be a foodie | September 2014
Creative Lessons from local cake artists
by Beth Schatz Kaylor
Beth Schatz Kaylor
"A party without cake is just a meeting." -- Julia Child
Five years ago, Jill Castleberry made a birthday cake for her sister, Jackie Castleberry. Inspired by cake decorating television shows, she made the cake to look like a little pig and named it Orville. Little did they know, Orville the pig cake would eventually lead to the opening of JJ's Cakery, a cake shop co-owned by the sister bakers.
"I posted Orville on Facebook. Friends liked it, and it went from there," says Jill Castleberry. "I got asked to do a wedding cake and asked Jackie if she'd be interested in helping. It's been that way ever since, doing this together."
JJ's Cakery, located at 3801 Memorial Highway in Mandan, bakes up custom celebration cakes for weddings, birthdays and other special occasions. The cakery is also a cupcake cafe, with a rotating menu of cupcake flavors and locally roasted Mighty Missouri coffee for walk-in customers. All cakes are made from scratch with ever-changing flavor combinations like strawberry shortcake with vanilla bean whipped cream frosting and pumpkin spice with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.
For both Jill and Jackie, cake decorating has become their creative outlet.
"We both say we're not creative, even when others tell us so. We've never been artsy people, we've never scrapbooked, we don't draw," says Jackie Castleberry. "But here, you can think completely out of the box. There are no rules or anyone saying what we have to do. We get to be creative with whatever we do."
"This is definitely a creative job," Jill agrees. "I don't even feel like I'm going to work anymore."
Jill, who recently left her job as project coordinator at the IDEA Center to open the cake shop, credits the experience of working at the entrepreneurial center as the key that helped her and Jackie launch their business.
"We had been talking about starting the business on and off for years," says Jill. "Working at the IDEA Center really helped us see the business side of it, getting projections in place to see if it's something we could viably do."
For others looking for ways to develop and express their creativity, the Castleberry sisters share a few places they find inspiration:
1. Pinterest. JJ's Cakery customers certainly bring in Pinterest images to help convey the type of cake they would like, but Jill and Jackie also use it so stay on top of trends and techniques. "I look for inspiration cakes on Pinterest, but I also like it for teaching purposes too," says Jill. "I've found things like making cake toppers out of fondant, and how to make different types of sugar flowers."
2. Physical objects. When a customer asked for a Tiffany's-themed cake for her daughter's 16th birthday party, Jill and Jackie saw the iconic powder blue jewelry box in a whole new light. "It was a surprise birthday party and they were doing a Breakfast at Tiffany's theme," Jill says. "We decorated the bottom layer in a zebra pattern, and then the top of the cake was decorated like a Tiffany's box with a fondant white bow."
3. Craftsy. This online resource (craftsy.com) allows users to sign up for classes covering all sorts of topics, from cake decorating to quilting, to jewelry making, to painting. "Craftsy is huge," says Jill. "It's all online videos so you don't have to go anywhere to take classes. It's a great place to start." Most Craftsy classes have a cost for attendance, although the site does offer select "mini-classes" for free.
4. Trial and error. If you think you may enjoy cake decorating -- or any other creative hobby -- Jackie advises others to just do it. "Just make a cake and see what you can do with it. That's how this all started for us," she says.
If there is one downside to owning a cake shop, it may be that sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing -- even too much cake.
"One of the things we pride ourselves (on) is that we make everything from scratch," says Jill. "So at the very beginning, we tried everything to ensure our cake had the right consistency, taste and moisture."
But after taste-testing dozens of cakes, Jill and Jackie may have perfected their recipes but aren't always eager to dig into a piece of cake themselves.
"Aside from taste-testing, we can't really eat cake anymore," says Jill with a smile.
For the Castleberry sisters, their signature clean, crisp cake-decor style already graces the dessert tables at area weddings and birthday parties. However, one of their biggest cake challenges yet came from a simple request from their young nephew.
"For his fourth birthday, our nephew asked for both Ninja Turtles and racecars on his cake," says Jill. "At first, we weren't quite sure how to do that."
The lucky little guy celebrated his special day with a beautifully tiered Ninja Turtle cake -- and racecar cupcakes on the side.
View more creations at facebook.com/jjscakerybismarck.
Beth Schatz Kaylor is a communications professional and freelance writer. She blogs about her North Dakota kitchen at rhubarbandvenison.com.