This Barter isn’t going to work for me.

Another installment of Horror stories from cake artists …

Thinking back to the time I thought id be interested in bartering my cakes ….

And what turned me off from the trade…

Another mom approached me wanting a cake for her daughter’s birthday.

She was a face painter and was offering in exchange to me her services as a face painter for a party I’d host.

I wasnt planning on having a party for anyone in my family any time soon… so I suggested She could hang out at the Pittsburgh Public market booth with me one Saturday and do her thing.

She didn’t feel like this was a good deal because …

So if I were to agree to this and have her I’d be throwing together an entire farmers market event as well as her elaborate cake and cake pops, all on my dime – so that her daughters can have a big free cake.

I was having a really hard time wrapping my brain around the facts that I was going to spend at least 15 hours on her cake order and that in turn was equivalent to her 2 1/2 hours of face painting .

It was 2014, I had a 4 year old, 2 year old, cancer, a cake business, I had NOT the spoons to explain this to her . I politely declined.

I think I’d like to have had the patience to explain why I declined. It wasn’t an equal barter if time. As a cake artist compared to a face painter, we are both artists. I am not a professional face painter as I’ve never charged for my time while I volunteered to face painting at the kids bizarre. It was simple little quick pictures because we had long lines of kids. And then that was that. A little prep work and set up. Sure. Travel. I get it. Artists of all mediums should be valued. And I wasnt feeling valued when my time wasn’t part of the consideration. Clearly I dont charge enough for cakes! I should also be making that . Over Triple the amount of time needed from the ingredients procurement to the time messaging back and forth, baking, making buttercream, molds, supplies, supplies, supplies, box, board, I mean the list just keeps going. Sooooo much goes into making cakes! That’s for another time.

I’ve never considered barter again since then, because clearly cake artists aren’t charging enough for their time, energy, and skill. 🎤

Go forth and charge more, cakers !!!

Seriously. Raise your prices right this very minute. You are worth more than what you are charging. Think like a face painter 👩‍🎨



Brandi Janine

Sculpted Chicken Cake

Cate’s Chicken Cake!

The making of the chicken cake! A tutorial.

Cate is 7! She’s a chicken enthusiast and along with her mum and 2 older brothers tends to their 6 hens and coop. The cake is even baked with their eggs!

This is 1 box of lemon cake. 2 layers of 8”

I made a double batch of lemon cakes, 2 boxes fit in 1 kitchenaid 4.5 qt. I baked 2 8” rounds and 3 6” rounds. Substituted the oil with melted butter. After they cooled I wrapped them in parchment paper and plastic wrap and put them in the cake freezer while i ran an errand, cleaned and made the buttercream, so several hours.

Since I doubled everything I ended up having enough to also make this little simple rustic lemon and buttercream cake.

Obviously my kids wanted me to make this one into a chicken also, and are coming up with all kinds of ideas for their birthdays- 6 months away.

I didn’t end up needing the 3 x 6’s at all for the chicken cake. We ate the first 6” one in slices while trying the new buttercream recipe. Quality control! Why did I bake so much extra? I just wasn’t sure at that point my plan was and I’d rather have more than enough than not enough. It’s just as easy to double the batches as it is to make just the one.


The head and tail sculpting was made out of what I like to call cake meatball, cake and icing mixture, like a cake pop except without the chocolate coating and not on a pop. Rice Krispie treat would also work for this. If this was larger or had farther to travel I would have stuck a dowel rod in to hold up the head, this one did fine on its own, but I was regretting skipping that step during the anxiety filled delivery drive.

Kind of hard to see the layers but it’s the 8” torted, so 2 layers, of each, then the top layer is split with the slightly larger side then smaller half. I guess technically it’s an 8 layer cake.

I took the cake carvings from around the bottom edge and added them around the top to fill in the gaps. Buttercream is a great glue. I used more cake carvings to make that cake meatball mixture. Giving it more shape and stability. I had my 6” back ups for it but I didn’t end up needing them.

I’m using the white chocolate vanilla bean buttercream, link to recipe. Cover it all over and put in cake fridge to firm up. We also had hoagies in fridge and I was worried about the smell of lunchmeat permeating into the cake. Something to think about when you’re making this at home.

“What you looking at?”

I worked on the fondant while it chilled. Eyes, beak, toes, and the red chicken things are fondant. The eyes are protruding but I knew the feathers would cover them up if they weren’t big enough. A toothpick could have held the beak in place, however I made it stay on by elongating the top and wrapped it over for extra stability. the buttercream holds it all in place. I dyed my hands red coloring the fondant. Gloves are recommended.

