Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Irony of Packaging

Last week was a good week - the wedding favors got a lot of good feedback from readers, especially via my mom's Facebook post - 25 Likes and 19 comments (baby boomers and Facebook, I swear...). Plus, lots of comments on the actual blog post, and the number of followers increased. Keep it up, friends! Love it!

I also got THREE orders last week, enough to keep me busy for the following three weeks! So exciting! The first was from my coworker Molly, who wanted carrot cake to take home for the Fourth of July weekend. I have to give Molly credit - she was THE order just a couple months ago that made me think, "Hell, why not try to sell baked goods out my apartment until I open my own bakery?" Her original order was for carrot cake for this past Easter. It stemmed from the fact that she gave up sweets for Lent and was tortured on a weekly basis when she had to pass on whatever concoction I brought into work. So, to make up for it, she asked if I would bake her a carrot cake to take home for Easter, both as a gift for her mother and as a celebratory Lent-is-over prize for herself. When I came back to work after the holiday, I found my cake platter and a note on my desk. Her mother's loopy handwriting thanked me for the best carrot cake she had ever had and that I have a talent. Molly gushed that her mom ate the cake at every meal that weekend, that it did not make it to the Easter meal, and that anyone outside of the immediate family was offered a different cake for dessert, while the carrot cake remained hidden. And that her mom pictured me as a plump little baker. The Fourth of July was the perfect occasion to place another order, only this time they were more realistic and ordered two cakes, with the hope that at least a slice would make it to the actual holiday.

In addition to the carrot cakes, another coworker, Becca, ordered cupcakes for an upcoming bachelorette party, with the only requirement that the cupcakes be pink. Then, my friend Liz ordered desserts for a family party the week after that, specifying I could make whatever dessert would further my baking development AND land her a shout-out in my blog (duh). I couldn't believe it - I was actually consistently busy! But, I realized this meant something else - I need packaging!!!!

Notice the foil fort in the background.
Choosing packaging had been a task I figured I would have time to deliberate: I wanted to research costs, colors, styles, etc., plus document the process for you. While I had chosen the wedding favor packaging fairly easily, I figured I would take my time to pick my branded packaging. WRONG. When those orders started pouring in, I began to panic - I had to find packaging NOW. No time to do my usual research, indecisive back-and-forth, opinion gathering, etc. And I couldn't do the same ghetto "packaging" I did last time Molly ordered from me: I placed the cake on my own platter, then built a fort of foil around the cake, so it was protected from the air but not touched. Just really, really awful and unprofessional looking (but at least inventive?).... No, these boxes had to be ordered ASAP if I wanted them in time for these orders. Isn't it funny how this always happens: we think we have all the time in the world to plan something, and then OH WAIT - it's happening NOW and there is NO time to plan.

So, I did about ten minutes of frantic online browsing before deciding Mr. Takeout Bags (the name is awful, I know) was my man. I ordered everything I thought I would need coming up: mini cupcake boxes, regular cupcake boxes, jumbo cupcake boxes, layer cake boxes, and cardboard cake circles. I chose white packaging with clear windows, figuring that would display my goods nicely while also providing a lovely space for my Dolce + Decadence labels to shine. It was slightly painful clicking the order "submit" button - I had just bought enough packaging for my next 500 orders. On the scary side, it was a LOT of money (that could have also bought some really gorgeous shoes...)... On the positive side, my first business investment! So, some more orders, about 497 of them, would be nice right now... (cough)...ahem...yeah, you, Reader....

The boxes were supposed to arrive Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, which was just in time for Molly's pickup Wednesday evening. Tuesday night I came home to find only three boxes haphazardly strewn across our back patio. How UPS throws 30-lb boxes over a 10-foot fence, I do not know. But there were my boxes, albeit a little disgruntled.... Kind of wish UPS wouldn't do that. What if my items were breakable? Or how do they know there's not some glass table or ceramic statue on the patio that they could hit? Or how they throw it back there in the middle of the rain? Grrrr..... anyways, I digress....

