By ALISON ROWE | Special to the Palisadian-Post
“Why do people laugh at fruitcake?” I asked Louise Sandy.
As an expatriate Brit, I find my adopted country’s hilarity on the subject of a beloved holiday food puzzling.
So I took the opportunity to look for answers in the Highlands home of a superlative baker who also happens to be an ex-pat Brit.
Sandy is a professional cook, whose masterpieces in cake and icing have been at the center of innumerable celebrations in Pacific Palisades.
I sat down with her to talk about how a British cook adapts to American tastes, an issue that the beloved Mary Berry struggled with on “The Great Holiday Baking Show” on ABC, and the challenges of running a company from home.
And how important Councilmember Mike Bonin was to her getting a start in business.
Relocating to Newport Beach from the United Kingdom, Sandy was surprised that she could not continue her work as a specialist baker in the land of the free.
She spent years unpaid, making cakes for school fundraisers, but could never take the step toward regaining her status as a business owner, until the Cottage Food Ordinance of 2012.
This legislation, spearheaded by Bonin, allowed artisanal food producers to create and market their comestibles, provided that certain guidelines were followed.
In the resulting tsunami of deliciousness, Louise Sandy Baking was launched.
Word spread about the cake creations coming out of Sandy’s Palisades kitchen. Themed birthday cakes with sculpted figures in fondant and modeling chocolate, extraordinary character pieces, and breathtaking wedding cakes all added up to a recipe for making someone’s day special.
Then the word reached Google.
And that word was “Battenberg.”
Deep in the recesses of Google’s Venice HQ, the development teams were lining up to compete.
Each team took the name of a cake and one team choose the humble, but tricky, Battenberg—a checkerboard cake rolled in marzipan. The only problem was, no one knew how to make one.
No one except Sandy.
She was hired and baked her way through the playoffs, from Battenberg vs. Funfetti to Tres Leches vs. Chocolate Ganache.
Usually clients collect their cakes from her kitchen, but she admitted that part of the fun in working with Google was delivering the cakes into the offices and meeting the teams.
She was in awe of Google, and Google was in awe of her.
“Everyone is so appreciative. Cake making, to people who have never done it before, can seem magical,” she said.
The magic is hard-won. Most people have no idea of the work that goes into crafting a custom cake. Sandy does all the work herself with one assistant, and together they can produce about two unique cakes per week. The fondant alone takes a day to dry to its finished state.
Recently, however, she has been joined by a home-grown assistant. Her daughter, Charlotte, who, with brother Jack, attends Palisades Charter High School, has inherited Mom’s talent for decorating and helps out with the sugar sculptures.
Charlotte can vouch for the experience of receiving a custom cake. For one birthday, her cake was modeled on the Tardis—a time-traveling blue phone box used by British TV hero, Doctor Who.
“She loved it so much, she refused to cut into it,” Sandy said with a laugh. “After six months, the inside had completely collapsed!”
(No word on edibility after that length of time, but I imagine not many of her cakes get the chance to last longer than a day.)
Sandy is an advocate for flavor. Her cakes use natural ingredients, including full-fat butter and whole eggs—these are not everyday cakes after all. In her opinion: “White is not a flavor.”
One flavor that she has enjoyed introducing to the Palisades is “Banoffee,” which in Britain is the name of a decadent pie made with bananas, toffee and cream. The cake features moist banana cake filled with dulce de leche buttercream.
Still her most popular cake is salted caramel, closely followed by the classic chocolate. So far, no one has requested fruitcake.
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