One of my most favorite things about being a creative entrepreneur is receiving the unexpected email from a potential client, or the text from a colleague saying they’re passing my name along for a fun job… There are plenty of things in this line of work that are stress inducing, just like any other job– it’s not all rainbows and sprinkles. But, on the days where I get an inquiry for a project that I am creatively inspired and challenged by, those are the ones that fill my tank. My instinct is to always shriek…of course, but also to text my mom and Aric out of excitement. I’m like a little kid on Christmas.
This particular email was very, very exciting to me. A TV producer from The Drew Barrymore Show, reached out needing multiple birthday cakes for Drew Barrymore’s birthday. Umm….what? HOW COOL?! This is a huge opportunity to showcase my work and I tell you what…it never gets old and I never take it for granted. I’m always in a bit of disbelief too…they called ME to make a cake for HER? When I first started decorating cakes in my early 20’s I never would’ve thought it would open the doors to some of the experiences I’ve had in my career.
Now don’t get me wrong, many times these inquiries are just that..an inquiry. But, I feel like I have a good sense after doing this for so long that I know when one is going to book. This was one of those times…and sure enough it did! But there’s a catch – it’s Wednesday afternoon when I receive this call and they need these cakes by the following Thursday **takes a deep breath** That is a very fast turnaround for such an order – but not impossible. LFG! One of the biggest personal takeaways from my time on Bake Squad was learning how to efficiently and intentionally plan my time…every minute of it. There’s never enough of it and I needed to make sure these cakes (all four of them) were perfect for the show and for Drew freakin’ Barrymore!
So, I get right to work and the clock starts ticking. A lot of the creative was already established for this order by the producers, which is very helpful, considering the time crunch. I just need to take the information the client is giving me and distill it down into a beautiful and imaginative cake design. There’s a lot to consider here, and one of the most essential being – what’s something that is impressive enough for TV, that I can actually pull off in this amount of time? Four sketches get submitted and it’s decided (by the TV people) that we’re only going to do three cakes **phew**, but they need to be bigger. So, I draw them again, making realistic modifications where I can and on Friday I get the greenlight to move forward with the designs.
So here’s what’s on the list:
E.T. cake – A two-tier cake covered in Reese's Pieces with a 14” chocolate sculpture of baby Drew on top. I decide I’m also going to incorporate fairy lights, a little BMX bike with a milk crate…and E.T. finger candles. Originally, I was just going to do boring regular candles around the cake and Aric was like ’hear me out… What if they were E.T. fingers?’ Reason 385184 why I love you. YES!!! OF COURSE, E.T. FINGER CANDLES!!
Scream cake – A Ghostface inspired mask donning Drew’s character, Sidney’s, iconic bob – plus a vintage phone and extra scary toy knife (thank you amazon!) and when you cut into the head, it will look like it’s bleeding. Thankfully I’m not the only one with a twisted sense of humor around here.
Planet Earth cake – A big ol’ planet Earth, with a crescent moon, accompanied by cake pop planets, PLUS a playful rocket with Drew inside, designed with a real sparkler that they’ll light on cam. Did someone say pyrotechnics??
First order of business – go over everrrrry detail of these designs, make a plan, gather and order supplies. Then, figure out where I can delegate. I knew better than to run myself into the ground and deprive myself of sleep for 5 days…so, I needed to plan every detail out. I’ve been there, done that with countless all-nighters, and I’ve learned that as long as I stay focused, plan and ask for help where I can, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. I hang up the to-scale sketches on my wall, with a list on each for things that need to be purchased, baked, built and prepped. Btw..if you’ve never used the XL Post-it pads, I highly recommend it! You can also draw out your plan on a piece of parchment paper and tape it to your wall..whatever it is, just have a plan!
