Meet Clare Studwell, a talented baker that we're lucky to call our friend. This is Clare, with a Monet-inspired water lily cake that she created for her Birthday this past Monday. A lady that loves baking so much that she even bakes her own birthday cake - that's dedication! We loved this design!
Since we've known Clare, she's dazzled us with homemade cookies dressed up perfectly for any occasion (example: a 2012 Presidential election party). Then she goes on to impresses us by competing in a decorating contest put on by The French Pastry School and taking home 3rd! She even bakes cakes with unique decor designs for terminally ill children through a wonderful non-profit called Icing Smiles.
Clare runs her own baking business, Caketacular, and she's the first one our friends call on when a celebration is in order and cake is a must. It would be a shame to keep her baking talents hidden, which is why we're delighted to partner with Clare for a Yoga+ Cupcake Decorating Workshop on Thursday, July 23rd. The workshop will take place at the shared studio of photographer Lucy Hewett and Nourishing Notes (printed goods for the food obsessed). You'll learn decorating tips and tricks from Clare, decorate your own half dozen cupcakes, and also walk home with the tools to help you re-create the professional look again to impress your friends at your next gathering. Reserve your spot for next Thursday's class here (and get 10% off with code 'sweettooth'), and learn more about the lady behind the awesome decorating skills below!
How did Caketacular start?
Truthfully, I started Caketacular by accident! Baking has always been an important part of my life, but I would say I fell backwards into creating Caketacular and making my baking more official. Back in 2008, I was working from home, at a job that was paying my bills, but not fulfilling me personally or professionally. I wasn’t feeling inspired or creatively or intellectually challenged, so I decided to take a Wilton cake decorating class at Michaels – I had always been a good baker, but decorating had never been a strong suit of mine. After the class, which was really designed for beginner decorators, I started baking and decorating a lot more frequently. After bringing some cupcakes and treats to potlucks and parties, people started asking me if they could pay me to bake for their children’s birthday parties, baby showers, engagement parties, etc., and through that, Caketacular was born! My big win was in September of 2009, when I did my very first wedding.
Do you have a style you lean toward most when decorating? If so, how would you describe it?
I would say my style tends to be more on the simple side. Although I can decorate with fondant, I prefer to decorate with buttercream icing, which lends itself more to rustic, playful decorating, rather than the very pristine, sophisticated look you can achieve with fondant. I love to do a simply iced and textured cake in white icing with some metallic accents or a huge statement flower.
Best tip/trick when decorating?
Remember that you are always going to be your own worst critic. You can spend hours and hours trying to get your icing perfectly smooth, or your flowers just so, but you have to remember that you are going to be the only one who sees those tiny little flaws. At the end of the day, you are creating a delicious treat for people to enjoy – you aren’t creating a permanent piece of art that will live in a gallery forever. So be easy on yourself and have fun with your decorating!
What inspires you while decorating your cakes?
For me, and for my family, food and cooking has always been the way to show other people that you love and appreciate them. I feel that cake decorating is just an extension of that. I love creating something for someone I love that is not only delicious, but that is also beautiful.
I would be lying if I didn’t also admit that I love the compliments, too!
What's your earliest baking memory?
I don’t know if this counts as a baking memory, because I’m not the one who was doing the baking… But, I distinctly remember the cake my mom made for my 6th birthday– it was a chocolate Mickey Mouse cake that she decorated herself using a star tip. This is a pretty standard decorating technique that every beginner learns, but few people do it anymore because it is SO time consuming. You are basically covering the entire cake with tiny stars (and for many cakes, you are using a lot of different colors!). Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I definitely appreciate it now, and I remember calling my mom after we learned that technique in the Wilton class at Michaels to thank her for the countless hours she must have spent making that and all my other cakes from childhood.
So, this ties into what inspires me – I truly believe there is no better way to show someone you love them than to invest that time and energy into something they will remember and love.
Favorite cake flavor? Favorite icing flavor?
This is a tough one! My favorite cake flavor is Hummingbird – this is a traditional Southern recipe that I like to say is like banana bread on crack. It is very similar to a banana bread, with banana, cinnamon, and vanilla, but made even more delicious with the addition of pineapple (and sometimes pecans). However, this cake is best with cream cheese icing, which is not great for decorating, so I will only use this for my most rustic decorating projects.
When I am going to be doing more intense decorating, my go-to cake is a chocolate butter cake from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. There are two not-so-secret ingredients that take the flavor of this cake over the top – a touch of cinnamon, and a lot of coffee. It is rich, moist, and delicious, and pairs wonderfully with a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which is my preferred icing for decorating.
Tell us about the biggest/most challenging cake project you've taken on.
So far, I would say the biggest challenge I had was making a wedding cake for a wedding in which I was also a bridesmaid… and which was halfway across the country in State College, PA. That project required a ton of logistical consideration – can I bake and decorate a cake for 200 in my tiny Chicago apartment? Can I safely get said cake 568 miles across the country, while still getting there in time for the rehearsal dinner? Can I trust the caterers with the cake while I fulfill my bridesmaid duties? etc. etc.
It was incredibly stressful and I would be lying if I told you we (me and the cake) made it to the wedding in one piece and without a lot of tears, but in the end, the cake turned out beautifully, I made it to and was in the wedding as I was supposed to be, the bride and groom loved it, and it was an incredible honor to have been able to do it. BUT, I would not recommend you try this at home.
What's one baking pan/tool/supplies item you can't live without?
Do I really have to pick just one?! Honestly, I would recommend that everyone invest in parchment paper. It is SUCH a versatile kitchen tool. It makes your baking experience better and easier, it can even make prep cleaner and more efficient, you can use it as a decorating bag (which I will teach you in the upcoming Cupcake Decorating workshop!), you can use it to smooth your icing on your cake, and on and on.
We know you volunteer your time and skills to make cakes for terminally ill children through Icing Smiles. How did you get involved with that group and what's your greatest joy about making cakes for kids?
Icing Smiles is an incredible organization that I’m honored to be a part of! The mission is to provide cakes to children and the siblings of children suffering from critical illnesses. Although it may seem unimportant to outsiders, a custom celebration cake can provide a brief moment of escape from the daily stresses associated with battling these illnesses. I also love that the organization includes the entire family unit – when a child is diagnosed with a critical illness, it is not that child who suffers, but also his or her siblings, who sacrifice the attention of their parents during this trying time.
A simple Google search pointed me in the direction of Icing Smiles, and I love that they accept more amateur bakers like me, as well as professional bakers, who create incredible 3-dimensional sculpted cakes.
There are absolutely no words I can use to describe the humbling feeling I get every time I deliver an Icing Smiles cake. The families are always SO appreciative and thankful, but I truly think I get more out of the experience than they do. It is an incredible honor to be able to use my skills and talents to brighten someone’s day, and it feels like such a small drop in the bucket compared to the stress and challenges these parents and children face on a day-to-day basis.