Working at Polka Dot Cake Studio has made me realize that almost more time is required to properly package, store and transport a cake than create it. A baker’s work is only half done once the mixing, baking and decorating is complete, and success really depends on how well the product looks once delivered to the customer.
I realized this after preparing for a large order of cakes to be delivered to a local museum in Manhattan. Various bakers had already spent several days preparing the components and assembling the cakes, and had managed to find space in the already crowded refrigerators for the extra 150 cakes.
The delivery service had originally scheduled a pick-up time of 12:00pm, and called to see if the cakes could be picked up early. Sounds like a reasonable request, but under the circumstances of that day it was easier said than done. Before working at a bakery I never gave much thought to the order pick-up time, but now I realize every last minute counts. Small orders are often decorated just before pick-up, and large orders require time to pack. For large orders you have to plan backwards from the pick-up time and factor in how long it takes to assemble the boxes and how long the order can stay unrefrigerated.
Boxing that many cakes is harder than I imagined. Every baker must have a full supply of scissors, packing tape and Sharpie markers in addition to baking tools. Each box needs to be taped together, and then (if you’re like me) you have to break out the calculator and figure out how many cakes can fit in each. Then the boxes need to be lined with rows of tape so the cakes don’t slide around during transport. You must remember to pack according to how sensitive each type of cake is to heat; tarts go first, cheesecakes go last. Once the cakes are perfectly aligned in the boxes you have to seal and label each and stack them out of the way so normal baking duties can resume around it. The one benefit of all this packing and lifting is you get quite a workout, which is a necessity when constantly surrounded by Better than Brad Pitt Brownies.
In the case of the museum order, we prepared everything as originally scheduled, only to find that the delivery wouldn’t happen until an hour later than expected. To make matters worse, the air conditioner broke (on a 90°F day) and we had cheesecakes, tarts and frosted lemon and chocolate cakes sitting in sealed boxes that would not fit in the refrigerator. It was deliver or die, so we stacked the boxes in the coolest place we could find in the store and asked the delivery service to come ASAP. In the end they came in time and carried the cakes in a nicely refrigerated truck to the final destination. I would like to anonymously follow the cakes one day and see how they look when placed on the museum cafe counter for sale. I’m sure the museum has their own storage and transport issues, and I wonder how those little cakes come out in the end.
At the end of the day it was another lesson learned at the Polka Dot Cake Studio. In the world of professional baking it isn’t as easy as bringing your dessert from the kitchen to the dining room table, and you have to be prepared to send your creations across the city, or maybe even the world.