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.
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.
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.
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!
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.