According to Jean Cleary-Coyne of Bakes by Jean, there are cakes and then there are CAKES! What’s so special about the latter? They’re made with love, passion and dedication. These are the secret ingredients Jean pours into all of her creations. Her aim? To produce irresistibly elegant cakes that also taste delicious. We chat to Jean about her history with baking, her process for creating wedding cakes with bridal couples, and why the cake is such an important element of the wedding day.
How long have you been baking?
I started baking apple tarts, rhubarb crumbles and brown soda bread at the age of three with my mother in our kitchen at home in Ireland. We had an apple tree at the bottom of garden, the rhubarb came from my aunt’s neighbour, and we ate gooseberry jam from my granny’s garden on our brown soda bread.
When did you start Bakes by Jean?
I started Bakes by Jean in 2015 from my home based kitchen in Carlton. In January 2018, my husband David and I bought our first home and moved to Travancore (yeah, I didn’t know where it was either), which is near Flemington Bridge and Ascot Vale. We renovated the kitchen and by February 2018, I had the kitchen council-approved and was back up and running.
Images: Bakes by Jean
Career highlights? You’ve done a lot of travelling because of you cake making skills!
It has been a very humbling experience to be asked to travel to Abu Dhabi and Doha, Qatar with The Big Group catering company to help cater for royal weddings. It has been equally humbling to be known as The Cake Lady to a few families around Melbourne (Kate S, Deborah R and Karin F, you know I mean you!). I make their wedding cakes, their fathers’ birthday cakes, their daughters’ bridal shower cakes, their grandchildren’s christening cakes etc.
What’s the best part of your job?
What I like most about what I do is hearing back from someone to say how much they loved their cake. It’s not just about the look of the cake, I also want it to taste delicious too! It’s also nice to hear that the cake exceeded their expectations and brought a tear to their eye!
Image: Euro Photography
And the most challenging?
My least favourite thing about what I do is that unless you have your own cake business no-one really knows the amount of work that goes into it. I constantly get told that I have the best job in the world because I stay home and bake all day long! I do all my own baking, decorating, shopping, ordering, answering emails, accounting, cleaning. Plus, I have a part-time job that can take up 24-30+ hours a week. It can be hard to find some downtime when it gets busy. There have been a few times when I have received emails at 11pm and by 8am the next morning I get another email asking did I receive their first email because they haven’t heard back from me yet! It is also difficult trying to explain why you charge a delivery cost. If you get paid for three hours of work at your job, why shouldn’t I?
What’s the process of designing a wedding cake with a couple?
When designing a cake with a couple, it’s mostly done via email. Once things are written down, I have a reference if I need to go back over their requirements. But generally once I’ve written it, I remember it. I ask if they have a colour they would like incorporated into the cake, what type of flowers they would like, and what style of cake they would like. It’s nice to have a photo as a reference, or a few photos that we can then mix and match different features from. I do provide sample boxes for couples to collect and enjoy at home and discuss the flavours between themselves. My heart would break if I held a cake tasting and was told to my face that my cake wasn’t very good! So take it home! Make faces behind my back! If you like it, contact me, if you don’t then best of luck with your wedding!
What flavours do you offer in your sample boxes?
My sample boxes contain two vanilla-based cakes and two chocolate-based cakes.
What are the most popular flavours?
My most popular cake flavours are Royal Chocolate (chocolate cake, ganache, raspberry compote and raspberry frosting) and Caramel Delight (vanilla cake, dulce de leche, honeycomb and caramel frosting). All of my cake flavours can be changed with different fillings added.
What’s your favourite?
My Lemon Delicious is simply delicious with crushed meringue pieces or a blueberry compote added to it. Caramel Delight is truly delightful and even more so with chopped up caramel Tim Tams added to it. I provide a flavour list to make things a little easier because some couples don’t know where to begin when choosing a cake and need some guidance.
Image: Euro Photography
How long does it take to make a wedding cake?
I often get asked this! It’s like asking,“How long is a piece of string?” Anywhere between three to five hours.
Let’s just say I’m making a Caramel Delight cake. I weigh out the ingredients, make the batter, bake the cake. Allow it to cool. Wash the tins. Make the sugar syrup for in between the layers. Make the dulce de leche, which takes four hours. Make the honeycomb, which sets overnight. Make the buttercream. Cut the cake layers. Assemble the cake with the dulce de leche, homemade honeycomb, buttercream etc. Allow the cake to set in the fridge. Crumb coat the cake. Place back in the fridge to set again. Place outside layer of buttercream on the outside of the cake. Scrape and design the finish. And that’s just one tier and one flavour! And the flowers, which need to be washed and tidied with florist tape.
Images: Bakes by Jean
Why is the wedding cake such an important element of the wedding day?
Anyone who knows me, knows that I like tradition. A cake was traditionally white, thanks to Queen Victoria in 1840, who was the first person to wear a white wedding dress. She then had a white wedding cake covered in icing, which then became known as ‘royal icing’.
I grew up in a tradition where the cake was given to guests to take home. A bridesmaid would place it under her pillow and dream of her future husband.
A wedding cake is shared from the couple to both sides of the family as a kind of joining of the two families and to bring good luck to the guests.
What do you like to bake or cook when you’re not at work?
When I’m not working or have to cook my own food, I will eat anything that is handed to me (as long as it’s from a clean kitchen). I am on my feet a lot and have to think about so much during the day, that I am lazy when it comes to eating or cooking for myself! I love comfort food, and anything I can eat with a spoon on my sofa in my PJs is heaven to me! A bowl of porridge handed to me is bliss at this stage! But that’s not to say I wouldn’t appreciate a night out at Vue de Monde or Attica!
Thank you Jean for sharing your story with us today! Your cakes are definitely works of art, and conducting this interview with you has left me with the biggest cake craving! To find out more about Bakes by Jean, head to their website or check them out on the Polka Dot Directory.