I opened my packaging but found, to my dismay, that the layer cake boxes were not in this shipment. At least the circles had arrived, though, so I could frost my cakes. So long as the boxes came Wednesday, I was good. So, I got to frosting on my new turntable, which I LOVE - makes frosting and pressing nuts into the sides SO much easier! I also recently read some tips on cake frosting, which I'll share now:

  1. Place a dollop of frosting under the circle to anchor the cake in place while frosting. If not using a circle, place a dollop of frosting under the bottom cake layer to anchor it to the platter (also 2).
  2. If using a circle, also place a dollop of frosting between the circle and the bottom cake layer to anchor it again.
  3. Put a generous amount of frosting between layers. This might be personal preference, but I think it looks bad if you can barely see the frosting between layers when slices are cut. So much oozes out as you stack, too, that you are going to lose some frosting.
  4. 3. 
  5. Spread a thin layer of frosting, or "crumb coat" over your entire cake in order to seal in crumbs. Allow this to set for at least ten minutes, preferably in the refrigerator. Once this has set, apply the final layer of frosting. It will have a much smoother appearance, with no crumbs in sight.

 The cakes turned out gorgeous, especially with the pecans pressed into the sides (see below and also first picture at top of blog). It took everything in my power to not cut myself a slice, as this is my favorite cake. Alas, I went to bed carrot cake-less, praying that the boxes would arrive the next day.

At work the next day I realized I had no tracking number for this set of boxes, so I called Mr. Takeout Bags to make sure my boxes were going to arrive in the Wednesday shipment. My representative Mr. Mark Takeout Bags assured me they would. But, I then received a call about 15 minutes later from Ms. Cheryl Takeout Bags, who informed me that my layer cake boxes most likely would not arrive until next week. WHAT?! The ONLY box I needed THIS week was not coming. How ironic... But, I had to think fast, as I was not giving Molly a foil tent again to take home - I had a reputation as the best carrot cake in the world to uphold. So, I had to think fast - where in the world could I find some sort of box to store the cakes in? The only thing I could think of was to ask the Panera next door if I could buy some boxes. I was certain they would say no, most likely due to inventory incapability (picture the cashier: "How do I ring up an empty box.....?"), but possibly due to liability: what if I put a poisoned cake in a Panera box and served it at a party, and then the family of the sickened/dying person sued Panera for this treacherous cake? These were just some of the thoughts going through my head as Molly and I walked over to Panera.

Molly approached the cashier, "Is there ANY way we can get a couple cake boxes, like you sell your coffee cake in? Can we buy them? Or even buy a cookie or pastry, but you put it in that box?" We were both holding our breath. The cashier goes, "Hmmm, let me go ask my manager," and walked away. After about a minute, she came back, but walked right past us without saying a word. Molly and I looked at each other, unsure what that meant. Then, the cashier emerged with two empty cake boxes, handed them to Molly, and said, "Here, don't worry about it." We were both stunned, but willingly accepted, feeling like we should leave a tip or still buy that cookie as a token of our appreciation. Again, I was surprised that Panera would bypass corporate red tape to give away boxes. Maybe the manager knew what awesome cakes I was putting in them, so he could only hope that people would mistake them for Panera cakes ;)

I arrived home that evening to again find three boxes lying like gun-fight casualties on my back patio (UPS, what are you doing?!?!), this time even with split-seam wounds from the fall. I dragged them inside, hoping one contained the cake boxes. Nope. Just more cupcake boxes. Oh well - at least Panera came to the rescue. Into the Panera-branded boxes they went, and were picked up tonight. I'm excited to hear more stories about Molly's mother and the cakes after this weekend. Last time it was cake for breakfast and hiding it from relatives; this time I'm hoping for a fork-stabbing when someone else goes in for a bite, or something of that nature.

And, once all the packaging is in, I'll be sure to post pictures for you all!


Becca said...

I love it!! I can't wait for my cupcakes! They will be amazing knowing you!

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