When one thinks of the hubs of great cake design, Utah is probably not the first place that comes to mind. And while no, it is not a center for hipster bakeries or retro-cool cupcake joints, the state is certainly not devoid of great feats of baking, as proven by our newest discovery, Layers of Love
, a Utah-based special-order cake company run by fondant artist extraordinaire Jennifer Vesper
. While Vesper always had an interest in baking, and crafts, it wasn’t until she discovered the wonders of fondant that she truly found her calling as a cake-maker. These days, she makes wonderfully detailed, gorgeous cakes for all sorts of occasions, from elegant wedding cakes to spirited, creative cakes for children’s parties. We recently caught up with Jennifer (or as her emails are signed, Jen) to talk cake, and learned about the dessert scene (or lack thereof) in Utah, her Pixie Stix addiction, and how blogs and cake work so beautifully together:
Cakespy: When did you start Layers of Love and what made you decide to start it?
Jennifer Vesper: I have been decorating here and there since 1995, but I have just started doing orders in the last year. There was a lot that went into the decision process for me. I was afraid at first that if I did this for a living, it would become more of a chore than a pleasure. However, the more cakes I began to do, the more fun I had making them. Every new client presents a new idea that allows me to explore new techniques and creative processes. Cake decorating gives me such a great creative outlet and allows me to be home with my children at the same time. My children love watching me create, every time a cake goes out the door my four year old says “Mommy, it’s so beautiful.” I hope that it inspires them to follow their hearts and do what they love as well.
CS: How has having a blog affected or helped your business?
Having a blog has been the best thing that ever happened to my business. The domain name layersoflove.com
(still under construction) was taken until just a month or so ago and so I decided to create a blog
in the meantime. It has been fabulous to be able to have my entire portfolio online for potential clients to view. It has also given me recognition in areas outside my region. I am shipping my first baked goods next weekend. It is great fun!
CS: You are largely self-taught but have taken a Wilton class or two. In your opinion, were the classes helpful and / or worth it for others who are interested in taking them? JV:
The Wilton classes I took were very helpful for two reasons: they gave me a base knowledge of decorating and they got me excited to learn more. Of course my ultimate goal is to go to pastry school, but seeing as there is not one in my area, that may not happen until I actually start making money from this venture.
CS: In addition to taking a class or two, you have learned a lot from books and the Food Network—are there any particular shows, books or bakers that inspire you in particular?
JV: I love Alton Brown. He is so good at explaining why different ingredients are important and how they interact with each other. It helps me know what ingredients are good and bad together so that I can be more adventurous in my recipes. The more obvious answer is also true, I love Ace of Cakes! When I see them goof up, it makes me feel so much better about my mistakes! I also learn cool tricks…since I am mostly self-taught, there are a lot of little things that I used to do the hard way. Besides, Duff Goldman is my idol. Someday I will have a bakery complete with saws and welding materials! *grin* For inspiration, I love Cake Craft Magazine, American Cake Decorating Magazine and “Colette’s Cakes to Dream On” by Colette Peters. However, when it comes to recipes and getting advice, I use cakecentral.com. The people there are my best friends in baking! I am also an avid scrapbooker both on paper and digitally. Not only do I use my digital kits to help design my cake sketches, but I use that in my creative process as well. I will see paper, fabric swatches, stamps and think, “That would make the cutest cake!” My inspiration comes from my everyday surroundings as much as anywhere else.
CS: You work primarily in fondant icing. What makes fondant so special to you?
JV: I actually began using only buttercream. I can still make just about anything in buttercream if there is a request for it, but things are so much more realistic in fondant and gumpaste. I love that you can make anything happen with fondant, the sky is the limit. I feel like I am a child making playdoh masterpieces. Right now I am working on painting on fondant. I just discovered this medium and I am enjoying it so much!
CS: Your cakes are very intricately decorated. How long does it take you to make a cake like say this one (picture to left)?
JV: This was my first quilted cake and I did it before I discovered impression mats, so it took me about 12 hours to do this cake including baking. Someone once said “the love is in the detail.” I think that is definitely true with cakes.
CS: A lot of your work is highly custom or specialized. What is the process of doing a custom cake? Do you submit sketches first to the client, etc? JV:
Most of my work is custom. I always have a customer consultation before starting work on any cake, whether it is via email or in person. If people don’t have an idea in mind, I send them examples of things that we could do and then we go to the next step. If they already know what they are looking for, I sit down with them and design their cake in Photoshop or PowerPoint. This way, I know we are all on the same page with color and design. I generally have brides bring me a color swatch so that we can match the fondant colors with their exact color scheme. Because I freehand most of my artwork and don’t work a lot with patterns, it is difficult for me to duplicate a cake that I have done. I try to get people to change something up a bit if they want it done exactly the same. This way they have their own unique piece and I have more fun creating something original.
