Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lessons From Real Life: Taking Shortcuts

When I first started working at my current place of employment, I was hired as a baker. Now, at the time, I was incredibly nervous--sure, I make cakes from scratch a fair amount on my own time, but I've never been trained, and I've never done it professionally! I dreaded coming in to work, certain I would be fired within two weeks.

But, it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. We mostly use cake mixes. Really?! Really. And we pick them up from Wal-Mart, like practically anyone else.

I was appalled.

I took cake decorating classes at a Hobby Lobby last summer, and each week we had to bake, torte, and fill a small 8" cake. Someone asked if the cake should be made from scratch or if using a mix was okay, and my teacher said that she usually just uses the cheapest mix she can find--and not just for the purpose of teaching techniques to the class, but for cakes (wedding cakes, even) she makes for others.

I think this is a really, really common practice among small-time cake decorators--you know, the kind that may have a website (but usually not a storefront), the kind for whom cake decorating is a pseudo-artistic hobby like scrapbooking, and something that brings in "extra" income.

But! I don't want to be a small-time cake decorator, nor do I want to just work with cake. I was reading an article in a magazine for cake professionals once that counseled decorators that it's okay not to actually have any idea about how the cake comes together--that that is the job of someone who has gone to pastry school. It bothered me that there was a lack of interest in what made the cake good, as opposed to what superficially made the cake look good!

I don't want to seem all-knowing, but I don't think it's a lot to ask that I expect a cake I order from a bakery to be made from scratch, with care, and not from a mix I could also pick up from the store and bake myself. Taking shortcuts like these certainly save you time, but they chip away at the integrity of a business.

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