Rhiannon Nicole, editor of the blog Hey Gorgeous, recently interviewed me for her Expert Files, a series in which she shares advice from expert (ahem) wedding professionals. I thought I’d share the interview here.
1. What are the most important things clients need to know when selecting their wedding cake?
2. What are some common misconception about wedding cakes?
I‘d say the biggest misconception is that wedding cakes don’t taste good. Your cake should be as delicious as the best dessert in the finest restaurant. Here’s the problem: Many bakeries—but not all, and certainly not ours—use shorting instead of butter. Shortening is a lot cheaper and hs a higher melting point, so the heat of your hand won’t melt it if you’re piping a design, but neither will the heat of your mouth. If you’ve ever eaten a bakery product that gives you that greasy film on the roof of your mouth that you just want to scrape off, it’s not butter. Real butter has a lower melting point and is therefore melt-in-your-mouth delicious. We make all our cakes with real butter, and we make a French buttercream to fill them, so they’re absolutely scrumptious.
3. Name three big wedding cake faux pas.
a. Asking a family member or friend to make the cake. Wedding cakes are best left to professionals for many reasons. To decrease the chances of food-borne illness, you want a cake that’s been baked by someone properly trained in food handling in a commercial kitchen approved by your local Health Department. Also, transporting and assembling wedding cakes is tricky business, and it helps to have someone experienced. Lastly, you’ll have enough stress—and so will your sister, your mother, and your best friend—on your wedding day. Don’t add more by having one of them bake your cake.
b. Setting expectations too high. The best way to avoid disappointment is to be realistic about your budget and what kind of cake your money can buy you. Check prices in your local area before you get your heart set on a cake you can’t afford.
c. Assuming guests won’t eat the cake. Although this might be true for some cakes, we find that even those who usually pass up the wedding cake can’t resist our cakes’ buttery goodness. You wouldn’t have a dinner party for eight guests and only prepare enough food for six. Don’t invite 100 guests and order a cake for 80—or you could end up with 20 angry (and hungry!) people at your wedding.
4. What is your favorite style, type and design of cake? Do you have a specialty?
My style is recognized for its clean lines and edible interpretations of graphic desings. I take a lot of cues from fabric, stationary, and other art forms. I’ve pioneered several techniques–such as the ruffle cake and painted appliques seen below–that define my style. I love cakes that offer a modern viewpoint while still maintaining the integrity of the traditional wedding cake.
5. Are there any helpful hints brides can benefit from if they are looking to save a bit of money on a fancy-looking creation?
Faux cakes—styrofoam dummies covered to look like real cakes—can be an economical option, and no one can tell the difference! Designers can decorate faux cakes in advance since no one will eat it (and fondant isn’t perishable), saving them precious time. Clients who get a sheet cake (intended only to be served not seen) save the designer the time-consuming process of filling and icing smooth a real cake, and save themselves some money in turn. Think about your venue and where the cake will be displayed. If the cake table will be against a wall, you might consider a design down the front of the cake only, since no one will see the back. The fewer details, the less time the designer spends on your cake, and the more money you save.
Buttercream is essentially eggs, butter and sugar and is spread on with an icing spatula. It is silky and creamy and compliments almost any cake well. Fondant was originally used to cover fruitcakes in England for shipment to the new world. A sugar paste made with powdered sugar, glucose, glycerine, and gelatin, it is rolled out like a dough and placed onto the cake. Fondant firms up when exposed to air, and forms a seal around the cake, keeping it fresher than buttercream would. A lot of people say that fondant doesn’t taste good, but I don’t actually mind the taste. What I object to is the gummy texture of the fondant against the crumb of the cake. However, it is impossible to get buttercream to look as smooth and pristine as fondant, so it is usually worth the tradeoff. Another consideration is that bakeries like ours that use real butter can never get a pure white buttercream because the yellow color of butter gives the buttercream an ivory appearance. Fondant, however, is available in a pure white.
7. What are some unique and appropriate flavours for spring and summer fetes? Fall and winter?
For spring and summer, I prefer lighter flavors and lots of fruit. To me, lemon cake with raspberry buttercream is the perfect combination for warmer months. I also make a lavender buttercream that sings of spring to me. For fall and winter, I like flavors that I associate with warmth—warm drinks like hot cider or tea. Our spiced carrot cake is popular during fall and winter, as is our chocolate hazelnut buttercream.
8. Explain a bit about the process of creating a typical wedding cake.
Oh, the process! Here’s just a glimpse of what you’re paying for when you commission a wedding cake: the designer’s experience and expertise, the cost of ingredients, labor to set up and clean up, torte, fill, ice, and smooth your cake—and that’s all exclusive of design! Cakes can take upwards of ten to forty hours to decorate. Some sugar flowers must be handcrafted petal by petal! One rose can take even an experienced artisan an hour to create, so a cascade of 60 gumpaste roses might take 60 hours to make. Also, we always provide a sketch of the cakes (a necessary but time consuming step) so we can ensure that we are creating the exact cake the client is envisioning. Finally, think about how much you would expect pay an artist to create an original painting for you When you purchase a custom cake, you are commissioning an edible piece of art.
9. What is the most memorable cake you have ever created and why?
I’d have to say my wedding cake, just because it was so close to my heart. I tried not to obsess too much about the design. I just sat down with my colored pencils and let the design flow naturally. It wasn’t my favorite design—then or now—but I felt like it represented the bright, fun, happy feel of my wedding. We had three cake flavor pairings: vanilla bean cake with blackberry buttercream, chocolate chip cake with vanilla bean buttercream, and chocolate cake with chocolate hazelnut ganache. Many of our guests said it was the best cake they’d ever had.