The creativity that resides in a true artist’s heart isn’t diminished simply because the medium and tools change from sculpting clay and acrylic paints to spatulas and lightly sweetened meringue-based Italian buttercream.
Amanda Robinson stepped away from Richmond’s fine arts scene about a decade ago to pursue what she calls “domesticated art forms” — more specifically, custom wedding and special occasion cakes but also delicate French macarons, light and airy cream puffs, fluffy mousse and more.
The owner of Sweet Fix bakery in Richmond’s Manchester district, Robinson creates the sorts of desserts that wedding dreams are made of: buttercream- and fondant-covered works of cake art that run the gamut from simple but elegant designs that incorporate ruffles and striped icing patterns and little else, to those that pop with color thanks to edible paint, fresh and sugared flowers, sculpted pieces and more.
(In addition to wedding cakes, Robinson also turns everyday objects into 3-D birthday and special occasion cakes. A pair of men’s dress shoes or women’s high heels, a stack of comic books, a bottle of wine or beer — even the iconic “Star Wars” scene with Jabba the Hutt and an enslaved Princess Leia — are all created with cake and with meticulous precision and attention to detail.)
So with wedding season right around the corner, Robinson recently shared a few pieces of advice for brides- and grooms-to-be.
Tip No. 1: Don’t show up at Sweet Fix the day after you get engaged.
Your significant other finally popped the question — congrats! Now it’s time to answer a few questions, namely, when and where.
Robinson said May, June, September and October — particularly May and October — are “killer months,” and it’s those weekends when she may have up to 50 wedding cakes planned. She suggests that couples who plan to marry in those popular months inquire about cakes one year in advance. For most other months, six months will work. January, February and August are the slowest months, she said, and she may only need four months’ advance notice for weddings that time of year.
The bottom line is this: Simply give her as much time as possible.
The venue is equally important. An elegant hotel ballroom or a historic estate is much different from a rustic country barn or a botanical garden, and each of those places comes with its own aesthetic.
“Make sure you have a date confirmed and a location,” Robinson said. “You don’t have to have all of the details confirmed, but I want to know the location because that’s going to help me better understand the vision to take.”
Tip No. 2: Guest counts count — and so does your budget.
The thought of feeding cake to each of your 200 or 300 guests might seem daunting, but know this — chances are, you won’t.
“Not everyone will eat it; some will split a piece,” Robinson said, and, for these reasons, she said she doesn’t typically suggest 100 percent servings. As cakes are priced by the serving, this helps.
For example, if you send out 150 invitations, you can reasonably expect 125 guests, she said, which means she makes cake for 100 people. If you’re wildly off, however, it may mean you end up paying for way more cake than you really need — or you won’t have enough.
Also, if you have your heart set on a bouquet of hand-sculpted sugar flowers, be prepared to pay for it.
Standard buttercream and naked cakes (those with less frosting around the outside so that the cake layers are partially exposed) start at $5.95 per serving. Cakes with fondant and more detailed decorations are more expensive.
Tip No. 3: Come with invitations, color schemes, florist plans, wedding dress patterns — any and all ideas are better than no ideas.
Robinson said it’s frustrating when couples arrive with zero ideas about their cakes, and often that’s because they’re still early in their planning process. If you have specific details or preferences — buttercream vs. fondant, fresh flowers or no flowers, color-coordinated or not — share them.
After the consultation, “we like to work up a custom design so the bride and groom can see their cake come to life and get excited about it,” she said, so it helps to have some ideas to start with. The custom design “also ensures that we’re on the same page.”
Tip No. 4: Robinson is an artist, so let her work her magic — don’t ask her to copy someone else’s cake.
“I like to design cakes; I don’t like somebody bringing me a picture and asking me to copy it,” she said. Robinson said she wants couples to feel as if they’re getting the best she has to offer and the personalized attention they’re paying for.
Not every couple wants the wedding cake to follow a theme, “but sometimes a cake does completely embody a theme, and that’s the focal point of the night,” and because of that, she said, “let’s start the process, as this is your unique day and all the details are going to be specific to you.”
Sweet Fix offers couples tastings of four cake flavors and four buttercream fillings, including those with fresh fruit, custards, curds and more, but it also makes custom flavors for those with very specific requests, such as a cake it made recently with lychee fruit, and another that incorporated Chinese five-spice powder, basil and orange marmalade.
She added, “a cake should be theirs, even if it’s simple.”
Tip No. 5: Things change, and that’s OK, as long as you let her know ASAP.
With nearly a decade in the business, Robinson said she knows that guest counts can change, themes can change, things happen.
“We can be flexible, ... and I don’t mind if things change,” she said, “but if they do, you have to let us know.”