Bluffton mom -- a self-taught cake maker -- wows with birthday creations

abredeson@islandpacket.comFebruary 3, 2014 

  • HOW TO MAKE A CAKE LIKE A PRO

  • You can teach yourself to decorate a cake through online tutorials and videos. Bonzie Cakes owner Bonnie Christiana recommends www.craftsy.com for learning how to make elaborate structured cakes. She said YouTube video tutorials are also great.

  • Decide your theme and color scheme.

  • Make a trip to Michaels. They have a whole aisle there for fondant and cake decorating.

  • Customize your cake with a photo. Call a local grocery store for details.

  • Make a template for your cake. Go online to find a picture, print it and cut it out. Use the template to cut the cake into whatever shape you desire.

  • Chill the cake in the refrigerator so it's easier to ice.

  • Use thick icing so it doesn't run.

  • Do a "crumb coating." Spread a little bit of icing all over the cake. Put the cake in the freezer for about 35 minutes or until it's no longer sticky. Remove from the freezer and add another layer of icing.

  • Cover the cake in fondant, and then use edible markers to write on the cake.

  • If you'd rather not write on the cake, buy candy letters or make fondant letters.

  • Simplify decorating by using candy. M&Ms and Skittles are easy to be creative with.

  • Buy a good quality fondant. It makes a huge difference. Bonnie Christiana recommends Duff brand, which can be found at Michaels. Tip: Go to Michaels' website and print out a 40 percent off coupon first -- or just have it on your smartphone for the cashier to scan.

  • After icing the cake, use piping gel to decorate. Place wax paper over an image you choose to re-create. Pipe the gel onto the wax paper over the image. Then flip it over onto the cake.

  • Source: Bonnie Christiana of Bonzie Cakes in Bluffton

When Bonnie Christiana stepped back and looked at her first attempt at a two-tier birthday cake, she didn't like what she saw.

The princess cake, which she was making for the daughter of a friend, ended up not having enough support at the bottom, so the top layer was tilted at an awkward angle.

To Christiana, it was a failure. But to the average at-home cake maker, it would've been considered one of those proud made-for-Facebook moments. Christiana is not your average at-home cake maker, though. The Bluffton mom taught herself how to decorate cakes and began sharing her talents with friends and family. Soon she was making so many cakes, she decided to go into business for herself and opened Bonzie Cakes.

She sees the art in making cakes and is perhaps a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the awe-inspiring final product.

"Failure is always very disappointing, but you have to learn from it and carry on and do better the next time," Christiana said.

Christiana grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, with a mother and grandmother who loved to bake. They invited her to get involved in the process at a young age, and she loved it from the start, cherishing the memories their homemade cakes brought her.

"My mom would always bake us fun and beautiful cakes for our birthdays," Christiana said. "And I remember how excited we would be about her amazing creations."

When Christiana had children of her own, she wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps and make their birthday cakes. She moved from South Africa to Savannah about 12 years ago, when she was offered a job as a product designer for a custom furniture company.

It's there that she met her future husband, Tyrus, who worked in information technology at the company. A few years later she moved to Bluffton. Now they have two sons, ages 5 and 7.

Christiana attempted her first fondant-covered cake for her older son's third birthday. It was a firetruck with a little fondant dalmatian sitting on top.

"He loved it," she said. "And it wasn't as difficult to cover as I thought it would be."

Christiana took a basic cake decorating course at Michaels, but she mostly taught herself by watching videos online. After she started making cakes for her sons, her friends began asking her to make their cakes, too. Then strangers started calling.

"I knew at that point I either had to say no or make it a business," she said.

Now Christiana creates two to three cakes a week. She has made wedding cakes, anniversary cakes and retirement cakes, but most of her work is for birthdays.

"It's always about a happy occasion," she said. "It's nice to be a part of that."

Despite the intricate work that goes into creating a cake, she loves so many things about her job.

"It's really like I get to play every day," she said.

Making cakes allows her to have a flexible schedule, which makes it easier to spend time with her children. She also enjoys the learning process.

"Every project is different," she said. "I've never made the same cake twice ... so it doesn't get boring."

Creating cakes is much like Christiana's first love -- ceramics. She began taking classes at age 7 and majored in sculpture in college.

The main difference is that now her art can be eaten. While she used to design life-size sculptures in ceramic or cement fondue to make cultural and political statements, she now produces edible art to make people happy.

"It's more exciting to people because it's food, too, rather than it just being sculpture," she said.

After taking the children to school in the morning, doing a few chores around the house and going for either a walk or jog, Christiana slips on a flowery apron and gets busy working. She constructs her works of art in an office inside her home in Bluffton. She listens to audio books as she kneads, shapes and polishes every last detail of her creations. And if she runs out of time before picking up the kids from school, she is back in her office doing touch-ups after the little ones are in bed.

Christiana said her most difficult cake so far was a "How to Train Your Dragon" cake, which included several sugar dragons that appeared to be flying around a volcano.

One of her latest creations was an 18-inch-tall fondant-covered cake made to look like Olaf, the snowman from Disney's "Frozen." The cake was custom-made for a 3-year-old named Abby, who loves all things "Frozen."

The cost of Bonnie's cakes begin at $70 for an 18-inch fondant cake with decorations. Sculpted cakes start at $125.

"When people pick up the cake and I see that they're excited, that's the best part," she said. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, I can't cut it.' But for me, that's part of the experience. It's a cake, and that's part of enjoying it."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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