May-June 2022 | Food & Drink

The anatomy and cost of a custom cake

We gave a Gaithersburg bakery $300 to create an on-trend cake. Here's what they made.

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Photo by Deb Lindsey

Souren Movsessian and his son Rubic opened Classic Bakery in Gaithersburg in 1991. Now Rubic and his son, Areen, own it, along with a second location, which opened in Tysons, Virginia, in 2016. In 2017, they moved their original location to another space in Gaithersburg that’s more than three times larger.

The Movsessian family, originally from Armenia, settled in Tehran, Iran, 400 years ago. Their experience in the baking business dates back 100 years, when Areen’s great-great-grandfather started working in bakeries. The family opened their own bakery in the 1960s, then immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1970s and early ’80s to flee the Iranian revolution.

“People looking for a special cake have often done the research on design, but not price,” Areen Movsessian says. “You can find a Samsung TV for one price somewhere and another price somewhere else, but cakes are unique. Can you trust that the person making your cake is artistically capable and has the experience to bring your vision to life? Are they using high-quality ingredients? We use butter and cream from local farms, not Crisco, margarine or hydrogenated oils. Our price is higher, but you can taste the difference when you take a bite.”

We gave Classic Bakery a budget of $300 and asked for a cake with lots of bells and whistles reflecting current trends. This cake, which is 6 inches tall and 7 inches wide, serves 12 to 15 people and costs $296.80 ($280 plus 6% sales tax).

Labor: Sixty percent of the cost of a cake is labor. Classic Bakery has about 40 employees, including seven full-time cake decorators. An expert decorator makes $25 to $35 an hour, and it can take an hour to craft a sculpted edible item, such as a cute animal or the Tiffany-like gift box on the bottom of this cake.

Overhead: Ten percent of the cost of a cake is rent. Other overhead expenses include machinery; decorating supplies and equipment; insurance, maintenance and repairs; utilities; uniforms; advertising and marketing; merchant processing fees; delivery vehicles; and product waste (dyed fondant can’t be reused, for example).

Bottom line: Classic Bakery’s overall profit margin is 8% to 10%. They will make $25 to $30 from this $280 cake.

The anatomy

The gift box: A mixture of puffed rice, butter and marshmallow (think Rice Krispies Treat) is the sculpting medium for this and other edible items. A thin layer of buttercream is applied, followed by a thin layer of fondant. Fondant decorations are added.

The flourishes: Raffaello coconut-almond truffles, macarons and molded triangles of Belgian Callebaut white chocolate dyed in shades of blue.

What’s outside: The top and sides of the cake are coated with a thin layer of white buttercream frosting, then covered with a thin armor of fondant.

What’s inside: This cake has alternating layers of sponge cake and devil’s food, and three different fillings, all made with 40% butterfat whipped cream sourced from a Pennsylvania farm.

More flourishes: Piped dollops of buttercream, white chocolate drip icing, airbrushed candy bars, gold leaf, and gold baroque molding around the bottom of the cake.

Top filling: Madagascar vanilla bean
Middle filling: dulce de leche
Bottom filling: Nutella and chopped strawberry

Classic Bakery, 9204 Gaither Road, Gaithersburg, 301-948-0449, classicbakery.com