By Toni W. Riley
The kitchen in the home of Cody and Nicole Stewart doesn’t look like an art studio, but with the precision of any artist, Nicole deftly adds the finishing touches to a cake, and the centerpiece of a wedding reception, baby shower, birthday party or any special occasion is complete.
Nicole is quick to point out that she “can’t draw a worth a lick,” but she does agree that when given a picture of a cake, she can likely duplicate it.
Nicole is a self-taught cake artist. Five years ago she was watching the Food channel and saw a cake-baking contest. She said to herself “I can do that,” and she began watching YouTube videos to learn.
When her friend was having a baby shower, she offered to make the cake, which was a hit, and she thought, “OK, let’s do this again.”
Over the next four years, family and friends would call and want her to bake cakes and cupcakes for special occasions, which she was happy to do. As she made the cakes, she saw herself getting better and better with each baking experience.
Last year was a bellwether mark for Nicole as a baker. It was right after the birth of her fourth child, Wyatt, that she felt she had really hit her stride as a baker.
She was asked by her cousin to make her wedding cake and agreed to do it for fun and more practice. Nicole made a four-tiered vanilla wedding cake complete with flowers and even bark for the wedding’s rustic theme. She also baked a groom’s cake, and both were a success.
During her “hobby” baking years she worked several jobs, but it was when she was asked to make another wedding cake that she decided this hobby could turn into a profession. She wanted to stay home with her children, Lacey, Brook, Cody and Baby Wyatt, so she started a Facebook page and decided to just “let it roll.”
Since the development of her Facebook page and word-of-mouth advertising, her business has steadily grown. She averages three to five cakes a week and, at her busiest, she makes eight cakes.
There is no baking she won’t tackle: She will do any type of dessert — cupcakes, sugar cookies decorated with royal icing, cake pops and petit fours.
She laughed and remembered the first call she received about making petit fours.
“I said, ‘Sure,’ and immediately went to You Tube.”
The articulate 31-year-old has a broad array of cakes, but is most proud of a strawberry and champagne cake she developed. She hopes the flavor will become a wedding staple. She also has a unique cinnamon roll cake and a coconut cake that calls for six eggs and sour cream.
Again with the precision of an artist, she puts a great deal of time and effort into baking her cakes and developing their taste. Most of her cakes are a basic two-egg, vanilla cake recipe that she admits she tweaked a bit. To that cake she adds decorations as the customer desires. To her chocolate cake, she adds coffee to intensify the chocolate flavor.
Nicole says she doesn’t have a secret in her incredibly, moist cakes but does use “farm eggs” provided by family members.
For a simple two-layer cake, it takes 5-6 minutes to mix, 30 minutes to bake, 2 hours to cool and 2 hours to decorate.
Nicole said it takes two days to complete a wedding cake. She bakes the cakes, lets the layers cool slightly and wraps them in plastic wrap to keep the cakes from drying out.
Cakes can be iced with fondant or buttercream. Her fondant is made from marshmallows and sugar and rolled like piecrust then molded over the cake. It’s a time consuming process to ice a cake with fondant, but Nicole said the fondant must be smoothed and there cannot be any cracks or “elephant skin” wrinkles.
Buttercream is the traditional icing made from powdered sugar and either Crisco or butter. When she ices with buttercream, Nicole makes a very stiff frosting and builds a “dam” around the outside edge of the cake. Then, she adds a softer buttercream on the inside, and when she adds the next cake layer, the soft buttercream hits the dam and doesn’t ooze out. She admits that if she ever took a baking class it would be about icing with buttercream.
“I use a painters bench scraper to smooth the icing on the outside of the cake,” she said. “The bench scraper is wide enough to go from top to bottom, but there still are times that I can’t get it as smooth as I want.”
Nicole has an ace up her sleeve when it comes to making her buttercream frosting. She enlists the help of her 11-year-old daughter, Lacey, who she calls “a buttercream-making machine.” Lacey acknowledges that she likes helping her mom and testing out some sweets of her own: One night she made chocolate ganache for a friend to use as fruit dip.
Nicole’s business has been growing so steadily and her kitchen is so full of baked goods that she and her husband are purchasing property to build a “cake shop” near their home in Oak Grove.
The shop will be Nicole’s bakery but will also be open for breakfast, coffee and muffins.
“It will be my little cakery,” she laughed.
Nicole said she loves her newfound career because she gets to be a part of memories.
“It’s a memory I get to share with someone — I get to be a part of their day,” she said. “Yes, there are days I want to throw the oven out of the window, and then I realize that what I am going to make is helping that family make a memory, and I am really happy to help make the day a special time everyone loved and enjoyed.”
By Toni W. Riley