart-stopping cake disasters and what I’ve learnt from them.
Disaster #1 - Where’s the wedding cake?
Okay, this one is by far the most traumatising experience I’ve ever endured during my 10+ year stunt as a cake designer.
This happened on a Saturday afternoon, at 5pm to be exact (yes it was that traumatic I remembered the time). It was December 18th 2017, my last day of work for the year. We had just wrapped up a Cakes by Cliff workshop in our studio. Myself, Cliff and a student were sitting down, having a break and a yarn (that’s Aussie lingo for a chat).
My phone: *Apple ringtone blaring* A landline number appeared on the screen.
Me: *Who in the world would be calling me now at 5pm? It’s probably just some telemarketer, I’m going to ignore it…. Gahhh, alright I’ll pick it up.* “Hello?”
The caller: “Hi, this is blah calling from blah. I was wondering where Dan and Em’s wedding cake is. Are you far?”
Now, I want to preface this by saying that I am NOT a panicker. In the face of setbacks or problems, my instinctive response is usually not panic. I’m a rational thinker, and I’m a problem solver. BUT, in this exact moment, I remember feeling the blood drain from my face, followed by an intense heat wave which started at the top of my head and spread its way down my spine. I swear, I could have passed out. My ears may have rung. I don’t know. My spirit definitely left the body 🤣.
Here are the calculations if you still haven’t quite grasped the severity of the situation:
- I knew the names that had just been mentioned, meaning this wasn’t a mistake.
- It was past 5pm.
- The wedding was going to start any minute now.
- I didn’t have the cake.
I was so screwed. But more importantly, I was going to screw up someone’s big day…
After what seemed like 2 years (probably 2 minutes in reality), my spirit returned to its body.
My problem solving skills kicked in.
This was the plan of attack:
- Go to the local Coles and get a bunch of mixed flowers.
- Make chocolate sails.
Meg (the student):
- Take a quick 2 minute crash course (from me) on how to wash and prep fresh flowers.
- Wash and prep the flowers Cliff had bought.
- Defrost the cakes I had in the freezer. Mind you, it was RARE that I would keep random cakes in the freezer, so thank goodness!
- Make a batch of DTC buttercream.
- Cut, fill, and cover two cakes (we were going for 2 tiers, 5” & 7”).
- Give both tiers a watercolour finish.
- Stack, decorate, and deliver the cake.
- The venue was a half hour drive from our studio.
- The guests will start flowing into the reception at 6:30.
- We had less than 60 minutes to pull this cake off to allow enough time for the drive.
Okay, how are you doing? Ya still with me? Hold the heart palpitations!
Obviously, I lived to tell the tales. We pulled it off. The plan WORKED!
Here’s a picture of the cake we made in 45 minutes.
Hang on. Hold your horses.
There’s a TWIST… whattt? 🤣
So, normally as per our cake delivery guidelines, the cake needs to be sufficiently chilled before transportation. But we didn’t have that kind of time. In my rush, I stuck the finished cake in the freezer to give it maximum chill while I prepped the car.
I also almost missed the turn off the freeway, and had to do a mission impossible swerve but that’s not the twist.
Anyway, I got to the venue, propped the cake on this beautiful wine barrel, took a snap of it on my phone and there it was…
The main focal flower on the cake was black. It was originally white, but had magically wilted so much in the last 30 minutes that it turned black.
…oh no, the freezer..
Cut a long story short, I stole a flower from one of the wedding arrangements on the table, borrowed some toothpicks and aluminium foil from the kitchen, and voila!
What I Learned…
Have an efficient cake making system in place.
We would never have been able to pull this off if it wasn’t for my Buttercream Cake Mastery framework. Because of this efficient framework, I knew exactly what needed to be done, and could do them all in such a short timeframe. Granted, it helped that I had cakes sitting in the freezer. But, if your recipes are long winded, your process complicated, the idea of making a cake in your own leisurely time would already give you anxiety, let alone attempting something like this situation.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an efficient cake making system in place. Without one, you’re overworking yourself and limiting your growth.
Set boundaries for your cake business.
The reason why I found myself in this situation was because I forgot to put this couple’s date on my Google Calendar. We did a face to face consultation 12 months before the wedding. At this point, the wedding date wasn’t even confirmed, but the couple insisted that they knew exactly what they wanted for the cake, so I agreed to do the consultation. Obviously, the actual date was confirmed months later, but because it wasn’t how things usually happen (confirm date > have consultation > pay deposit), and I was trying to juggle orders as well as workshops, I somehow forgot to put their date on our Google Calendar.
After this incident, I implemented a rule that prevented this from ever happening again: we won’t hold any consultation more than 6 months out from the wedding date. Sure, anyone could email us at any time enquiring about a cake, and they would receive our Info Pack with all the information they would want to know. But to discuss the cake’s designs etc and confirm their order, we won’t do it if the date is more than 6 months away.
