Reflecting On My Cake Journey + Lessons Learned

Sugar and Sparrow lessons learned in cake decorating

Well holy smokes. To my absolute amazement, there are over 10,000 people following along my cake journey on Instagram! In true fashion, I had to celebrate by making a cake. Since it was such a golden moment in my little cake adventure, I decided to incorporate some gold into the cake design. By the way, this Rolkem Super Gold is my new favorite for all things metallic, because my goodness. Look how shiny! And this stuff is painted right onto the buttercream!! Don’t worry, I’ve got a tutorial for how to paint a buttercream cake metallic coming your way.

rolkem super gold painted onto buttercream

To be completely honest, when I first started posting my cakes on Instagram a year and a half ago, I didn’t really think anything would come of it. My very first post was a cake I made for my niece’s birthday, and I thought starting a cake account would result in (maybe) a couple orders from family and friends every now and then. Never in a million years did I think that cake would become such a huge part of my life. It’s all very surreal and I’m so thankful for all the support and encouragement.

It’s always a good idea to stop and reflect every once in awhile, and since this past year was so growth-inducing I wanted to jot down some key moments and lessons learned. Some of these I learned the hard way, but I wanted to share them with you in hopes that it might help in your journey with cake or whatever you call your passion. Here are the things:

Learn Your Limits.

At this time last year, I was way too busy. I felt like I had to do all the things and I didn’t want to turn down anyone who needed a cake. I was working a full time job and most waking moments outside of that were spent with my good pal (and sometimes nemesis) cake. But, after a few panic attacks and more stressful weekends than restful ones, I learned that my health was more important. I still make a lot of cake for blog posts and creative projects (which I can turn around and gift), but not tackling huge wedding orders and spending my entire weekend covered in buttercream has been the best thing for my sanity, social life, and creativity. Nowadays I balance cake life with actually going places on the weekends, which makes me a happy gal.  

Sugar and Sparrow Oregon Coast

It’s totally ok to push yourself and rise to challenges, but if you feel like something’s wrong it’s more ok to take a step back, reflect, and adjust course. Figuring out a balance where the things you’re passionate about are bringing more joy than stress to you and those around you is key.

Community Is Great.

Early on in this journey I had a negative run-in with someone I looked up to in the cake community. It crushed me for a little bit, and I learned that people aren’t always who they appear to be. On the flipside, I’ve also learned that many people are much more than they appear to be. Over the past year I’ve had so many more good experiences with people I’ve met from all over the world, connecting over everything from the vast world of cake to simply being a human. One of my favorite local business owners puts it like this: “community, not competition.” I think that’s the best mindset to have when it comes to this stuff.

cupcakes by sugar and sparrow

It’s so important to be supportive of each other, keep experimenting and sharing techniques, and keep encouraging one another. We’re all better for it in the end!

Find A Good Camera.

Upgrading from iPhone photography to DSLR seemed like a daunting task because I didn’t know anything about real photography. After tons and tons of research, I bought my first real camera: a Canon T7i body with a 50mm lens. It’s the ideal (and affordable!) next step camera, with barely any learning curve. The right tool can sometimes make all the difference. You can scroll backwards in my Instagram feed and actually see the change happen.

food photography before and after

If you’re on the fence about taking the leap from phone camera to DSLR, I can tell you from experience it has made a world of difference.

Find A Creative Outlet.

It had been a dream of mine for a long, long time to start a cake blog. With the help of my amazing techie husband, it came true! I couldn’t be more excited about sharing all my favorite recipes, tutorials, and tips with you. Sugar & Sparrow has given me a lot more creative freedom and grown me tremendously over the past few months and I’m stoked to see where this path leads.

Whether it’s writing, painting, baking, or interpretive dancing, finding a creative outlet can really help put the wind in your sails in all other areas of life.

Support Your Local Businesses.

You never know what new friends might be just around the corner! Through supporting local businesses, I’ve gotten to meet some really talented people and work with some really amazing flavors. For example, I’ve been a fan of Tea Bar since they opened up shop years ago. I was so pleased to be able to connect with them this past year and have the opportunity to create a cake recipe with their Culinary Matcha. It was so fun to meet the whole team and share a slice of cake (PS if you have yet to try my Matcha Cake Recipe, I can promise you it’ll be a true crowd pleaser)!

Tea Bar Matcha cake recipe by sugar and sparrow

Don’t be afraid to reach out, meet new people, and look for ways to support each other.

Laugh At Your Cake Fails.  

