By Kalea Hall
From the right-sized trunk to the large floppy ears, Andrew James makes sure not to forget even the tiniest detail on a miniature elephant he is sculpting out of crisped-rice cereal.
He’s far from his home in Birmingham, England, and from his original craft as a painter, yet his cake-sculpting masterpieces at Clarencedale Cake say otherwise.
“I’ll do anything,” James said. “It’s a challenge.”
James, along with his wife, Mary, a baker, and his mother-in-law, Nancy Tusinac, a businesswoman, this month have made it through their first year as bakery owners.
From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, the specialty bakery will celebrate its anniversary with complimentary cake and beverages and the unveiling of an anniversary cupcake.
They have learned through operating the Boardman and Sharon Clarencedale Cake shops that every day provides a new chance to learn.
“I’m helping my kids to see their future,” Tusinac said. “As crazy as this business is, it’s fun for me.”
Family friends owned the specialty- cake shops for nearly a decade before the three took over the operations last year.
With approximately 300 flavors of cupcakes and any design sculpted to perfection, the new owners are taking on a rebranding of the specialty- cake store to give it an identity.
That identity is to be French country, shabby chic and to be a bakery known for its high-quality, specialty cakes as well as everyday cakes.
“We would like to see Clarencedale grow,” Tusinac said. “We would like to see the business grow.”
The owners want to expand the Clarencedale footprint in both the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
The product line has already expanded to include cookies, pies, brownies, gluten-free products and more. The Sharon location offers homemade cafe sandwiches and soups with homemade bread and no lunchmeat used.
Behind the scenes, there isn’t a mass production line producing each cake, but there are people.
Amy Harris, baker, has been baking forever, she said. She likes to experiment with flavors and takes chances because today that is what people want — peculiar flavors that look like heaven.
“The more unusual it is, the more people like it,” Harris said. “It’s getting more difficult.”
The cupcake topping the list for customers at this time is the “better than sex” cupcake — basically a chocolate, chocolate-chip cupcake filled with the Clarencedale dulce de leche caramel and topped with homemade Swiss meringue icing, drizzled with caramel and homemade chocolate ganache and topped with toffee pieces.
For wedding cakes, the favorite is white cake with Clarencedale raspberry filling.
“You have to remember this is a from-scratch cake — baked by people and decorated by people,” Tusinac said.
They are now in the midst of the busiest wedding season that some of their seasoned decorators have seen. In one weekend alone they had 16 wedding cakes to bake, decorate and make sure they arrived to their venues in perfect condition.
“It’s nice when the cakes go out,” Andrew James said.
The bakery is mastering the French croissant and adding to a list of extravagant sculptures including a teapot, a replica of Alice’s Wonderland and a basketball court.
All of the sculptures are made with the Clarencedale fondant and can be eaten or kept for years.
“We are family-taught bakers,” Mary James said. “We have extremely talented people.”