Used a leaf tip #352. The buttercream was soft, very thin consistency. I had to work fast, and had to rebag the icing once because of the warmth of my hand. Piping in layers, some building on top of each other, some wedging the tip underneath. The tip does the work. This icing made great points.

Chicken butt.

I didn’t research anatomical correctness. That bit me in the butt when the birthday girl told me their feet wouldn’t be sticking out the front of her body 🤣. You want to keep the leaves/ feathers going in the same direction.

The only fondant tool I pulled out and used was my favorite Dresden tool, or veining tool.

PME Flower Leaf Shaper Tool, for Cake Decorating, 6.6-Inch

Short film by Spencer
Fill in with buttercream feathers and that’s it!
There she is. Plump and delicious!

She slept in the fridge overtime so she was nice and firm for the delivery.

Delivery was hella stressful, as all cake deliveries are. Every wedding weekend I’d have to remind myself of how many successful deliveries I’ve made and try NOT to think about the handful of disasters I’ve had over the years. But every bump in the road, big turn, short stop, the downtown traffic, all I can picture is the chicken on her side, the head or tail falling off and taking half the cake with it, layers of feathers falling off. Telling myself I shouldn’t have cut corners and that I should’ve used dowels, or at least brought my tool kit with me to fix anything or a piping bag at the very least. But alas, she made it unharmed spare a touch of icing on the back of the box that happened while boxing her up, which left just a couple unpointed feathers.

When I dropped it off I said
“enjoy your chicken autopsy!” 🤣

Enjoyed the extra lemon cake along with Boy Scouts fundraiser hoagies for dinner at my moms.

It looks small at first, but this 6” cake is “wedding height”. Torted and filled, this could be a 12 serving wedding tier. It’s more than my family of 4 needs, but too small to give away, so I guess we’ll have to finish it. 😜

Hope this inspires you to try to make a sculpted cake! Let me know if you make a chicken cake!! What other sculpted shapes cakes can you think of using these simple techniques? 🤩


Brandi Janine

White Chocolate Vanilla Bean Buttercream

White chocolate Vanilla Bean Buttercream!

This is my new favorite frosting!

Throw away all the other recipes ! 🤣

This is Liz Marek’s recipe on the Sugar Geek blog. All of her recipes are fantastic!

My husband is crazy picky about frostings. We’ve tried dozens and dozens of recipes. Back when I had Event Cakes Pgh I used a version of her Easy Swiss Meringue Buttercream. For cake class last fall we tried a few more recipes and unfortunately none of them were “the best”. Either they’re too buttery or too sweet or too grainy or too yellow or too greasy and just not right. They’ve all been good enough, edible, but I wanted more, so the quest for the best continued, but only when absolutely necessary because Nobody needs those extra pounds.

I made a double batch in my 4.5 qt kitchenaid.

Made a few small adjustments,

substituted crisco shortening for half the butter and used one less stick of butter than what it called for, I’ve been having issues with frostings being too buttery, it might be my butter brand.

used less than half the salt since i had salted butter, and not a fine salt. Just regular table salt.

She says to use a good quality white chocolate, I had white chocolate Candy melts so that’s what I used.

Flavor substitutes: these were mainly for convenience.

2 tsps of creme bouquet substitute. Mine is pink, its not called creme bouquet. it’s a vanilla/ butter/ nut extract and I didn’t want this chicken cake that I’m making to be pink and added only 2 tsp instead of 3/6 called for.

.Added 2 pods vanilla beans.

Had lemon oil more easily accessible than lemon extract. I was a tad concerned of how intense of an alcohol smell there would be with lemon extract 🤷🏻‍♀️. Either way would be fine I’m sure, This sub was motivated by laziness.

I’ll let you know tomorrow how it is to decorate with! It seems like it’ll be a very similar consistency to Swiss meringue buttercream or french meringue buttercream. It’s hot out today, a balmy 85* Fahrenheit. It’s SOFT. I might need to put it in the fridge. Maybe not though because it was hot from the mixing. I mixed it for way longer than what the recipe said it needed. chocolate Vanilla Bean Buttercream!

Let me know if you try this and what you think?!


Brandi Janine

Cheeseburger & HotDog Cake

6” vanilla for the burger 🍔 and
8” vanilla for the hot dog 🌭
Fondant lettuce and cheese
Hide the seam underneath
Before airbrushing

Sugar Cookies on Sticks recipe

The recipe to use is from the Wilton instructor manual from a cookie blossom class


Sugar Cookie Recipe

1 cup softened butter 1 cup sugar 1 large egg 1 tsp vanilla 2 teaspoons baking powder 3 cups flour

Stop mixing when it’s still crumbly, and knead it to come together
Thicker than the stick
Too thin = brown edges

Next time I’m going to substitute almond extract for vanilla to up the flavor game.

