Lowveld ‘I Do’: You know it’s all about the cake!

Weddings, birthdays, christenings, anniversaries, Christmas, Easter and all kinds of celebrations. Traditions may change, trends come and go, but one constant thing marking special occasions, is cake.

And lately, even here in the Lowveld, the bigger and bolder, the better. The intricate art of cake decorating can be traced back to 17th-century Europe, but it was only in the mid 1800s that decorated cakes in the form we know them became prominent. Once the idea of their ornamentation was embraced, there was a rush by all the great chefs of Europe to create more fantastical decorations, fit for the king’s table.

Today the industry continues to grow in popularity with the abundance of cake-decoration shows on TV such as Cake Boss, the plethora of tutorials on the subject, and the number of tools and techniques available, making the art accessible to just about any amateur baker.

However, greater Mbombela seems to have no shortage in professionals when it comes to designer cakes, each with their own style, personality and preferences. Lowvelder met up with three master bakers from the area specialising in spectacular creations for various tastes – and budgets! You can find them all on Facebook.

Netta Steenkamp – Cakes to Delight

Getting married is a delightful moment and what better way to celebrate any good occasion than with cake. This is Netta’s take on weddings, and this is why she designs wedding cakes exclusively. “A wedding cake is like a microcosm of a good marriage. Beautiful on the outside, rich on the inside and a perfect blend of tradition and originality.”

Situated in the White River area, Cakes to Delight usually only focuses on one cake a week and prides itself on well-planned and designed creations. Being a perfectionist, Netta is confident that she can create just about any wedding cake.

This one-woman show has been in the industry since 2000, when she created her first-ever wedding cake for a dear friend while managing a corporate canteen. But her friend did not request this without knowing that Netta was probably the only person in town that could pull off the purple chocolate curls she wanted so badly. “The cake was a success, and my career started,” she says.

From a young age she loved creating with her hands, but baking is her forté. Her passion led her to study food-service management. However, this and the canteen, did not leave much room for artistic freedom for an artist like Netta.

This is why she chose to do wedding cakes only. “Creating a cake for such a special occasion gives me more room for extravagance and creativity.”

But Netta’s family is not that lucky when it comes to her delightful cakes. “Just like a mechanic’s car always gives trouble, I buy my family premix cake which they then have to bake and decorate themselves.” she admits. Because of all the effort that goes into each of her creations, she is selective about projects. No cake costing less than R3 000 will leave her kitchen, and she will gladly refer you to a supermarket should your budget be less. The most expensive cake was R11 500.
Looks or taste?

“A wedding cake should taste as good as it looks. Only the freshest ingredients are good enough. Just as you put in effort to complement yourself and your outfit with pretty shoes and perfume, you have to put in effort for the icing to complement the cake.”

Netta feels it is important for the bride to choose a wedding-cake designer in whom she has the utmost trust.

Darien van der Merwe – Kiss my Cake

A not-so-small one-woman business, Kiss my Cake has its base in Mbombela. Darien has a different day job, but is a self-confessed student of YouTube and Google. Being quite arty, she started out by making a cake for someone special when she realised her new passion.

“Clients usually send me photos of what they want, and I’ll quote according to that. Every cake is different,’’ she says. Although Kiss my Cake is a popular choice for oh-so-fashionable novelty cakes for the young at heart, she loves it when someone’s face light up because of her creations.

Darien is selective when it comes to risky themes and admits that her favourite creations are those with sugar flowers.

Darien is quite confident in her recipes, and she’s quite serious when she says that she actually tests the tried and tested recipes. However, certain products such as fondant can easily let one down and she often resorts to the web to do her purchases.

When asked what the priority should be, the cake’s taste or look, she feels the client pays for quality – inside and out. She reiterates that she sticks to certain brands for certain ingredients. But what would a client actually pay?

“The price would mainly be determined by the detail required and the type of cake.” It takes her on average eight to 10 hours to complete one cake and she does three to four cakes a week.

Darien says she relies quite strongly on some of her other baking friends.

“Only cake artists understand how much work and love are put in to these cakes,” she says.

Milly Spies – Fantasy Cakery

Most cake decorators agree that each of them have a different style and personality. Milly certainly stands out with her story of gratitude and, true to her name, industrious attitude and determination. “It is not about which baker is best, but who suits your style and requirements the best,” she explains.

For her, Fantasy Cakery was a prayer, as she wanted to do something from home that would still generate a decent income. “I wanted to bake my daughter’s first birthday cake myself and an experienced baker walked me through it via WhatsApp,” she explains. The feedback: “Milly, this is the answer to your prayer! You should bake!”.

Much like Darien, Milly spent a lot of data on researching cake decorating and baking online. Based in White River, she started out slowly, and Fantasy Cakery has since seen a tremendous increase in demand with the inclusion of three additional ladies (or as she refers to them, “gems”) to assist in various parts of the cakery.

Unlike Netta and Darien, Milly admits that although from an artistic family, she can’t paint a stick figure. Thus great the surprise to realise that she could mould and decorate. Earlier this year Milly received her first formal training in caking and decorating at the FBI Chef School. She has also been chosen to assist this world-renowned chef Nicolas van der Walt at the Innibos Kos Crawl later this year.

Her favourite cake depends on the client’s excitement. “If the client believes in me to do a lovely cake by giving me a theme and colour, I get very excited!” However, she adores making wedding cakes. But looks aren’t everything.

“Taste and looks go hand in hand,’’ she believes.

Fantasy Cakery does on average about 15 to 20 cakes a month and about 200 cupcakes. An average cake could take them about 18 hours if it includes multiple figurines. The most expensive cake they’ve done was a wedding cake of R12 000. Milly does bake for her family. The children are often part of the process and although they cut flour from their diet, the odd baking with love is allowed.

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