The Cake Lady

Cumming cake decorator Kristen George loves a design challenge

EMILY KALLOS, LULU PHOTOS
Kristen George
Kristen George, left, with Food Network Challenge winner Lauren Kitchens.
Through Icing Smiles, Kristen George presents a Frozen-themed dream cake to a young girl whose sibling is fighting cancer.
Rose wedding cake
Lollipop cake
Standing Yellow lab
Animal cupcakes
Photo
By KATIE VANBRACKLE
Posted

Kristen George works magic daily in her Crafty Cakery storefront in Cumming, transforming simple batter and icing into unbelievably detailed, vibrantly colored cakes for all occasions. She took a break from the kitchen long enough to talk to Northside Woman about cupcake spiders, Icing Smiles and what it took to turn a childhood hobby into a thriving business.

NSW: Did you always dream of owning your own cake decorating business?
Kristen George: My amazing mother instilled the love of baking into me at a very young age, and I always made cakes for friends throughout high school and college, but it was just a hobby. I received my BA in photography with a minor in design and art history from Georgia State University and worked at Bridals by Lori during those years, where I learned a great deal about the wedding industry. I also made numerous cakes for owner Lori Allen’s kids when they were young, and even Lori’s mom, Jean Burns – a 50th birthday cake, which was my first tiered cake. But it took me another 20 years to figure out I wanted to be a decorator full-time and make it a career.

How did the loss of your father change your life’s path?
Every fall when I worked at Piedmont Healthcare, I would sell cakes at bake-a-thons to raise money for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society in honor of my Dad, who passed away from cancer in 2009. I became known as the “Cake Lady,” and my co-workers and friends were getting hooked on my cake. Then things just began to snowball. I was beginning to bake year-round for various occasions and with a full-time job, a one- to two-hour commute downtown and two children under the age of 2, I realized something had to give. The idea of opening a cakery just made sense. It would give me a more flexible schedule, more family time and the enjoyment of doing something I was truly passionate about. So I visited bakeries all over town and did months of research before coming up with my own plan.

How did you learn such amazing decorating skills?
I knew the Atlanta cake market was very competitive and my Wilton buttercream skills would not be enough, so I began taking classes with renowned sugar flower artist and pastry chef Nicholas Lodge. His instruction brought my decorating skills to a whole new level and allowed me to learn sculpture techniques from guest instructors such as “Food Network Challenge” winners Lauren Kitchens and Mike McCarey, who are amazing instructors and just plain down-to-earth good folks. I also learned as much as I could from things like Craftsy.com and YouTube videos. It’s amazing how much information is available on the Internet nowadays, and most of it is free!

You now operate your own Crafty Cakery in Cumming. How many cakes do you decorate each month, on average?
Maybe 75 to 100, sometimes more if there is a holiday. We also do cupcakes and cookies, so it really depends on the season.

Your favorite cake designs?
I love geometric design or anything with lots of small details and colors, basically anything that is truly challenging.

Favorite cake flavor?
Carrot cake, hands down. We make ours with buttermilk, coconut, pineapple and pecans, and it is just amazing. It was a recipe my cousin sent me and I fine-tuned it and just absolutely love it.

Most unusual wedding cake request?
A five-tiered black and white striped wedding cake where the inside (cake batter) was dyed blue and purple for every other tier. It was an Alice in Wonderland themed wedding.

Most unusual groom’s cake?
One we made for a groom whose mother in Dallas had never heard of a themed groom’s cake. She simply told me about her son, who was an avid hunter, loved to mountain bike and kayak, fish, had a yellow lab, loved to camp, went to Alabama and loved wearing his Bat Man cape around the house when he was 5 years old. So we took all of that and turned it into a cake that was truly a mother’s vision of her adorable son, personified in cake.

Have you ever had any wedding cake delivery disasters?
Deliveries usually go pretty smoothly, but the cupcake weddings usually prove to be a bit interesting. The last one we did used fresh-cut wooden stumps to display all of the cupcakes. It was a North Georgia mountain wedding with a rustic theme. It was a beautiful set up, but the wood was so freshly cut that there were spiders still crawling on the bark and sawdust everywhere. Not to mention I’m terribly scared of spiders!

Most exciting cake moments?
When Beyoncé posted the image of a cake we did for her concert at the Arena at Gwinnett Center two years ago on her personal Instagram page and it got over 500,000 likes. And most recently – a cake we did for the Ed Sheeran concert. Ed took a photo with our cake and loved it!

Most challenging design?
The new Georgia Dome. We did a replica for the ground-breaking ceremony, but it was a last minute request and was extremely complicated with all of the angles and architecture. I would not call it a “fun” project, but I was honored to be asked to do it. It’s a beautiful building, but I don’t think it was meant to be made out of cake.

Hardest material to work with?
Isomalt. It’s like a hard candy that you can use to make edible items or transparent fairy wings, but I can never seem to get all of the bubbles out.

Strangest cake order?
Eight cow-spotted 3-D football cakes for the Chick-fil-A kickoff game.

How in the world did you create…
The houndstooth hat of Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant?

The fedora hat is a huge favorite of Alabama grads and we’ve done it several times now. It’s completely covered in 2-inch strips of printed houndstooth edible image sugar sheets. Takes about four hours to piece them all together so that it looks seamless.
A golden Texas A&M ring?

I used edible image techniques learned from Lauren Kitchens to make the Texas A&M cake for the Chick-fil-A bowl game in 2013. Luckily, my brother was an Aggie so I borrowed his ring to help with recreating all of the details. The ring itself was made from modeling chocolate and hand-painted in gold metallic. The box was all cake with chocolate sides.

A standing Labrador?
I had just learned how to do standing dog cakes from Mike McCarey when the order came in for a groom’s cake – of the groom’s dog, a yellow lab. I think his name was Buster? I had never actually made such a cake yet, only studied them in class, but it turned out great and the client loved it. They had given me a photo of the pooch and since he couldn’t be at the wedding, the cake was the next best thing. His head was made of 5 pounds of white modeling chocolate and he stood almost 2 feet high. I’ve only done labs and bulldogs so far. They take about six to eight hours to complete, so we don’t get too many requests for them.

Tell me about your work with Icing Smiles.
A couple of years ago, I saw an advertisement in a cake decorating magazine for Icing Smiles. They were looking for “Sugar Angels” to donate dream cakes to children with life-threatening diseases. My first cake went to a teenager diagnosed with leukemia. He was in isolation at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for his 18th birthday, and had a little party with his twin brother, family and the CHOA nurses. His mom cried when I delivered the cake to the hospital, and I cried, too. I just couldn’t imagine what she was going through.

Sometimes we make cakes for the siblings of the sick children, who can sometimes feel left out or not as important. I created a Super Mario cake for a little boy fighting cancer in 2013 and later made his little sister’s Frozen-themed cake. Typically, I’m asked to make one to two dream cakes per year and would be happy to do more if given the opportunity.

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