Have you ever seen a cake decorated so amazingly that you feel guilty eating it? Baker Alana Jones-Mann creates exactly those kinds of masterpieces. The L.A.-based baker designs edible pieces of art that are unique, colorful and creative. These beautiful cakes almost prevent you from digging in.
Alana leverages her background as a stylist and designer to create cakes inspired by common household elements such as carpeting, wall paper and terrariums. Her design foundation focuses texture to bring cakes to life. One of her most unique types of cakes are 70’s inspired “shag rug” cakes.
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How does she create these amazing and unique edible masterpieces?
She admitted to the Los Angeles Times during a recent profile that, “I don’t have a plan or anything when I start,” Alana does acknowledge, however, that the ’60s and ’70s are a major influence on all of her creative endeavors. The cakes’ vintage aesthetic closely matches her own choices in fashion, music, and more.
Besides her vintage inspiration she also takes a minimalist approach to the design and ingredients. For her, it’s not about what you use as much as how you use it, and she’s got her method down.
For example, she prefers old-fashioned buttercream over today’s favored cake decorating medium, fondant. You might also think her shag techniques are very complicated or rely on professional-grade tools, but Alana uses basic tools for piping. The food coloring gels and decorating tips she prefers can be found at your local craft store.
Once she comes up with a design, then it’s all about her own special cake recipe, which she’s developed over the years. “The biggest compliment is when someone says, ‘That was the best-tasting cake ever,’” she admits. “I’m proud of my designs and I would never hand off a cake that I thought was ugly. But when someone comes back and raves about the taste of the cake, that’s all I want to hear.”
Next, the design secret on the shag cakes starts with piping the buttercream frosting, which can take up to two hours. For Alana it’s a labor of love. Given her design background, she has no trouble picking out the perfect colors and abstract patterns to really give that ’70s shag feel.
What’s amazing is Alana taught herself baking and cake design. She realized she was in a creative lull in her career as an event planner and marketer in New York so she turned to baking as a design challenge during her free time. Her first success came when she baked her then-boyfriend a cheesecake that he took to his job at a restaurant. It sold out.
That encouraged Alana bake more and start experimenting with baking recipes and food design. She studied online tutorials and tried the lessons in her own kitchen. Through trial and error, she found her way.
She decided to focus on cakes “The reason I moved on specifically to cakes is because of their surface area. I felt like I had a proper canvas to really work on,” she explained. “Cake is my medium.”
Besides being passionate about her artistic medium, she also realized early on anything she bakes needs to both look good AND taste good. “I spent probably a year developing my own recipe and figuring out what base I liked the best and what works for me in terms of cake flavor,” she said.
For Alana, the shag cakes are a part of her journey as a baker and as an artist. “The shag cake, for me, shows my evolution as an artist and how I found my own personal style,” she explains.
What started out as a hobby and a passion creating and baking has now become a full time business as her unique designs have taken off. Alana’s cakes have been featured on Food Network are commissioned by celebrities.
Alana has been baking professionally for about a decade. Three years ago, she headed back to her native California where the shag cakes took off in a way they never did in New York.
“It’s ironic that now I do a lot of New York work in terms of editorial stuff, and that New York clients out here visiting are interested in them. I’ve been making [the shag cakes] for five years now at this point. But when I was in New York, I could not get anyone to order them.” she laughed.
When asked how she came up with the shag cake concept she notes, they were never meant to be that at all.
“What’s weird about the shag cakes is I think a lot of people think I purposely made it to look like a shag carpet,” Alana explained. “And that was never the plan. Other people started calling them that.”
She does struggle with how the popularity of the cakes has changed the conversation. “It’s hard when people are like, ‘This is the trendy cake of the moment now.’ Because it’s kind of me, you know? It’s who I feel I am as a person,” she noted.
Certainly, Alana isn’t the first artist to struggle with public interpretation and praise versus personal meaning. It’s especially personal because Alana doesn’t have the long culinary background that many who seek her level of notoriety can claim.
While she loves the shag cakes, she continues to delve into yesteryear for inspiration.
She’s found the perfect balance of success and personal fulfillment. For her creating her distinct works of art are what excite her. “It’s such a meditative, enjoyable process,” she noted.
Lisa is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mamas Uncut. She’s a Hispanic female executive whose been in digital media for over 15 years. Prior to building a career in media she was a technology M&A banker. Before starting Mamas Uncut, Lisa was the CEO of RockYou, Inc for 8 years. RockYou was a social gaming and digital media company focused on the mom demographic. TheRockYou properties included 25 game franchises as well as cafemom.com, mamaslatinas.com, mom.me and littlethings.com
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