Working from Home: The good, the bad and the ‘that’s it I quit’ moments

Firstly, I have to say I love my job and a lot of the time it doesn’t feel like work but don’t get me wrong, running a business, any business, is hard work.  I run my cake decorating business from home and mostly that is a positive experience but it does have its downside.

The good

  • I can set my own work hours to a certain extent. As long as a cake is ready for collection on time then my work hours are flexible.  This means I can take a morning, afternoon or evening off to catch up with friends etc (Also see under ‘The bad’)
  • I can watch TV or listen to music etc while I work
  • I don’t have to commute

The bad

  • This first one goes along with the setting my own work hours mentioned above.  When I am very busy and have several cake orders to complete in a week, there aren’t enough hours in the day.  I will often work all morning, afternoon and evening.  Many cake decorators are familiar with the ‘up until 2am’ moments. This is usually only something that can happen if someone works from home.
  • Other people not taking the business seriously because it is run from home and not understanding the work involved in running a business.  Its not just the actual cake production, its also the many hours of designing, paperwork etc
  • very occasionally customers will turn up without making an appointment
  • as with other self-employment there are no perks, no holiday or sick pay, regular wages etc.  If I don’t work I don’t get paid.
  • a particular issue with family members is them assuming I can run certain errands for them because I don’t have a boss to answer to.  Yes at times this is possible but during very busy periods it isn’t.  Every cake I make has a deadline and even if I can make certain decorations ahead of time, a cake is a fresh food item and has to be made as close to the celebration as possible.
  • it can be lonely at times

The ‘I Quit’ moments

These don’t happen very often but usually result from having numerous cake orders, some members of the family not pulling their weight around the house (I still have to cook, clean etc) and me feeling a little overwhelmed because of my lengthy to-do-list. I wonder if it would be easier to give up the business and go out to work.

It may seem that there are more bad points than good but for me the good points outweigh the bad because I love what I do and couldn’t imagine not baking and decorating cakes.

I’d be interesting to hear of others experience working from home.  Do you find the same lack of understanding from others?  How have you tackled any problems that have arisen?

 

 

 

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Cake Disasters

Fortunately, most cake problems I’ve had have happened before a customer has collected a cake.  I’ve had cakes I’ve had to re-bake because they weren’t cooked properly, cakes I’ve had to re-cover because I’ve not been happy with the design but I’d not had one fail after delivery until a few months back.

After many emails back and forth the customer finally decided on an art deco, peacock feather design cake in pale blue. The cake consisted of two tiers but each tier was double height. Each cake layer was placed on its own cake card, dowelled (apart from top layer) and the whole thing seemed pretty sturdy and stable before collection.  This is the cake as it left me.

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About half an hour later I got a phone call.  The customer had had a ‘disaster’ on the way home and the cake had collapsed in some way.  The cake was for a big party the next night and the customer asked if I could do anything to repair it.  Usually I would apologise and say that once a cake had left me it was their responsibility but the customer was a good friend so I wanted to see what I could do.  I requested that she sent photos so I could see the damage and assess what needed to be done.  I could have cried when I saw these photos.

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The whole cake had slid but also collapsed somehow at the bottom, causing cracks in the fondant and damage to the decoration.  At this point I took a very deep breath!  I arranged to visit the venue where the party was to be held once the cake had been taken there (in case any further damage occurred on its way there) and prepared a repair kit.  I knew I wouldn’t have that much time once I was there so decided to try making some extra peacock feathers before I went.  As I made them I placed them in a plastic box, layered them with cling film and hoped they’d stay soft and flexible enough until the next day.  I had no idea if this would work or not but fortunately, when I got to the venue, the feathers were still soft.

I’m not really sure why this cake collapsed but whatever the reason, I learned quite a lot during the repair process.

The most difficult thing to deal with was the collapsing at the bottom.  I had to find something quite sturdy to ‘prop’ this up and ended up using some cardboard covered in clingfilm to get the cake level again which I then covered with fondant.  I then replaced the ‘beading’ round the bottom of the tiers, added peacock feathers over the ones that had been damaged, repaired the piping detail and then repaired any remaining cracks with a paste of the coloured fondant and water.

I forgot to take a photo of the repaired cake but I was happy with the result and the customer was very appreciative that I’d gone out to help.

So, what did I learn from this experience? Repair techniques and maybe that its a good idea to deliver tall cakes!

