Monday, December 6, 2010


During my years in medical school, our Associate Dean for Student Affairs was Dr. Andrew Seal, a general surgeon by trade who is considered by many to be quite a Renaissance man, with diverse interests ranging from the history of medicine to music and to painting. In fact, if you lurk around the ground floor of UBC Hospital, one of his canvases might still be gracing the hallways.

Dr. Seal's Retirement cake - surgeon & painter

My fondest memories of Dr. Seal involve his role as patron of the arts at UBC Medicine. At a time when I was suppressing my creative tendencies in order to concentrate all my energy on scholarly pursuits, participating in the UBC Medical School Choir, Jazz Band, and Spring Gala concerts was a true highlight of my four years (admittedly, I am just a band geek at heart). Without Dr. Seal's influence, I doubt that the arts would have flourished as they did at UBC Medicine.

Dr. Seal's Retirement cake - closeup of incision

And so, to be asked to create Dr. Seal's retirement cake was a huge honour and conceptual challenge. Much time was spent brainstorming how to combine general surgery with painting in cake form without being too literal. The challenge was even greater because it has been over 10 years since I have been in a non-ophthalmic OR using those gigantic needle drivers and 1-0 sutures. Congratulation Dr. Seal on your well-deserved retirement!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Still here

Although it has been eons since my last post, I am still alive but have been greatly distracted by some personal matters during the last few months. My poor little blog has suffered from negligence but alas, an infusion of some creative juice will hopefully rescue it from complete dissolution.

Surfing Hello Kitty Birthday Cake

Let me show you a few cakes that I did manage to do during this hiatus. This surfing Hello Kitty cake was from the end of September for a young-at-heart 40 year old. Blue buttercream scares me a little but what else is Hello Kitty going to surf on?

Caitlin's Flower Birthday cake

Then, in early November, my niece Caitlin turned six. You may remember her past cake requests involved turtles, rainbows, and planets. This year, she wanted a flower cake. Rather than your typical big fat daisy cake, I remembered seeing Penny Porschen's posy mini-cakes in a book and decided to re-create it in larger form. Two 6 inch round tiers were stacked and then topped with a 6 inch half-dome. At first, I thought that this cake would be quick and easy but it was actually fairly time-consuming to roll out all those thin stems!

Monday, September 13, 2010


Margaret's Birthday cake - front view

Back in July, during pleasant dinner conversation with my friend Chris, the seeds were sown for this special 60th birthday cake for his mum, Margaret. Apparently, Chris has unique gustatory abilities and had been dreaming up cake flavour combinations in his spare time. Pairing vanilla and black currant was his original idea but I felt the need for nuttiness, which would give warmth and texture. We ultimately decided on pistachio as the last component of this elegant flavour trio.

pistachio joconde & dacquoise with feuilletine crunch, black currant and vanilla mousselines

The cake design was less definitive. Margaret loves her Boston Terrier and enjoys the music of Tony Bennett but I could not imagine the likenesses of Mr. Bennett and a dog on the same cake without appearing comical. And so, her favourite song "Fly Me to the Moon" provided the design inspiration for this sophisticated cake, worthy of celebrating six decades of memories.

Margaret's Birthday cake - back view

The Boston Terriers led me to choose a black and white colour scheme for this sleek and modern design, accented by one single pop of colour in the form of a sugar pink peony, Margaret's favourite flower. The subtleness of the white on white lettering, moon and stars allowed the dogs and birthday inscription to stand out.

Margaret's Birthday cake - peony

My favourite elements of this cake are impossible to choose. I love everything on it, from the dogs, to the hand-cut stars, to the gumpaste peony (the first one I've made), and even the lettering which is based on a font called Sparkly! Interestingly, I have now made cakes for three generations of this cake-loving family which is certainly a great privilege and the biggest compliment. Happy Birthday Margaret!

Margaret's Birthday cake - big dog

Monday, September 6, 2010


Polka dot Baby Shower cake

When it comes to cake design, there are some situations which give me more stress than others. The perfect cake request for me is from someone who knows me well, gives me specific thematic elements as inspiration, and then trusts me completely in the ultimate creative process. Of course, this does not always happen but when it does, it yields my best work and is the most enjoyable experience, often filled with hours of brainstorming and research prior to cracking an egg or rolling out fondant.

