By B.C. Manion
Melissa Ramacco didn’t set out to become a cake pop queen.
It just happened.
Now, the Land O’ Lakes woman who drives a van with a “Got Cake” license tag keeps busy creating her clever confections for customers of all ages.
When Ramacco, the owner of Island Girl Cakes, began her business she specialized in custom-designed and decorated cakes.
She got her start in the cake world before shows like Cake Boss, the Ace of Cakes and DC Cupcakes became the rage.
Her foray into the field, however, was not part of any grand design.
She began simply with a cake expressing a New York Yankees’ theme that she made for her dad for Father’s Day.
The response was so positive, she decided to begin taking orders to make cakes for family and friends.
As her business evolved, she became more and more immersed in all things cake – reading blogs, scouring the Internet for information and perfecting all sorts of techniques by following directions in how-to articles.
For awhile, her elaborate cakes were fetching anywhere from $100 to $250 each on a regular basis, and even up to $500 for a really big job.
But as the economy slowed, so did her orders.
Patrons loved the cakes, but either couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for them, she said.
So, she shifted to smaller cakes and matching cupcake tiers. That gave kids a chance to blow out candles and to hand out the coordinating cupcakes.
Then she read about cake pops.
She loved the idea. They looked fun and she wasn’t aware of anyone else in the area that was making them.
So, she focused her efforts making and marketing cake pops. She is totally sold on the value of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and relies heavily on word-of-mouth marketing.
The cake pops took off and she’s not looking back.
“Cakes are really labor intensive. I don’t think people realize how much labor goes into those cakes,” said Ramacco, noting she has no plans to return to custom cakes.
Making cake pops offers plenty of opportunities for creativity, she said.
They can be dipped and left to dry upright, like a traditional candy apple or can be air-dried by poking their stick into a plastic foam form.
The upright technique produces a pop with a flattened bottom; the air-drying approach produces a perfectly rounded pop.
The pops typically are wrapped individually, and can be presented on a tray, in a bud vase or as a bouquet.
They also can be put on longer sticks with a name card attached. These can serve double duty at weddings and other events: They’re a party favor and they let people know where to sit.
Brides seem to like that idea, Ramacco said.
There’s no end as to how the small cakes can be decorated, she said. They can be dipped into milk chocolate or white chocolate and then sprinkled with candies, or drizzled with another flavor of chocolate.
They can be made to look like tuxedos or baseballs or basketballs.
They can be made in various cake flavors, such as chocolate, red velvet, yellow or lemon.
“It’s limitless, what you can do with them,” she said.
Patrons buy them for all sorts of reasons including baby showers, birthday parties and graduations or as party favors and appreciation gifts.
The chocolate cake pops are the most popular.
They have a doughy consistency, Ramacco said.
“The cake is very moist because it is blended with the frosting. It’s just a traditional cake like you would use for cupcakes,” she said.
To make a batch of chocolate cake pops, she mixes up a chocolate cake from scratch and bakes it. After it cools, she breaks it into pieces and puts in a mixing bowl, where she blends it into crumbs with a mixer. Next, she adds frosting which sweetens the mixture and binds it together.
Finally, she forms it into balls for cake pops or truffles, or into squares for cake bites, and chills the small cakes.
After the cakes are thoroughly chilled, she melts a batch of chocolate. For cake pops, she dips a lollipop stick into the melted chocolate and inserts the stick into a cake ball. Then she coats the ball in melted chocolate.
The melted chocolate must be the proper temperature: Too hot and it runs right off; too cool and it won’t adhere.
If she wants to add candy, she sprinkles that on while the cake pop is wet.
If she wants to drizzle it with another flavor of chocolate, she lets the cake pop dry before she drizzles the chocolate.
Besides accepting private orders, which must be a minimum of 12 cake pops, the treats are sold at Rapscallions in Land O’ Lakes, at New York Times Square Pizzeria in Lutz, at the Carrollwood Deli in Carrollwood and at Oak Bars & Grill in Brandon.
They’re also available at Shampoo, a hair salon, at Bearss and Florida avenues.
Her husband had doubts that a hair salon would have a call for cake pops, Ramacco said.
It turns out, however, that they’ve been wildly popular.
“They have gone through six dozen in three days,” she said.
She theorizes it is because “they’re portion-controlled. All women are watching their weight.”
The ladies probably also enjoy eating something that is pretty, while they’re being pampered, Ramacco added.
Moms like to give them to their kids, too, because they are easier to eat and less messy than cupcakes, she said.
The cake treats can keep for up to a week at room temperature, for up to two weeks in the refrigerator and for up to a month in the freezer.
Besides the cakes she now sells, Ramacco is developing some recipes with tropical flavors to go along with her Island Girl Cakes’ name. When that happens, there will be a closer connection between her company name and her cakes.
When she launched the business, she said, she decided to stick with a theme that fit her personality rather than going for some kind of fancy cake name.
Eventually, Ramacco hopes to open a storefront, to set up permanent kiosks at malls and to have traveling carts at special events.
For now, she’s busy taking care of orders.
She had 200 cake pops, cake truffles and cake bites to deliver on Saturday.
To learn more about the business go to www.IslandGirlCakes.com or call (813) 699-9866.