Brief history of your business and how you got to where you are today?
I never really had any inclination to bake until I started a family. I wanted to have something fun to do with my son so started baking with him when he was 3, in 2008. I started watching baking shows and soon discovered cake decorating and competition shows. Then a few months into it, my husband's 40th birthday was approaching and I thought what better way to celebrate than with a custom cake! But I could not find anyplace in my area that was making them at the time, so I set out to make one myself and started researching it online. Once I started looking, I got so enamored (actually obsessed) with what I discovered, that it just took off from there. . .
I spent over 3 years creating custom cakes for friends and family until I got pregnant with my daughter in 2012. I had to take it easy as I experienced some high risk issues in my pregnancy, so I went on hiatus with every intention to start up again after she was born. Once she was born, I was able to make a few cakes for personal occasions where I had complete free reign on design - and that is when I discovered that I really enjoyed the designing side of decorating the most. Plans changed after I started concentrating more on cakes for personal occasions and projects and took only occasional orders. I found I was much happier and also started getting more recognition for my work because I was able to do ‘my own thing’. Soon after, I was being invited to film online classes for Pretty Witty Cakes in the UK and Craftsy in the US. Then I was invited to become an Artist of Excellence and started getting requests to teach. Unfortunately I am not able to travel much to teach at the moment due to my kids and my husband’s business, but I would love to start doing that soon.
(below - at The Americas Cake Fair along with fellow Artists of Excellence Karen Keaney and Eva Salazar as well as Satin Ice Brand Ambassador Joyce Greenlaw)
How were you first introduced to Satin Ice?
I first used Satin Ice when they sponsored an Icing Smiles Calendar collaboration a few cake friends and I were a part of. We were each provided with fondant to use for our contribution to the project. I had always used my own homemade marshmallow fondant so it was my first time ever trying the ready-made variety.
Is there one project that stands out?
It changes all the time. I find it really hard to decide which is my favorite as I have a few that I love, each for its own reason. So I’ve narrowed it down to these four:
- The Avant Garde cake because I was super happy with the eclectic, funky look and with how the hollow hat topper turned out – that was NOT an easy task!
- The Pretty Pink Fairy Garden cake because it received a lot of attention and feedback and has to be my most successful designs to-date. This cake having been shared the most and also chosen to be the Spotlight cake for Satin Ice’s booth banner at The Americas Cake Fair in Orlando this past September.
- The Cock-a-Doodle-Doo cake because it is a digression from my more familiar construction and style.
- The Abed Mahfouz fashion-inspired cake because it is my favorite color ever and I was able to achieve it on cake.
Most challenging cake to date?
My most challenging cake was a near-disaster. It had a gravity-defying topper where the figure had to have one leg up to match the pose in the picture the client sent. I made the topper from Rice Krispie treats and made sure to attach it to the support dowel with some of the melted marshmallow from that mixture. I had it all covered and detailed completely, (which took over 7 hours), and when I went to move it from the dummy onto the actual cake, the entire body dropped down the dowel - leaving the head completely severed. Luckily my hand was holding the dowel, just a few inches under the legs, which prevented the body from falling to the ground and becoming a pile of sugar. But the unexpected drop caused it to bump against the edge of my work surface, so that there was some significant damage to the finish around the joints and on the cape. I then had to spend another 2 hours to reinforce it back onto the dowel and repair the damage. This is one of the reasons why I always stress when doing gravity-defying stuff and rarely agree to do them in the first place (lol)!
What tips can you offer to Satin Ice newcomers?
I would highly recommend everyone, (who is just starting out), to read the Fondant 101 section of the Satin Ice website, particularly the Troubleshooting the Basics - as it has priceless information. I was a bit frustrated at first having only used homemade marshmallow fondant before Satin Ice, so I expected it to behave the same - which it did not. Reading up on these posts saved and converted me to Satin Ice. Another huge tip is to use a silicone mat to roll your fondant out on. You can roll it so much thinner this way and it helps prevent having to use cornstarch or powdered sugar therefore prevents the fondant from drying out or getting overworked.
Describe your cake decorating style in three words?
Modern, unconventional and bold.
