Shirley Cromer airbrushes an edible cake ornament at her home on Legion Street in last April. Cromer’s Kahlua Cake Balls were picked as the best item at the 2011 Taste of Chocolate event Saturday. Cromer regularly puts together elaborate cakes despite having no formal training.

File photo

Shirley Cromer airbrushes an edible cake ornament at her home on Legion Street in last April. Cromer’s Kahlua Cake Balls were picked as the best item at the 2011 Taste of Chocolate event Saturday. Cromer regularly puts together elaborate cakes despite having no formal training.

Craig resident Shirley Cromer impresses Taste of Chocolate crowd

Shirley Cromer tends to downplay the notion that she’s a professional baker.

“I’ve never taken a class in my life,” Cromer said at her home Monday. “This is all self-taught.

“(My education) is mostly looking at pictures or reading how people do things online or watching YouTube. There’s stuff that’s on there that you can watch and you learn from that.”

Professional or not, the public seems to enjoy her work.

The public chose Cromer’s Kahlua Cake Balls as the best item entered into Saturday’s Taste of Chocolate event in downtown Craig.

It was the second year Cromer participated in the event, and the winning recipe was simply a balled up version of a recipe that she used her first time, she said.

The cake was formed into balls, coated in chocolate and topped with one of Cromer’s homemade fondant flowers.

“I made a few samples last week and the week before it,” she said. “I gave some out and asked people what they thought of them. My husband really liked the Almond Joy one, but everybody else preferred the Kahlua.”

Before her time as a baker, the closest Cromer got to the profession was working at a doughnut shop when she was young.

When she started getting into the intricate parts of baking, she used videos on YouTube as her source of knowledge.

She would buy items she needed and continually watched a video to get the hang of it.

Despite the lack of formal training in her profession, she’s still been able to make a name for herself by designing elaborate cakes and baking decorations that have been shipped all over the world.

She uses no central website and instead incorporates Facebook as her primary outlet to customers.

“I did have (a website), but I didn’t get very much traffic like I do with Facebook,” she said. “I get a lot more traffic with that, or I get (customers) from eBay, or other sites, too. I tell them, ‘Here, go to my Facebook, look at my work, see what I do.’”

She said people are pleased with what they see and often refer her to friends.

While Facebook allows her to contact customers, she sells her items through several online retailers including eBay and ArtFire.com.

She said she tries to keep up with the newest sites and latest trends, and then attempts to one-up the competition.

“I see what other people are selling online and I try to do better,” she said. “If I see something and it looks OK, but it’s not the greatest, I make mine look better and sell it for a bit less.”

Her big sellers include fondant flowers and animals. One of her more exclusive items — handmade fondant butterflies — are time-consuming to make.

“Usually the (butterflies) that are selling are the wafer paper ones,” Cromer said.

She said she doesn’t sell many of her decorations locally, but most of her business in Craig centers on making cakes.

She said she makes 3 or 4 cakes per month, but tends to be busier around high school graduation. Her portfolio includes fully edible cars, animals and beer bottles.

She recommends customers give her plenty of time to make their cake.

“I try to tell people (I need) two weeks,” Cromer said. “That way, I can get the thought in my head, the idea in my head, and go with that.”

She said that while people don’t always enjoy the timeframe, they are pleased when they see the final product.

She takes pride in her work, making sure that, especially for special events, it fits the interest of the customer, she said.

“I know it’s going to be for them and I know how special it is to them,” Cromer said. “I like to go above and beyond.”

Scott Schlaufman can be reached at 875-1792, or sschlaufman@craigdailypress.com.

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