Check out my other recent post about the cookie blossom arrangement. (Link)


Brandi Janine

Cookie Blossom Fail

Hi cakers! I hope everyone is enjoying this gorgeous Autumnal weather we’re having! The leaves 🍁 change to their golden splendors so fast, and fall before we know it. I try to get as many hikes as possible to enjoy the colors of the season.

So much inspiration in nature!

We attempted to make Cookie Blossoms in Cake Class last week. I had grand plans.

Last semesters cake class cookies

To be honest, I’m not a fan of making cookies. They take a TON of time to decorate. Royal icing is crazy finicky. I’ve been turned off from cookies for several reasons, including ( LINK to blog post about the disaster disney cookies) . So every time this class rolls around I remind myself of the benefits of practice.

As I was going through my lesson plans for the cookie week, I came across a couple pages from teaching a cookie class at JoAnn fabrics back when I was a Wilton Method instructor!

(Pic of cookie blossom from 2013)

I was excited for the class and excited for my students to make their own cookie creations! We did use fondant on the cookies back then, and I’m just not a fan of fondant on cookies. Way too dry and tough.

In order to have the most success with cookies on sticks, it’s best to use a recipe that is going to hold up. A Sturdy solid sugar cookie. (Link to recipe).

Royal icing – pick one, these 3 are very similar, I cant Tell a concrete difference yet. Thin consistency

Rather than trying to make Black royal icing I bought the wilton black cookie icing. It was a runny mess.

For everything else I used the top recipe, be prepared to make these pretty far in advance. They took another student a full two days to dry. My children ended up eating our cookies before the icing even dried. The icing settled nice and flat and smooth, matte .

I made sure to make notes for the class to have boxes and containers that allow all their cookies to lay flat. I did not do that myself and I had sticks sticking in icing and messed up cookies. All that work Ruined. Luckily they were just for fun and weren’t for an order or anything.

I knew right away by the vultures in the kitchen that the cookies weren’t going to last long. Apparently everyone skipped dinner and was starving for anything they could get their grubby hands on.

They were already claiming which ones they wanted and I said “just wait until I can get a few pics and then You can choose what you want”. This meant I had to hurry. So even though the cookies weren’t anywhere near dried I attempted to shove them into an arrangement of sorts. The styrofoam ball I had used was the right size for this project, but NOT the right density. Meaning it was real hard to shove a stick into. I used a chopstick to first poke a hole but that just broke off the chopstick tip. I gave up on it soon after the pumpkin started crying.

Spencer happily eating cookie fails

I’m so impressed with my students cookies!! This class is so talented!

Let me know if you try to make a cookie blossom and how it goes!!


Brandi Janine

The Wedding Cake that Didn’t Make it

This is one of the hardest posts I’m going to write. Whenever I’m asked to spill the tea on cake horror stories, this one hurts so bad that it usually doesn’t even come up. This is the cake that I thought was going to end my career. So pull up a seat and a drink for story time.

Top two tiers. Ivory fondant. Cake lace. Sugar pearls/ dragees. Fondant jewels.

I started decorating at a professional level in 2010. This cake went down in the summer of 2016, my first wedding season at the bakery. This was one of the brides I inherited when I started working at the bakery. I had spent two meetings with her and repeatedly assured her that I was just as good as the decorator I had replaced. Clearly I was wrong. This cake broke my heart and I was ready to throw in the towel. I thought I had done everything right, to the best of my ability.

This wasn’t the most expensive cake (the guitar 🎸) I had made to this point, but it was the most expensive Wedding cake I had made at that point, and possibly the first 4 tier wedding cake.

I hated that topper and took pics of the cake before adding it to the top.

In hindsight it was a recipe for disaster. Our bakery’s soft moist decadent cake. Our fragile swiss meringue buttercream. Heavy Fondant. Slippery raspberry filling. Delicate Cake lace. 4 tiers. Delivered almost 2 hours away. In the humidity of Southwestern Pennsylvania and heat of the summer. Outside In a barn. All the tell tale signs of a disaster in the making. The fondant was sweating and sticky as I stacked the top two onto the bottom two tiers. I had a bad feeling about the cake as i drove away, up the bumpy windy farm road, but i never could have imagined what was to come. I had a feeling the fondant was going to get air bubbles and no one would know that they can just be popped with a pin and resmoothed. That was my biggest concern. I hung out a bit longer than usual after the delivery but all seemed well enough when I was taking pictures.

