How to ship a cake

Disclaimer: Little Z’s Cakery operates under California’s Cottage Food law (you can read more about what that means here) and is currently prohibited from shipping baked goods to our customers. We sell to local customers only.

Little Z’s grandma lives in Ohio and recently had a milestone birthday. Ordinarily we would have flown back and celebrated with her. I would have planned a dinner party at a restaurant and invited her siblings that live in the area, maybe even a few of her friends. However, because of the pandemic, we weren’t comfortable spending a day in the airport and on planes and risking unknowingly infecting her with the COVID virus. So we did the next best thing – planned a surprise Zoom party. It turned out really well! Each of her siblings (and most of their spouses) joined, which was actually really special because they wouldn’t have all been able to had we done an in-person party. I wanted all the party guests to be able to enjoy birthday cake with the Birthday Girl so I hit the kitchen. I baked several pans of salted caramel brownies and mailed them to each of her siblings with instructions to save them until the Zoom party. Amazingly, everyone had at least one brownie left to eat on the call.:)

I also baked a brownie cake and shipped it to my mom. Prior to baking it, I did a lot of research to determine the best way of shipping a cake. I picked brownie for two reasons: 1) my mom loves chocolate, and 2) I thought a dense cake would hold up better in transit. Now that I have done it once with so much success, I would be comfortable shipping a more traditional cake next time.

We pride ourselves in not freezing cakes. We bake fresh, usually the night before your event. Shipping obviously required me to break a few of my own rules though. I baked the brownie layers about a week in advance. I stacked and filled the layers with salted caramel buttercream while they were still fresh. Once the cake was frosted, I chilled it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to let the frosting firm up and then I wrapped it in several layers of plastic wrap. This is important because you want to protect the cake from air to avoid freezer burn so push the plastic wrap closely against the cake and cake board. It won’t stick to the cake since the frosting has already set. (I did keep the decorating simplistic and nothing that stuck up/away from the cake. But this doesn’t mean it needs to be boring. This would be a great cake to experiment with the watercolor technique or bright colors.) I then froze the wrapped caked (and gel ice packs) for 3 days.

While the cake was freezing, I went to FedEx and picked up one of their Large shipping boxes. (Box size will vary depending on the size of cake you need to ship. Get the smallest box that will accommodate your cake.) At the time, USPS was no longer offering 2-day priority shipping; they estimated 5-7 days for priority. FedEx was still guaranteeing delivery times for express services, but I have heard that they no longer do either. So please research your options to know how quickly any of the carriers can will get it to your destination and for what price. I built the box as designed and then used packaging tape to seal all the edges of the box. Not just the edges that had adhesive, but all the edges. Think of this as building a mini portable refrigerator. I wanted to seal in all the cold and seal out any heat.

We don’t use delivery services for our groceries since I need to go frequently for cake ingredients anyway, but I needed an insulated bag and couldn’t find any inexpensive ones on Amazon. Fortunately we have generous neighbors and I was able to get one from them. I used the bag to line around the inside of the box. I now had my box assembled and set it aside until about an hour before I was going to take the cake to FedEx.

When it was time to package the cake, I removed it from the freezer (3 days after putting it in). I wrapped several layers of bubble wrap around it to help insulate and protect the cake. I placed the cake inside the insulated bag in the box and placed 4 frozen gel packs around it. These helped to fill the space between the cake and the box. Don’t worry if the packs rest against the cake; they won’t hurt it. I used a fifth gel pack and placed it directly on top of the cake.

I filled any remaining space with bubble wrap and then gently shook the box to make sure the cake wasn’t going to shift. I then folded down and taped the insulated bag inside the box, closed the box and sealed the remaining edge with packaging tape. I then marked “Fragile” on each side of the box and drew arrows facing the top of the box to indicate which end was up.

I took the cake to FedEx about 30 minutes before their last pick up to ensure it would go out that evening. I ended up paying for overnight shipping for delivery by noon. It cost about $100, but I figured that was inexpensive compared to the party I would have otherwise thrown.

