WHILE attending a specialty-coursed dinner at Cotton and Rye a few short weeks ago, I found myself sitting at a table with several foodie strangers.
As the night progressed and the alcohol flowed, those strangers quickly turned into acquaintances through our shared love of food and baking. We bantered back and forth, over food and about food, and the conversation quickly changed to baking as I learned more about my neighbor, Calley Sholder, the owner and baker of The Topiary Cake Design.
It was brought to my attention that the seating arrangement was intentional. Cotton and Rye’s Chef Zach Shultz and his girlfriend Caroline Bradley think highly of Sholder’s baking skills and arranged the meeting.
As an at-home baker of many years, I was quick to take the opportunity to write about a fellow baker since I know just how difficult it is to be successful in the oven.
Chef Shultz and Bradley were correct, The Topiary creates utterly delectable yet beautifully layered cakes — two qualities that are so often not found together when purchasing a cake for a special occasion.
It is extremely difficult to maintain the moistness of a layered cake without compromising its design, because the more moist the cake, the less sturdy the finish will be.
Sholder began her cake journey after moving down to Savannah from Rhode Island. She struggled for several months to find a job with any local bakeries, so Sholder did the brave thing and started her own.
It was divine intervention that made Sholder take her first step, and as she put it “I finally got a catering job, but it made me realize that I wanted to focus strictly on specialty cakes. In 2018, the Topiary Cake Design was born.”
My favorite flavor of The Topiary was The Corn Field Cake. A cake that is completely original and nothing like a cake that I have tasted before. I enjoy seeing and tasting unique flavor combinations that bakers come up with, partially because it inspires my own baking.
The flavor combination and recipe is Sholder’s own creation. She proudly told me the story behind the cake:
“In high school, I had my own cupcake business. My sister and I were experimenting with unique flavors. Because we were living in the south in Mobile Alabama, we thought why not do a cornbread inspired cake?,” she recalls.
“We wanted to make sure that the cake was not as coarse and dense. It still had to have that lightness that all cakes have...I would honestly say this is my specialty.”
A cornmeal and flour mixture is used to create the delicate cake that taste like a distant cousin to sweet Southern cornbread. In between each layer you will find tart raspberry compote and a hot (as in spicy) honey buttercream. The hot honey is created by cooking red peppers into the honey.
Although Sholder described the cake as rustic, while I was eating a slice, I have to disagree. The overall finish and flavor of the cake is a culinary dream, completely balanced without being oversweet. I would describe the cake as sophisticated yet southern.
Another fruity favorite is the Blackberry Chip, a super moist blackberry cake created with fresh seeded blackberries, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Each layer of vibrant violet cake is filled with silky smooth vanilla Italian buttercream.
Sholder explained the origin of her unique layered treat:
“My blackberry chip is a play on Black Raspberry Chip from Graeter’s Ice Cream in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a kid, I would always get their ice cream and that flavor was by far my favorite. I decided to use blackberries instead of black raspberry to put a slight twist on it.”
Adding a slight twist to things seems to be The Topiary’s calling card.
All of the frosting slathered onto every cake is created using the same method. Sholderd told me, “I make Italian style buttercream which means you cook sugar and water on the stove to make syrup, then whip it into egg whites. Once it is cooled you add your butter. Even though this technique takes the longest amount of time, it is better than any other frosting you will taste...It is not overly sweet but so silky smooth!”
The Cookie Dough Cake is one that I am certain will appeal to everyone alike. Sholder browns butter before adding it to the cake batter, creating a brown butter cake. This takes a typical vanilla cake base to the next level by adding an extra note of taste, which is reminiscent of the deep butterscotch flavor found in the base of a chocolate chip cookie.
Sholder doesn’t stop there -- she adds even more cookie flavor with a hearty layer of eggless cookie dough jammed in between each cake round. The final addition is her classic vanilla Italian buttercream.
The most modern flavor was The Creme Brûlée Cake. Soft white cake is seasoned with a wisp of fresh vanilla bean. The use of vanilla bean creates a more floral experience of vanilla flavor than just using extract alone.
Sticky homemade caramel is painted onto each cake before it is filled with airy vanilla bean buttercream. The moistness of this cake is created with the use of lots of sour cream and butter.
Finally, the last cake slice I ate was The Chocolate Lover, my all time favorite traditional cake flavor. Like all of the cakes I tasted, this one was as moist as the last. Light layers of deeply flavored chocolate cake are layered with rich chocolate buttercream.
Although this cake is a take on a classic flavor, the overall finish was far from a classic chocolate celebration cake; this was moist and had the correct balance of chocolate.
The Topiary is not just limited to cakes, they also offer cake pops and plan on expanding to more desserts in the future. Sholder even mentioned the desire to expand into ice cream creation.