With elaborate cakes to make for three weddings, one graduation party and one birthday party all in the same weekend, cake decorator Jennie Handrich of Lachine recently found herself more than a little busy.
But that seems to be the trend of her life these days as word has spread about her Jennie's Cake Creations business that happened more as a fluke than as an intentional career path.
"I've been doing this about two years now as a business. It started in 2009 because I wanted to make a cool cake for my daughter's first birthday," said Handrich, a former employee at Tendercare. "I showed photos of that cake and it turned into a business practically overnight."
Totally self-taught, Handrich has since made hundreds of cakes for all sorts of occasions. Last summer was her first one for taking on wedding cakes and she ended up doing over 40 of them.
"I was able to quit my job of 10 years at Tendercare to do this full-time," she said. "I've been so busy. There's no way you could work there and do this, too."
Though she used to do all of her cake baking and decorating out of her home-based kitchen, the whole process recently became a lot more efficient for her after she and her husband enlarged a spare bathroom, remodeled it into another kitchen and outfitted it with a commercial grade oven and other necessary appliances.
Prior to the remodeling project, Handrich could only bake 24 cupcakes in 20 minutes in her standard oven. Now she turns out a total of 105 cupcakes in the same amount of time.
"We drove all the way to Wisconsin to get the oven," she said. "I searched for over a year to find a good used one. I wanted an oven made specifically for cake baking. It sure has simplified my life. It's absolutely amazing."
While Handrich starts with a boxed cake mix as a base, she heavily doctors it up. Just to make sure she was on the right track with her flavors, she did a taste test with family members, baking them both a cake from scratch and one from a doctored box mix. The family chose the cake made from a mix over the one from scratch.
Because she does a lot of carved cakes and three-dimensional cakes, the density of the cake is important, she said. Among the favorite flavors of her customers are banana, vanilla with raspberry filling, chocolate with peanut butter, and a cookies and cream filling.
All of Handrich's cakes feature four layers of cake and three layers of filling. She makes her own fondant, which is used for the decorating phase, out of marshmallows. Her chocolate fondant, people tell her, taste like tootsie rolls. She also works with gum paste to perfect the little details like flowers, graduation caps and bumblebees.
"It doesn't taste the greatest, but it hardens up really well," she said.
As a child Handrich never considered herself particularly artistic, although she could draw and recreate other people's pictures. Nowadays she has reached the point where if a customer shows her a picture they want turned into a cake, she can easily oblige.
"I'm pretty shocked by it all," said Handrich, whose faith and family are very important to her. "I'd been praying for awhile for a way I could work and stay home with our kids."
Another key aspect of her business is transporting her finished cakes to their intended destinations. Handrich delivers them fully assembled, but to make the process easier, she and her husband bought a van in which the seats stow into the floor. They inserted a huge piece of wood in the cargo area and then covered it with a non-slip material.
To date, all of her creations have arrived in tact.
"I deliver all the cakes fully assembled. The van has a very good support system," Handrich said. "There have been no disasters."
With last week's multiple cake orders completed and delivered, this week Handrich turned her attention to the next pressing orders, including a cake for a wedding reception for 650 invited guests.
"I love doing this and my kids think it's cool," she said of 6-year-old son Josiah and 4-year-old daughter Avery. "They plan their birthday cakes a year in advance."
Handrich can be reached at 464-5881 or jenniescakecreations.com.