Sharing love's sweetness - with cake
Cake Detective Laura Casey makes elaborate birthday cakes for children who would otherwise go without.
Laura Casey grew up enjoying amazing themed birthday cakes, made by her mother, an avid home baker. Now she is creating professional-style dream cakes for children who would otherwise not get birthday cakes at all.
As the Cake Detective, Laura fields inquiries from social workers and foster families in the Waikato region. Can you make a cake for a five-year-old who loves butterflies? Can you make an Elsa cake for a die-hard Frozen fan? What about an anime cake for a manga fanatic? The answer is always "Yes", or "I'll learn".
At AMI we like to shine a light on New Zealanders who go out of their way to do the kind thing, and we love the work Laura does to help children celebrate their specialness.
Cakes for kids in need
It all started four years ago, when Laura heard about a woman in her local area who wanted a special cake to celebrate the first birthday of her high-needs foster child.
Laura, who always makes fancy cakes for her two children and even her friends' children, stepped up to the challenge and loved the process so much she decided she wanted to make more gift cakes for kids in need.
She reached out to organisations including Kids in Need Waikato, Women's Refuge and Waikato Hospital to see if they would like special cakes for children's birthdays or to mark significant milestones, like the end of chemo for a young cancer patient.
Hundreds of cakes gifted each year
"Mum used to make awesome cakes for my brother and me," says Laura. "It was about the memories. These kids aren't celebrated often enough, especially on their birthdays. The kids love it. Some are teenagers and they have never had a cake."
Laura set a target of 50 cakes a year, made in her kitchen at home while the kids are at school. She soon surpassed that goal, with 150 bespoke cakes delivered to children last year and 180 produced in the first six months of this year.
She gets help from her local "cake community". Bakers will join together a couple of times a year at the YWCA and make dozens of cakes for the freezer. Then when Laura gets an inquiry from a social worker or caregiver, she can grab a cake, defrost it, and decorate it at home. The flavour and texture are not affected, but the time saved on prep is a game-changer.
Creativity in every bite
Now, Laura is able to focus on the decorative aspect of the work, as well as pouring time into cake research and upskilling herself at specialist workshops. She usually works with buttercream icing, but she can create a glossy drip effect with ganache and is a dab hand with a piping tool. She often includes small toys in the decoration, so the child has something to keep and play with, as a reminder of their special day.
"I love it when I have a little bit of time and get asked for something special," she says. "I recently made a cake with a korowai (Maori cloak) for a little boy, which came out so well."
Laura is now so practised that a complicated butterfly design can be finished in an hour, with edible printed pink and purple butterflies appearing to sit on the cake for a moment before flying away.
The satisfaction is immense. When caregivers pick up the cakes, they are often taken by surprise at how elaborate they are.
On some occasions, Laura will get to see a child's reaction for herself.
"Social workers and parents will often send photos and videos of a child's reaction to their cake," she says. "Sometimes kids will come in with their caregivers to pick up the cake, and that's really special."