CS: Have you ever had a cake damaged in transit? If so, what did you do?
JV: I have had minor issues. I always bring my emergency “tool kit” stocked with extra fondant, icing and every tool I used to make the cake. I also bring pre-made extra pieces so that I am totally prepared. I have had several funny ‘near’ disasters. One that really stands out was my first scroll work cake. I had spent all day on that cake and my hand was killing me from all the detail. I had to walk in a very small corridor next to an open pool to get the cake to the appropriate location. Most people don’t realize how much a three tier cake actually weighs, but they are heavy! I was making this delivery alone and didn’t see the small railing for the pool cover. I tripped, nearly landing both the cake and I in the pool. Thankfully, I recovered and everything turned out great. I was happy the bride and groom didn’t end up needing scuba gear for the cake cutting slice of their wedding.
CS: What is one of your favorite cakes that you've made? Can you tell us a bit about it?
JV: My personal favorite was the Scooby-Doo cake. I just had so much fun doing that one. I got to watch old Scooby-Doo episodes for inspiration and really had a good time with it. I also felt that it let me artistic side shine through a bit more than the cookie cutter cakes do.
CS: You live in Utah—what types of desserts are popular in your area? We're intrigued by local or regional specialties.JV:
Other than green jello? *grin* I would have to say cookies are the big thing here. I have to say, Utah is seriously lacking bakeries. We have a few donut shops, but most of our bakeries here are in grocery stores! There are a few great places in Salt Lake and Park City, but out here in the outskirts there really aren’t too many options. I suppose I need to change that.
CS: We notice that you've done some cupcake orders too. How would you rate cupcake vs. whole cake orders? Is one more popular than the other?
JV: Whole cake orders are more popular here, but I have started to get orders for cupcakes that compliment the wedding cake. I personally LOVE cupcake orders and wish there were more of them! When people call to order a sheet cake, I have been known to talk them into cupcakes instead. They are less mess, less waste and when you put them in a cupcake tree or stand, you have décor as well as cake.
CS: In many areas of the country, there are cupcake-ONLY bakeries. Are there any in Utah?
JV: Not that I am aware of. In fact, I asked around and people said, “Why would there be a bakery just for cupcakes?” Crazy people! So, I am sad to report that the cupcake scene hasn’t gotten big here yet, but I hope it catches on soon!
CS: We notice that right now, you work primarily by special order. Do you think you'd like to open a retail location?
JV: I would love to open a retail location someday. I don’t know that I am in an area that would support a retail location, but I would love to give it a try…someday…
CS: Have you noticed any trends or popular themes for cake orders recently?
JV: Video game themed cakes have been fairly popular recently, and I have the perfect household for that. I run all my video game and Star Wars designs by my 8 and 9 year old boys before presenting them to the client. They are happy to tell me what is cool, and what I have completely messed up on. If every color isn’t perfect, they will let me know.
CS: What, to you, is the most important aspect in making a great cake?
JV: I think the most important aspect is the detail. I love the WOW factor. I love it when I walk in the room and everyone stops to what they are doing and wants to see the cake. Clean lines and detail, especially in the simple elegant cakes, are the key to having a ‘great’ cake as opposed to an ‘ok’ cake. That also means that you have to really listen to your client and make sure you are on the same page and really know what they want the outcome to be.
CS: What makes a "bad" cake?
JV: Is there really such a thing as a “bad” cake? A bad cake, in my opinion, only happens when you and the customer were not on the same page. That is why sketching and communication are such important tools in the cake making process.
CS: How often do you eat cake?
JV: Unfortunately, every time I make a cake. Unfortunately for my figure that is. I taste test everything that goes out my door, so I try not to eat it much otherwise!
CS: Be honest. Do you have any junk-food dessert guilty pleasures, like Pop-tarts or Twinkies or the like?
JV: Of course! Who doesn’t love pop-tarts? My favorite guilty pleasure…Pixie Stix!
CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
JV: I love a good cheesecake or crumb cake…mmmmm.
CS: What is next for Layers of Love?
JV: First off, I want to get my web site up and running, I think that will help me to branch out and get a bigger customer base this year. Eventually, pastry school so that I can explore more dessert options!
CS: Anything else to add?
JV: Just a thank you for including me in your list of talented bakers. I am honored!
Want to learn more, or order a custom cake? Visit Jennifer’s cake portfolio blog at layersoflove.blogspot.com.