Although it began as far back as the 17th century, cake decorating did not become as elaborate as it is now until the mid-1800s. Today, Food Network shows like “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes’ have demonstrated cake decoration as a true art form.
“The whole food network craze has made elaborate cakes fashionable,” said Tricia Vicks, owner of Patty’s Cakes in Milford. “Shows like Cake Boss make it look so easy and fun. It is fun, but it is not at all easy. The entire process combines structural science, physics and imagination to make it all come together.” Ms. Vicks said that she always smiles when someone comes in and says that they just want something simple, but when they begin describing it she knows it will be far from simple.
Ms. Vicks said that most of the cakes seen on television take weeks, sometimes months, to prepare which is not clearly shown on a half hour or hour-long television show. She said the cakes on the shows are often reworked and redone hundreds of times. Many times they are transported across country, adding to the difficulty in creating a cake that will be able to travel, yet still be edible when it arrives. Ms. Vicks said the hardest thing to get people to understand is that carving fresh cake is an extremely difficult and time consuming prospect.
“If I could just take a stale cake and carve it, that would be really simple,” she said. “Fresh baked cake is soft and crumbly, so it is difficult to shave into shapes, like balls and triangles. Once it is cut off, you can’t put it back on. There is no such thing as cake glue. That means if I shave off more than I should, I am starting completely over.”
According to Ms. Vicks, people who watch her create a cake are surprised at some of the tools she uses. She says she uses a level for each layer of cake as if a layer is off by as much as a fraction of an inch, as the cake is stacked, the discrepancy will be more pronounced. In addition, an un-level cake is much less stable. She compared her 3-D cakes to sculpture as she often must mold and cut the cake to make the shape that she needs.
“I am making a Mickey Mouse House for a customer who is a building contractor,” Ms. Vicks explained. “We actually discussed how creating a cake like this is very similar to what he does when he builds houses. Although a half-inch error in a house may not seem like much, it can become much more pronounced as the construction continues.”
Wedding cakes can be particularly difficult as brides sometimes come in with specific requests and are not willing to allow for artistic license. Ms. Vicks says that when choosing cakes for a wedding or other event, it is important to allow for creative license as that will provide a more unique, interesting cake and not one that is exactly like one made for someone else.
“Creating an artistic cake takes time,” Ms. Vicks said. “If you want to have a unique, 3-D cake, just like any other type of art, you can’t order it the day before you need it. I try to accommodate people the best I can, but art takes time.”
Like all artists. Ms. Vicks says that it is a challenge for her when the design requested is not something she particularly cares for, but when that happens, she tries to incorporate some of her own personality into the design. A cake on display in her shop was created from a plate she found while shopping in a department store.
Ms. Vicks had just given birth to the sixth of her ten children when she learned cake decorating through several different courses. As her love of the art grew, she added a commercial kitchen to her garage, eventually developing a clientele that included individuals for special events as well as commercial businesses who either sold her cakes to their clients or displayed them at their own events. She opened her storefront in downtown Milford in December 2014.
“I get inspiration from everything,” she explained. “I am a lover of art in all forms, including music and painting. I absolutely love going to museums and looking at the creativity of other people. I have created cakes from napkins, plates, sketches brought to me by customers and almost anything you can think of. The best thing about my artistic outlet is that it can be eaten.”
Patty’s Cakes is open Monday through Friday from 11 AM until 4:30 PM. Friday’s are Cupcake Happy Hour with all cupcakes sold at half price. The store is located at 22 South Walnut Street in downtown Milford.