Pennsylvania cake designer, Lauren Cortesi, started Bella’s Desserts, an artisanal bakery in 2002, growing the business by word of mouth. She offers sweet and buttery, vegan, gluten free, egg free and dairy free cakes and desserts, not found in the area!
Over the years, Lauren received special instruction at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, and also from world renowned cake designers Colette Peters, Bronwen Webber and Toba Garrett, as well as the sugar paste flower expert Kim Morrison and sugar artist Lori Ann Blethen of Wildflowers. Bella’s Desserts offers cutting edge desserts using everything from fondant, gumpaste and chocolate work in their creations.
Lauren has also generously donated cakes to such charities as Relay For Life, CancerCare Cupcakes for a Cause, as well as local and private school events.
Cater.com: Can you share your tops tips when it comes to getting the most out of a tasting? What are some important questions that clients may not think or know to ask?
Lauren: I ask my brides/grooms to either email me prior to the tasting, or bring with them, as much information as possible. This includes venue, time of event, buffet or seated dinner, number of guests. Of course they need to choose flavors to taste, and I ask them to have a budget in mind. My wedding cakes are $5.50 per serving, but if they want cupcakes or mini desserts, a budget is a must. I also ask them to send ahead any images they have seen, colors, etc., so that we can make the most of the time that we are face to face. I also ask that no more than 4 people attend, as I find the more people that attend, the less work gets done within the hour.
Cater.com: How do you keep your vegan, gluten and dairy free desserts tasting just as decadent (or better) as their more sinful counterparts?
Lauren: Research! My daughter was born allergic to dairy and eggs. When her first birthday came around, I realized I would have to make her cake but how? I did some research and discovered a delicious chocolate cake made without eggs or dairy, and a delicious frosting that everyone could enjoy. This has become my most popular vegan, dairy and/or egg free cake for the last 12 years! Gluten free was another matter. I couldn’t find any recipe that appealed to me, until I visited a gluten free bakery in New York City. The next year they published a cookbook, and I borrow their recipes for my gluten free cakes and cupcakes, because no one should go without a delicious cake on their special day!
Cater.com: What inspired your decision to rebrand the business and solely focus on weddings and special events?
Lauren: We moved two years ago into a more affluent area and closer to Philadelphia. I realized that there is more of a need of delicious, affordable wedding and specialty cakes and desserts in this area than where I used to live. There are so few brick and mortar bakeries in my immediate area, that even though I am home based, my customer base has grown tremendously, especially the allergen free products, there was just no one filling the need. Also, my daughter is attending college in 5 years, and I need this next 10 years to bring in more revenue, without growing out of my home.
Cater.com: We know that you remain diligent to learning the latest trends to keep up with the ever changing demand of your customers. What are some trends that you’re excited about or looking forward to experimenting with?
Lauren: New ways to get the perfect looking cake using cake acrylics. I belong to a few networking groups on Facebook that consist of leading cake designers, so I can keep up with trends, and view tutorials. I love learning new techniques, one of the hottest of which right now consists of a “rustic” look. This involves textured buttercream, and sugar succulents, so I am teaching myself these techniques by watching videos on Youtube, and purchasing classes through Craftsy. I am always following flavor trends and incorporate new recipes into my offerings for cupcakes, fillings and frostings. That’s always fun!
Cater.com: You’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of renowned cake designers from around the world. What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned or insights that you’ve gained from working with these incredible experts?
Lauren: Everyone in the cake business struggles! One of the reasons these artists offer classes is to keep their cake shops open. With the onslaught in the last 10 years of cake shows, everyone wants sculpted cakes, sugar flowers, or other fancy things, however they have no idea how much they cost! The TV shows have hurt our industry by not talking about dollars. Yes a sculpted cake of your favorite car would be so cool on your 50th birthday, but are you willing to pay $500 for it? If so, great! That’s how those artists got famous, but there are only so many weddings, and so many people who have that kind of disposable income, because let’s face it, a custom cake is a luxury, and should be treated as edible art, but sadly it still is not.
Cater.com: What’s the most challenging request that you’ve ever received and were you able to fulfill it?
Lauren: The most challenging cake was a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. I was ready for the challenge this past year, and had so much fun researching and figuring out how to make this iconic instrument edible. It was a great success, and I was very pleased, as was the customer. The one thing I did learn while doing it, is the hours spent on research, and execution of all of those little sugar pieces, next time I will definitely charge more!