Samantha Holgate, a Montclair nanny by day, bakes by night — and sometimes early morning. Her specialty baking company, Wake and Bake Cakes, is known for unusual, surprising and intricate cake designs and eclectic flavors, and is gathering popularity around Baristaville. Along with three assistants, Holgate, a Cedar Grove native and current Bloomfield resident, produces custom cakes and other baked goods for all kinds of events, including birthdays, Bar- and Bat-Mitzvahs, retirements, weddings (typically grooms’ cakes), graduations, bachelorette and film premiere parties and engagements.
When I dropped in on her yesterday, Holgate was crafting an assortment of cake decor details that will take their place on a four-foot long Fender electric guitar cake she’s been hired to make this weekend as a groom’s cake. She was using a variety of small tools to fashion gum paste, a sugar product which hardens well, into shapes that almost precisely mimic the guitar pick-up hardware, knobs, and tuning pegs. Sometimes, she has had to look further than paste and fondant however, for foodstuffs that she can craft into what the design dictates.
For the guitar, she’s planning to try making guitar “strings” from uncooked spaghetti strands dipped in chocolate. Not everything is edible exactly (who’d want to chomp on uncooked pasta, for example), but she works hard to use only real food items on the top of her cake designs, rather than wire, plastic or wood. Usually, she can figure out a design dilemma using her pantry know-how, imagination and experience, but she’d already tried out a few ultimately unsuccessful ideas for guitar strings and needed input. Finally, on a lark, she took to Twitter, and asked Duff Goldman, the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, for a suggestion, and he quickly tweeted back the pasta idea.
Some of Wake and Bake’s other recent cake creations include an Android cell phone design, the Emerald City, a Yankees helmet, a Cuban cigar box, and a fairy landscape. If a client doesn’t have a photo, then she listens to their idea and sketches out possible designs, similar she says, to her previous job as a stage manager, technical director and set designer.
“It’s really a lot like when I used to design a set from nothing; the idea was to make it look like something else, something it’s not. Same thing,” she explains. Like syringes and bandages for a nursing school graduation cake, cigars for a baby congratulations confection,
Joining Holgate in the kitchen for various projects are three assistants, Stephanie Eannetta, of Montville, aka the “pie mistress”, Jessica Lombardo, of Fairfield, who specializes in cookies, and Lisa Watson, of Glen Ridge, who lends decorating artistry. Together, they brainstorm solutions to design and flavor requests. And yes, they can accommodate food allergies and special dietary restrictions.
In addition to cakes, Wake and Bake makes cheesecakes, tartlets, and luscious mini-cupcakes on a large scale, such as the 260 they’ll produce for an early October Staten Island wedding, in four varieties — red velvet spiced with cayenne and vanilla-cinnamom icing; peanut butter with mousse icing stuffed with strawberry or grape jam; vanilla coconut; and pumpkin spice with ginger honey icing. Enticing flavor combinations like that are standard; in fact, their signature cookie is a Bacon Chocolate Chip variety. They even do a “smash cake,” and it’s just like it sounds — a small cake the birthday baby can smash and smear, while the cake meant for adults and older children stays intact.
When she’s not caring for two girls in her role as a nanny, or baking to order, Holgate is completing a certificate in baking and pastry through the Culinary Institute at Hudson County Community College, which offers courses on weekends. In the future, she hopes to open a bake shop and has her eye on a Cedar Grove location. But for now, Wake and Bake is branching out in another direction, building on Holgate’s stint at a now-defunct youth cooking academy, with custom-designed birthday parties for local families which involve the guest of honor and his or her friends in a hands-on cooking or baking activity. For teens, they will even do a basket challenge “contest” patterned like that seen on the popular Food Network show Chopped — but with more dessert-friendly ingredients. For Holgate, the Chopped connection also includes the inspiration she draws from a close friend of her family, Amanda Freitag, another Cedar Grove native who is now a Food Network celebrity chef and Chopped judge.
One day, Holgate looks forward to focusing solely on cakes, but for now the busy-ness and the company name fits. “We wake up every day and bake cakes solely to make people happy,” she says. “Actually, my whole family is a bit nocturnal so I don’t require that much sleep.”
Good thing. You never know when someone will want a cake that looks like…something else.