Karen Brown Takes The Cake
at Brown Baguette Bakery.
he wedding cake is a central focus of any wedding. After all, it should be the most delicious-looking item in the room. However, creating a cake that is both eye-appealing and mouth-watering is no easy task. It takes someone who has been in the business for years, someone who knows how the heat at a summer wedding will affect the cake, and someone who has made desserts for events such as Oprah’s Freedom Award. Karen Brown at Brown Baguette brings all these elements to the table.
It wasn’t always planned that Brown would go into the pastry business. After graduating from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas with a liberal arts degree in Biology, she, like so many others, found that “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do.”
Thinking back over her time in school, she fondly recalled a biology trip she took where the class was camped on an island or housed in barracks on the shore. “I was in charge of the food, and I swore we would never eat sandwiches—and we didn’t.” Instead, she created hearty meals, such as steaks, in a less than fully equipped barracks-style kitchen or over a camp fire. With everyone happy with the meal selections, a career was born for Brown.
Brown took her interest in food and marched into the chef’s office of The Peabody Hotel looking for work. She would work there in the banquet area before moving to Chez Phillipe as a pastry chef, and finally, to La Baguette Bakery, where she managed a team of 40-50 for 18 years. While the world of pastry and wedding cake creation may seem similar, since they both involve the tasty goodness of butter and sugar, the two worlds are different. Pastry focuses more on the essence of the dessert itself and wedding cake creation focuses more on the decoration and architecture. With her many years of experience, Brown has successfully merged both aspects in her business with Brown Baguette Bakery Café, which she opened in 2006.
When designing a wedding cake, Karen focuses on one tried and true philosophy: “What I like is not as important as what the bride wants. My primary concern is to help the bride discover what she wants and then provide it for her to the best of my ability. I always try to caution brides that they will be looking at these photos for the next 20 to 30 years; I want it to be good for them.”
The best time for a bride to come in to discuss the cake is after the budget and the number of people attending the wedding has been determined. Since many good brides will likely do their homework before coming in, it’s best for them to remember that when pricing cakes, make sure you are comparing like qualities of the cake. It is easy to miss the fact that one cake may be a higher price because it features more layers or a combination of flavors and fillings. Intricate detailing will also enhance the price of a cake.
Many brides come in with an idea of the cake they want, and Brown does what she can to try to make the vision a reality .“It’s easy to make a cake expensive; it’s hard to make it look expensive but at a reasonable price.”
One easy way to add glamour to a cake is by using fondant. “Fondant is not a necessarily evil,” says Brown in regard to many brides’ preconceptions of the confection. “If it is rolled thinly like we roll it, it can change the whole look of the cake without dramatically changing the flavor profile.”
Fondant is just one of the many elements seen on wedding cakes nowadays. A few decades ago, wedding cakes were more standard in flavor and design, with cake after cake featuring a basket weave design, which Brown said she is glad to have survived. Today, wedding cakes and even wedding desserts have become diverse. Some brides choose to have a showpiece cake that can be used for the photographs and official cake cutting, but then opt to serve their guests individual desserts or cupcakes. Others have more elaborate cake stacks with bases made from Styrofoam in order to properly support the grand structure. Cake flavors have also taken a turn for the exotic, as Brown has created cakes featuring key lime and raspberry with her deft pastry hands, which turned out to be wonderful. Other popular flavors brides often choose include chocolate and vanilla marble, classic vanilla and strawberry.
Brown stays busy, as many cakes can take as many as six hours to create. In September 2012, Brown provided cakes for 27 weddings, which was a grand feat. The key to making it all work? “Organization, organization, organization,” says Brown, who spent much time labeling items and coordinating shipments so that she would have all implements for each cake on time. It worked, as all cakes were flawlessly delivered to the expectant brides.
With her café in working order and clients enjoying her products, Brown is up for whatever the future may hold for her career. Although, she does note that she is focused more on her 13-year-old son’s future than her own right now. However, she has considered expanding the business or delving into other areas of catering. Either way, the future looks bright and scrumptious. Find out more information about Karen Brown’s wedding cakes and see some of her best designs at brownbaguette.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/brownbaguette.