Oh, cake. Sometimes things go smooth as buttercream and sometimes things get crazy. This past year I actually set my oven ablaze while baking a cake. The cake recipe involved carbonated cream soda, and because of science, the batter oozed out of the pan like lava onto the oven floor. My husband and I were sitting in the other room, first commenting on how delicious the butterscotch scent was, then about ten minutes later, realizing there was an overpowering burning smell. I rushed into the kitchen at lightning speed to find FLAMES in the bottom of the oven! We extinguished the fire quickly, but yikes. I felt so defeated for a good few minutes before I busted up laughing! That’ll teach me to always use a sheet pan to catch oozing cake batter. 

Other notable cake fails of the year: dropping a cake off the table (total redo), filling a cake with ganache that was too runny (oozed everywhere), and having a one year old’s birthday cake fly out of my hands and through the air before it was caught singlehandedly by a mother with the reflexes of a cat. Miraculously, there were only a few fingerprints that were easily patched up. Being able to laugh at cake-tastrophies instead of developing PTSD is better for the soul in the long run.

Think Outside The Box.

I started carrying around a notebook to jot down ideas and drawings as they come to me, and doing so has helped me actually follow through on creative visions instead of just forgetting about them. I highly recommend carrying around some sort of notebook or notes app, because inspiration is everywhere. And often when you least expect it. Not only will a notebook of some form help you plan your cakes out, it’s really cool to look back on concept art and see what it became in real life. Cases in point:

turning a drawing into a cake

milk and cereal cake concept art

Be Open To New Opportunities.

Occasionally it’s a good idea to try things you’ve never done before. I’ve always been a leaper, taking opportunities before I know I’m ready, and in most cases it’s paid off and I’ve grown as I fumble my way toward success. That’s not always the case…but most of the time.

For example, this past year I was invited to take part in something I’ve never done before: a styled wedding shoot. I was nervous at first, but it ended up being a fantastic opportunity to meet amazing people and work together to create beautiful things. I can’t say how thankful I am to have been offered the opportunity from Mae & Co. through Instagram, because her design skills are magical and it was so cool working with other talented people to make her creative vision come to life. Just look at how amazing these photos turned out!

wedding dress by claire la faye

Photo by Kristina Kay Photography

Celebrate Your Friends.

This was the most major shift in my approach to cake making this past year. I am an ultra-perfectionist (to a fault) and was letting my perfectionism suck most of the joy out of cake making. Then I realized that cake isn’t meant to be like that. At its core, a cake is a means to help celebrate people. Although it is a highlight of a party, it is not the main point.

Nowadays when I make cakes, I just think about who the cake is for the whole time. I put my heart into it because I love people and want them to feel so celebrated. And that has become the biggest highlight of cake making for me. Getting to create pretty cakes to make my friends feel loved—both longtime and new—is what gets me out of bed in the morning and keeps me burning the midnight oil. Taking this approach has made me a more joyful human and I’m always honored to be part of the celebration!   

chocolate cake with fancy sprinkles by sugar and sparrow

Wherever you’re at in your cake journey, I’m cheering you on always! I hope you’re all along for the ride on year two. If you haven’t yet, sign up for my email list, subscribe on YouTube to catch new video tutorials, and follow on Instagram for all the latest updates.

4 Comments

  1. Debbra Houston

    Hello Whitney,
    I just came across your Instagram page kind of by accident and I just have to tell you how much I absolutely LOVE your style and creativity!
    I have a pretty long history of cake decorating, but took a good number of years off to raise my two daughters.
    I returned to work part time doing frozen cakes for a local froyo shop, (which has been quite the interesting change) but my real dream is to do something more exquisite much like yourself.
    I’m just curious, do you do all of your baking and decorating at home, or do you have a separate place of business?

    • Hi Debbra! Thank you so much for the kind words about my cakes and I’m so excited for you to get back into caking! Baking is still a side gig for me (I work full time in marketing during the day) but it’s my favorite creative outlet. I hope to someday have a little studio or shop to make cakes in but until then, everything I do is created in my home kitchen. Gotta start somewhere!

  2. Your cakes are beautiful and I loved reading about your year’s lessons! I completely understand about the pressure of baking for others and returning to the joy of it. It’s sort of a vicious cycle to be passionate about creating something that others are equally passionate about consuming!

    I look forward to seeing more of your work and seeing what fortune this year brings to you!

    • Thank you so much, Mikel! So good to hear I’m not alone in having to learn that lesson of returning to the joy of baking. Phew 🙂 Cheering you on in your baking journey and hope this year is an awesome one for you too!

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