Hands up who likes making mistakes? Nope, me neither. It’s sometimes easier to pretend that we don’t make them rather than ‘fess up… and as a perfectionist control freak, admitting to making mistakes is a very hard thing to do.
BUT I am getting better at embracing my mistakes… why? Because I understand now that if I don’t do that, if I continue to even deny that I make mistakes, I am also denying myself a huge learning experience, and an opportunity to grow and develop as a business, and as a person.
Like most cake makers, my work is all about perfection. Creating the perfect cake to give you the perfect experience, whatever the occasion. In my eyes there isn’t any room for error… but real life ain’t like that is it? Real life involves things going wrong. Real life involves me juggling too many balls so eventually one gets dropped, and I make a mistake. However, my job is to never let the customer see that mistake.
When I deliver your cake, you don’t know that I may have re-baked the sponge as I didn’t think it had risen enough. You don’t know that at about 1am I stripped the icing off, re-covered and re-airbrushed it because I wasn’t happy with the original colour. I make mistakes that the customer will never see, because I correct them before I finish the cake. And each one teaches me something new.
But what about those cake disasters we all hear about when cakes collapses just before the party starts…? Yep I’ve had one of those too. Fairly early on as a cake business I made a three tier cake to resemble a beehive, with each layer a different cake flavour. It was collected and transported back to the customer’s house by them, and as the weather was hot, was kept in a cool place indoors overnight. So far everything ok. However, the next day I get a message to say that the bottom tier had collapsed. They had managed to repair the damage as best as possible, and thankfully they were very understanding. But was it my mistake?
Well partially, yes. The hot weather was a contributing factor, and as I wasn’t there, I don’t know for certain how it was transported or kept… but as I trusted this customer I guessed that they would have been careful. But I knew that there were three things I had done that may have contributed to the collapse:
- Rather than baked it as two separate layers, I split the base tier cake to fill it with buttercream, which would have given the cake less stability.
- In my eagerness to support the other tiers, I think I probably used too many dowels in that base tier, again giving the cake less stability. I have since learned and followed the rule of using one less dowel than the size of the cake it is supporting above.
- I allowed a customer to transport a stacked three tier cake themselves! I would now recommend that anything more than a small two tier cake is transported by me and set up at the venue.
It was the first time that I’d had a cake ‘disaster’ and it hit me hard. I offered the customer a partial refund and they were happy, but for a while I was doubtful of my ability, and was nervous about making tiered cakes. But I learned to embrace that mistake, and eventually I realised that the whole experience had taught me a hell of a lot more than if I’d just made the cake and everything had been fine.
I learnt to plan, plan and plan every single stage of a cake. I learnt to look at all the possible things that could go wrong, and deal with them before they had chance to. I learnt to think each cake through, almost visualising each stage, before I had even baked the cake. It may sound a bit dramatic I grant you, but it is now the only way I work, and it is how I make each cake as perfect as I possibly can.
With every cake I make, and each mistake I correct I am getting better and better, and that is a nice feeling. So join me in embracing those mistakes, and let’s all get better together.