Polka dot Baby Shower cake - expecting

Another similar lower-stress scenario is the opposite situation, when someone asks me to reproduce an existing design. I do not get the same creative satisfaction but there is some degree of challenge in the exact replication of a cake. The obsessive-compulsive part of me even tries to make my version of the cake better, tweaking a little here and there, trying to make it cleaner or more refined.

Polka dot Baby Shower cake - ducks

Such was the case with this baby shower cake, based on this cake by Pink Cake Box. The mom-to-be knew almost exactly what she wanted and besides some minor changes like the addition of ducks and making the pregnant lady Asian, this cake was virtually identical to the original. The pregnant lady was quite challenging to make since I am no dressmaker and rarely make humans. Have you noticed this is the first human I have ever featured on a cake?

Monday, August 23, 2010

When life gives you apricots...

Apricot & strawberry pate de fruit - cubes

On a recent trip to Kelowna, my main focus was not on wine, but rather on the bountiful fruit which the Okanagan Valley offers. We brought home almost 20 pounds of cherries and more importantly, 10 pounds of apricots. They were the most perfect apricots, found at Gatzke Farm Market in Oyama, on a 34 degree Celsius Sunday afternoon on our way to lunch at Gray Monk Winery.

Apricot & strawberry pate de fruit - sugaring

Unfortunately, I was so dazzled by the beauty of these perfectly ripe apricots that I failed to consider the heat and 36 additional hours which the apricots would be enduring before arriving back home in Vancouver. These blushing orbs of apricot perfection became dented weeping lumps over the next few days, still delicious to eat, dripping down my elbow over the kitchen sink, but too unsightly to photograph for your viewing pleasure.

Apricot & strawberry pate de fruit - cutting

Not surprisingly, we could not eat them fast enough and so I cooked them down to a puree and made apricot pâte de fruit and apricot ice cream. The pâte de fruit was slightly thinner than I had wanted so I added a second layer of strawberry pâte de fruit. On my first trip to Pierre Hermé, I remember marveling at the bejeweled two-toned pâtes de fruits. In retrospect, adding a second layer and thus flavour is so easy and elementary. In fact, if you have made Rainbow Jell-O before, the concept is identical!

Apricot & strawberry pate de fruit - unframed

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I have only had one haircut in my life when I went home and cried. It was in high school, during my short-hair perming years, when the nape of my neck was shaved into the shape of a V. Being much too edgy for my taste, I immediately got my mom to buzz off the point and make a nice straight line instead. Oh, what I rebel I am.

Aside from growing out my bangs and vowing never to get a perm again at age 20, my hair has simply been varying lengths of the same style. It has been as long as my waist and as short as my chin. I had a version of the Rachel at one point and it took so much work to hot-roller every day but I did it anyways. Wearing a ponytail is always a challenge because it is too thick for the average hair elastic and the weight gives me a headache. These days, the increasing prevalence of white hairs is my biggest concern.

And so, this cake really does speak for itself. Akemi loves pandas, is a hairstylist, and is delighted by the comic nature of screaming monkeys. It took extensive brainstorming to marry these three personal elements into one coherent design, but I think it worked. The hairstylist panda is made from Rice Krispies internally and everything else is fondant with royal icing details. An 8" square chocolate cake with mango mousseline is hiding underneath. You could say it is Act 2 to Akemi's previous cake in 2008!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The doors

In Grade 4, I watched Poltergeist at a birthday party and could not sleep for three nights, convinced that trees and clowns would attack me. What followed was a solid avoidance of scary movies (as well as TV commercials for scary movies) for many years, until it became my spousal obligation to view The Shining, the 1980 classic directed by Stanley Kubrick.

The doors of The Shining cake

As a result, I was actually quite prepared when asked to create a cake for a major fan of The Shining. I even do a great imitation of Shelley Duvall waving her knife around in a deadly panic. Thankfully, I was essentially given carte blanche in the design and after some reflection, I realized that there were many doors of significance throughout the movie. And what better way to feature doors than on a "cube"-like cake (get it, KUBRICK?)?

