Want an homage of your favorite rock star? Try a cake depicting Iggy Pop, Dr. Dre or Debbie Harry–in chocolate. Baker, chocolatier and DJ (at Highland Park's Footsies) Kate Steffens specializes in rock n' roll cakes, with musicians depicted in tempered chocolate which she works into elaborate portraits. Your rock icon, in Valrhona.
Steffens was born at home in an apartment on Hyperion with Bob Marley blasting. Even if she doesn't remember it, it was a defining moment. After attending the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and doing stints at bakery shops, she wound up back in Echo Park, DJing, starting her website Straight Outta Chocolate, and baking cakes for friends and musicians.
Steffens learned chocolate tempering and pâtisserie at culinary school, and has perfected a technique using cellophane to get the chocolate the way she wants it. Her first rock n' roll cake was of Bob Dylan, circa Don't Look Back, for a birthday party. “From there I started experimenting with chocolate types and food colorings–powdered dye is the only way to go–and different ways to manipulate the chocolate to create shadows and contours,” says Steffens, who prefers working with Valhrona and Scharffen Berger, although she says that the type of chocolate isn't as important as the technique.
“The benefit of chocolate is that I can avoid working with fondant and buttercream, which so many pastry chefs rely on for elaborate cake decoration. I don't know anyone who loves the taste of fondant, but I know plenty of chocolate lovers.” Steffen–who is looking to partner with a “like-minded baker” to take over the baking part of the operation so that she can concentrate on chocolate art–has made cakes for industry people and musicians, but says that her dream clients are, sadly, no longer living. (Rock stars having a somewhat high mortality rate.) On her list of dream cakes: Hendrix, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Damo Suzuki, Mississippi John Hurt, and Nina Simone. And yes, she listens to music while she works on the pieces, which can be an all-day process. “Sometimes it's the music of the person I'm depicting in chocolate; sometimes it's a mix of stuff, from old rocksteady to psychedelic funk.”
The only problem Steffens sometimes encounters is that people have a difficult time eating their rock stars. “Iggy Pop and Elliot Smith went straight into the frig,” says Steffens. Later “my friend called me distraught. 'I just ate Iggy!'” Perhaps a tribute that rock icon would have appreciated.