Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Chair Cake - Learning Lessons the Hard Way

I love my mother-in-law, Mary Jo.  I'm not just saying that in case she reads this... I really do.  She's been very supportive of my cake venture, and I truly appreciate that.  I'm SOOOOO appreciative of EVERYONE who's been supportive.  

I've been planning her birthday cake for quite a while because her birthday was a month ago, and we were supposed to visit her that weekend.  Long story short, our dog ended up needing surgery and we had to postpone our trip until now.  Don't worry ... he's fine.  Our bank account hurts worse than he does.  Ahhhh, the joys of having kids & pets.  

Here's where the lessons learned started.  Because we had to cancel at the last minute, I had already baked her cake.  So, I freezed it.  I don't freeze my cakes ... I don't have any experience freezing cakes ... I don't have any experience working with frozen cakes.  I figured it was the perfect cake to see how frozen cakes taste/decorate.  

Mary Jo is a very talented seamstress.  She owns a sewing company called Divine Threads in the Myrtle Beach area.  My husband and I thought it was only fitting to make a chair cake for her because reupholstering furniture is one of her many talents.  Here is my inspiration picture from :

I knew it wouldn't end up even close, but it was a start.

I can see that this "lesson learned" post is getting long, so here's my LESSON LEARNED #1 - TAKE PICTURES ALONG THE WAY.  Yes, it's annoying for me to do my work with a stop & go mentality, but how much better would this post be with pictures?  I could show you my complete and utter failure from start to finish.  

So, the decorating actually went along very smoothly.  The kids didn't cooperate fully, so I ended up being more pressed for time than I thought I would be.  I went to bed being relatively happy with the cake.  There were some details that I just couldn't get done.

I woke up to this ... 
Husband - "Hey Brianna, wake up.  Ummm ... you need to fix mom's cake because it fell over during the night"
Me - (Jumping out of bed) "What the BEEP?  What the BEEP happened?  You've got to be kidding me (running down the stairs) BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP (seeing the cake)."

It was 6:30 am, and we needed to leave by 7:00, so there was no fixing this cake.  This is where LESSON LEARNED #1 would come in handy because I'd love to show you how I learned the rest of the lessons.

LESSON LEARNED #2 - CAKES BUCKLE UNDER WEIGHT ... DEAL WITH IT!  I thought I was being clever when I was putting it together.  I used a 10" round on bottom, and then cut an 8" round  to use as the back and then some extra pieces for the arms.  I held up the back with a few dowel rods.  The bottom cake just wasn't strong enough to hold up the upright part of the cake.

LESSON LEARNED #3 - PREVIOUSLY FROZEN CAKES ARE WET.  Those dowel rods that I was sure would support the upright part of the cake, didn't have a firm place to anchor into.  Putting them into a "wet" cake was like trying to stop an avalanche with a tree.  It never had a chance.

I really think it was a perfect storm of many things - wet cake, heavy cake (again, thanks to it being frozen), using a hard base (instead of cardboard circles - my dowels weren't anchored to anything), and inserting my dowels too close to the edge of the cake.  

So, LESSON LEARNED #4 - USE YOUR BRAIN.  I know I wasn't an engineering major in college (maybe if I HAD been, I wouldn't be unemployed at the moment, but that's another blog post), but I know now to think about weight of material, placement of material, and reinforcement of joints.  I'm sure there's some physics formula for this, but I don't know what it is.  So, I'll make my own formula - wet cake + heavy cake + misplaced dowels x forgetting to use my brain = cake that falls apart (again, back to LESSON LEARNED #1 - wouldn't a picture of the fallen cake be GREAT here?)  Cake that falls apart / crushed expectations = UNHAPPY CUSTOMER.  I don't like the thought of an unhappy customer, so I'm very glad I learned on family.

That leads me to LESSON LEARNED #5 - LEARN YOUR LESSONS ON FAMILY & CLOSE FRIENDS.  While learning lessons the hard way HURTS, it would hurt a whole lot more if you ruined an event cake for a customer.  I learned that I will never try out new techniques on customers.

So, we got to Mary Jo's and she loved the cake ... even though it was in two pieces.  My husband held up the fallen piece so we could show her, and get some pictures (FINALLY!)

It was just the back of the chair that came off ... you can see the buckle along the back of the cushion.

LESSON LEARNED #6 - FAMILY WILL ALWAYS TELL YOU THAT THEY LOVE IT!  It's nice to know that sometimes people just appreciate the thought and time you put into something special for them.  

How did it taste?  YUMMY!


  1. Bless your heart! We've all had those days!! It sounds like you learned a lot from the process and I bet you could do that same cake now with no issues whatsoever!

  2. Jenniffer, thanks so much for commenting on my cakes. It's nice to know that two people read my blog - my mama & Miss Jenniffer.

  3. Thanks for the lesson. I was planning a surprise for my neighbor. This is making me think of supporting