January 2012

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  • UCM

    Richard Rudisill -
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  • ucm

    Richard Rudisill

    Richard Rudisill - Richard Rudisill
    A custom holiday cake with edible ornaments on top by Cheesecake Etc. in Charlotte.
  • ucm

    Richard Rudisill

    Richard Rudisill - Richard Rudisill
    A custom holiday cake with edible ornaments on top by Cheesecake Etc. in Charlotte.
  • ucm

    Richard Rudisill

    Richard Rudisill - Richard Rudisill
    Gail Buff is the owner and pastry chef of Cheesecake Etc. in Charlotte.

Cheesecake Etc. comes full circle

By Jillian Shue | Photography by Richard Rudisill

Posted: Monday, Nov. 21, 2011

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Enticing at a glance and irresistible after the first bite, cheesecake is more than a popular dessert to University City resident Gail Buff. Mouthwatering desserts have become the core of her successful business, Cheesecake Etc. Taking her customers’ ideas, she transforms them into dessert masterpieces. But the desserts aren’t the only things she’s transforming. Over the past 14 years, Buff’s business has evolved from cooking for neighbors to a storefront bakery to custom-only cake design.

The Cheesecake Etc. evolution started in 1997, when Buff began selling her kitchen creations to friends out of her UCity home. She decided to take her passion for desserts to another level, and in 2007, she opened her own bakery off Old Statesville Road with her daughter, Kristin Mobley.

Customers could walk in and buy brownies, cookies and cannoli right out of the glass case, re-stocked with fresh goods every day. “Her store was warm and inviting like her own home. It was really a beautiful place,” describes Beverly Anthony-Nencetti, a loyal Cheesecake Etc. customer.

Anthony-Nencetti discovered Buff while planning her wedding in 2006. “We went to tastings with many other places but there was no comparison to Gail,” says Anthony-Nencetti. “She’s not just a baker and an artist, she’s an innovator.” She was so pleased with Buff’s work that she has used Cheesecake Etc. for her son’s wedding, her daughter’s wedding, her in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary and many birthdays.

At that time, patrons of Cheesecake Etc. could also place custom orders at the store. Buff’s specialty has always been custom designs because she makes everything from scratch, and the range of her creations is endless. For one wedding, she designed a cake for couple that loved to travel in Europe. Each tier represented a famous piece of European architecture, including the Roman Coliseum and Stonehenge.

It seemed like the perfect decision for Buff and her daughter to open the store together. Mobley was also a mom, and she would often bring her own daughter to the store. It was an easy work environment for a military wife and mom Mobley, until she had to relocate with her husband and daughter.

Buff was then faced with a difficult decision: hire someone new or downsize. “Hiring from the outside was not the way I wanted to go,” says Buff, who is very protective of her trade. “The point was, I trusted my daughter with everything, and I want to keep it in the family or not at all.”

In January 2010, she made the decision to close the storefront and run her business from home. The decision, yet again, transformed her business. This time, it shifted from local bakery to custom-designed cakes. Her UCity home contains a 600-square-foot kitchen, a home office and a restroom for customer use.

Anthony-Nencetti stayed loyal when Buff closed the store to work from home. “Since it was solely her, I think it’s better for her creativity to work from home. If you haven’t been to her place, you must see it. She keeps models of cakes decorated so you can see a final product and changes them out as she gets bored with them.” As a consistent customer over the years, Anthony-Nencetti says it’s nice that Cheesecake Etc. is a small business because it makes the service more personable.

When a client comes to Buff for a custom design, the process includes of a lot of consultation. Of course, there is a tasting session, and the number of flavors to choose from is always growing. Some brides have even given Buff ideas for new flavors, like peanut butter mousse. “I build a mock cake out of Styrofoam so they can see what it will physically look like. We talk about everything from cake colors to event theme. I can reflect the style of the event in the cake,” she explains.

Regarding the entire evolution of Cheesecake Etc., Buff says she is very pleased with the changes. “I’ve eliminated the stress of everyday routines like baking brownies and cookies. I also hate waste. If items don’t sell, you have to throw them away, and I hate that,” she says. “Now, with everything being custom-made, nothing is thrown out.”

The cake is the centerpiece of many types of celebrations, which is one of the reasons Buff takes so much pride in her work. She reflects on the evolution of her business: “One of the best things is when I’ve prepared a cake for someone’s graduation, birthday, wedding and baby shower. I get to see the progression of life through my clients, all because of cake!” All the while, the progression of her business is a story in itself.

How to decorate the cake on the cover:

(Craft items can be found in any hobby store)

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats

Buttercream icing

Rolling pin

Colored fondant

Silver dust

6-inch thin silver wire

Small cookie cutters

Small paintbrush

Water

Cornstarch

White fondant

Small pizza cutter

Bubble wrap

Glitter or disco dust

To make the box, bake a square-shaped cake, eight inches on all sides but four inches tall. Ice and place on a cake board. Decorate the outside of the ‘box’ as desired.

To make the balls, form Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats into balls about three inches around. Press together firmly. Coat these as evenly and as smoothly as possible with buttercream icing. Place on a sheet of waxed paper and refrigerate or freeze. When firm, use warm hands to smooth their shape.

Roll out colored fondant approximately 1/16-inch thick in the shape of a circle large enough to completely cover each ball. Place a cold ball in the center of the fondant and cover each ball as smoothly as possible. The excess fondant will gather at the bottom of the ball. Cut away the excess fondant and smooth. Cover all four balls and set aside.

Use a piece of fondant to form the shape of the top hanger of the ornament and paint with silver edible dust. Use about one inch of wire to form the holder. Press wire into the silver fondant hanger.

Decorate the balls with small cookie cutter cut-outs or strips of fondant in coordinating colors. Attach to the balls with a touch of water and the small paintbrush.

To make the tissue paper, mix cornstarch with white fondant and roll out very thinly. Then, cut out numerous triangle pieces and let them dry on bubble wrap to give shape and movement. When dry, brush with sparkle dust.

Arrange the balls in the center of the square cake with the ornament hangers up. Tuck the tissue paper between the ‘ornaments.’

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