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The Sweet Life
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:00 AM
Nancy Newell smoothes the surface of a cake before adorning it with fondant ribbons and gum paste bows during a demonstration of her work. Newell, who makes cakes for birthdays, weddings and other special events, does her work in the kitchen at Our Place in Thyme. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
The cake is dressed with ribbon and small edible pearls over a rich frosting. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Using a paint scraper, Nancy Newell carefully smoothes the side of a four-inch tall cake to give it a perfect, glossy appearance.
The owner of Nancy's Tasteful Cakes, a wedding and specialty cake maker, demonstrated how to make a birthday cake, turning icing, gum paste strips and fondant into an edible package.
"It's fun," Newell said.
To make her cakes special, Newell is known for cutting out the center and filling them with everything from raspberry puree to apricot mousse.
"It's like a well and then it's filled with raspberry or mousse," Newell said. "That's what I think makes my cakes stand out..."
Her favorite combination is chocolate cake with mocha chocolate chip filling.
She said her husband has enjoyed her new career choice because he gets all of the cake pieces that are removed to make way for the filling and any extra frosting.
"He often wonders what the whole cake tastes like," Newell said laughing, explaining that it's usually just cake pieces crammed into a bowl.
She said the size of the cake is also important because she wants her cakes to have a sense of presence in the room.
Newell hasn't always been a professional cake decorator. For 34 years she taught at E.O. Muncie as a first grade teacher, worked with reading recovery and was a literacy coach. Two years ago she retired and decided to take the cakes she had always made for friends and her children's birthdays and sell them.
When she first started making them for friends, she worried they wouldn't turn out looking perfect.
"I knew they would taste good, but I wasn't sure about the design," Newell said.
Since then she has created cakes for wedding and showers.
For one birthday she created Elmo from Sesame Street bursting out of a pile of packages. The cake, ripped paper and Elmo were all made of cake and she had to get creative, cooking the red puppet in a can to make him into the correct shape.
Her favorite cakes to make, though, are wedding cakes.
"I like the wedding cakes because they're just so fun," Newell said. "I really like meeting with the brides and grooms and sharing in their day."
Newell said she loves seeing the reaction to the cake when the buyer first sees it. Her favorite memory is when a bride several years ago walked into her wedding reception, saw the cake and excitedly announced that she loved the creation.
Making a cake might require days since the design often takes several days to dry and become stiff. The gum paste on the package cake Newell demonstrated needed to be completely dry so when stuck into the cake to become the bow, it wouldn't wilt and droop.
"It just takes time," Newell said. "That's why it's a couple of days project."
Smearing food coloring into the mixtures, she can change the colors to match whatever the buyer wants an uses an embossing tool to add designs, such as small flowers.
One of the most difficult parts of her job is getting the cake to its new location without it falling apart or it getting damaged in any way.
"Getting it to the place is the hard thing," Newell said. "It's just nerve wracking all the way to the event."
The cost of a specialty cake depends on its size but a wedding cake will cost $2.50 per serving. Newell once made a cake that would serve 300 guests with several back up cakes around it so all of the guests would be fed.
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