Washington’s best cake makers are prepared for mishaps. They never forget that in the middle of a heat wave and highway traffic, buttercream melts and cakes collapse. Hit the brakes for a squirrel on the narrow streets of Georgetown, and tiers slide apart, fondant cracks and sugar flowers fly.
This type of tension, custom cake makers are ready for. But the emotional and physical stress that comes with hours of repetitive pastry work, mixed with demanding clients and laced with running a small, competitive business not so much. Real in its intensity, the anxiety level of DC’s hottest wedding cake designer—Maggie Austin LaBaugh, owner of Maggie Austin Cake—is one few bakers would pity. Last July, with minimal experience, LaBaugh launched her website filled with photos of dazzling cakes at equally stunning prices. Her first wedding cake commission came a month later: Top Chef’s Gail Simmons asked if she would compete on a wedding segment of the Today show. She lost.
“I think my dogwood branch scared Middle America,” says the former Joffrey ballerina. She calls her new vocation “a jam-packed whirlwind” of national and international attention, client consultations and media photo shoots. “Everything is a learning process,” she says.
Bethesda baker Leslie Goldman-Poyourow, of Fancy Cakes by Leslie, fondly remembers the early days of her now 15-year career, when “a bride took seconds to pick out a cake” and accepted what was offered. “Today the whole process is emotional,” she says. “My brides look at every option. They shop from baker to baker, bring in online pictures and want to taste everything.”
A dding insult to injury, bakers say that over the past four years, the average size of a wedding has decreased, which translates to less cake and a lower bottom line. But our bakers say they see an uptick in orders for this spring. Better yet, more brides are ordering an elaborate groom’s cake, perhaps in the shape of a football or beer can. That’s if they can decide on their beau’s theme.