Danaë Smale is a palette knife- and paintbrush-wielding abstract painter who happens to use buttercream as her medium and sponge cake as her canvas. “My customers are often bohemian brides and people who care about where their food comes from,” she says. “They want the décor to be natural…with some floral elements—nothing too structured—and the outside of the cake to have the same organic feel as the inside. After all, you eat with your eyes first.”
Smale started baking when she was only 4 years old. Her mother was a cookie- and pie-maker and Smale and her brother helped by rolling out the dough. She remembers that at age 7, she wanted a new dress and her mother challenged her to earn the money to buy the dress. Smale set up a cookie stand where she sold sugar cookies on a stick that she’d decorated and hand-piped herself. She earned just enough money to buy the dress.
Yet, Smale would be the first to tell you that her true heart has always been made of cake. “In some way, I’ve always been in the cake business,” she says. As a teenager in Orange County, California, she sold cakes to law firms in the area before moving with her family to San Antonio, Texas. And in high school, she entered a cake-decorating competition. “I made a three-tier, square, white wedding cake with gum-paste orchids handmade from scratch, and I covered the whole cake in a twig cage made from twigs I’d found in the yard and washed.” Smale won first prize out of the whole state of Texas with that design—and commissions for wedding cakes started rolling in. She also did an internship at a bakery while still in school but says “all they had us do was fold boxes because they didn’t want us handling the ingredients.” This was a very foreign concept to someone who prefers to be completely hands-on and manipulate her ingredients with precision.
After attending college, Smale worked as an afterschool teacher for kindergarteners and a nanny, then moved to Austin in 2013 to become a respite provider for children with cerebral palsy. She did some cake-baking on the side and operated under the name, “And Eat It, Too.” The cottage business did well, but it really kicked into gear in 2015 when she made big changes in her approach to baking and changed the business name to “Feathers & Frosting.” Smale removed all preservatives from her recipes, committed to organic ingredients and eliminated sculpted fondant from her menu options. “I chose the name,” she says, “because the chickens and fresh eggs are inspirations to me, and the word ‘feathers’ feels whimsical. That’s the feel I want to convey to my customers: a combination of local, organic and airy. And the word ‘frosting’ tells people that it’s cake.”
Smale’s decorative arsenal currently includes natural fruit and vegetables dyes—rendered blueberries and beets, for example—to obtain subtle shades of pinks, blues, purples and reds. She enjoys playing with ingredients and inventing new flavor combinations (she’s currently enchanted with a unique “roseberry” cake made with natural rosewater and fresh raspberries). And her go-to ingredients include organic fresh eggs, flour and powdered sugar; regular and rosemary-infused buttercream; almond and lavender extract; and edible gold leaf. Most of her commissioned work includes abstract designs, and she even offers seasonal options, such as her recent cooler-weather-inspired apple-spice cake with apple-butter filling topped with salted caramel, a peppermint bark cake, a pumpkin cake with chai buttercream and an Earl Grey lavender cake.
With a solid reputation and a unique approach to cake baking (boosted by an active social media presence and word of mouth), Smale has built a loyal following that keeps her busy all week long—sourcing ingredients, testing recipes and fulfilling commissioned orders, as well as delivering the cakes herself. But considering Austin’s traffic, it’s a challenge for Smale to drive around town delivering and also find time to cook, so she reaches many customers, new and old, by supplying a number of local coffee shops with her artistic creations.
“Bakery trends come and go,” she says, “but a slice of cake never goes out of style.”
By Georgina O’Hara Callan • Photography by Alison Narro
Visit feathersandfrosting.com for more information and a list of coffee shops carrying Feathers & Frosting cakes.