On most weekdays, you will find Christine Chapman in her kitchen baking. But the kind of baking she does isn’t simple drop cookies or a loaf pan cake from a box mix. Her baking is artwork.
Chapman is the creative force behind Crumbs Cakery, a home-based made-to-order cake bakery. Whether it’s a bright red firetruck-shaped cake for a child’s birthday, or an intricate floral design painted on a round salted caramel cake for a special occasion, she’s ready to take on the challenge.
“It’s all trial-and-error,” she said of her cakes. “It’s a lot of trying, trying, trying, failing and then, success.”
A mother of three boys, 6, 10, and 13, Chapman is a self-taught cake artist. She grew up in Austria with a mother who liked to bake.
“Some of my earliest childhood memories are baking cakes with my mother,” she said. “Baking was always part of our family.”
Her career took her down a different path. She has a degree in engineering, with a focus on building restoration. In 2000, she left Europe and came to the U.S. with her husband, Paul.
“I met him at a friend’s wedding,” she said. “He grew up in New York City and had lived in California, before coming to Austria. When we married and decided to move back to the U.S., we went to California.”
But she found that living there wasn’t to her liking. So her husband mentioned having liked Bainbridge Island when he visited there.
“We came here and decided to stay,” she said.
That was in 2003.
For several years, the only cakes she baked were for her sons on their birthdays. Having children at home under foot wasn’t conducive to the kind of specialized baking she wanted to do. But last year, after her youngest was in kindergarten, she decided to begin making custom cakes. And with the passage of the Cottage Food Act, she knew it was the right time.
“Doing this would never pencil out if I had to rent a commercial kitchen,” Chapman said. “But with a cottage business license, I can bake here in my own kitchen.”
Since opening last year, she’s had orders for about two cakes a week.
“I thought I’d be doing one a month,” she said. “But word got out.”
She doesn’t really advertise, other than on her website and Facebook page.
“Mostly, people see one of my cakes and want one,” she said.
When the emails or calls come in, she discusses what kind of cake is desired. Then she draws a sketch of the cake and emails it to the client. When it’s approved, she often makes a second sketch that is actual size, and works from it to make the cake.
“I need something to look at,” she said. “I have to have a visual reference.”
Her cakes sell for about $7 a serving, with a minimum price of $75. She gets most of the ingredients for her cakes locally and uses all organic, except for the sugar.
“That would just get too expensive,” Chapman said.
The cake itself is from one of her mother’s recipes. The salted caramel is the most popular with adults and chocolate or vanilla are favorites for the kids. If need be, she cuts shapes for the design, such as the couch in the Simpsons cake, with a perry knife. The cake is iced and then the decorations are attached.
The decorations or characters are made of molding chocolate, which is pliable but dries hard, as does the gum paste used for ribbons to hold the bird high in the sky on her bird cake.
She also works with eatable corn starch paper to cut lace-looking decor. That’s how she makes the waves that attach to the side of the bird cake.
Everything on one of her cakes is edible, except on a few, when she uses some type of internal support like a straw or dowel. But in those cases, she warns the customer what to do.
At times, her clients tell her that her cakes are too pretty to eat.
“I tell them ‘Enjoy them, eat them,’” she said. “They’re meant to be eaten.”
Among the toughest cake she’s tried was the dye cake with a dinosaur winding its way around the cake.
“The dye is done with sprinkles of color that you drop water on and then move about,” Chapman said. “I needed three panels for the cake. But I experimented with about 20 before I got what I wanted.”
She won’t pick a favorite cake. Just as with kids, she said, “I love them all the same.”
Thus far, no one has asked her to make something that she found to be out of line. Her lead time on each cake is about a week to 10 days out. She already has orders for graduation cakes for June and wedding cakes for the summer wedding season.
“With each cake I ask a lot of questions about the person the cake is for,” she said. “I want to know what they are like and what they do so I can make the cake their own.”
An example is the graduation cake she’s already planning for a Bainbridge High senior who likes baseball.
“I’ve got the high school colors on it and something from where he’s going to go to college,” she said. “And there’s a stack of books propped up with a baseball bat.”
Generally she creates cakes on Wednesday and Thursday, finishes them up on Friday and delivers them late Friday or Saturday. She’s never had a “cake accident,” but admitted she “drives like a snail” when on delivery.
Her weekends are for family and they like to go hiking. She also loves to read historical novels.
And when her birthday rolls around, she’s banned from the kitchen.
“My boys make my birthday cake,” she said. “There’s always lots of chocolate frosting and lots of M&Ms dumped on top of it.”
To find out more go to crumbs.cakery on Facebook or www.crumbs-cakery.com.