I decided to ask a baker friend of mine who has a shop down the street to bake the cakes for me, that right there takes a TON off of my plate and her cakes are so damn delicious. I also commissioned another artist friend of mine who used to work with me frequently back when I had my brick and mortar bake shop, to do the 14” chocolate sculpture of Drew. She’s so good and someone who I have complete confidence in on a project like this. The only tricky thing…She now lives in California! Coincidentally, she had just done an order like this for another client, so she was familiar with how to package the piece, and send it safely. She shipped it overnight from California (not cheap!) and it arrived Tuesday, with only minor damage. She packed that thing up like she was shipping an actual baby!
I repaired what needed to be fixed and added pigtails and bows and crossed that task off the list.
I also decided I needed to hire an assistant for a couple of days to help with some of the other tedious tasks like…idk…putting over 3000 Reese’s Pieces on one of the cakes! SO. MANY. PIECES. I get to work on building the structure for these cakes and start sculpting elements wherever I can, checking off my to-do list a little bit at a time. There’s just something about forming a team and working on a project together towards a shared goal. I love putting all the pieces in place ;)
I really tried during these few days to encourage myself to ‘work smarter, not harder’. Knowing I had so many E.T. fingers to make, I sculpted one out of clay, fired it in my kiln to make a mold which I then used to cast the chocolate. (Yes, I also have a pottery obsession, but I’ll explain that in a future blog)
There were a handful of times where I tried to find these ‘smarter’ ways to work and I ended up making it more difficult for myself. For example, the Ghostface mask. I thought it would be easiest to make a mold of that too but after taking off the black fabric from a mask I ordered online, and seeing how floppy the material was – I had to spend time reinforcing it with foil tape and Styrofoam and during that process Aric is like – ‘Ash, you know how to sculpt – just sculpt it.’ He was right, I was in my head forgetting how capable I actually am. I got out my calipers and let my hands get to work.
So, little by little, hour by hour and day by day, the cakes started to take shape and all I could think was..we’re doing it. I’m going to pull this off! As someone who has struggled with ADHD my entire life, it’s a big deal for me when I recognize my focus and attention being so strong on a project and to actually feel like I’m doing a good job. It’s empowering to look back after the fact and feel proud of how I had my own back and set myself up for success. It’s taken a lot of hard lessons to help me get better in that area of my life and it’s reassuring to see such progress.
During this order there were a handful of times where fear and doubt started to pop in..and during those times, when I catch my mind talking smack to me, I put myself right in front of a mirror and give myself a big ol’ pep talk. It may sound cheesy, but I dare you to give it a shot next time you’re getting in your head. I would stare myself in the eyes like a giant weirdo and tell myself ‘we got this Ashley’… ‘you know what you’re doing’ … ‘it’s going to be great’..and then I’d get back to work with a renewed sense of confidence. Sometimes that’s all I need..to recognize when I’m in my head and make the conscious choice to get out of it.
I’ve allotted just under 2 days per cake and miraculously, I pretty much stayed on schedule. I kept going back to my lists and taking advantage of every available minute. It felt sooo good to look around my NEW studio (that I built!) and just take in that I was using it to fulfill this big order. This hard, challenging, fun, exciting, giant order that I’m pulling off with the help of friends and colleagues. The fact that I was able to sleep, shower and spend time with my daughter while this was all going on, just made it that much better.
The assistant I had for a couple of days was just so sweet. Her attention to detail and focus, made everything a lot easier. You know when you get help sometimes and it can feel like they end up making your job more difficult, because they keep messing up or don’t know your systems, or just require a lot of hand holding? This was not that. Catu was a dream to have! I showed her an example of how I wanted the candies placed and she spent hours putting them in their exact spots perfectly.
After some time she asks me - ‘Ashley, how are you delivering these cakes?’ I replied, ‘I’m going to put them in my car and drive them there..do you want to come? WILL you come??’ Deliveries are just the worst…SO stressful! Every bump, stop and turn makes my stomach drop. I do have to say though, I’ve learned to just roll with it and trust that there’s no situation we can’t fix, which has drastically helped lower that stress over the years. I knew these cakes were built with a very solid foundation and structure so that helped ease my nerves but we’re still bringing these from Connecticut to New York City…you never know what’s going to happen.