The doors of The Shining cake - bathroom & elevators

One of the most memorable scenes is when Jack violently axes his way through the bathroom door. This is actually the same door on which Danny wrote REDRUM in lipstick. I can still hear that freaky growly voice echoing in my head. Behind the doors of Room 237, some of the most disturbing scenes of the movie occurred, reminding us all to never approach strange naked women in bathtubs. Finally, the most vivid image of the movie for me was the torrent of blood rushing out of the distinctive red elevator. I gave the birthday boy a bag of bloody piping gel to squeeze onto the cake right before serving so unfortunately, none is shown in my photos.

The doors of The Shining cake - REDRUM & Room 237

This proved to be a project where the beauty was in the details. Much time was spent reviewing images in order to perfectly match each door knob, door molding, and wall pattern. Serendipitously, the movie was actually on TV the night before the cake was to be ready, and I realized that the apartment wall was actually pink, not white. My favourite item was the top of the cake, representing the memorable bold pattern of the hotel hallway carpet, which was made by piping and flooding royal icing onto a dried fondant square.

The doors of The Shining cake - carpet pattern

Here are the technical details: the cake was 4" x 4" x 6", layers of espresso chocolate cake, dark chocolate mousse, and hazelnut crunch. Every panel was made of dried fondant, later decorated with tiny fondant bits and royal icing details. It was intentionally constructed like this in hopes that the "box" created by the five panels would be lifted off the cake intact and potentially saved for future admiration! I have no clue if this happened but I certainly know that this cake was much loved by both its creator and its recipient.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All aboard

Dinosaur Train Birthday Cake - front

I seem to learn new things every time someone asks me to make a cake. The world of children's television is a mystery to me but with my introduction to the PBS show Dinosaur Train, I can see why kids these days are so enthralled with such captivating edutainment. Except for Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact (remember the Bloodhound Gang?), which I remember watching in the afternoons with my sister right after Three's Company re-runs, there was little else which was both fun and educational.

Dinosaur Train Birthday Cake - flying Tiny

A relatively simple buttercream-covered cake inspired by Dinosaur Train was requested so I decided to make fondant elements which could be removed easily before consumption. Tiny is a Pteranodon who is spreading her wings in the sky above the Dinosaur Train, manned by the Conductor, a Troodon with great knowledge of the dinosaur world. Seriously, I have never heard of these dinosaurs. I barely remember what a Stegosaurus looks like.

Dinosaur Train Birthday Cake - rear

I used royal icing on dried fondant shapes to create the train. Flourescent green Tiny was the most challenging to make, as those skinny arms, legs and neck made me extra cautious; however, the Conductor was my favourite since I can't resist animals that wear clothes! The cake itself was simple, just chocolate cake and dark chocolate mousse, masked in buttercream with piped italian meringue clouds. Because the train was too short to wrap around the entire 8" round cake, some prehistoric decor was added at the rear to fill things out. Who doesn't love a little lava? I heard that the cake was met with a chorus of squeals which is music to my ears! Happy Birthday Alex!

Dinosaur Train Birthday Cake - the Conductor

Monday, June 21, 2010

A tale of two lobsters

Lynn & Kelly Lobster Wedding Cake - front

For those of you who watched Friends, you will recognize that this cake refers to Phoebe's theory that Rachel is Ross' lobster. In this case, Lynn is Kelly's lobster and vice versa, and I was trusted with creating their unconventional wedding cake featuring two lobsters. Because lobsters are actually fairly ugly creatures, I had to undertake serious artistic research by purchasing, cooking, and eating a lobster myself in order to meet my rigorous standards of authenticity and realism (and yes, the lobster omelette with shallots and basil was delicious).

Lynn & Kelly Lobster Wedding Cake - dog with ring

Every element on the cake was a reflection of their personalities and favourite things, including the Vancouver Canucks, red wine, dark beer, Craig Ferguson, and their two Labrador retrievers. In particular, the bride has a very fair complexion and so I gave her some SPF 2500 sunscreen, along with her calla lily bouquet. They are heading off to Italy for their honeymoon! So jealous...

Lynn & Kelly Lobster Wedding Cake - back

There were 10" and 8" round tiers, each about 4" high, with lemon, white chocolate, and vanilla flavours on the bottom and mocha, chocolate, and hazelnut flavours on top. After covering with fondant, toasted leftover cake crumbs were used to create the sandy look. Black rock sugar was broken into chunks and piled up into a cliff formation. The lobster torso and front claws were Rice Krispie treats internally and covered with fondant before airbrushing to a perfect orange-red hue.

