By Francesca Olsen
As the highlight reels of our lives become more curated and more public, we live in a world where more is more — ornate desserts, lush tinsel backgrounds, and big, shiny balloons shaped like letters. Special occasions have always been special — but nowadays, it’s not only about the moment, or the milestone, or the meal. It’s about the photo.
Jenica McEvoy, of Bennington, knows this well. Her business, Fancy Pants Cakes, has been creating aesthetically pleasing and architecturally sound confections for weddings, birthdays and other occasions for years.
From dinosaurs to chairs to farm animals to sushi rolls and beyond, McEvoy has been an inspired baker all her life; first winning ribbons at county fairs growing up in Galway. N.Y., and then making beautiful cakes for her friends when she lived in Idaho and California.
Now, she makes her creations as a custom business in Bennington, which she has operated since 2012. (Before Fancy Pants Cakes, McEvoy had a career in environmental education — she has worked as a park ranger, at the Santa Barbara Zoo and has managed nonprofit organizations’ education programs, among other roles.)
Besides her work with clients, McEvoy stays up on cake trends by going to trade shows, taking classes and practicing techniques via YouTube videos. In her baking career, she has been featured in magazines and exhibited at the New York Cake Show. You might know her from her chocolate-garlic buttercream cupcakes, which she sells every year at the Garlic Festival in Bennington.
Through this work, McEvoy has seen people’s expectations and ideas evolve.
“Cakes are getting way more involved,” she said, referencing the “yearbook” that Wilton, one of the largest cake supply manufacturers, publishes every year with trendy new cake decoration ideas. “Yearbooks from 10 years ago, compared to the different edible mediums available now — it’s come a long way.”
Taste is as important as looks
Want your cat-shaped cake to taste like pumpkin? No problem.
Unlike the cakes of shows like “Nailed It!” and “Cupcake Wars,” McEvoy knows what’s inside counts just as much as what’s outside. Her cakes and fillings are from scratch and fully customizable.
“I actually encourage people not to do vanilla,” McEvoy said. “While my vanilla cake is good and it goes with lots of different buttercreams, it’s nice to be able to explore other flavors and be surprised a little bit.”
McEvoy also goes the extra mile and makes Swiss meringue buttercream, which is made with whipped egg whites, rather than American buttercream, which is made by whipping together butter, confectioner’s sugar and flavoring.
“I do it because it’s delicious!” she said. “But it takes more time.”
What’s most popular depends on the season — fall weddings in Vermont tend to favor maple, pumpkin or salted caramel, McEvoy says.
She is open to all sorts of ideas — some recent favorites include a full-size Scrabble board with letter tiles (the family provided a layout with the words they wanted spelled out); a five-tier wedding cake; and a toilet paper roll, oddly enough, for a birthday, with the words “everything turns to crap at 40.”
“I posted it on my website, and someone else ordered the same thing because they liked the idea so much,” she said.
Working with clients to make their idea into an edible reality is McEvoy’s favorite part of her business.
“I love people who come to me and say, ‘I love cake, this is an important part of our wedding. But how do we put a part of ourselves, and our personalities, and the ambience of our wedding, into the decoration of the cake?’” she said. “I love helping guide them through that process, looking at photos and getting to the core of what their vision is for the wedding — and how to express that in a cake.
“When we go through this process together and I can take their ideas and present them with a sketch — and then they come back and say, ‘Yes! Let’s go for it! — that makes me feel really good.” •
Francesca Olsen is a writer and musician living in North Adams, Mass. She writes for The Eagle, Banner, Journal and Reformer, and other publications.