Claire carefully placed her cake onto a tall cake plate. The cake was a creamy white -- a blank slate. She tucked her brown locks behind her ears and picked up a narrow paint brush. Looking at her baked “canvas”, she began to sort through her edible colours. Settling on a peachy blush, she began painting long graceful strokes on the cake’s frosted surface.
Ever since I discovered Livia Sweets and her beautiful crafted baked goods on Instagram, I had been an avid fan. Livia Sweets is the brainchild of Claire Livia, a Vancouver based pastry chef. Other than custom orders, her creations can be found all over town at cafes, restaurants and farmer markets. When we discussed the possibility of watching Claire paint a cake, I was ecstatic. We learned and chatted about her business and the art of baking while she painted.
P: Claire -- how did you get started with baking and making pastries?
C: I grew up in a fairly Italian household, and food was our center. Meals were eaten together, as a family. Always. I started cooking with my Mom, who’s a wonderful Italian cook, when I was very little, and I got my first job in a restaurant when I was 17. I really have never done anything else! I also grew up in a house that was very quiet, very passive, and I found the world of restaurant cooking very brash, so I quickly made the transition to the pastry side of the kitchen, where things were calmer, and I got to use the finicky skills that years of art classes had taught me.
P: That’s impressive! I bake leisurely from time to time myself, but still find it a very difficult craft to master. What are the qualities of a good baker?
C: For me baking is hugely dependent on ingredients, and treating them right- definitely a nod to my Italian heritage. With all food, I believe you should use the best ingredients you can, and do as little to them as possible to make them shine.
P: Your painted baked goods are really creative. What role does creativity play in your craft? How does it help with your work?
C: Creativity is everything! It’s entirely the reasoning behind doing what I do. In truth, lots of what I do is repetitive, and a huge part of what I do is production work, which can get monotonous. But I also think that exists in every job, no matter how much you love it. But being creative- using that part of your brain, is the best part of baking. It’s what makes me tick.
P: Speaking of what makes your tick -- what is the most rewarding part about baking?
C: Working with my hands. I love working with my hands. I love the feeling of dough, I love the feeling of an offset spatula in my hands as it glides over a smooth buttercream. I love the feeling of brushing gold luster dust onto macarons, I love the feeling of cracking hazelnuts between my fingers, and braiding challah dough, and weaving pie crusts. My hands aren’t pretty, but I love how strong they are. I love working with my hands. A close second would be the community that has enveloped me since starting Livia Sweets. It’s so warm, so kind, and so nurturing- it’s the kind of place I was always looking for in restaurants, and was so heart warmed to find here. I feel endlessly grateful to the small business owners around me who support each other and have welcomed me in so entirely.
P: What was your most enjoyable moment or encounter with a customer?
C: Honestly, there are so many. I have become friends with several brides who’s wedding cakes I’ve made, and that makes me so happy, but return customers are farmers markets are also so gratifying. When you own a small business you put everything bit of your soul into it, every day, over and over again. Finding people who love what you do, to whom your business clicks with? That’s the greatest feeling. It helps get me through the days when I do nothing but bake brownies. What are the biggest challenges in running your own business? Oh gosh, I feel like I find new ones every day. Mostly my challenges lie in organization. I am dreaming of the day when I can hire an assistant. It’s not going to be any day soon, but it is going to be glorious.
P: Name your most prized creation, and tell us about it!
C: I’m probably most proud of a birthday cake I made for my nieces tea party birthday last year- it was just a simple two tiered blue cake, but it was the first time I painted on buttercream (most painted cakes are on fondant, which is much easier as it’s smooth, but I don’t work with fondant.) It was painterly - by which I mean it wasn’t perfect but in a way that I find charming - and very pretty, it was loosely based of a classic Prince Albert china pattern. You should have seen her face light up when I walked in the room. I’ve painted a lot of cakes since, but that one was my favourite.
P: What do you enjoy doing outside of baking?
C: Getting outside! Biking, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. When I’m not doing that I’m entertaining- my husband bartended for years and, I think I can say without too much ego, we throw a killer dinner party. We probably do it too often.
Our afternoon concluded with a slice of her beautifully painted cake (it was almost to pretty to eat!). We will definitely seek Claire out again the next time we have a sweet tooth.
Learn more about Claire and her work here.
Photos by Etsuko Photography