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After my very first baking job, the thrill of baking on a professional level quickly combined with the multitude of questions and problems that bakers who bake for a living face each day.

While I’m nowhere close to baking for a living (I have a full-time non-baking job thank you very much!), it did get me thinking about the challenges of trying to make a livelihood from flour, sugar and eggs.

As I tried to work my way through deciding how much a cupcake should cost or how much I should charge for a dozen cookies, a very interesting offer came my way.

A co-worker asked me to bake a birthday cake for her son. She wanted a frosted chocolate cake.

Easy!

Well … not quite.

As it happens, my co-worker’s son has a very serious peanut allergy.

Initially, I wanted to turn down her offer. While I was intrigued by the idea of baking and being paid for my first official birthday cake, I had no experience with peanut-free baking.

And so began the odyssey!

My co-worker was very reassuring and told me that as long as I took some very basic steps, everything should be okay. These steps included washing the counter and any utensils that I used with a bleach solution.

Okay. That didn’t sound too bad.

But deciding that I didn’t know nearly enough about the subject, I hit the Internet and quickly found myself falling into a pit of self-doubt. The more I read, the more concerned I became about accidental contamination.

Is a bleach solution strong enough to properly sanitize the baking area? Do the baking pans have to be cleaned as well? What about the mixer? What about the oven?

The more I read, the more scared I became. And the more I realized what a challenge it is to live with a food allergy. I never realized how much I take for granted that I can scoop up a handful of nuts and add them to anything that I’m cooking or baking.

After a second discussion with my co-worker, I calmed down and realized that as long as I sanitized my work area and my utensils, I’d be okay.

I emptied the refrigerator of any nuts and my mother helped me by cleaning it out and washing it down with a solution of water, dishwashing liquid and bleach. I washed the refrigerator because I usually store nuts in there and I wanted it to be completely sanitized before putting the cake in there overnight (I put the cake in a box first).

I washed all the surface areas in the kitchen, my stand mixer and my utensils with the same solution. I even bought a new baking pan and washed that as well for fear that my current baking pans might have residue on them that I wouldn’t be able to remove.

I even took the precaution of buying entirely new ingredients in the event that I’d dipped a measuring cup that had once held nuts into a container of flour or sugar.

Having gone through all this prep work, I finally got down to the business of baking. Because my co-worker and I decided that it would be best not to use any food colouring in decorating the cake, I was limited to mixing cocoa powder into some of the frosting for colour. This gave me the idea for a black and white cake.

My inspiration for the cake came from a cover of Gourmet magazine in 2004. From the moment that I saw this cake I knew that I would have to one day try making it. While my cake was square and my cupcakes were not as large (my co-worker was transporting the cake home via transit so I had to take into consideration that she couldn’t carry anything too big), I used the Gourmet cake as a visual inspiration for my own version of a polka dot cake.

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Overall, the experience was quite rewarding. My co-worker (and her son) loved the cake and everyone seemed impressed with the way I decorated it (even though I felt it was a bit amateurish). I won’t lie, though. The preparation for baking the cake was intense and to be honest, I didn’t make a dime from this cake. I was exhausted when it was done and I spent a good part of the day worrying that there wouldn’t be any allergic reactions to the cake.

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But the experience also made me realize how complicated baking profesionally can be. There is so much to consider! I see that the road to a successful business, is a long one. You truly have to love to bake!

Ciao!

For the cake recipe: Easy Chocolate Cupcakes. I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 12-inch square cake pan. I then baked a second cake repeating the same process. I stacked the cakes and filled and frosted them with a basic icing.

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