This was a cake where truly, the sum was greater than its parts, although making the parts were very satisfying, especially the wine and beer bottles and Craig Ferguson book. Assembling all the parts together was the most challenging; in particular, the lobster claws were heavier than anticipated and were stubbornly refusing to defy gravity. Also, the two ringbearing dogs were originally supposed to be frolicking on the rocks, but in order to save space and maintain proper relative scale in terms of size of the objects, they both became swimming dogs!

Thankfully, I did not have to deliver this cake to Furry Creek, which is a beautiful place about an hour outside Vancouver on the way to Whistler. Reportedly, the cake made it there safely and was "a big hit". And so I can let out a big sigh of relief! Congratulations Lynn & Kelly!

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I have been thinking of buying a new car lately. Although I am fiercely loyal to my 1995 Honda Civic, the muffler is dying again and little rust spots are beginning to show up. My love of this car, however, is not proportional to my love of driving. In fact, I hate driving, especially in Vancouver, and as a result, my odometer has barely cracked 90,000 kms after 15 years, despite following me to Edmonton and Michigan and back. Maybe I don't even need a car?

Ferrari F1 Race Car Birthday Cake - diagonal

I'll leave it to others to appreciate fancy cars and such, especially Ferrari Formula 1 racing cars which I knew nothing about until several weeks ago. This cake was for a big fan of F1 racing and Michael Schumacher, created from chocolate cake, raspberry and vanilla mousseline. The car was built and carved from an 8" x 8" x 2.5" cake but since 30 servings were needed, I added a short 10" x 15" slab for the car to sit on.

I used this photo as the model for this cake and was soon overwhelmed by the number of corporate logos which emblazen the car. It was impossible to replicate the exact number due to scale but at last count, there were 40 hand-piped signs, not to mention the four chunky tires which were Rice Krispie treats inside.

Ferrari F1 Race Car Birthday Cake - closeup

My favourites had to be the miniature Ferrari emblems with the tiny black stallion which forced me to acknowledge that presbyopia is fast approaching. The little Shell signs were also very cute. The driver is the White Stig, a character from a British TV show called Top Gear which I know absolutely nothing about. All I know is that, I can list all of Michael Schumacher's corporate sponsors by heart and that there is a general surgeon in Vancouver lovingly nicknamed Cocoa Stig.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Jennifer & Sergio Wedding Cake - side

From start to finish, this elegant wedding cake was pure enjoyment to make, primarily because I myself love the design and would have it as my own wedding cake in a heartbeat (if I did it all again, that is!). Jennifer and Sergio knew exactly what they wanted, a variation of this magnificent cake featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, but instead, with four square tiers in a refreshing apple/celery green and white colour palette.

Jennifer & Sergio Wedding Cake - details

And because I am a self-described piping fiend, who loves nothing more than to sit for hours piping anything, having the entire cake covered with piped scrollwork and pattern was a challenge which proved to be more like fun than work. For the green tiers, I used a pin to mark each line before piping the grid and flower pattern whereas for the white tiers, the scrollwork was piped freehand.

Jennifer & Sergio Wedding Cake - real cake

Even the flavour of cake is something I myself love! Sergio loves raspberry and Jennifer loves lemon so I decided to combine raspberry mousse, lemon curd, and charlotte sponge conveniently into slab form. As you may know, I am a big advocate of display cakes because of the many logistical advantages they offer without compromising on quality and aesthetics.

Jennifer & Sergio Wedding Cake - before

All this cake needed were three gorgeous hydrangeas to complete the bride and groom's vision. I was honestly so pleased with the final result that I couldn't stop smiling and taking photos of it. Congratulations Jennifer and Sergio! It was truly a pleasure!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Good times

Skating Miga Birthday cake - top

The Olympics may be over but last week, I was indundated with Vancouver 2010 memories. We went to the "Olympic asset recovery" sales warehouse just to poke around and came home with a snow shovel, tarp, clothing rack, two ice packs, two storage bins, and two items of clothing! There were odds and ends for sale ranging from plasma TVs to rubberbands, all of which were once used for the Winter Games.

