June 2009: Double duty

June 2009: Double duty

Anita Gupta

Lots of people look for a big kitchen when they’re house-shopping—sometimes more because of looks than function. Not so with Anita Gupta. The enormous granite-topped island in her kitchen is an essential feature, because she runs a business making custom cakes for weddings and birthdays. “This was the thing I needed the most,” she explains: “the island to roll out huge fondant sheets for 20-inch cakes.”

She got what she needed a year and a half ago, when she, her husband and their young kids (two at the time; now three) moved into this brand-new house off Cherry Avenue. They’d been living in a “little tiny condo,” she says, where she’d started Maliha Creations and learned the ropes of maintaining a state-inspected kitchen at home. Here, the spaciousness was a relief. She has a separate fridge for the cakes, a double oven, and “a huge stash of pans in the basement.”

One might think that keeping the kitchen up to health-department standards would be tough with a young family, but Gupta says that’s not so. “It’s actually easier because we live here, so we’re obviously going to keep it clean. I want my family to be healthy; I would do this anyway.”

“I do everything at night when [the kids] are in bed. They’re curious, and my oldest is really into it. She wants to open a bakery when she grows up. She’s almost 6.

“I won’t take more than three [orders in a week]. With wedding cakes, for a Saturday wedding, I start on a Wednesday night when I bake the cakes. On Thursday I frost and fill. They sit overnight in the fridge and get nice and hard. Then Friday I decorate. Saturday I do delivery. My husband is a humongous help. We tag team on the deliveries.

“I use that little tiny mixer—surprise, surprise! I do batches. Once they’re baked and cooled, I put the whole thing in the fridge and the whole space has to be cleaned. I go through a lot of cleaning stuff.

“[Thursday] I bring the cakes inside and start with a huge ball of fondant. This half of the island will be covered with cornstarch so it doesn’t stick. I just use a regular rolling pin. I lift that huge sheet of fondant onto the cake; I have my tools out and ready. These are the smoothers. This [pizza cutter] cuts off the excess. These dowels go in every tier for support. The biggest challenge is to make sure they’re structurally sound. And there’s quite a bit of math. I have recipes scaled for certain size cake pans—when I have to go up or down, or feed a certain number of guests, there’s a lot of math.

“After it’s all put together, I start the decorating. Some are airbrushed. My husband built a hood for me outside. The first time I airbrushed a cake here, it was outside without a hood and the door was cracked. The next morning, we noticed our socks were pink. The counters were pink. I had to get the carpets cleaned. The whole downstairs was pink.

“If it’s a really difficult design, knowing it gets delivered Saturday morning, sometimes Friday night can be stressful. But that’s also the part I enjoy the most. Now that I’ve done it so many times, I can say ‘This is what I need to do.’ The first time I did a Rotunda cake it was hard, but I just did another one last week and it was much easier.

“[To transport cakes] you just crank up the A/C and drive really slow. That’s always the most stressful—if a dowel shifts on the bottom, that could be the end. It hasn’t happened yet [knocks on wood]. It’s going to happen. It’s happened to every cake person I know; once it happens it’s almost a relief.

“This is my one-woman factory. Since I do everything after [the kids are] in bed, dinner is done. It does take some planning. It’s almost two separate kitchens. I do tell people if they want to have children around keep [the cake] away, because they can’t help themselves [from touching the cake]. Adults too—‘Is it real?’”

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