Aubrey Smith’s dreams are shaped in fondant, tinged with pastel colors and consumed at celebrations.
The largely self-taught cake maker was a stay-at-home mom — a career she loved, but that didn’t call on her creative reserves. Smith, who had taken a basic cake decorating class at Joann Fabrics 21 years ago, was inspired by the hype surrounding cake decorating over the past five years.
Urged by friends and family to make her cakes for a living rather than a hobby, Smith started Ashlynn Leigh Cakes, which takes its name from her daughters’ middle names. Now in her fourth year as a professional cake maker, Smith will soon open a dedicated cake shop.
You can see more of her work at ashlynnleighcakes.com.
How do you make cakes artful, rather than simply craft?
Cake has developed so much in the past several years — the decoration fondants and gum pastes — you can make anything that you want out of those media. That’s where the art comes into play. Say a child wants a dog on a birthday cake. Instead of doing it in 2-D, I can do it in 3-D.
What other art forms are encapsulated in cake decorating:
Sculpture, definitely. I do paint on cakes. There are so many art forms that you can use to decorate a cake. You paint, stamp, stencil — the options are endless.
Who are your cake heroes?
I like Colette Peters; she does fabulous fondant work. And Nicholas Lodge, he is known for his sugar flowers. I also like Marina Sousa; she does a lot of work in fondant.
What are some things you particularly like to do?
I love to make sugar flowers; they’re so lifelike and you can eat them. I did a wedding cake not long ago that had calla lilies on them, and they were beautiful. I am not saying that to toot my own horn, but they looked like real calla lilies, and I made them. Fondant is my preferred medium. There are many people who prefer it the other way around.
What’s a style you like a lot?
I like patterns. Like right now, chevron is really big. I tend to be a more clean and simple decorator.
What is cool in cakes now?
It’s all about personalization and making it your own, not like anybody else’s.
What are some tools you use?
A lot of them are basic cake decorating tools: decorating tips, rolling pins. I do use a lot of tools that are kind of out of the box, like a large paint scraper, I can use that to smooth icing onto a cake. I did a cake with the “Tangled” theme. I used a PVC pipe with a board on top to hold Rapunzel’s tower.
What’s your process like?
It’s a two- to three-day process per cake. I cannot draw to save my life, but I see a cake and manipulate it in my mind. I do a lot of to-do lists and checklists.
What makes making cakes an art?
It is a process. Whenever you craft something, it is a process. If you’re doing a painting, it is a process. Cake is the same way. You have to think the process through. You just cant throw it together. There is a thought process to it, there is time put into it, just as there is any other type of art.