By Shannon Gallagher
Cake artist Mim Galligan’s career came together much like a wedding, a serendipitous production borne from two seemingly unrelated talents — baking and painting.
Freshly retired after 30 years of teaching art, Galligan enrolled in the baking and pastry program at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park. She was attracted to wedding cakes after a demonstration in which the teacher made flowers out of gum paste. Inspired, Galligan soon discovered she could paint on cakes as she could on canvas, using a mixture of paste food coloring and vodka (which unlike water evaporates quickly enough so that it doesn’t erode the fondant upon which it sits). After graduating from the program, Galligan started her own wedding-cake business. “I got myself a Web site, and between that and word-of-mouth, the business just took off,” she says. The Cold Spring-Garrison area resident says that it is usually avant-garde couples who come to her for a painted wedding cake.
“However, in over 12 years of business, I’ve never made the same cake twice,” she says with bemusement. Originality is all she asks of the bride and groom: “[The wedding cake] should be unique and reflect the personality of the couple,” she insists.
No vision is too far-out, no request too unwieldy. While Galligan notes that there are certainly trends — an increase in chocolate cakes, the disappearance of pillars in favor of stacked tiers, and the move towards serving cupcakes in lieu of one large cake — the variety in taste and particulars is vast, and often surprising.
She recalls creating a cake for a couple who lived on Mount Beacon. She created bridles and bits using pastillage (a sugar-based dough that dries hard) and brown fondant. Each layer of the cake appeared bridled — an apropos decoration, considering that the couple’s ring-bearers were miniature donkeys.
Galligan’s most memorable commission was made for a couple whose reception was held at Central Park’s famed boathouse. The bride wanted the cake to have city scenes; Galligan painted the first two layers and sides with pictures of the Brooklyn and George Washington bridges, Manhattan skyline views, and scenes from Central Park. The third tier depicted Rockefeller Center (where the groom worked for NBC), and the final tier was the top of the Chrysler Building.
While some requests have been particularly unique, “most people just want scenes or portraits,” Galligan states (she is currently working on a cake depicting a couple’s beloved old home and a view of the Hudson Highlands). Her busiest months are June and October, which she attributes to the beautiful weather and Valley scenery during those months. Cake prices range from $8-$12 per serving, depending on the complexity of the decoration. Galligan says that groom’s cakes are also making a comeback; when it comes to those, there is one overwhelming trend: “They always, always have something to do with the groom’s hobby — usually sports.”