RKT – Rice Krispie Treats

Taking a break from the storage posts to talk about using Rice Krispie Treats for modelling when making cakes.  I had watched Duff on Ace of Cakes use these frequently and a couple of years ago decided to try them for myself and now use them all the time.

The recipe I use is:-

50g margarine or butter
200g marshmallows
150g crisped rice cereal

Prepare a greased dish, I use a glass Pyrex roasting dish.

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Melt the margarine in a saucepan over a low heat

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Once it is melted add the marshmallows

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Stir until melted and mixed thoroughly with the melted margarine.

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Remove from the heat and stir in the crisped rice

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Spoon into the greased bowl, flatten down, cover loosely with food wrap and leave overnight to firm up.

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Now for the fun part!

My brother was 50 last week and had a party at the weekend. I wanted to make him a special cake, the theme being all the things he enjoys most.  I decided to make a model of their sofa out of RKT and have a model of my brother lying on it.

First I made the basic shape from the RKT, cutting and sticking bits together as needed.

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At this stage the model can be covered in a layer of buttercream which helps to smooth the shape and fill in the gaps.  I didn’t do that this time as I wanted a bit of texture to the finished sofa.  Instead I covered it in a layer of fondant and smoothed that out as much as possible. Once that had hardened slightly I added the top layer of icing and marked the cushions and leather detail using a dresden tool.

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And the sofa on the finished cake

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Organisation

With all the space in the new kitchen I have been able to organise my business area more efficiently.  It saves so much time when everything has a place. I’ve tried to keep all the items I need for a particular job in one cupboard.

This is my baking cupboard, in here I keep all my cake tins, mixing bowls and cooling racks.  I’ve been trying to build up my collection of different size tins as I often need more than one of each.  The multi-size tins are invaluable for those odd size cakes I sometimes get asked to make and for making number cakes (its more cost effective to bake a rectangle and cut out the number shape I need, rather than buying tins in each shape and I don’t have to find space to store them).

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Onto my decorating cupboard.  In this cupboard I keep most of the things I need for covering cakes, along with a few extra bits and pieces.  In here I store my fondant, icing sugars, smoothers, my mini-mat (I’ll talk about this another time), rolling pins, spirit level, spacers and a box containing dowels, wooden skewers and wires for supporting tiers and modelled figures. I also use this cupboard for cupcake cases, piping bags and bowls that I use for mixing small amounts of coloured royal icing.

 

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I’ll take a moment here to talk about fondant.  When I started out I usually stuck with supermarket own brand fondant, mainly because it was cheap, easily available and seemed to work well.  However, supermarkets frequently decide to change the recipe of their fondant without warning and despite their reassuring words ‘new improved’ ‘easier to roll’, quite often the new recipe isn’t as good. Last year I had an order for a wedding cake and wanted to try a better quality product.  I read reviews online and decided to order Sattina.  The first difference I noticed when opening the packet was the smell, it smelled delicious and the taste didn’t disappoint.  I find most supermarket brands have a slight synthetic taste but Sattina doesn’t.  It isn’t overly sweet and customers comment on how good it tastes. It is only a little more expensive than I am used to paying but not as much as some of the other well-known high quality fondants.

If you have any questions please leave a comment. Next week is cake drum and box storage.

 

My kitchen

For several years I’ve been struggling to run my business in a kitchen not designed for the job.  I had one cupboard that housed all my baking and cake decorating supplies and I often had to empty the contents of the cupboard to find what I needed. When I was particularly busy, another problem was finding somewhere to store the cakes and decorations. Sometimes every flat surface in the house would be covered in cakes in varies stages of decoration.  Finally, after much persuasion, my husband agreed that we would have a new kitchen.

We designed our first kitchen ourselves and while it has worked as a family kitchen, I wanted the new one designed to take into account its business use.  The photo shows my work area in the new kitchen.Image

I’m still working on the organisation but the work surface and shelving have made my life a lot easier. I have ample room for cakes in all stages of decoration and plenty of cupboard space to contain baking tins, cake boards and boxes, equipment etc. The new layout is also much easier to keep clean and tidy, an important consideration when customers frequently collect cakes from me.

Over the next few posts I’ll show you inside the cupboards and talk about any storage tips I’ve come across. To be efficient and save time it is essential that the items I use most can be accessed quickly and easily.