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Tiers of Joy

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The first thing most people ask Liliana Bindas, who runs Jean-Jacques Bakery (3136 W. Cary St.) with her father, is how she doesn't cave to constant temptation. Except for the rare crème brûlée, "I'm too busy to sit down and eat it," she says. "And I've been around it since I was born -- I appreciate it, but I'm not going to eat it every day."

Her age — 23 — tends to surprise people who come to the Carytown bakery to dream up custom cakes for their big life-moments and see a wisp pulling out the giant portfolio. One taste builds trust, she swears. For that, she gives credit to her father, Jozef Bindas, and co-baker, Laura Reynolds, who crank out some 200 baguettes, 150 croissants and Danish and 2,000 cookies a day, alongside an ever-bolder parade of cakes, made-to-order for some very specific and occasionally creative Richmonders.

Style: What is the trendy cake-face ordering lately?

Bindas: There are so many shaped cakes it's insane. People are still into the bow and box cake, but that's not so fascinating anymore. We've had a full sized torso — the men love it for a bachelor party — and [in a whisper] it has these ginormous boobs. Guys go headfirst into these cakes. Lots of mothers want to buy their 21-year-old a cake in the shape of a liquor bottle. We've done a Louis Vuitton purse for a woman's birthday, R2-D2 for a wedding of some "Star Wars" fans, a Jimmy Buffett cake for a groom's cake with pralines for the sand, a corset for a bridal shower, pea pods for a baby shower — all kinds of things.

And has Richmond's reputation for, shall we say, cautiously conservative spending been an issue?

If you're going to spend money for a cake, it's got to be something good. If people are so used to buying cheap sheet cakes, when they get something this different, they're hesitant, they're scared. But people have called me after receptions — the guests even — and they have noticed its quality. There are certain things you will remember at weddings — the food, the cake, and how much fun they had at the reception. An awful cake is not the way to end the night.

Isn't it really all about the icing?

When I eat a cake I don't want to be grossed out by the icing. Most times the icing gets thrown away. We don't like using fondant because it's not the best tasting. A lot of places like to use it because it's easy, like putting a blanket on something. It's not like you can make fondant taste great — it's powdered sugar and corn syrup. Almost all of our cakes have butter-cream icing, and I don't think there's anything better than using fresh, real ingredients. A lot of bakeries take shortcuts and use artificial flavors.

Has the Food Network show "Ace of Cakes" set off a frenzy here for a higher-end cake design?

I've recently seen a change with more and more unusual requests. They see these dream weddings on TV and "Ace of Cakes." Martha Stewart. Most of the time, they come in with lots of pictures from magazines. They show me what they like, I tell them what they can do, what kind of material we can use. I'll draw them a picture to give them something visual, which they say really helps.

People now really want color — brides are asking for pinks, oranges, greens. We add real ribbon sometimes. People want crazy things but don't always understand the prices. Most people are happy with basic things — simple filigree, tri-dots — but sometimes I wish they would be more adventurous.

Do people think it's blasphemous that you don't sell pound cake?

A lot of people don't know that some people like pound cake and others don't. It's big in Southern culture, but we don't do it because we believe it's too heavy for an after-dinner dessert. Heavy is the last thing anybody wants after a dinner or heavy hors d'oeuvres. A lighter cake is what will be eaten and enjoyed. S

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