Sweet tooths of the Kawarthas will be eager to hear that Natalie Raponi is back in the kitchen and ready to say ‘Heck Yes!’ to cake once again.
After taking a hiatus to move her family from Peterborough to Millbrook, Raponi is back to focusing her time on her cake-making business, Heck Yes! Cake, creating extravagant, tall, delicious, signature, and custom cakes for weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and all celebrations.
With her two young children now in school, Raponi’s return to work will mark the first time she will be crafting her delicious creations during daytime hours.
“If you’ve ever tried to make anything important in the kitchen with children around, you know that it’s very difficult,” she says, explaining she always created her cakes late in the night when her children were asleep. “I now have the ability to make and decorate a cake in the daylight, which is wonderful. It feels very different to see the sun, but it just means my capacity has changed — and hopefully I have a few less bags under my eyes.”
Prior to launching Heck Yes! Cake, Raponi was a graphic designer and she and her husband Carlo founded the Peterborough Axe Club seven years ago. Equipped with both a creative skillset and entrepreneurial knowledge, she began creating cakes for family members and friends more than 10 years ago.
“I was always the person who would jump at the opportunity to make any kind of dessert for everybody, trying to make it as beautiful as possible and challenging myself to take on new ones,” she says, adding that she just kept saying yes to baking requests before launching Heck Yes! Cake.
Now back from her hiatus, Raponi is launching three signature-style cakes for those who don’t want a full-blown bespoke cake. Never serving anything small, the signature cakes serve 12 to 25 people and offer limited customization, though they are still one-of-a-kind creations.
The Birthstone Series uses a Japanese candy with a soft inside and crunchy exterior to look like crystals “bursting” out of the cake, the Party Bus uses a choice of colour and flavour for a decadent and dramatic look, and The Bloomin’ Betty has locally grown fresh flowers adhered to the cake using a food-safe acrylic pick, creating both a flower bouquet and cake in one.
“All the signature pieces — and all of my cakes really — they’re the centrepiece for the party,” she says. “They’re attention-getting. If you want something over-the-top that people are going to take pictures of, give me a call.”
Raponi is also excited to have more time to offer more in-depth one-on-one consultations to craft bespoke wedding cakes.
“I love the face-to-face personal element of finding out how I can make your dreams come true,” Raponi notes.
Describing her own style as “modern whimsical,” Raponi explains that much of her texture and colour combinations draw inspiration from high-fashion and interior design. Though she usually stays away from fondant and trademark characters, she enjoys vintage styles with intricate details and geometric-shaped cakes, using her own laser to create custom cake toppers, and adding local blooms.
Though, regardless of where her imagination takes her, Raponi has one main rule she sticks to when crafting.
“My own personal mantra is that there should always be one unexpected colour and one unexpected texture,” the cake artist says. “So if things are super pastel, then let’s throw in a little birch orange just to go nuts and keep things a bit fresh and new — or fresh and weird.”
Raponi has developed a good network of clients who understand her style and, even if they request custom cakes, they are open to her creativity and imagination.
“I’ve made a name for myself in that I’m an artist, so give me your ideas and I’ll interpret them in my own wild way,” she says. “You go to a cake decorator when you want something very specific, but you go to an artist like me when you can see and appreciate their art form and, like commissioning a painting, you go to the painter whose style you appreciate and whose style you have an affinity (with).”
Before launching into the cake-making process, which can take upwards of four to nine hours, Raponi enjoys learning more about the person being gifted the cake to get a better sense of their personality and style.
“I find it’s more fun to interpret when clients give me descriptive words of the person,” she says. “So if they tell me they’re modern-funky, or if they’re ornate and vintage, then that’s a lot more fun.”
Raponi adds that if a client comes requesting something outside of her style, she knows exactly where to refer them to help them find the cake that suits their needs.
“I always refer them to someone local,” she points out. “I have a really good network of people who I know to send where and what time, and I know that they do the same for me. To me, there’s a very strong sense of community over competition and I really appreciate that.”
That said, Raponi doesn’t often shy away from trying out new techniques and challenging herself with inventive ideas.
“I love experimenting with different flavour combinations and testing things out and pushing the envelope,” she says, adding that she enjoys being able to surprise people. “My favourite thing is when people say ‘I’ve never seen anything like that’. That speaks to my heart.”
For Raponi, staying grounded in her own styles and preferences while venturing out to experiment is the motivation behind the title of her business.
“Anything that you do should either be a ‘heck yes’ or a ‘heck no’,” she explains. “Obviously meet your obligations, but we often fill our lives with so many things where you say yes and then you regret it.”
In her case, ‘heck yes’ means ‘heck yes, she can make a birthday cake taller than you thought possible’ and ‘heck yes, she can make a wedding cake that stands out in the crowd’.
“If you’re going to do something, do it and be excited about it,” Raponi says.