Creating a desire for sweets is the easy part! Andrea Carusetta, owner of CREAM & Cake Couture and Cake Couture Coffee & Dessert in Sedona transforms basic ingredients into visual, culinary and artistic adventures. “To bite or not to bite” becomes the decision when faced with her delectable creations. Beautiful as they are, the desire to taste will always win out.
We interviewed Andrea about what brought her to today, with two shops in the famous Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village where her thriving businesses serve cactus cupcakes, sliced wedding cake and homemade ice cream to those who travel through, and her stunning cakes mark eventful dates throughout Sedona.
Sedona ARTSource: How did you become involved in the baking industry?
Andrea Carusetta: It was quite a coincidence actually, because I was trained as an artist and I had been working for years. I was a traditional old school oil painter; I did commissioned portraits and things like that and I loved it. I loved art and I also loved baking. Those are my two loves. I started baking when I was five or six.
I wasn’t making enough money, so I decided to go into commercial art. Soon, the creativity just went out the window. I did that for a while and was making a lot of money until I sort of hit a wall. I realized, “I can’t do that anymore … oh, I want to open a bakery!” I opened this little hole-in-a-wall bakery in a strip mall. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I knew how to make a few things and I started to build a clientele. Six months passed and one day one of my customers came in and told me her daughter was getting married and they wanted me to make my white chocolate raspberry cake for her wedding. It had never occurred to me to do wedding cakes.
I said, “Hmm, a wedding cake … how hard can that be?”
Famous last words?
Right, I’m going to date myself by saying this, but I drove to Barnes & Noble
and came home with a stack of books, everything I could find on wedding cakes! It was pre-internet, the mid-’90s when I started. I did my first wedding cake and I never looked back. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven because suddenly I had my art back and I had my baking — I had the magic combination!
Your creations are beautiful to look at. That creates an irresistible desire in people right away!
I always say that with food, first you see it with your eyes, then you smell it and then you taste it. So it’s a sense process. I think many people forget that first step; food as art.
What is the best thing about creating wedding cakes?
I think it’s the art form in it. When people ask, “Whoa how much is that cake?” I need to point out, “You’re not buying a cake. I can sell you a cake and it would cost you a hundred dollars. This one will cost you eight hundred dollars. Oh, but it has a sugared geode, or it’s got sugar succulents made petal by petal by hand and it’s a showpiece, it’s a centerpiece.” And then they understand; they are paying for art and a cake. And for the ones that don’t want the showpiece, they end up getting a simple buttercream cake with some fresh flowers on it and even those can be beautiful. I’ve done some really pretty cakes that were just so simple and easy.
You have a small shop in Tlaquepaque and a new larger operation in Tlaquepaque North. How do they differ?
It will be three years in December since we opened the small shop, Cake Couture Coffee & Dessert in Tlaquepaque South. It was a whim; it was a scary whim! I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing when I did it. I was very nervous, but it was successful right from the get-go.
In the new CREAM & Cake Couture in Tlaquepaque North, we are offering ice cream … like ‘crazy good’ handmade ice cream and cake and coffee. We didn’t want to reproduce what we were doing in the south shop. We’re selling whole cakes or you can come in and get a slice of cake and really good coffee and cappuccino and all that stuff . We have a big kitchen there, that’s where all the wedding cakes are made.
What is your favorite cake?
The cake with cascading sugar succulents — that’s my thing right now. I love cactus and succulents; and they’re so amazing when they’re made out of sugar!
How have requests from couples changed in the last few years?
Everything changed so dramatically with the millennials, and I’ll tell you I think it kind of went full circle. During the first decade of 2000 there was a television show called Food Network Challenge.
It was the first and only real cake show. They had great people doing really fine work and competing and that show ran for several years. We were on the show three times. We took two silver medals. Then we did a show called Ultimate Cake Off and competed against three other teams and for that one we won a $10,000 first prize.
Where I was going with that is, when that show started it put cakes on the map. A couple of things happened; there was a huge boom in colored cakes and fondant cake colors with accents bows and decorations that hadn’t been happening before. Along with that, products started to appear in the marketplace. It used to be that if you wanted to use colored fondant, you could get maybe three colors, and for anything special you would color it yourself with food coloring and work it and knead it for hours. Suddenly, there were 200 colors of fondant for sale as a result of these cakes being popularized by this TV show and everyone wanted colored cakes and lots of fondant.
And it went full circle: The millennials came of age and they said, “Ick, food coloring! We want three ingredients or less. How little icing can you put on a cake?” They were the ones behind the newest trend called “Naked Cakes.” It’s a cake where all the icing is scraped o and you can see the cake through it. There might be fresh flowers on top, but that’s pretty much it.
So, that’s what’s happening. It’s been a total pendulum swing: the millennials want just a little buttercream on a naked cake, really simple.
What trend is most popular now and for the future?
The biggest trend I’ve seen is the cactus and succulents. You might think it makes sense because it’s Arizona and we have those here, but it’s an international trend. I did the rst succulent cake about eight years ago, just crazy out of the blue did it and I had never seen it done before. I follow cake artists on Instagram all over the world and they’re all doing them. This trend is everywhere, but it’s most native to us. I don’t see it going away anytime soon. It’s the neatest trend I’ve seen in the 19 years I’ve been doing cakes. It’s a kind of signature look for Arizona cakes and Arizona weddings, so it may stay with us permanently and fade out in other places.
We do all things cactus. In the new shop we do birthday-size cakes decorated with cactus and we also have cactus-shaped cutout ice cream cakes.
Clearly, all this beautiful baking magic is not a one-person job!
Correct, there’s a Chief Chef and a baker and between the three of us we produce everything. I’m at a point now that I’m doing the decorating — I earned that.
Do you know what I love about this business more than anything? Our work is about celebration. Life is hard, we are all dealing with all kinds of stuff , you know? People get sick, they die, we lose loved ones, we have hardships and I think it’s really important to celebrate everything you can about life. Celebrate every birthday, celebrate Valentine’s Day, and celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. Just do it! The celebrations make life more pleasant and pleasurable all the way around. Our celebrations and our happy moments have a chance to balance out the hardness of life. We feel celebrations are important to people, so our treats go to the hearts of celebration, whether it’s with cake or cupcakes or ice cream.
Sedona ARTSource offers a unique focus on artists in the community, and we’re sure our readers would love a glimpse into your thoughts as the artist who shares her creations with the world.
I love that about your magazine. It’s a great, great thing. As far as being an artist, one can be an artist with food and just be focused on how everything looks, but there’s also an art to a recipe. There’s an art to combining flavors, and I have a really strong ethic about good, quality ingredients. The quality and the integrity of the ingredients and the combination of flavors — these are as important as the appearance.
When I first started doing wedding cakes people would often say, “Oh, that’s really a pretty cake but I bet it tastes awful.” That was how people thought of wedding cakes a decade ago. But now, it’s got to be a fabulous gourmet dessert cake and it surprises people that a wedding cake has a layer of mango cheesecake in the middle. So there’s that aspect to the art as well. For me the art is combining elements to create a new “whole” that somehow pleases the soul.
Thank you, Andrea.
See more at SedonaCakes.com and visit the Cake Couture shops in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village.
Sweets + Art = Sweet Art | Sedona ArtSource Volume 4
Interviewed by Lynn Alison Trombetta