un’ruly life: lessons I learned while baking cakes with my dad

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– by Remi Powell, Contributor

Ever since I was a child, I remember watching my father combine ingredients in his mixer, carefully placing the batter into the cake pan and me smelling that amazing aroma around the house while the cakes were baking. I also recall the precision he had every time he decorated cakes—coordinating colors, making flowers, being attentive to details when writing words. And after seeing him work so hard on those cakes, I was so excited to see his customers’ reactions. I always wished that I could make cakes like him, because every time I saw him making them I was watching an artist create an art piece.

My father taught himself how to make cakes; he was never formally trained and that inspired my sister and I. As two young women who grew up watching our father create beautiful cakes, we decided to learn how to do it too. After four years of baking with my dad, we’re still rookies, which is why we are currently just sticking to cupcakes, but the time we’ve dedicated to this craft has not only taught us how to make the perfect frosting but has also taught us many life lessons that we’re reminded of each time we pick up a spatula.

Let your talents spillover to other mediums.

My dad started baking when he was a teen, age thirteen to be exact, having been inspired by his neighbor, Haroldine Robinson. She used to make humble cakes (i.e. pineapple upside-down cakes, strawberry shortcakes, fruit cakes) while he babysat her children and he took that opportunity to learn how to bake. With what Haroldine taught him as a base, he experimented with different flavors and decorating styles. With years of honing his craft he went from humble cakes to wedding cakes, birthday cakes, holiday cakes and so much more.

My father always had a flair for design. He loves decorating houses, Christmas trees and wreaths; he loves photography and making floral arrangements. During his baking years, he wanted to express his love for design even more, so he displayed it in his cakes. He took what he learned from Haroldine Robinson and found his own style, and because of that he’s been successful. Taking a cue from my dad, my sister and I put our own artistry into baking. My sister enjoys painting realism and abstract art, and I like photography and drawing illustrative art and we put all of those hobbies into our cupcakes. We each put our own twists into the cakes and cupcakes, making them unique. In a way, we kind of feed off each other’s imaginations and we inspire each other to try something different.

Play to your strengths and own your craft.

The cake industry is no joke. There are thousands of bakeries in the US that sell hundreds of baked goods every day. However, many of those businesses use fondant icing (thick gummy paste made of sugar and water), sculpting it into different shapes like a football or even a person. I can tell you right now, that’s not our thing. We use buttercream icing, made from powdered sugar and other ingredients. My father has always used buttercream because it tastes better, it’s not too sweet like fondant, and you can add hundreds of flavors to it. Using fondant is just too much of a challenge for him, and honestly, it would take away what makes us unique.

Patience is Key.

My father didn’t make a masterpiece on his first try at baking. He developed his talents. I’m sure he had moments where something didn’t come out right and he ended up getting frustrated, but he didn’t let that bring him down. I’ve been practicing making cakes since high school and I’ve had my moments where I wanted to give up but I didn’t because I knew that wouldn’t solve anything. Practice doesn’t make you perfect; it makes you better. And eventually hard work gets recognized.

Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight.

For a period of time however, he had to stop making cakes due to economic downturn. Within the last ten years, my parents were laid off from their stable jobs. They had to find employment that somewhat met their former salaries to make ends meet; basically underemployment. Since then, my parents have been through hell and back.. My parents have been through several different occupations; and none of them were something they were entirely satisfied with. Although my father was able to make some cakes for family members and friends, there was just not enough time or money to really get back into baking. Through all of these struggles, from getting second jobs to cutting back, we have never been stronger as a family.

Fortunately, my father has been able to return to baking cakes again, and this time, he has two primed daughters eager to continue his legacy. His customers introduce us to more customers through word-of-mouth. And the more cake orders he gets, the more creative he gets. He didn’t allow his challenges to stop him from doing what he loved. During these past years, he gradually worked his way back into his cake business, gaining more and more customers by the order. And just as he’s baking and decorating, my sister and I are too!

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Team Unruly
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