Picture perfect wedding

I didn’t find out about the disaster until the next day, on a well earned day off, my friends were in town and we rode the incline and visited the bakery. The venue had called and left voicemail messages the evening before. We had the absolute worst telephone system.

The couple was on their honeymoon and I didn’t hear from them for a couple weeks. The unknown was torture. The bakery owner wanted to rectify the situation and offer a refund. Our contacts terms and conditions talks about how the heat, nature, weather and any post drop off problems isn’t really our responsibility.

She took it in stride. She thought she was being punked. Luckily the venue was still able to serve the cake. They tore it down before it fell -to keep it from falling. I’m going to now post all of the venue/ event planners emails and the pictures. I made $20k in wedding cakes that year. When I started this blog I was worried that if I were to post the Fails then I’d lose my legitimacy and future clients, not to mention other wedding industry professionals contacts and referrals. However, In the spirit of teaching, here goes it.

I believe the biggest problems were heat, humidity, moist soft cake mix, fragile all butter buttercream, slippery wet filling. Straws are just as strong as wooden Dowels, that wasn’t the problem. I’ve read a physics study about the strength of jumbo straws. When I was still learning I have had layered cakes shift in delivery from mousse fillings and fruit fillings. Dowels could be helpful to keep them together.

I also spoke with the venue and the bride on the phone, but everything was pretty much consistent with the emails. I have heard from others that in some situations that things can get stickier. Since after the Caker leaves the cake at drop off, that the responsibility lies with the venue. That’s what our contracts say. I have heard that Venues are not going to accept that responsibility. I have seen horror stories from other cakers where the florist or the heavy flowers have toppled cakes.


I don’t even know what I could have done at that point if we had gotten the call to come back. I’m going to share with you in another post about yet another 4 tier wedding cake that fell and how we fixed it before the reception.

Emails from the venue to the bride, shared with me from the bride. 1 of 3
Correspondence between event planner/ venue and bride. 2 of 3
Correspondence between event planner/ venue and bride. 3 of 3

Tail between my legs I had to tell my new boss that I would learn from this and not have to refund another $700++ to any more couples in the future

Changes were made and implemented. 4 tier cakes get an extra $75.00 support system charge. There is a future blog post planned detailing supports and dowels. We invested in cake delivery in coolers and ice packs. They’re completed and refrigerated over night the day before delivery. 4 tiers are stacked on site.

We changed the tier separators to make sure our cardboard rounds are wax coated, and not just cardboard getting soggy with grease and wilting. The wedding contract was updated to ask if the cake was going to be outside or inside and if there was air conditioning. Delivery times are adjusted and time is cut real close to when guests are arriving for outside events. 2 and 3 tier cakes can sometimes be kept in the event venues coolers or fridge until guests start to arrive.

The real gravity and scope of the importance of a wedding cake, the significance of the cake, especially to a bride that wanted a showpiece, weighs heavy. I was ready to call it quits, throw in the towel. It took years to get over having ruined someone’s wedding day. If I can share some wisdom and cautionary tales to help save future cakes then I guess it helps balance the scales. We were fortunate that the bakery has other income other than weddings to offer a refund. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without using my personal finances, as a home based business owner. We were fortunate that the bride was so incredibly understanding and empathic to the situation.

Still standing, last pic I took before away, Flower insertion vases . Humorous Topper .
I sent her pictures of the cake so she could see what was hand crafted and intended for her 😭

Sometimes cakes fall.

That really is the moral of the story. Accidents happen. Mistakes are made. Learn from them and move on. Learn more. Do better. Teach others.

Happy Anniversary

And there you have it. I am now Going to go outside and do a yoga rinse under the moon light and hopefully, finally, put this disaster behind me for good.

Thanks for stopping by and having a read.

Good luck and blessings for all of our future wedding cakes!


Brandi Janine

1st Birthday beach 🦈 theme

Hello! Welcome back and thanks for following along with my cake adventures! Today I want to share a cake order success! We got rave reviews on this one. A lot of times we don’t hear back from customers and generally no news is good news. They’ll tell us they liked their cake the next time they come back to place an order, or they’ll tell the front staff and I dont find out about it. No big deal. They just think we hear it all the time. But I especially want to share some great reviews since the blog is still in its early days and I need some more credibility before I drop the bombs with the cake disasters. Check out my Instagram to see my portfolio.

