Geof Manthorne is Executive Chef at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Maryland. He appears in the Food Network reality show Ace of Cakes where Geof, founder and chef Duff Goldman and their team create some of the world’s biggest, boldest and most beautiful cakes.
Outside of the kitchen Geof is a talented folk and country musician.
Working at Charm City Cakes
Geof has spent over a decade crafting some of the most extravagant and ambitious cakes ever made, and there’s not much about the world of baking he hasn’t seen. But he still loves taking on new challenges in the Charm City Cakes kitchen.
“There are lots of great things about working at Charm City Cakes. I like that every week is different and I’m always learning new things from project to project.
“I get to work with cool people every day, like Duff and Adam Goldstein, our lead baker. The most rewarding part of the job is getting to see the reaction of our clients when they see the finished product.
“With so many unusual requests constantly coming in, things are never dull.”
Geof’s Favourite Cakes
Charm City Cakes have been asked to create everything from sharks and guitars to a replica of the Hubble telescope in cake form.
“The most elaborate cake I’ve ever worked on was probably a life-size racing car. NASCAR asked us to make it when they were unveiling a new car, but when the curtains fell people were actually looking at our cake. It looked so realistic most people didn’t notice until the real car was driven out alongside it.
“I think my favourite of all the cakes we’ve ever made was an old-school typewriter. I also loved the cake we made for Milk-Bone too, because I was allowed to feature my own dog, Cotton, on the side of the box.
“Another cool cake I got to make was a replica of the famous Sutton Hoo helmet. I loved learning about the history of the helmet and recently found out that some of my ancestors came from the area the helmet was unearthed from.”
Geof and the wizard cake making team at Charm City are often recruited to help celebrate high-profile events.
“We created Hogwarts castle for the premiere of one of the Harry Potter films, and they were so impressed they asked us to help out for the next movie release too. The second time we made the Hogwarts Express, using dry ice to create the impression of steam, which was really cool.
“The biggest occasion we’ve ever been asked to make a cake for was President Obama’s inauguration in 2013. It had nine tiers and all sorts of different flavours.”
Get the Right Tools for the Job
Geof and the team have been known to use some very unconventional cooking tools. Over the years, they’ve used everything from power saws to blow torches.
“The strangest tool we’ve ever used is probably a corneal cutter. A friend of ours worked at a lab that grew eyeballs and gave us a tool which is used to remove corneas from eyes. We used it to work on the tiniest details of our cakes.
“I’d recommend anyone who is thinking of getting into baking makes sure they buy a reliable mixer. That’s the one kitchen appliance I simply couldn’t do without.
“I’m also a huge fan of hand-held blenders because they’re so versatile. I think they are the most under-appreciated kitchen tool.”
Whether you’re baking for the President of the United States, movie stars or just your family, your cooker is really important. The Charm City Cakes kitchens have large ovens, but even they aren’t big enough to fit in their more elaborate creations.
“We can only create cakes as big as our ovens. When making larger creations, we piece together several cakes.
“The type of cooker you’re using has a big effect on what you can bake and how you can cook. For example, we use a conventional still oven for cupcakes but a convection oven for regular cakes. The same thing applies to baking at home – you need a cooker you can rely on.”
Ten Top Tips for Creative Baking
Before he started working at Charm City Cakes, Geof had no real experience of baking, apart from helping out in the kitchen as a child – so he encourages everyone to give it a try. Here are his top ten tips for getting creative with your baking.
1. Use the Best Ingredients
“When it comes to making delicious cake mixtures, it’s no surprise to say a cake will always taste better if you use the best ingredients.
“Unless you’re considering a dietary restriction, resist the temptation to switch out sugar, butter and oil for healthier options. It’s a dessert – it’s not meant to be good for you.”
2. Use Facebook to Find Ideas
“When you’re looking to create a cake that’s really different, coming up with new ideas can be tricky. At Charm City Cakes we use social media sites like Pinterest to find inspiration.
“If you see a cool design online, you know somebody took the time to post it there, which means that at least one person thought it was fetching enough to share.”
3. Fashionable Food
“We look at fashion for ideas too. All the colours, textures, and layering that are seen in clothes can be transferred to cake designs.”
4. Get the Icing Right
“It’s easy to over-work rolled fondant icing when adding colour to it, which causes cracks when you come to enrobe the cake. My trick is to knead gel colour into small batches first, then add them all together when I’m ready to cover the cake.”
5. Taste as you Go
“To get the right flavour for your butter cream icing or filling, you have to taste it. It’s no good discovering you don’t like what you’ve made when you’re finished, because by that point the cake is ruined.
“If you taste as you go, you can simply redo the icing if things go wrong.”
6. Draw Intricate Designs First
“If you’re attempting intricate decoration on your cake, it’s worth drawing your design out on paper a few times first. This is particularly helpful with piped designs. Once you’re happy with what you’re doing, you can transfer the pattern to the cake using a sharp knife or awl.”
7. Practice Makes Perfect
“Always keep polystyrene cake dummies in your kitchen to practise piping on or to use as moulds for pieces that can be decorated off the cake. These let you practise and make errors without ruining your cake.”
8. Put a Plan Together
“If you’re getting creative in the kitchen, you need to plan out what you’re going to do. Before you start you need to have a good idea of what the finished cake will look like, how you’re going to achieve this and what ingredients you’re going to use.
“You don’t want to get halfway through, realise you’ve missed something out and have to start again.”
9. Don’t Be Scared of Getting it Wrong
“I remember helping my mother bake from a young age, and I’ve always felt very comfortable in the kitchen, but before working at Charm City Cakes I had no professional baking experience. Although I had worked in a restaurant kitchen, cake making was totally new to me.
“That didn’t stop me progressing to Executive Sous Chef pretty quickly at Charm City Cakes. Sometimes you just have to give new things a try.”
“Some people worry about experimenting in the kitchen, particularly when things don’t go according to plan. Start with what you know and love first before getting more creative, and work your way to more adventurous recipes from there.
“Make cakes for your friends and families to start with, because they will still love you if you mess it up.”
10. Remember to have Fun
“My most important tip is to remember to have fun. Baking is great hobby and a fantastic way to make a living, so enjoy it.”