Vancouver-based Jill Duggan Cake Studio showcases Jill’s skills as both a baker and a trained visual artist, uniting her sweet tooth with an eye for design.
After 10 years of baking desserts at Lesley Stowe Fine Foods, Jill Duggan decided to pursue her dream of opening a wedding cake design studio. It’s a full-time career, and then some, as she creates more than 50 wedding cakes each year.
What first attracted you to wedding cake design?
I always loved baking – especially desserts. I went to Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and graduated with a degree in ceramics, which is actually a lot like baking. You mold, bake and decorate ceramics, but with baking, you get to eat your creation! I also felt I was more employable as a baker than as a ceramic artist.
Describe the art you made at Emily Carr.
I loved working with clay to mold different shapes, textures, proportions, and finishing details into pieces that mirrored natural and organic forms.
Why make the leap from ceramics to baking?
My art school training helped me develop the skills I need to prepare a cake. The techniques are the same, but the medium is different. Now, I mold gum-based flowers like a lump of clay, and use many of the same tools as I did when making ceramics. After I finished school, I studied pastry and baking arts at Vancouver Community College.
Describe your first job in a bakery.
I created desserts for over 10 years at Leslie Stowe Fine Foods in Vancouver. At work, I remember sitting in the kitchen during my breaks and watching the bakers at work. I liked being on my feet and working with chocolate, eggs and flour. Leslie, the owner, gave us a lot of freedom in our work. As long as something looked and tasted good, we got free range in design aspects, like decorations.
Did you ever make wedding cakes then?
Yes, but since the owner always did the consultations with the bride and groom, I was given a design to create. Eventually, I wanted to be a part of the consultation – to suggest ideas and help choose designs.
What do you like best about wedding cakes?
You can be as creative as you want. Every cake is different, and I learn something new with every cake.
What about the wedding industry?
The couples you meet are always excited and happy, and sometimes even stunned. It’s great to share the experience with them. As well, it’s nice belonging to a tight community of event planners, photographers, caterers and others.
How long does it take to make a wedding cake?
It depends on the complexity, but anywhere from eight to 20 hours or more. I usually bake a cake two or three days ahead of the wedding. If I’m using lots of decorations like sugar flowers, I’ll make those a week ahead.
What wedding cake are you most proud of?
That’s hard to say. A few times a summer, I’ll think one is by far the best, but then a few cakes later, will choose another favourite.
Any mishaps along the way?
Once, I was setting up a cake in a hotel downtown. I was all finished – the sugar ribbons were all on and I’d just taken a photo of the cake. However, the legs of the table weren’t locked, the table tipped over and collapsed – as did the cake! Luckily, I was early and fixed the cake in time for the wedding.
How did the bride and groom react?
It was a really stressful and rushed situation, and they were very happy when I was able to fix it. Throughout the years, I’ve learned to be prepared – when something like that happens, you need to be able to fix a cake.
So you carry around a Wedding Cake First Aid Kit?
Yes, I’m always prepared during deliveries. I’ve got a tube of extra buttercream, spare sugar decorations, ribbons and flowers, and the tools to do any repair job necessary.
What are some other hazards?
While driving, I’m scared I’ll get rear-ended. To protect my cakes, I deliver them unassembled, and put them together upon arrival. I remember back when I worked with Leslie, one poor girl delivered a cake she had already assembled. The cake fell over en route, so she rushed back to the bakery. We all pitched in and managed to fix it in time.
What are the most popular kinds of wedding cakes?
Every cake should be exactly what the bride and groom want. If they’re happy and love it, then I love it. That said, every bride and groom is different. Some people want tiered cakes, others don’t. Some want tall, some wide, some six tiers, others one. Some people like thicker layers. The cakes are really totally custom-made.
Any popular flavours?
Nowadays, there’s a lot of chocolate. Wedding cakes used to be all fruitcake, but now some of my most popular flavours are orange passion fruit, chocolate with pistachios and chocolate praline. Some people want different flavours for the different tiers. Tastes vary, depending on the time of year and day, and whether the meal served is heavy or light.
What are some of these seasonal flavours?
There’s more chocolate at Christmas, while in the summer, people want light cakes with strawberries, raspberries, oranges or passion fruit. On a very hot day, people want to serve guests something light. But if someone loves chocolate, they love it all year round!
How about designs – what are some trendy colours and shapes?
Last year was pink and brown, while a couple years ago, people were into really whimsical, Mad-Hatter cakes coming from Portland. Cupcakes were also popular some time ago. Of course, not everyone follows these trends.
Are there any regional variations in types of wedding cake?
Not really. Since most couples do their research on the Internet, designers draw inspiration from all around the continent.
How about between cultures?
Different cultures have different beliefs about wedding cakes. For example, Chinese couples don’t want four-tiered cakes, because the number four is unlucky. They also want red on the cake, for good luck.
What’s the symbolism attached to the wedding cake?
When the couple cuts into the cake together and serve each other the first piece, it reflects their support for each other – as a married couple, they’ll nourish each other’s mind, body and soul. It’s a promise. The wedding cake is the last formal event before the dancing starts – it ends the ceremony on a sweet note.
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