Cup of Joy Cakes
Posted: October 3, 2012
The Winchester Star
Stephens City — When Ileana Middelhof started learning to decorate cakes, it felt like she discovered a whole new part of herself.
Middelhof of Stephens City had always enjoyed crafts, but with cake decorating, she felt the constant urge to learn more, try new techniques and challenge herself.
The result was that, time after time, she found she could look at a cake and say “that is me.”
“I think it shows when you have a passion for something,” she said.
It didn’t take long (less than two months) before Middelhof decided to take her hobby to the next level by starting Cup of Joy Cakes to do special order cakes, cupcakes and cake pops out of her home. Since then, she has been growing steadily with cakes for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, baby showers and company events.
It’s been a busy nine months, Middelhof, 41, said.
She first discovered her joy of cake decorating when she took three Wilton classes in January at Michaels in Winchester. Not content to stop with what she learned in class, she spent hours searching the Internet for ideas and techniques to try and eventually began seeking advice from other local bakers.
Her husband, Charles, and their four children enjoyed the results of her labor, but they couldn’t have kept up with her new fervor without going into sugar shock, she said. “I was giving away free cakes up and down my street.”
As Middelhof’s skills grew, so did her confidence that she could make a go of a small business.
Though Middelhof made numerous cakes for people, the first time she charged for her services was a birthday cake with a Harley-Davidson theme she made in March.
Sandy Proctor of Winchester ordered the cake for two members of a her motorcycle club, and she admits to being a little worried about how it would turn out. But when she saw the finished product, she was thrilled.
The rectangular yellow cake was covered in white fondant and had the logo in the center. “Happy Birthday” was written where “Harley-Davidson” normally goes and the men’s names in the places of “Motor” and “Cycles.” All around the sides and edges are licks of red, orange and yellow flames.
“It was beautiful, and the taste was awesome,” Proctor said.
She ordered another for an employee awards dinner for her work, Southeastern Container Inc. This time, Middelhof created a Coke bottle with multicolor “fizz” coming out the top in different shapes, all set against a black fondant background.
“She is very outgoing and very creative,” Proctor said. “I didn’t tell her what to do on either one of these cakes. She came up with the ideas on her own.”
When Middelhof makes cakes, she has two main goals — to bring joy to others and to challenge herself.
In March, she was sitting at home one Sunday and looking at a Facebook page for Winchester yard sales. She decided to bless a few local people by offering a free cake the first five people who responded to her post.
When, two minutes later, the sixth person to respond expressed regret at missing the opportunity, she extended it to 10 people. That night, she stayed up all night to bake the cakes — all different colors and designs — for the people to pick up the next day.
“I thought that if I can make somebody’s day with a cake and remind them that they matter, isn’t that what we all want?” she said.
Pushing herself is the other half of the fun, Middelhof said. When someone asked her to do a cake in the shape of a Nikon D300 camera, she said yes right away and then set out to figure out how to do it.
She researched the camera, even going to a store to see the real thing. The client showed her a picture of a similar cake she found on the Internet, and Middelhof contacted the baker, who lives in Israel, to ask for tips.
The cake had to be made, layered, frozen and carved. Then she covered it in fondant and did the detail work in buttercream frosting.
The cake ended up being a yellow cake, which is her favorite flavor, but she also makes chocolate, carrot, moist banana and coconut cakes.
Middelhof always works with homemade buttercream frosting because “people love it and it is good to work with,” she said. Since one of her signatures is intricate flowery and paisley designs with the frosting, the consistency has to be just right — “not too watery or thick” — so it flows.
A slideshow of Middelhof’s work shows how much she likes working with different colors. However, when it comes to red or black frosting, she buys them instead of coloring them herself.
“Trying to color the buttercream black or red requires a lot of food coloring, and it can alter the taste,” she said.
When working with designs with icing, Middelhof recommends people steady their arm to reduce shaking. At the same time, she doesn’t pretend every single line will come out perfect.
People need to do the best they can, fix their mistakes when possible, and not lose sight of the fact that the overall look of a design is what matters the most, she said.
Middelhof tries to strike a balance in her detail work and figure out what tools she has on hand will add to the design and cut down on decorating time. With piping, there is an advantage to doing it free hand. On the other hand, fondant molds can add dimension and detail it would be hard to achieve otherwise, she said.
One cake she made in the shape of an iPhone was a combination of both. She created individual apps out of fondant on a blue screen and piped on different symbols like a musical note, telephone and an “f” for Facebook.
One of Middelhof’s favorite designs is large buttercream frosting roses covering a cake. To add extra color to the roses, she coats a wooden skewer in food coloring and sticks it straight down into a piping bag of frosting. This creates a swirl effect. The more skewers used, the more color will be added.
Trees are also a popular theme in her home and work. She creates each individual leaf and likes using an icing tip (No. 352) that has a dip in the center to create extra texture. When doing the tree bark, she will try to make it look a little rough to add texture there, too.
Other themes Middelhof has worked with include Angry Birds, Pac-Man, a teapot, flowers, puzzle pieces, babies and intricate swirl designs.
The joy that Middelhof has found in cake decorating took her by surprise. Middelhof, who is originally from Costa Rica, earned a master’s degree in psychology in 1993 at American International College. It was there she met her husband, and the couple married in 1995. They have four children, Sebastian, 16; Lucy, 14; Cristina, 5, and Gabby, 4.
Through the years, Middelhof worked alternately as a teacher and a therapist in Costa Rica and the United States. The couple moved in 2005 to Winchester, where Dr. Charles Middelhof, a family physician, finished his residency and then opened his own practice.
She taught school for three years locally before becoming a stay-at-home mom to her two youngest children. The beauty of Cup of Joy is that she can work it around her family’s schedule so they can remain her top priority, and she can still enjoy her new love. That means she is often working on cakes late at night to avoid disruptions, but she doesn’t mind.
“Any artist will tell you that when you are into something and pouring yourself into something, you don’t need a break,” she said. “I am just that into it.”
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com