All the cakes had to be done by Wednesday night – at this point, I have the E.T. cake pretty much finished, aside from final assembly on site, and the other two are almost done. Planet Earth, I’m not worried about. The cake pop planets are done and cute af. The moon and rocket look great – all I have to do is frost the planet and pipe out the land masses..doing this once before on Bake Squad helped me gauge how long this would take me, which thankfully, was not long at all.
The biggest roadblock right now is this damn Ghostface bob hairdo. I don’t want the hair to be a big mass of fondant or chocolate – I want it to be airy and different. I keep layering various shades of gold modeling chocolate, using a pizza wheel to make a bunch of lines for texture. It’s beginning to look like a bowl of pappardelle was dumped on Ghostface’s head. I hated it. it’s hard in those moments to truly ‘trust the process’ but I kept telling myself…just keep going. With each layer the design was looking more and more like the vision, and it wasn’t until I did a color wash on the chocolate pieces that the hair finally popped and came together.
This particular design was the one that resonated with me the most – I watched Scream, too many times to count, when I was a kid and realizing that I’m making this cake in my studio….for Drew Barrymore…of the bob and mask from Scream – it made me cry happy tears, not gonna lie. I finished up the hair around 10pm and then spent another hour finishing the globe. And low and behold, I finished it, all of them. I freaking did it.
I clear out my truck, pack everything up and prepare a cake kit, filled with anything I may need to repair any damage done during delivery. I head for a shower and get to sleep by 1am.
I’m up at 5 am Thursday morning. I loaded up the car, scooped Catu and we headed to the city. The sunrise that morning was so beautiful. The entire sky was bright pink and orange and I felt like it was a little gift from the universe on a job well done, so far... We still have the other part of the job to do – get these cakes there safely, make final touches on site and watch them make their tv debut…after sitting out at room temp for almost 5 hours.
We get to CBS Studios (on time!!) and have help loading everything in. I can’t tell you the number of times someone tries to ‘help’ by taking the cake from me. Not helpful!! Either they squeeze the sides of the box into the cake or tilt it in a way that makes me feel a certain type of way. Thank you but please, step away from the cake :) Anyways - it’s always a nail-biting moment when you open the back of the delivery vehicle. I open it up and not a piece of sugar is out of place. I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. It’s still so surreal this is all happening! All of the cakes are loaded up and we’re finally headed into the studio.
Once we get backstage, we set up a small work area and finish assembling the cakes. The globe needs the cake pops, moon and rocket to be attached. The E.T. cake needs to be stacked, fingers need to go in and the sculpture needs to go on top. Scream cake is done. The show’s fantastic art department has these fun tables decorated for the cakes and the birthday set looks AMAZING. It’s such a fun morning and the studio is just bursting with energy and it’s so cool to be a part of it. The producers come back to see the cakes and everyone is loving them – which of course feels great to hear. All of the cakes are put together on their tables and now we wait.
While waiting backstage, we get to see some of the celebrities she had on her show that day, which is always exciting. Ummm hello Penn Badgley!! We’re keeping a close eye on the cakes to make sure everything looks as good as it’s supposed to. They start lining up the cakes for their moment in the spotlight, someone in a Ghostface costume emerges and it’s almost showtime.
One by one, the cakes are rolled out on set, in front of Drew, the entire crew, the audience and America and I’m sitting backstage watching the monitors with tears in my eyes. I’m here delivering three cakes I’m very proud of – proud of all 360 degrees of each of them and knowing I’m going back to Connecticut to a CLEAN studio and a very long weekend of relaxation.
Thank you to everyone involved in the show and for trusting me with this order. It’s one I will never forget and a memory I will cherish forever. I returned home feeling this deep sense of accomplishment…walking right back up to my mirror and saying to myself ‘you did it girl..and you fckn crushed it.’