When the cake arrived, it was still frozen and in tact. I wish I had a picture of it on the other end, but like mother, like daughter. If you thought my camera skills are poor (you can read more about the saga of my fantastic dismal picturing taking here), my mom’s are nonexistent. Actually that isn’t fully fair. She owns a camera (albeit old) and used it back in the day. She even developed her own pictures. However, she doesn’t know how to use a digital camera, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if her phone has one. So alas, you have to take my word that the cake arrived in perfect shape.

Will I ship a cake again? You bet! It isn’t cheap, but it makes for a special gift. My mom loved receiving a Little Z’s Cakery cake and “sharing” it with her party guests. Hopefully this post serves as a reference for you (and likely me) when you want to ship a cake to someone special.

Materials you will need to ship a cake:

  • Frosted and frozen cake on a cake board
  • Plastic wrap
  • Insulated bag
  • Frozen gel packs
  • Shipping box
  • Bubble wrap
  • Packaging tape
  • Permanent marker

Happy shipping and celebrating!

Does it matter if I buy my cake from a licensed bakery?

Have you ever wondered what it means to be a licensed bakery or what the difference is between a licensed and unlicensed bakery? With COVID-19 cases spiking again, I thought I would discuss this topic a bit today.

In California (and many other states for that matter), there is a Cottage Food Law that permits individuals to bake and sell certain foods from their home-based kitchens. However, before beginning operations, the individual is required to obtain a business permit and meet certain licensing requirements pursuant to the California Health and Safety Code.

Although the Health and Safety requirements are the same throughout the state, the process for obtaining a license varies slightly depending on the operator’s county. I won’t bore you with the process involved in the County of Los Angeles. However, here are some of the requirements all home-based licensed operators must meet:

  • We must only prepare and sell (or gift) foods that are on the approved food list, which are items that the California Department of Public Health considers to be “non-hazardous”.
  • We must periodically complete a food processor training course through an approved vendor.
  • We must implement and follow sanitation processes. I’ll talk more about this in a minute.
  • We must package products with state and federally compliant labels.

So what does all this mean? The short version is that it helps to keep you safer. How? Well, in a couple of ways. First, Little Z’s Cakery, along with all other licensed home-based bakeries, is limited to the types of baked goods we can sell. Certain foods, like cream cheese and eggs, require refrigeration. Home-based bakeries are prohibited from selling frostings made with cream cheese or whipped cream. They are even prohibited from selling Royal Icing, a popular icing used on decorated sugar cookies, because it contains egg whites and/or meringue powder (an egg-based product). When you look at our menu, you will notice our frostings are American Buttercream, which do not require any eggs or milk. This means that your cake and cupcakes are safe to sit on the counter during your party or even to store leftovers for a few days unrefrigerated. We use a thick, opaque Glaze on our decorated cookies. Personally, I think Glaze tastes better than Royal Icing. It’s still firm but doesn’t have that hard crunch that some decorated cookies do. But, the truth is, we use Glaze because that is what is required.

Remember one of the other requirements is to follow sanitation processes? Health and Safety requirements stipulate that all equipment be washed, rinsed, sanitized and air dried (if washing by hand) prior to using the equipment. Yes, you read that right. We must wash and sanitize equipment before we bake. You got it, that means we clean up and do dishes TWICE for every cake we bake. Once before we even start baking, and then again after we have baked. Not that I’m complaining. This is the view from my kitchen window!

Also, pets and small children are not permitted to be in the kitchen while customers’ products are being baked. So if you have purchased from a licensed baker, you should have the added comfort that their cat wasn’t climbing on the counters while the mixer was going.

Those of us that don’t have food allergies take it for granted, but those with allergies or sensitivities are limited in what foods they can enjoy. We are required to attach a label to every item that lists (in the order of weight) all the ingredients in the item and to identify if it includes any of the eight (8) major food allergens. Little Z’s Cakery wants everyone to be able to enjoy dessert, and we try our best to accommodate requests for allergy-friendly treats. We also understand that our customers may need to confirm ingredients in a baked good prior to eating/serving it.