Now, this was what worked for me and my business as I found that people also tend to change their minds about cake designs if they have too much time in between. They go on Pinterest and collect too many ideas 🤣. This worked for me, but it may not make any sense to you and your business. The point is, you should sit down and really think about how you would like to do things, what would make your life easier, decrease your risks, etc. Think about those things and then draw boundaries around them to ensure that they stay true for you.
Never stick fresh flowers in the freezer.
Well, this one is self explanatory isn’t it? 🤣
Disaster #2 - The air conditioning went on strike.
We’ve only gone through one disaster, I have two more to tell. Are you sure you’re up for this? How’s your anxiety level?
Still here? Okay, let’s talk about cake disaster #2.
This one occurred in the mid summer. In Australia, things can get quite toasty in summer and on this day, the temperature exceeded 40C. It was a scorcher alright.
Funnily enough, this wedding was also at the SAME venue as the one in disaster #1 (omg, jinx!). I had a 5 tiered wedding cake to deliver. The plan was to stack the top two tiers onsite, as a pre-stacked 5 tier number wouldn’t fit in the car. I arrived at the venue, left my assistant and the cakes in the car with the aircon still running and went inside to suss out where I was going to stack the cakes etc.
As I was walking up to the venue, I noticed that the front door was propped wide open. I thought this was strange, seeing as it was scorching outside and they’re letting the cool air out, or, the hot air in. My stomach sank as I approached the front door. I just realised what it meant…
The aircon wasn’t working…
Yes, I’m going to let that sink in for a bit. On a super hot day where I had to stack the top two tiers of a five tier cake onsite, the venue’s air conditioning wasn’t working.
If the outside temperature wasn’t hot enough to fry the hair follicles on my arms as I was walking up to the venue, the inside temperature sure was hot enough to make my face explode. It was like a sauna.
Did I mention, these were buttercream cakes? Well, now I have..
I also had to prep and arrange fresh flowers onsite, as the flowers were being supplied by the couple’s florist. Oh, the poor florist. The heat was wilting her arrangements as we were speaking.
So here was what went down:
1. I prepped the flowers in the boot of my car, with the air conditioning on.
2. I stacked the cake in the cool room, which was 0°C. If you are enrolled in Buttercream Cake Mastery, you’d know that after the tiers are stacked I go over the gaps with a piping bag of buttercream. Well, the cool room was so cold that the buttercream seized up instantly which means I couldn’t pipe it. I ended up having to jump outside where it was 40°C+ for a few minutes to soften up the buttercream, then jump back in the cool room to pipe, back outside, then back in etc. The headache from the sudden temperature changes was severe.
3. I left the finished cake in the cool room for the venue’s chefs to move into the reception when the wedding started. Here’s a picture of the cake sent to me by the bride. The aircon must’ve got fixed by the time the wedding started, thank goodness!
What I Learned…
Have a solid cake delivery system in place.
This cake delivery was no doubt stressful. However, I was able to deal with unexpected challenges in a calm manner because I had a plan in place. If you don’t already have a solid cake delivery system, check out my cake delivery tips here.
Disaster #3: Ovens DO die 😭
This cake disaster story happened before the first two, when I still had the DTC cafe. At this time, I was baking for the cafe as well as custom orders. In this particular week, I was also due to fly out to Singapore on Saturday to conduct my first ever cake decorating workshop.
- Bake enough goodies to stock the cafe’s cabinet all week, especially for the weekend.
- Fulfil 7 custom cake orders, as well as deliver them.
- Fly out to Singapore to conduct a workshop on Saturday.
My oven died at the start of the week. Yes, it just stopped working…of all weeks…
Do you need a few minutes to process that?
My oven died at the start of one of the busiest weeks of my cake making career.
The work around:
I ended up using my home oven (luckily, I lived in an apartment a few levels above the cafe) because getting this oven fixed in time was not an option. We needed parts, I was told. The home oven was tiny, but it was better than no oven. This little oven was basically running for 3 days straight.
The TWIST (because, there’s always one..):
My poor home oven ALSO DIED on Friday morning. Laugh or cry? I think I did both 🤣.
I only had two rounds of baking left to do this particular Friday morning. So I ended up borrowing two of my neighbours’ home ovens, one on the fourth floor and one on the seventh floor. It was a long cardio session I tell ya, running between the cafe and the two apartments. Thank goodness for elevators.
Eventually, I managed to finish all the required bakes. Along with an extremely long night into the early morning, I got everything done.
I have no recollection of packing, but somehow I managed to do two cake deliveries before catching a plane at 2pm on Saturday.
What I Learned…
Don’t take your equipment for granted.
Ovens, fridges, freezers, mixers, etc, they do get ‘tired’ and eventually ‘die’. Have back up plans in place for these situations. More importantly, have a service plan in place. In other words, like your car, your equipment needs to be serviced regularly.
In summary, cake disasters do happen, and you really can’t predict when. However, it helps to have an open mind about them and to have plans in place for when they do occur. What’s the worst that can happen? You live another day to LEARN from your mistakes, right?
Do you have a cake disaster story of your own? Let us know in the comments.
Want to avoid cake disasters that are avoidable? Check out our free Masterclass, The 4 Step Framework To Become a Successful Buttercream Cake Artist.