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The Cake Designer

"If I'm happy, it makes for a happy cake."
Margaret Braun of Margaret Braun

How would you describe your style?
  • Photo by Brad Paris

My aesthetic is very much my own, with a high concentration on technique. It's architectural, as opposed to floral, and all about creating a beautiful, edible sculpture that's in perfect visual balance.

How did you get into the cake business?
I was working in pâtisseries to support myself as a young New Yorker and discovered I had an incredibly steady hand; I could pipe really intricate designs, and that's unusual. Other people kept saying, 'Margaret, no one else can do that!' And over the years, I've realized it's true. I seem to really know how to work the pastry bag; I've gone a long way with that baby. A few squeezes and here I am today.

What is the most over-the-top cake you've ever done?
The most outrageous project I ever did was also the smallest. It was 2,000 individual mini-cakes for a royal wedding in the Middle East. Each cake was individually decorated and gilded. I did all the piping myself. At the beginning, we crunched the numbers and kept deciding that it seemed impossible, but, of course, it came off perfectly. So now I feel like I'm capable of anything.

How many cakes do you do a year?
Every year is different. I hate to turn people away, but sometimes I have to. If I do turn someone away, I always refer them to a friend in the business. I have so many that I think are terrific. Of course, it will be different than what they want from me. I'm a one-woman show, which on the one hand is amazing but on the other is entirely insane. Because it's been me, only me, all these years, it's helped my work get better and better. Had I decided early on, say five or six years ago, to hire someone to do the simpler cakes while I just did the fancy cakes, that would've been the beginning of the end for my business. I'm ready to do that now, maybe because I still like to do everything myself, which makes my clients very happy. Basically, if they ask for me, they get me, and that's unusual at this level.

Are you married? What was your cake like?
I am married, and everyone says my cake was the most beautiful they'd ever seen. I thought it was pretty simple. I made it, of course. It was green and white with sugar fruits and a sugar chalice. I had my nephews and nieces help me with the fruits, because I wanted the cake to be a family experience. I wanted the kids to be able to look at it and say, "I made that!" Most of my concentration, though, was actually on the sugar-sculpture centerpieces that we had in lieu of flowers.

What are the most popular flavor combinations these days?
I'm very traditional when it comes to flavors because caterers are making really interesting, great food, and I think the cake should complement the meal. I think it's best to just have the best chocolate cake on earth, or the best pound cake you can imagine with a perfect toffee buttercream filling. There's something about a beautiful, elaborately designed cake that tastes like your grandma's best. So, I try to keep my flavors incredibly simple and totally delicious. I know that there are all kinds of fascinating, new flavors, but in that regard, I'm really a traditional girl.

Are there any mistakes that you see brides making over and over again? Any dos and don'ts?
I would say fear is a big problem. Sometimes brides will say, "Oh, I would love to have a violet-and-gold-leaf cake, but it's not really weddinglike, is it?" and I just say, "Stop. Do what you want to do." Cultivate your own desires. Follow your own instincts. Don't think about what you're supposed to do and what you're not supposed to do. Enjoy yourself. And hire someone else to do all the hard work! If you can't afford that, keep it personal, lovely, and loose. Any wedding with an open heart and love and just the right amount of nervousness will always be great.

Would it be redundant to ask if you like your job?
I feel incredibly lucky. My clients have great taste, and we have a good time. But as glamorous as it is, it's also physically exhausting: staying up late, cleaning a messy kitchen, getting the cake to the car, but then, la-la-la-la-la, there you are and it's wonderful.



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