You may remember how much I adore Julie McAllister, from For Heaven Bakes. Julie is a master at sculpted cakes, and she was recently featured in Entertain & Celebrate magazine. There's nothing quite like being in the Christmas issue of a national magazine! Julie's talent and the cakes that she makes deserve to be featured everywhere, in my opinion. Each one is a masterpiece that is disguised as a cake. Or is it a cake that is disguised as a masterpiece? Either way, it's mind-boggling every single time I see her cakes! Julie so kindly asked if I would style the photo shoot based on the cake that she was planning to make for her Entertain & Celebrate feature. The photo below is the cake that Julie made (yes, it's really a cake! :)
The cake portion of Julie's creation is modeled after a blue and white chinoiserie vase- it looks so real that you wouldn't realize that it isn't actually a vase. The flowers and leaves are also made of sugar and handcrafted by Julie.
Making the flower petals and assembling the magnolias and poinsettias seems so tedious, but Julie makes it sound fun and easy when she talks about it. She truly has a gift of artistic talent and an abundance of patience. Look at how delicate and beautiful each sugar flower is...
Julie lives in Charleston, South Carolina which is full of inspiration in and of itself. When Julie and I chatted about the vision that she had for the feature, the emphasis on her home city was at the forefront. Julie wanted to go with blue and white coastal vibes to complement the cake that she was planning to make. The front doors of Charleston homes are an iconic part of the beauty and history of the city, and so Julie shared more of her culinary artistry with cookies that she made to depict the doors she passes by each day.
With Charleston as the setting of the feature, we wanted to pull in southern ties, customs, and traditions. Magnolia branches and blossoms are synonymous with the south, and so we wanted to add magnolia branches in the centerpiece to go along with Julie's sugar magnolias. We were also working in the middle of a pandemic and access to florals were unavailable- and so I suggested we go heavy with greenery and let the white sugar flowers shine. Julie's husband was able to scout out magnolia branches and cypress branches, and I cut boxwood clippings from my yard to complete our greenery. The topiaries on the cookies also added the perfect touch of green to the table!
For the table setting, we wanted the feel to be ultra-traditional. I started with a pale blue patterned table cloth and then added layers and textures. I wanted to incorporate a nod to Charleston's historic and iconic sweetgrass baskets and so I placed seagrass chargers at each place. I also wanted to keep the focus on blue and white and so I incorporated solid white basket weave plates and bone china plates with gold rims to mix into the Canton blue and white patterned dishes. On top of the seagrass chargers, I couldn't resist an extra layer of blue and white with a beautiful thin charger. Adding a porridge bowl on top seemed perfectly fitting for a Charleston table, too- it would be a gorgeous way to serve their famous She-Crab Soup!
As you can see, we didn't add soup to the bowls, but instead decorated with oranges made into classic pomanders using cloves. Julie was amazed at how quickly I could make those! :) I also loved the lush velvet ribbon that I tied to some of the oranges as well as each napkin. Adding a sprig of boxwood not only added color but texture and interest, too! With a heavy dose of blue and white, the greens, pinks, and oranges helped to add subtle contrasts while leading the eyes to the cake centerpiece.
Another way we incorporated a coastal vibe into this Charming Charleston Christmas theme, was by adding hand painted oyster shells strung with coral ribbon. I had the oyster shells painted by Pippa Goetz, and we added the shells to mini boxwood wreaths that we tied to the backs of the chairs.
The centerpiece cake wasn't the only cake that Julie baked and decorated. In the magazine feature, she also shared her recipe for gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting. How beautiful is the cake topped with cranberries? It is such a gorgeous cake to add to your holiday line-up.
I just love the simplicity of the gingerbread cake along with the intricate and detailed sculpted cake, plus the beautifully decorated cookies. They all show the many talents of Julie!
Because we like to greet and welcome our guests at the door, I love to have a signature cocktail or other drink available immediately. As soon as you take their coats, handbags, etc. for them, offer a fun beverage option. With this idea in mind, we set up a cocktail station with a cranberry champagne spritzer. December in Charleston can be warmer than in other areas, and so a cold drink works well to begin the evening.
Gabrielle, of The Preppy Stitch, provided the most perfect cocktail napkins to go with the blue and white theme. The fringe borders and the chinoiserie ginger jars tied in nicely. I love a statement napkin- it makes an already beautiful drink have more presentation. Those types of details are wonderful for showing that you care about creating an experience for your guests.
We used tall glasses and filled them to the brim with ice and frozen cranberries. We added thyme to make the drinks more festive and then provided a stir stick for mixing. The stir sticks are designed by Giddy Paperie and manufactured by Acrylic Sticks. They make a fun detail and a really great hostess gift!
For after dinner, having coffee, tea, or espresso to offer guests is a treat. Setting up a warm drink station is a beautiful way to have everything prepared ahead of time when hosting a party. It's the perfect complement to the amazing cakes Julie prepared and a perfect way to end an evening dinner party!
For more details on the drink stations, see The Supper Club blog about the different ideas. (This content is reserved for members of The Supper Club, and you are invited to join here if you haven't already!).
What a dream to be asked to style this shoot for you, Julie! You are so wonderful and talented and it is always an honor to work (and play) with you! Thank you for trusting me to assist you with this feature in Entertain & Celebrate!
The photographer behind all of the beautiful photos is Abby Murphy. Abby is so conscientious and meticulous with her photos which shows in the beauty of each one. Cheers to both of you ladies and your creative abilities- I loved being part of this team!
Also, I want to say a huge thanks to Appointments at Five for allowing me to load up on Canton china to make the trip to Charleston!
Wishing you all a wonderful start to the holiday season!