If you weren't decorating cakes, what would you be doing?
I would probably be doing something in fashion or interior design as both involve creativity and the use of color.
What is a 'regular' cake decorating day like for you?
A typical decorating day can vary significant for me because I do most of my work from home - so the schedule has to adapt around my kids’ needs, which always varies. But one thing that does remain fairly constant is the need for at least one all-nighter in the mix because I tend to underestimate the amount of time certain things will take and am crunched for time in the end. This is more likely to happen when it’s an actual cake order versus a project where I can use cake dummies. I never like to bake too far ahead, and I never freeze my cakes - so because of this I have less time to work on the actual finish or dressing of the cake than some people who do freeze their cakes.
What is your creative process for making cakes?
I normally will start with the theme or inspiration piece for the occasion to form a general idea - then take into account how big the cake needs to be or how many it needs to serve to determine the number of tiers or dimensions needed. Next, I will consider what elements are to be included, whether it's a topper or a sugar floral arrangement or figures, and what colors I want to use if the client does not specify. I will visualize the general design with all the elements that are to be included first, with several alternative options, then narrow it down to my final choice and sketch that.
(below two of Violet's original sketches along with the completed cake)
During this stage, I think about where elements will look best, if there is balance and interest in the design, as well as if there is textural and visual contrast. Sometimes I am torn and may have to sketch more than one idea in order to make a final decision. My sketches are rarely ever colored in, so I can visualize other color combinations, if necessary. Once a final design is decided, I will determine what techniques are needed to execute each of the design elements and plan out my time line from there based on what needs to be done when - as some pieces need longer drying time, etc.
What is your favorite part about making/designing cakes?
My favorite part is coming up with the design, followed by seeing the vision come to life when you’re in the later stages of decorating.
Favorite cake flavor to make?
Pound cake with my signature Swiss buttercream filling.
What is inspiring you this very moment?
Fashion, home decor trends, textiles, graphics, architecture, art.
Who is your favorite cake artists in the industry and why?
There are SO many talented artists in our industry with diverse strengths and distinct styles, so it's tough to answer this question. If I were to name my favorites in each category, they would be the following:
- Tracey Rothwell for quirky and fun designs.
- Brenda Walton for super cute figures.
- Jacqueline Butler for stylized sugar flowers.
- Christine Craig for realistic sugar flowers.
- Karen Portaleo for realistic and gravity-defying sculpted cakes.
- Faye Cahill for elegant wedding designs.
- Calli Hopper for her hand painting.
- Lesley Wright for perfect execution ALWAYS.
- Nadia Flecha Guazo for her unique sugar figures.
- Natalie Sideserf for realistic and gory...I literally could go on and on and on....I have over 100 artists that I truly admire…!
What are the big trends you are seeing right now in cakes?
Well, these are not new trends per se, but they are still going strong and evolving constantly - hyper-realistic and or extreme gravity-defying cakes.
What do you aspire to accomplish with each cake?
Mostly, I just try to create designs that are true to my own esthetics. I am not one to create designs that go with the flow just so they’re accepted. I would like to inspire others with my designs and maybe get others to think outside the box about what they can do creatively or what is considered pretty or attractive. If they can see that I’m not afraid to be ‘out there’ and try unexpected combinations with my designs, be it with bold color combos or mix of textures, then maybe they’d be more willing to try something new too.
If you could create a cake for anyone in history (past or present): Who would it be and why?
It’s a wild one but I’m just going to throw it out there! I would love to create a cake for Prince William and Duchess Kate’s next child’s baby shower - especially if it is a girl!
What is the next "big thing" for you?
My next big thing would be to do some live classes. I have been asked many times to teach abroad but have declined most of them so far. My daughter will be in school soon and once both my kids are older and less dependent on me, I will be able to spend more time away from home. It would be a great experience for me if I could travel and teach. I also would love to be able to enter a competition at a cake show one day and am currently considering going to Cake International in 2017.
Name: Violet Lin Tran
Location: Markham, Ontario, Canada
Education/Training: Bachelor of Arts in Business Management
Business name & Facebook page: The Violet Cake Shop™
Cake philosophy: Dare to be unconventional if you want to get noticed