Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times (m5w5qspd20120620134539/600 )
The frosting is already flowing at Duff's Cakemix on Melrose Avenue. Celebrity baker Duff Goldman's decorate-your-own cake shop is expected to open by the end of the week next door to Charm City Cakes West, the L.A. outpost of the Baltimore bakery that for 10 seasons was featured on Food Network's hit reality-gâteau show"Ace of Cakes."
The new Charm City Cakes West, which isn't open to the public, has been turning out custom cakes that included a 5-foot-tall wedding cake covered with 1,500 sugared flowers and a 100-pound replica of the USS Missouri with a built-in smoke machine and LED lights for the premiere of "Battleship" – the kinds of cakes made with buttercream, fondant and strategically placed Rice Krispies treats.
Cakemix, on the other hand, is for anyone off the street who wants to go wild with a tube of buttercream. By decorating a cake, that is. (Think Color Me Mine or Build-A-Bear, but you get to work with a lot of frosting and sprinkles and eat the results.)
"It's for people who've never decorated a cake before and want to get creative," says the earringed Goldman, sporting a chef's jacket, camouflage shorts (held up by a makeshift belt of plastic wrap) that expose the Little Prince tattoo on his right leg, and unlaced bright yellow Merrell running shoes.
"The great thing about cake is it doesn't feel like work. You forget about work. Kids, adults, they all get the same look in their eye when they're decorating cakes.... That's the magic right there."
The 2,400-square-foot space has bay windows that look directly into the Charm City Cakes work area, where a giant cake version of a plushy bear from "Toy Story 3" is under construction. Cakemix's work tables seat 50 would-be decorators. Three walk-in refrigerators shared between Cakemix and Charm City Cakes are filled with cakes and buttercream. The place smells like sugar.
I make my first foray into fondant during one of the test runs that Cakemix has been holding in the last couple of weeks to get ready for opening. It's not without fear; I've frosted a cake before, but I've never decorated one other than to stick a few candles in it.
A chalkboard menu lists the decorating options. Choose a 6-inch ($36) or 9-inch ($52) round cake to decorate, then choose from cake flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, marbled chocolate and vanilla, red velvet, carrot or the flavor of the week. Filling flavors include cream cheese, vanilla, chocolate or the weekly special.
A decorator on staff will walk a customer through the process of decorating. (Goldman might teach some classes but won't usually be around for pointers.)
I'm armed with a 6-inch three-layer vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream (the cake is fully baked with a thin layer of outer frosting called the crumb coat). Then I must decide if I want to decorate with more buttercream or with fondant, which is a pliable frosting that can be molded and sculpted. I go with fondant. Deep pink.
Decorator Ricky Webster hands me a ball of fondant, and I knead a few drops of food coloring into it. Then I take my now very pink fondant to a sheeter — a several-thousand-dollar piece of equipment that works like a pasta machine — to roll the fondant into a thin, even sheet, about an eighth of an inch thick. Next I must place the fondant over the entire cake: The trick is to get it completely smooth. Webster throws around terms like "blousing" and "skirting." I try to stay focused.
"Yours looks better than mine!" says Goldman, who has just wrapped a cake with yellow fondant. Not really. Mine's slightly bubbled around the edges and I've got a few cracks. "That's OK. I think of cake decorating as not so much about decorating as it is about covering up mistakes," a staffer reassures me.
The next step is the "airbrush shower," a booth of floor-to-ceiling glass with a tiled floor and drain. I can spray edible paint directly onto the glass to see what colors I want to work with. Then it all gets hosed down and washed down the drain.
Holding the spray gun about a foot from the cake, I spray liquid orange coloring around the base. Now I get to go crazy with more fondant: I cut out green circles and rings, brush them with water and "glue" them to the cake. I do manage to cover up the cracks, but then I leave fingerprint smudges on the airbrushing.
No problem, Goldman says. He helps me mix a blue that he thinks suits the cake. "It should be warmer," he says of the blue fondant and adds a tiny amount of yellow food coloring. He cuts another circle and places it over my smudges. I add more circles, and then he says, "We need lasers." I agree. And they should be red.
Goldman uses a pastry bag of red frosting to deck the cake out with laser-beam dots. Then he tops my pink and orange Saturn-ring laser-dot cake with its pièce de résistance, a bear he's shaped from fondant.
"You should be doing this," he tells me. "I get paid for this."
But I plan to take all the credit.
Duff's Cakemix, 8302 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 650-5555