Charlotte Friis Lodahl is a Danish mother of two (4 and 7, both daughters) and a 10-year resident of Beijing. Since taking a break from her career in product marketing for Nokia in 2011, she has been spending her time consulting, doing charity work, and enjoying quality time with her daughters – during which she stumbled upon a talent for making spectacular home-made cakes. We sat down with her for a brief Q&A before her cake-baking workshop scheduled for next week.
Q. Why did you start making your own cakes?
A. I make my own cakes first of all because I like to know exactly what my kids are eating. Apart from the additives that come in store-bought mixes and mass-manufactured cakes, I’m always reading about food scandals here – so I prefer to make my own. The other reason is out of guilt: Where I come from, we have a tradition of making our own cakes, and I was feeling bad that I hadn’t done that for my own children here in Beijing.
Q. Tell us about your first attempt.
A. My first cake was a Barbie cake. The thrill in my daughter’s eyes when she saw it was indescribable … and it was even better when she showed it to her friends. She was so proud of the cake and so proud to tell her friends that her mother made it by hand.
Q. That’s it? You just up and made a masterpiece on the first try?
A. Not exactly. A did a few trial runs, and looking back on it, it looked so easy … but there was a lot of screaming and swearing and ordering people to get out of the kitchen during the process. However, once it was there, even though it wasn’t perfect, I was very proud because people actually recognized what I made.
Q. How long did that first cake take you?
A. Actually, including the trial runs, it took an aggregate time of about 48 hours to complete it. Nowadays I’ve improved my track record considerably – from top to bottom I can make a cake almost in any form you can imagine in a bit less than 8 hours. The cakes are no longer just cakes for me: they’re more like art. Luckily for me, people like to eat my art.
Q. What’s in your cake repertoire at this point?
A. I’ve made the Death Star, a Teddy Bear, a shark, Spongebob … I look for a new challenge each time. To date the biggest challenge was a 4-tiered castle. My older child is totally into the movie “Brave” and she wanted a castle like the one in the film – and by then my 7-year-old was pretty jaded over the ‘mom makes the homemade birthday cake’ bit, so she wanted to be a part of making it as well. That adds a new level of complexity to working in the kitchen. She ended up doing an awesome job and we had so much fun together.
Q. Any cake disasters to tell us?
A. I made a shark cake on request for my daughter Asta’s 3rd birthday. I thought in order for it to be authentic, the inside should be red, but when the kids cut into it at the party, they started screaming “the shark is bleeding! The shark is bleeding!” It took a while for me to get them to realize it was make believe, but eventually they got over it and enjoyed the cake.
Then there was the first time I tried to make a castle for my daughter: I used a mold, but I couldn’t get the cake out of the mold and it broke in several places in the process of taking it out. I managed to salvage it by covering it up with some grass and flowers made out of frosting, so in the end it was still a hit with the kids.
Q. Have you had to fit out your kitchen with tons of gear to get started?
A. Not really. I bought a good rolling pin and a knife, and I already had a decent baking pan, but that’s basically all I started with. I have an old, crappy oven that was installed probably 20 years ago in my flat. My most loved piece of equipment is my KitchenAid – which does all the mixing for me. It’s not a “must-have,’ but it makes life easier. You don’t really need anything but a knife, a rolling pin and a pan to get started.
Q. What will you be teaching at the workshop?
A. It’s really just a basic intro to give people a taste of what it’s like to make your own cake, and give people the satisfaction of bringing home something they’ve made by hand. Unfortunately we won’t have the full eight hours it would take to make everything right then and there from scratch, but everyone’s going to walk away with basic framework for making any of these cakes at home, as well as developing some passion for the art of cake-making. Participants will also get to do the part that people really see – the exterior decorations.
Charlotte’s workshop takes place Wednesday, June 11 at the Siemens Test Kitchen from 10:30am to 2pm. Participation in the workshop is restricted to a maximum of 10 individuals. The price for this workshop is RMB 300, which includes a take-home custom cake, refreshments and a light lunch. Full details and registration information can be found here.