I recently posted a cake to a friend who is about to give birth to her first child. I made a sponge cake and used thick buttercream to sandwich it together. I covered it with fondant that I had kneaded with some tylose powder, hoping to make it firmer. Baked in the morning, sandwiched after lunch and covered in fondant in the evening. Left it in its box in the fridge to firm up.
The next morning, I took it out of the fridge and packaged it. I used cardboard around the cake box. I was worried about the space between the topper and the top of the cake box but when I tried to cover it with some non stick paper in order to fill it with rolled up cling film, the humidity made the paper stick so I had to remove it to avoid spoiling the decorations. Therefore, no cling film buffers.
I used a lot of tape to secure the box and tried to see if it was firm enough. It was. I put it in a grey plastic postal bag and labelled it with right side up, fragile and perishable. Took it to my local post office and discussed the contents with the shop assistant who then proceeded to place a fragile sticker on top and then turned the box upside down to my hysterical screams. He did not seem concerned. He said it would get bashed about anyway and turned, etc. I asked him then what is the point paying Â£6.55 to have it sent (postage contains insurance up to Â£50) and the fragile etc. labels. I asked him to keep it on his counter and hand it by hand to the post collector and ask him to handle it with care.
I spent the entire day and night agonising over it. This morning my friend sent me a thank you note. She had received it. It arrived looking sad. I can only think of two things: a) they kept it in a hot area or maybe the post man had his car heat on and it was blowing on the package and b) someone dropped it from a height. One of the figures was broken, so the girl removed it before taking the pictures. She is nothing but thankful about her cake but I feel sad. Which brings me to my questions:
1) Could I have done something different with the packaging to ensure it travelled well?
2) Should I claim compensation from the post office for rough handling a fragile item?
As always, I am grateful for your advice. As people have commented on a previous post of mine, the cake baking/decorating is easy. It is all the rest that are hard!
The pictures are of the cake and bird before posting (baby is sweating after due to temperature differences) and then the picture my friend took (by placing the cake on her floor.) You can see the changes - it's lost its shape, has run buttercream and the decorations have moved. I feel so embarrassed!
That's crazy that the postal guy would do all of that in front of you! That whole "fragile" and "this end up" thing is like a challenge to them. Some people are like children. Mailing a cake is risky at best. All things considered I'd say your cake held up really well for all the gymnastics it probably went through!
That is kind of you, @Pastrybaglady but I can see the cracks, smudges, drops and all the imperfections. I should have gone for royal icing, shouldn't I? Considering how poor shop bought fondant is lately... And I am thinking I should have sliced the cake in half only instead of in 3 layers. It's a learning curve, isn't it? I watched a video where a guy was packing his wedding cakes to send them to the other end of Australia but he took them to the airport, handed them in and they were wheeled on a platform to the airplane and hand loaded... and the same I guess at the other end. Even so, he had a crack which he was able to fix once the cake was in situ. I would really love to see a tutorial about packing cakes for shipping. The supermarket cakes always arrive in good condition, but I guess they are sent via track in palettes filled with similar boxes and handled with care. Would you have demanded compensation from the post office if you were in my shoes?
Not sure where the bird comes in but I think that, all things considered, the cake arrived in remarkably good shape even though it was obviously not handled properly or as marked. Do you not have something like UPS or FedEx or even the post office that can overnight packages? Personally, I would have frozen it for the trip but that's beside the point.
I don't know that demanding compensation is feasible, but it couldn't hurt to send a letter to the Postmaster about the clerk's attitude/mishandling of your package. He could have at least given you the impression that your package would be handled carefully.
I have mailed two cakes with decent results. The first one actually did better than the second. The first one I went with a very simple design. I covered the cake well in plastic wrap, then bubble wrap and froze it. On the day of mailing, I out of the freezer and put it in a cake box made sure that it was well packed with no movement. Then placed it in another box. Marked it fragile, this side up all over the place. It traveled almost 3000 miles and this is how it looked upon arrival. I wasn't as careful with the second one because I was in a rush. The other was a mug cake and the handle was actually placed on the cake by my daughter when it arrived. It also arrived in one piece. This is pretty much what I did: http://www.fondantflinger.com/2013/12/17/shipping-a-cake/
@jgifford Hi, thank you for your answer to my query. I thought about freezing the cake but with it being fondant and temperature changes affecting its behaviour, I decided not to. Also any frozen cake would have defrosted within a couple of hours, especially a small one, so what good would that do? I was not able to put cling film because even the non stick paper was sticking on the surface. I suppose I should have been patient and let the cake come to room temperature and dry before packing it but that would have meant missing the post and then the cake would be spending one more day in transit, making it not fresh enough (in my eyes.) The postal service in the UK is next day delivery, so it arrived in the morning. They are quite alright with dealing with complaints and compensations. It takes them time, but they get there. I am yet to make up my mind whether to go after compensation or not.
Hi Rachel, thank you for the link. It makes sense what you do, but OMG $175 for shipping?!! Plus goodness knows what the cost of all that packaging material was. But I suppose if you are in business, you add all those costs to the price of your cake. I am not a professional and do not charge for my cakes so would have found courier shipping hard to do. I notice you took the cake to the courier depot which also helps as it minimises the throwing about by workers. Also if a box is really big, then they cannot stick it into a postal bag or toss it. They need to carry it to the conveyor belt and carry it off. The sheer size of a box makes them behave differently to it than my postal worker behaved with my under 1.5 kgs small package. Sigh.
I was thinking yesterday that perhaps I ought to bake a few cakes and post them to myself, to check out different ways of packaging and cake recipes, whether fondant vs royal icing is best and other details. I assume that even if I post it at my local post office, it will still go to a central sorting office and travel back, so that should be a good indicator, or not?
I liked the idea of polystyrene lining. I assume it turns the box into a cool box and delays the defrosting of the cake. Others have suggested freezing the cake but I thought what is the point, but maybe with polystyrene... My brain is processing information now.
I did not spend that kind of money for shipping. Like you, I only do this for family & close friends and give my cakes as gifts. That cake was for my daughters boyfriend. I included the link so you would have any idea about the packaging because that was pretty much the way I did mine and was easier to show you than explain it. I did the same as you. It was done as priority mail which gets there within 2 days. The freezing really helps.
Oh Sorry, @Goreti , I thought you were the lady who made the video tutorial! LOL How silly of me! But you know, I was reading another website today and it says never to freeze fondant. I am so confused. I must make a cake, freeze it, post it to myself and then all my queries will be answered, I guess. :)
Check out this discussion and see the cakes by Blakescakes that she froze decorated.