Cakesburgh Instagram QR code
Instagram QR Code
1st birthday party
Beach themed 1st birthday party
I didnt end up liking the writing and probably should have wiped it off
Shark fin cupcakes!

Shark fin cupcakes! the shark fund were made out of fondant. I rolled it out about 1/4 inch thick and and cut to shape.

The cupcakes were an undertaking and i enlisted the help of talented crafty my mom and sister. The palm trees were pretzels sticks that I bought at a local candy supply store that sells “unbroken pretzel sticks” by the bag. These are shorter than the average pretzel too. We tried both with cutting them and buying the shorter ones. They worked equally so/so.

The palm trees 🌴 leaves are green white chocolate. Melted and piped free hand onto wax paper. I was worried that they would be too heavy for the cupcakes. They weren’t inserted into the cold cupcakes until at set up.

The number one cake was 2 layer sheet cake, in a 1/2 sheet board. One layer of filling.

Pro tip: I like to draw the number on a piece of parchment paper and then use that as a template to carve.

His little smash cake was a surprise. They were planning on using a cupcake 🧁 but since I had all that cake scrap carved off I threw that in as a bonus.

I love the scrolly waves on the sides and the different shades of blue made with our delectable swiss meringue buttercream.

Scrolling through my pics Im getting all kinds of ideas for a beach themed blog post, a shark post, a carved number cake post. Stay tuned!

Thanks for stopping by! Let me know if you liked this post, found it helpful in any way, leave me a like, comment, subscribe, follow, all of it to get notifications for more content!

Yours Sweetly,

Brandi Janine

My Favorite Tools

In no particular order- Will reorganize the list after I can log back in to my account on a computer. I swear passwords are going to be the death of me.

Spatulas ! Must have: 13″ angled, 9″ angled, 9″ tapered, cake smoother.


Also great: 13″ and 9″ straight Spatulas

13″ angled spatula

Wilton Icing Spatula, 13-Inch, Angled Cake Spatula

13″ & 9″ angles, 11″ straight

Wilton Icing Spatula Set for Baking, 3-Piece – 13 and 9-Inch Angled and 11-Inch Straight Spatulas


Tapered spatula

Wilton Tapered Spatula, 9-Inch

Cake boards

30-Pack Cake Board Rounds, Circle Cardboard Base Boards, 8, 10 and 12-Inch. Perfect for Cake Decorating, 10 of Each Size (Gold, 30)

Edible Image printer.

We’ve had a lot of luck with the Canon pixma printers. We buy our printer paper from Pfeil and holing. Make sure your paper, ink and printer are compatible. Any printer can be an edible image printer as long as it’s brand new and has never had regular ink installed.

Couplers! You can pretty much never have too many couplers. Please have at least as many couplers as colors of icing you’re making.

Straws to dowel a 2 or 3 tiered cake

Fondant supplies

Must have: fondant smoother, having 2 is nicer.

Fondant tools: 2 fondant rollers, mat, exacto knife

Tip storage!

This is what we use at the bakery and it’s great. Notice the little flower scissors on the screw below it, and a color wheel nearby and handy. (Hardware store)

You can also see handy- scotch tape, masking tape, sharpie, post it’s to remind you you are amazing and to breathe. Fondant letter cutters, heart and circle cookie cutters.

Any tip organizer that works for you and your space is a winner. I love the tools caddy tackle boxes. I have one for buttercream supplies and one for royal icing. I guess they’re retired now but can be found on the 2nd hand market.

My favorite little flower scissors are also great for fondant work.

Ratcheting pipe cutter, hardware store. Cuts the thicker dowels easily for 4 tier cakes.

Zantlea Pipe and Tube Cutter, Ratcheting Hose Cutter One-hand Fast Pipe Cutting Tool) Ratcheting cutter

A Turntable is an absolute must!

I’m spoiled and have had several turntables, my absolute favorite is this lightweight metal one, it’s sturdy but also turns super easily.

Low profile turntable is great for tiered cakes!

This handy cake carrier is Wilton, it’s a cake carrier and turntable. The handles lock the turntable in place and the dome is tall enough for a wedding height cake with decorations on top. It’s big enough for up to a 10″ board, which an 8″ or 9″ cake would go on.

Food safety is a top priority! Also remember to pull your hair up, wear a hair net or cap.

This is the cake rubber/ shelf liner that you don’t want to get. You want the thicker puffier kind.

Any tip set is going to be good. They’ll all come with at least the basic rounds, stars, Rose tips, leaf, Mum, drop flowers.

Here’s a very popular set: Wilton tip set Master Decorating Tip Set, 55-Piece decorating tips

Happy decorating!

Brandi Janine