I love very few things in life more than cake. You know how people sometimes ask you that question about what you would bring on a desert island? My answer is simple: I would bring cake. It’s the fastest way to my heart and always makes me smile. But as much as I love cake, I’ve never been able to click with the overly perfect, fondant-smothered wedding cakes that seemed to dominate the wedding world for the past few decades. Thankfully the realm of wedding desserts, along with wedding flowers, seems to be evolving toward designs that are fresher, looser and more organic.
One of my favorite people working in this newer area of more natural-looking wedding designs is designer and baker Cathy Haebe of kneadtomake. I first discovered her work through Instagram and became an insta-fan. I love the way she experiments with subtle textures and patterns that mimic watercolor, speckled Robin’s eggs and subtle, hand-piped shapes. In addition to her own work with kneadtomake, Cathy also collaborates with Lizzy McGinn of Saturday Flowers and stylist/photographer Natalie Nakai on a project called flour and fleur, which focuses on integrating fresh flowers into wedding cakes (Like the Robin’s egg blue cake above). Everything that comes out of Cathy’s San Francisco kitchen oozes the sort of elevated homemade look and feel that I adore – especially for a big day like a wedding. (She says she prefers to “use ingredients and decorations that are meant to be beautiful and delicious in the moment, not to be preserved in time.”)
I decided to find out more about Cathy’s work, inspiration and process and she graciously agreed to share her background and goals with me. From her first job at her aunt and uncle’s ice cream shop in New Jersey to her current baking club, Cathy has surrounded herself with a wide variety of inspiration and – most importantly – good friends. With that sort of love and support behind her, it’s no wonder her work looks so delicious and approachable. Thanks to Cathy for chatting with me today and sharing such beautiful designs with all of us online. xo, grace
Portrait of Cathy by Natalie Nakai
Click through for Cathy’s interview and more photos of her work (and her collaborations with Natalie and Lizzy) after the jump!
Image above: flour and fleur design by Cathy, Lizzy and Natalie
Design*Sponge: Could you tell us a bit about your background? Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
Cathy Haebe: I grew up in New Jersey, in a fairly small town called Jackson. When I was 18 I moved out to California for college (Otis College of Art and Design) in LA. I majored in Product Design and graduated with a Bachelors in Fine Art. Not long after graduating I moved up to San Francisco, which is where I still live.
D*S: Did you have any formal pastry training before you started kneadtomake?
Cathy: My very first job was decorating cakes at my aunt and uncle’s ice cream shop when I was 15. Does that count? In all seriousness, no. I am self-taught.
D*S: What inspired you to go into baking and is this your full-time job now?
Cathy: I have been baking for as long as I can remember. Baking has always been sort of a release for me, my stress reliever. I baked for friends’ birthdays, special occasions or just because it was Tuesday. After enough encouragement from friends (and well-fed co-workers) I started to think this could be more than just a hobby for me. To help me fund the next steps of this new-found thought, I actually started a baking club where friends would cover the cost of my ingredients and I would give them the results of whatever recipe I was testing at the time. After the first wedding I catered, things just kind of took off from there.
Currently this is not my full-time job (although, sometimes it feels like it). I am actually a letterpress design consultant for Minted.com by day and a freelance cake artist by night.
Photo by Olivia Kanaley
D*S: How would you describe your style and philosophy as a baker?
Cathy: It is hard to say. Fresh, I suppose. Not only just with taste, but I find that the cakes that I have done that I really love are ones that have a fresh design and feel. They use ingredients and decorations that are meant to be beautiful and delicious in the moment, not to be preserved in time.
D*S: Where do you look for inspiration or ideas?
Cathy: I look for inspiration from so many places. I definitely love looking at Pinterest, pattern books, work from artists I love, etc., but I think what truly inspires me are the ingredients and the process. As you can see, a lot of my cakes are ‘unfinished’ or ‘naked.’ That is because when designing, I think the process can be more beautiful than the actual finished product. Sometimes I have a set idea of what I want the finished cake to look like, but more often than not, I just start decorating and stop whenever the cake speaks to me. Materials are beautiful in their natural form and cakes are no different. So for inspiration I usually do not look much further than the materials and ingredients I plan to use for the cake and let them do most of the work.
D*S: Why do you think people are now starting to love and appreciate cakes that are more homemade and organic?
Cathy: I think the evolution of overall wedding ‘norms’ and style trends lead to this. Traditional weddings are not quite what they used to be (white glove in a church/banquet hall). More and more people are opting for a less traditional approach – something rustic or even a bohemian wedding. These non-traditional weddings call for non-traditional cakes (which is just fine with me!). There is so much beauty in raw forms and materials and I think people are starting to see that more and more.
Photo by Brett Heidebrecht
D*S: What trends or styles are you interested in exploring next with your work?
Cathy: Lately, I have been doing a lot of collaborative projects. I have been teaching workshops with a small company called fullosophie and have started a personal project called flour and fleur. Flour and fleur is almost like a mini-design collective with two other designers, Lizzy McGinn of Saturday Flowers and stylist/photographer Natalie Nakai. Many of the fresh flower cakes in my portfolio are a result of working with these wonderful ladies. They push me, and I like to think that we push each other, to think about our chosen medium in a new light. To think outside of the box. It can definitely be easy to fall into a rhythm or pattern of what you know and are familiar with, so I definitely want to continue to grow and develop my style with people who inspire that change.
D*S: Do you create artwork outside of cakes these days?
Cathy: I do! I am interested or have dabbled in so many creative outlets, but these days it all seems to revolve around weddings or events. As a wedding design consultant, I design wedding invitations and other graphics which tends to be my primary creative outlet when I am not baking. However, for many of these women, I’ll design their invitations, do their calligraphy, design day-of pieces (i.e. chalkboard or wood signs) in addition to baking their wedding cakes.
D*S: Do you have a favorite cake you’ve made so far?
Cathy: I think my favorite cake so far is the Robin’s egg blue cake. It a flour and fleur creation with floral arrangements by Lizzy McGinn and styling/photography by Natalie Nakai. We lovingly refer to it as ‘Cathy’s dream cake.’ For this cake I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like, the color scheme, flowers etc., and working with these two lovely and talented ladies took that vision beyond my expectations.
D*S: Have you had any funny cake-making disasters or stories you’re willing to share?
Cathy: Thankfully nothing disastrous has happened yet, or at least in finality. There was an instance where I was about to ice a cake, but had a sneaking suspicion that I had forgotten something. I tasted the cake and realized, like an idiot, that I had completely forgotten to add the sugar. It tasted like really moist bread. Luckily, though, I realized it before I got a call from what I am sure would have been one angry bride!
Last three images: flour and fleur design by Cathy, Lizzy and Natalie