My daughter, Emily, and I share many loves. We both adore sweets, reality TV shows, baking, spin classes, and socializing. We also share an unfortunate trait of sometimes not knowing exactly what we want. Restaurant menus occasionally stump us—too many choices—and when people ask us what we’d like for gifts? Forget about it.
So when the calendar page flipped to November a few weeks ago and I asked both kids what they would like for their holiday gifts, I knew my son would have a response but my daughter might be more challenging to get an answer from. We usually give our kids one “big” gift and a few little things spread out over the .
As expected, Zach immediately declared what he wanted. (I’d already known he’d ask for a 3DS game system—something he’d coveted for months. We decided it would be his Hanukkah and birthday gift since it exceeded our “big” gift limit).
When I asked Emily what she wanted, she shrugged. She couldn’t really think of anything.
Days passed and I asked again. Big shrug again.
“Clothes?” I asked. "Something for your room?"
I suggested lots of things, only to get shrugs and, “Um…not really” back.
One day I came home from work and found Emily very excited. She rushed over and told me a whole new season of Cake Boss, her favorite reality show, was just added to the Netflix queue. Over the next few weeks, she watched all the new episodes. I watched a few with her. We both love the show.
Cake Boss, for the uninitiated, is a reality TV show on TLC featuring a large Italian-American family running a place called in Hoboken, New Jersey. The show is mostly about the elaborate specialty cakes the bakery team makes for clients and the process (and challenges) of bringing the client’s vision for the cake to life.
There are lots of shenanigans to keep viewers of Cake Boss entertained—dropped cakes, mistaken deliveries, stuck elevators, fights, pranks and behind the scenes fun about the bakery, where the star of the show, Buddy, works with his four sisters, brothers-in-law, cousins and other staff members. There is also time devoted to Buddy’s family and the myriad of celebrations in his large family, all featuring elaborate cakes, of course.
One night after watching an episode of Cake Boss, I started trolling the internet looking for cake decorating classes as a possible gift for Emily. Knowing how much she loves Cake Boss, I thought a class might be a fun gift for her.
I found a nearby class and went to run the idea by my husband and check on our travel plans for the upcoming December break. I knew we were planning to go to Philadelphia but wasn’t clear on the dates. It soon became apparent that we would not be back in time for the class I’d found in the Boston area.
Later that night as I was trying to figure out whether to sign up for a February class for Emily, I happened upon the Facebook page for Carlo's Bakery.
I noticed a photo of two women in Carlo’s aprons with Mauro, one of the brother-in-law bakers from Cake Boss, and a message about loving the class they just took. My heart started pounding as I went to the website and found a cake decorating class that worked perfectly with our travel plans. I signed Emily up and myself as well, as anyone under 18 is required to have an adult with them.
It was a splurge, but I knew it was the perfect gift for Emily. I printed out a few photos from the Cake Boss and Carlo’s Bakery websites and one about the class and tucked them away to give to Emily on the first night of Hannukah.
I couldn’t wait to give both kids their gifts and eagerly waited for the days to click by so we could celebrate. Finally, Hanuakkah arrived.
Emily could not believe her eyes when she was photos of the bakery and a printout about the classes. She literally jumped up and down. Later that night, she posted this message on facebook:
OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!! I JUST GOT THE BEST HANUKKAH PRESENT EVER! OMG OMG OMG! I GOT LIP GLOSS AND............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................OK I NEED TO TELL YOU NOW! I GOT A CAKE DECORATING CLASS WITH MY MOM AT CARLOS BAKERY. THE FAMILY MIGHT STOP IN AN SO MIGHT BUDDY!!!!! OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So, it was a hit. So was the 3DS, but it was a little less climactic than Emily’s surprise at the trip to Hoboken.
Fast forward to our Christmas day drive to Philadelphia. After a few days with family, Emily and I took the train to Hoboken and went by the bakery. There was a line of over three hours just to get in the door! I guess that what happens when you have a popular TV show based on your bakery! We headed off for lunch and then made our way to the new Carlo’s Cake Factory, for our 2-4 p.m. class.
We got there a little early and found a family waiting for a consultation for a sweet-sixteen cake. It was just like on the show! The birthday girl knew exactly what she wanted—three layers, alternating shapes, each with a different theme representing things she loves. Next thing we know, Mauro from the show comes out and escorts them to the consultation room to discuss the specific colors, flavors and look for the cake.
Soon the waiting area started filling up with people signed up for the class—28 in all. There was a couple from South Africa, three young ladies from New Hampshire, mother-daughter duos from Connecticut and Southern New Jersey, a local boyfriend and girlfriend pair, etc.
Promptly at 2 p.m., we we toured the mammoth industrial bakery. We saw cakes and pastries everywhere and the smell in the air was intoxicating. I wanted to eat everything in sight!
We then entered the calssroom and were told to pick a seat around two large wooden tables. We were introduced to three women, the main instructor and her two helpers.
Each seat had in front of it a cake stand loaded with tools of the trade, two plastic bags of fondant and a piping bag filled with butter cream frosting. The main instructor explained the purpose of each of the tools we’d be working with and then began to demonstrate how to decorate a cake with fondant, fondant cut-outs, crystallized sugar and piping.
Before we knew it, the instructor’s cake was finished and we were given our own “dirty iced” cake, one with a little icing it soon to be covered with a layer of fondant rather than finished off with more icing.
We got to work, kneading fondant and using a special machine called a “sheeter” to roll the fondant out in progressively thinner layers, until it was time to place it carefully on the cake. Next we used smoothers to smooth out lumps and cracks and then we kneaded and sheeted white fondant to decorate.
Em’s favorite part was piping the cake. As she was piping, the instructor came over with some suggestions, and then Danny and Anthony from Cake Boss burst into the room to say hello. The website for classes says “We cannot guarantee that family members will be present for each class. All courses are taught by a team of highly qualified bakery/culinary professionals that can assist you with any questions,” so everyone in the room was excited by this development.
Danny and Anthony signed books and aprons and cheerfully worked the room, even giving a few decorating tips to some. As they were leaving, Mauro also came in to say hello. He was a little more subdued, but he gave us a big bear hug and allowed us to take his photo. It was very, very exciting for us both.
We each left with a beautifully decorated cake, a Carlo’s Bakery apron signed by three of the cast members from Cake Boss, and new knowledge of how to decorate with fondant. It was a very special trip.
The cake, by the way, was incredible. We shared my cake with friends in New Jersey that night and brought Emily’s cake home with us to show friends and family here. Yum!
And Emily said it was her best present ever.