PeoplePets.com One might say that when artist and baker Debbie Goard sits down to design a custom-made cake, she uses her instincts—her animal instincts.
Inspired by her passion for the four-legged, furry, and feathered, since 2006, she's crafted hundreds of animal-inspired cakes through her Oakland, Calif.-based bakery, Debbie Does Cakes.
Once a handbag designer, Goard, 41, stumbled upon her talent for cake design 20 years ago in her native Raleigh, N.C., when she was asked to fill in as the house decorator.
"I was a starving artist looking for a job in fashion," she recalls, "and I had been thinking of going into fine art. To make ends meet, I started working part-time at a bakery. When they asked me to take over decorating, I started doing it, and I realized I was pretty good at it."
After moving to California and briefly working at an adult entertainment themed bake shop, the self-taught cake whiz decided to start her own business.
"I started experimenting," she says. "I love fashion and animals, so that's what I started designing."
Inspired by Pepino, her 12-year-old Chihuahua, she made her first cake. To see what people thought of her work, she and a friend brought it to a restaurant.
Sure enough, the edible pup turned heads.
"We put it on the table, and people thought it was real!" she says. "I thought, Wow. I may be onto something."
Today at Debbie Does Cakes, where she's the sole baker and designer, Goard specializes in ornate cakes modeled after ordinary real-life objects (like sneakers, or popcorn) and of course, animals.
To turn out six elaborate cakes a week, she works all seven days, beginning each morning by answering emails with requests, and then rendering designs on her computer. Around mid-week, she rolls up her sleeves, rips open the flour and sugar, and starts baking.
Ironically, "I still don't enjoy baking," says Goard with a chuckle. Without much of a sweet tooth, she says she rarely feels compelled to sample her work—"unless it's some special flavor."
To construct her cakes, which start at $200, she uses four varieties of a dense pound cake "to give me the texture I need," she says, as well as stiff fondant icing.
And to achieve the realistic detailing on her cakes, "I use my airbrush pretty extensively," she says.
Of all the animal cakes she's baked—which range from warthogs to scorpions, kittens to pugs—she says she's proudest of giraffe cake she made for a little boy's birthday. "It was a baby giraffe, and it was pretty awesome," she says. "It was almost two feet tall!"
While it hasn't always been smooth sailing—"I had a bunch of cake-mares in the beginning!" she says—she's become well-known in the Bay Area for her wow-worthy goodies.
"I love what I do," says Goard, who's currently working on a sea turtle. "It’s been pretty amazing."
Click here to see a gallery of Goard's dog cakes!