Skating Miga Birthday cake - details

More importantly, Miga was reincarnated in cake form for a Miga-loving hockey/figure skating enthusiast named Kara. You may recall her Nemo cake from last year. As one of the Vancouver 2010 mascots, Miga is part orca (killer whale) and part Kermode bear who is depicted wearing Kara's pink figure skates while waving her Canadian flag. My favourite detail was the gold medal, which I wanted to be as authentic as possible in its undulating surface and First Nations Raven design. Since I was crazy enough to wait over three hours in line to see and touch the medals, authenticity was a priority!

Miga was constructed from two half-domes and rested on a low 10" x 15" slab of cake. Alternating layers of chocolate and vanilla cake were filled with mango mousseline. Miga's three fins and skates were Rice Krispie treats. Cherry blossoms and snowflakes were added because, despite their seemingly contradictory pairing, cherry trees in Vancouver did begin to bloom during the Winter Games in February and everyone joked that it was indeed the Spring Olympics!

Skating Miga Birthday cake - face

Today, we might go and check out the former Olympic athletes village which is now on sale as luxury condos. Although marred with significant controversy, this waterfront residential development called Millenium Water is surrounded by new green space and is close to a great gelato shop which would make the perfect Sunday afternoon snack!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

So cute

A Baby Shower - Sesame Street cupcakes

I grew up with Sesame Street during the 1970's, part of the generation who knew who Mr. Hooper, Bob, and Gordon were. Tunes like "Ladybug Picnic" still occasionally get hummed and I have been known to count like The Count at times. Ah ah ah ah...

A Baby Shower - Elmo & Big Bird cupcakes

So when Winnifred asked me to make Sesame Street themed cupcakes for the children at the baby shower, I was excited even though in general, I am not a fan of cupcakes. Maybe it's because there are so many disgusting cupcakes sold everywhere everyday which turn me off, along with the routine massive buttercream tumour which some people love.

A Baby Shower - Oscar & Cookie Monster cupcakes

We picked four popular hairy/feathery characters, Elmo, Oscar, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird in order to take advantage of the convenient star piping tip and colour combination. The face details were made from fondant and I admit that I spent an unnecessary amount of time focusing on their ocular appearance. Oscar has the most healthy eyes while Cookie Monster has a severe skew deviation which he does not seemed too concerned about.

A Baby Shower - REAGAN cupcakes

These goodies, including the macarons and cake shown in my previous post, were all for a guest who has yet to arrive named Reagan. She will be here soon and hopefully she will love beautiful sweet things just like her Auntie Winnifred.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

So chic

A Baby Shower - Chic Mommy cake (door)

There is something about a cake with a door on it that is particularly inviting, I think. This precious pink creation was commissioned by my Haligonian friend Winnifred as a baby shower gift for her brother and sister-in-law. The yummy mummy-to-be is a fervent pastry enthusiast and Winnifred had seen this silly old blog post of a greeting card which served as the inspiration for this little cake.

By little, I mean that this cake was only 5 inches in diameter and 4 inches high, meaning that all the details in each of the three scenes were tiny, the perfect challenge for an ex-ophthalmologist. At one point, I considered wearing my old pair of surgical loupes for more magnification. The chic mommy strolling along with pink pumps and matching purse was the most satisfying to make, especially because she was a mere 2 inches tall, excluding her hat.

A Baby Shower - Chic Mommy cake (closeup window)

Next, the inset window showcased four petits gateaux with rows and rows of macarons in the background. This scene, plus having a co-worker just return from vacation in Europe, has made me think it is time to return to Paris for some major rejuvenation. Meanwhile, the actual cake was chocolate cake and chocolate mousseline with a crunchy hazelnut feuilletine layer.

In addition to the gift of cake, Winnifred wanted to provide party favours for all the shower guests in the form of pink, brown, and tan macarons, packaged in sacs of three, filled with dark chocolate raspberry, milk chocolate hazelnut, and gingerbread spiced ganaches, respectively. Eighteen dozen macarons later, I decided that I really need a bigger kitchen, bigger oven, and bigger refrigerator. This was especially because there was a third part to Winnifred's order, which I will write about in my next post...

A Baby Shower - macaron favours