Jenna Rae Cakes
Jenna & Ashley Illchuk
Words: Karen Hare / Photos: Janine Kropla
For most, it is before we can even hold a fork that we are introduced to cake. We know instantly that there is something different here. This foreign substance goes far beyond smashed peas and pureed carrots; fluffy and moist it makes its way from the fingers and onto the cheeks; sometimes a forehead but most importantly, catches the taste buds. And, between the strange little stick that is on fire, the singing, and the laughter at the mess left behind, it is from the very beginnings of our lives that we are introduced to the correlation between cake and celebration.
It is a labour of love when a cake is made for such an occasion; it becomes a declaration that this moment and this person are to be noted as significant and momentous.
Jenna, of Jenna Rae Cakes became a self-taught baker and cake designer by way of kindness. Finding joy in sculpting extravagant cakes for friends and family she quickly saw the opportunity to build a career around this personal joy, hoping to provide something just as special and intimate for the public community. Finding inspiration from Maggie Austin she has perfected sugar flowers and creates the prettiest of wedding cakes layered with crinoline fondant and peppered with pearls. She also creates a variety of three-dimensional cakes for various other occasions, all while running a daily bake shop where you can come, sit and nibble on sweets.
Designed by Jenna’s sister (and now business partner) Ashley, the shop is dressed from head to toe in the most beautiful of golds and whites and has a way of melting you into a little girl, combing through your memories of tea parties and sweeping you with its sweetness. Jenna Rae Cakes was introduced to Winnipeg early this spring and has already been met with enthusiasm.
Muddy Water: Your shop is beautiful, how has it been received in Winnipeg? I hear you have been busy?
Jenna: Yes! We've been so incredibly blessed with the excitement and interest Winnipegger’s have had in Jenna Rae Cakes. We started out baking a single recipe of macarons each day, and are already up to four batches a day and still selling out before the day's end - we're so grateful!
MW: How long does it take to build such extensive cakes? I imagine there are challenges to working with a perishable good…
J: This definitely depends on the cake itself. Some things can be worked on ahead of time, but for the most part, a cake is baked and designed in about two days. It's really the design that is the most time consuming - some custom cakes can take ten to twenty hours just working on hand painting or creating sugar flowers!
MW: And deadlines and deliveries? There must be a great deal of stress that follows making such centrepieces to important events?
J: We like to deliver as close to the event start time as possible - it certainly makes it tricky when events are out of town, or multiple events are on the same weekend. There are a lot of moving parts so we have to be so careful with our scheduling.
MW: Your sugar flowers are stunning! Can you tell us a little bit about the process of making them?
J: Sugar flowers are definitely quite the process. I start off making the centre of the flower (it will depend on what the flower is! We usually work with the same sort of flowers that are in the bride's bouquet, but the good thing with sugar flowers is that we can even design our own flowers, so it doesn't always have to be entirely realistic), then make each petal individually. Again, they are made differently depending on what type of flower it is. They take a long time to dry in between each step, so I usually set aside an entire day to make them. They're painted by hand and finished off with a dusting of "petal dust" to give them a realistic touch.
MW: It seems like you have taken on an immense amount of work. From custom cakes, daily baked goods as well as the daily operations of running a business. How do you do it all?
J: I don't sleep! I've had my fair share of all-nighters working on custom cakes and getting everything baked for the following day, but the reason I do that is because I really love taking my time to make each cake perfectly. I will not send anything out for an event or put in the cooler to be sold unless it's perfect.
MW: Your sister has been a huge part in the development of this shop, would you tell us a little about how your sister Ashley fits into all of this?
J: Ashley has been here with me since day one, four years ago! She created my branding and website, and since she was already in the wedding industry, she was a major help in getting Jenna Rae Cakes off the ground and running. Our goal was always to partner up, but we didn't know it would happen so soon. She has been such an incredibly blessing to me - now, she's baking beside me every day!
MW: It seems that you two work so well together really complimenting each other’s strengths in order to make Jenna Rae Cakes a cohesive (and the prettiest!) cake shop. Ashley, how has it been integrating yourself into Jenna Rae cakes, what was the path that lead you here?
Ashley: I’m a freelance graphic designer and photo stylist who has been involved in the wedding industry for the last few years. I’ve been a part of JRC for quite some time now as her designer, and now I’m on board as her designer, partner, and baker. If you had asked me two months ago where I’d be career wise, I would never have guessed that I’d be working at Jenna Rae Cakes full time! Jenna and I have always dreamed of going into business together, but we didn’t think it would happen so quickly. But after a series of fortunate events (I left my job at a local wedding magazine around the time Jenna realized she needed help at the bakery), the stars have aligned for us and we’re having a lot of fun learning and growing the business together.
MW: There is something very special about cakes and the moments that surround them, are there any cake specific memories you could each share with us?
J: The first cake I made is very memorable - it was for a friend, and I had no tools to do it. I used a lotion bottle lid to smooth the fondant and didn't even carve the cake. Let's just say it wasn't the most amazing of cakes! Now that I've figured out this whole cake-designing thing, I have to say my favourite part of it is delivering the cake and seeing the client's emotional response. Sometimes they shout with excitement, sometimes they cry.
A: It's been amazing for me to watch Jenna's designs grow into this amazing talent that she has. I've had so much fun working on different projects with her; especially planning and designing photo shoots that feature her cakes. We've had a lot of fun, and can't wait to see what happens in the future!
On May third and forth join Jenna and Ashley at Jenna Rae Cakes for ‘the Spring Pop-Up Shop’. Jenna’s baked goods will be accompanied by floral arrangements’, hand written calligraphy, jewelry, art prints and photo cards all made by a handful of talented local artisans.
To see a sweet little video of Jenna & Ashley's interview head over to our journal.