On a quiet corner in Winthrop Center stands Oakleaf Cakes, the interior of which resembles a posh and proper tearoom: all pale pink and sheer curtains, cupcakes and elegant tiered …
wait, is that a cardboard Stormtrooper?
See, Oakleaf Cakes ain’t your run of the mill cake shop and that Stormtrooper’s not just for display—
Amanda Oakleaf, who co-owns the shop with her husband, Tyler, are in the business of extreme cake making, a trade that involves a system of checks and balances—a blend of engineering, taste and art.
“Some people make cakes that taste good, but then they’re just covered with sprinkles. Or they look good, but it’s all just shortening,” says Amanda.
Oakleaf Cakes prides itself on excelling at all three. They make their own fondant that tastes like marshmallows, forgoing the industrial fondant that comes in big blue plastic bags (which you can see on the background of many cake TV shows) and tastes like “those weird vanilla Tootsie Rolls.” Their cake is fluffy and moist and the buttercream frosting melts on your tongue.
The better the cake tastes, however, the harder it is to work with. That’s where the planning and engineering comes in. Every basic cake, Tyler explains, consists of layers of cake and filling covered in buttercream frosting, crumb, and fondant. Then they use dividers, straws, dowel supports, steel pipes and clamps to position the cake into its rightful shape.
From there, it’s all about the art: airbrushing, painting, buttercream piping, blown sugar, and tiny little figurines. It’s all in the balance of capturing the personality of the cake, without crossing that creepy line into Uncanny Valley realism. Wendy Williams, for instance, asked Amanda and Tyler to make her a lifesize cake of herself, but they turned her down. “If things get too realistic, they get creepy,” says Amanda. “You don’t need every crease in a face.”
They can cakeify anything, from six-tiered wedding cakes to cars, handbags, your dog’s face, and a flesh-eating zombie.
They even sell cupcakes, cheesecake cupcakes and whoopie pies in their shop.
Amanda, Tyler, and their multi-talented staff of 10, do everything by hand, and the price difference between their cakes is a reflection of that labor: $3 per serving and then $75/hour for labor.
“It’s extreme engineering,” says Tyler. “Every step of building the cake determines how the next step goes. It’s art on a time clock.”
And as Amanda points out: “Once you cut the cake off, you can’t put it back on.”
Disasters do happen. That Stormtrooper cake, built for a Boston sci-fi convention, took a month of planning, two weeks of constructing and two or three days of actually working with the cake. Then, a day before it was due, the heavy fondant slid off his legs (like his pants were falling off, they said), so they had to engineer on the fly an entirely new cakemaking solution to get the fondant to hang inside the leg.
Once the cake’s in your hands, however, there’s only one way you can really mess it up: not eating it.
“That’s the fun of it. That’s the point. It looks good, yes, but it’s food and you should eat it.”
1 PAULINE ST.