Does all of this mean that an unlicensed baker is unsafe? Absolutely not! But as a customer, you may have less comfort that appropriate measures are being taken to keep you, your family, and your friends safe. When we are not able to fulfill an order, we only recommend other licensed bakeries. And on that note, if you have enjoyed a cake or cookies from another licensed home-based baker, please shoot us an email. There are not many in the South Bay, and we are always looking to expand our list for recommendations. I will personally reach out to the other baker, introduce myself, share your rave recommendation (what baker doesn’t like to hear the positive feedback!?), and try to begin to build a relationship. There is plenty of baking to be shared, and I would love the opportunity to support another local baker.

The cake that started it all

I am so excited about one of our recent orders. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take an order if I don’t think it will be fun (or challenging or both). But when I got a request for a Barbie cake, I could hardly contain myself. The request came from a friend of a friend of another customer, and I knew the potential customer (let’s call her Allie) may call, but I had no idea what her party theme was.

You are probably wondering why this request excited me so. Let me back up about 15 years so that you can fully understand. Before I even had dreams of owning my own bakery, I got an itch to bake a special cake. I was invited to a friend’s bridal shower, and I wanted to surprise her. The hostess and I coordinated the sweets and agreed that I would bring the cake. I no longer even remember what gave me the idea or why I felt so compelled to bake that cake – a standup bride.

At the time, I didn’t have a repertoire of cake recipes so I turned to the internet and baked what is referred to as a WASC cake. WASC = white almond sour cream cake. WASC cakes almost always start with a boxed cake mix, and mine was no exception. (I’ll save the journey of how I started baking with cake mixes to doing nothing but from scratch for another post.) I went to Joann’s or Michael’s with the intention of buying a Wilton doll pan, but then I saw the price tag. So I studied the pans and pulled out an old receipt at the bottom of my purse a scrap piece of paper and made detailed notes of how the cake on the box was decorated. (This was before cell phones had cameras.) I had been gifted a hemisphere pan so I decided I’d make use of it.

Handwritten notes on making the doll cake

It took me a VERY long time to decorate that first bride cake, and I learned a lot as I was doing it. Transportation was another challenge. At the time, I didn’t know there were tricks to keeping a cake securely in place. I very gingerly drove the cake to the shower in a plastic cake preserver and then placed the decorated doll on at the shower. When it came time to serve dessert, I was soooo excited, and the bride-to-be and guests didn’t disappoint. Everyone enjoyed the cake and couldn’t stop talking about the bride. After the shower, I went home and told my husband I wanted to own a bakery someday!

I did have the foresight to take pictures of the cake before it was served. Unfortunately, the digital camera I used broke and I wasn’t able to recover the photos. So when another friend had a milestone birthday a few years later, I decided to bake her a similar cake. I first decorated it as a bride and retook my bridal pictures. Then I took off the veil, added a birthday sash and some color to her dress… Voila, we had a birthday doll cake! As luck would have it, that camera got lost on vacation later that summer. So once again, I failed to still didn’t have any pictures to add to my cake portfolio.

Several more years passed, without much baking and no more doll cakes, and we ended up moving to Los Angeles. I was invited to a co-workers bridal shower, and again arranged to supply the cake. Third time is a charm they say, and fortunately by this point I had gotten better at saving pictures. My photography skills hadn’t improved (still working on those honestly), but I have photos of that cake still today.

Fast forward another five years. Our son was born and I left Corporate America and that co-worker. Actually, she had long since moved to England. Although my baking had been sporadic since that very first bridal cake, I had started to do more of it. It was now time for me to move forward with my bakery dream. Little Z’s Cakery was born. All because of that first bridal cake. So you can imagine my excitement when my new customer Allie called and said she wanted a Barbie cake for her daughter’s birthday! To this day, I still use that same hemisphere pan for our doll cakes. I frosted Barbie differently and gave her some ruffles instead of a smooth wedding gown, but the tips and tricks I had learned from the other cakes made this one go so much smoother.

Barbie Cake

I am so honored to have been asked to make Allie’s daughter’s birthday a special one! This is exactly why I founded Little Z’s Cakery. Happy partying!