I am constantly getting questions from friends, family and random emails from people who read my blog so I thought I would do a post dedicated to answering some of the most frequently asked questions...
Where do I get my supplies?
Everywhere, really. Anytime I'm out-and-about, it can turn into a shopping excursion. I am constantly looking for products to experiment with. Little markets, boutique food shops and farmer's markets are great for this. You may come across something like pollen or an interesting fruit or vegetable.
I do, however, have some go-to vendors.
Arizona Vanilla Company
I get the majority of my vanilla products here. High quality, good prices and great customer service. I'm a huge fan of Mexican vanilla, but you can order the variety pack to see which your favorite is!
World Wide Chocolate
This is where I get a lot of my chocolate products from. Pretty decent prices, and they always have some sort of sale going on. It pays to buy as much as possible because the shipping is pretty pricey. Also, be careful if you're ordering chocolate to a hot climate area; they offer a special deliver service for that. Also, that crap you buy from craft stores is not chocolate. Just sayin'.
Global Sugar Arts
If I need to get a special mold, fondant, or general supplies, this is where I generally order from. Their stuff is fairly priced (for the most part) and the customer service is decent, too. Whenever possible, I'd rather pick these items up in person to make sure it's exactly what I'm looking for. In that case, I head to...
They carry everything an amateur baker would need, and most things a professional would be looking for. They have a whole room dedicated to chocolate and candy molds. I'd be shocked if you couldn't find one that you needed.
This place is amazing. It's like a toy store for chefs. They have everything from equipment to molds to hard to find cake pans, etc. It's definitely worth a visit. It's pricey, but they have a lot of hard to find items and the quality is great.
Nowadays, you can find pretty much everything on amazon. Make sure you read the product descriptions accurately and are only purchasing through trusted vendors. There are a lot of imitation products out there, so be careful.
What tools should I invest in?
Everyone should have the basics - a pie pan, 8" cake pans, cupcake pan, pastry brush, rolling pin, loaf pan, thermometer, off-set spatula, whisk, rubber spatula, mixing bowls and some sort of a mixer. Those are the ABSOLUTE basics. There are a lot of gadgets and gizmos out there. Don't buy something unnecessary or something that you'll use only once or twice before hiding in a cabinet.
Do quality ingredients really make a difference?
YES! If you're making a chocolate chip cookie and throw in some artificial vanilla extract, you may not pick up on it, but use the same "extract" to make a vanilla ice cream and, because it's the dominant flavor, it will probably be detectable.
First of all, try not to use anything artificially flavored. These days, it's not much more to buy the real thing. It makes a difference and it's better for the environment - and for you!
One item that anyone who enjoys baking should look into is European (or European Style) butter. The higher fat content makes a better, tastier product - especially in things where butter is the star, like pound cake, croissants or buttercream.
What's my favorite thing to make?
It really depends on the day. I go through phases. Some days I like making component items like pastry cream, lemon curd or buttercream. Other times, I like making scones, pound cakes and cookies. If I had to pick one thing, I would say marshmallows.
Why didn't my cake come out like yours?
Geez! I get this too often. It could be a dozen things! Did you read the recipe wrong, scale the ingredients incorrectly, screw up a technique? - I could go on all day. My best advice would be to retrace your steps. More often than not, you can figure out where you went wrong. Also, don't expect to ace something you've never made before on the first shot. Like everything else in life, practice makes perfect.
Why do custom cakes (or custom anything) cost so much?
Basically, it's for the same reason a custom car or custom wedding dress would cost a lot! Most people do not realize the amount of time that goes into making a custom cake. A simple two tiered cake with a small bouquet of sugar flowers takes hours - and that's just the flowers. Also, (quality) fondant is not cheap. Everything adds up - the supplies, costs of ingredients and time. If you aren't paying a fair price it's either because you're not using a professional, someone is giving you a sub-par product or they are new to the industry and are low-balling themselves!
What's the deal with fondant?
I have to be honest, I am not a fan. Unless you are getting a tipsy-turvy cake or a carved cake, I try to steer customers away from it. I do not like the taste and it's not cheap. You are going to spend a lot more on a cake with fondant than one elegantly covered in buttercream - just my opinion.