Sunday, June 9, 2013
Taming the Cake Lady
I've always been the extravagant one. Some may say it's my southern Italian heritage, others may just say it's a youngest-child-vying-for-attention thing. Maybe it's a bit of a Napoleon complex, after all, I'm only five foot three and three quarters inches tall (and yes, the 3/4 inches counts when you're this short). Whatever you want to blame it on, it's just a fact. I always had a flair for drama. My stories are often embellished, exaggerated, and told to entertain. I went to prom in a wedding dress, bought a Venetian glass chandelier for my two bedroom cape cod, and can not throw a party without a themed menu, matching stationery, and enough food for ten times the number of guests that attend.
Let's just say that the phrase "Less is More" has never made sense to me.
Fortunately, I've found my niche in the wedding industry. What is a wedding if not the most extravagant party you'll ever host? And a cake by Gateaux always makes a statement. Whether it be Modern and Chic, or Dripping with Rococo embellishments, it is always a little over-the-top. And little Napoleon-me is happy about it.
Joi was using the fabulous Mimi Weddings for her wedding coordinating. And her cake was top priority. She was made for me. In getting ready for our appointment, I dug through my wish list of cake ideas that I'm constantly collecting on the internet, and was ready to wow her. She had an idea of her own, and brought me a photo of her "dream cake". The photo was from Martha Stewart Weddings magazine from several years back. It was a tower of knife-frosted buttercream with patches of fresh flowers here and there. In the photo, a flower girl was standing on a chair gazing at the cake like she was ready to have some serious dessert. "I was that little girl" Joi said. No, not literally, but she went on to explain that when she was little, she was that little girl at the wedding that was in complete awe of that tower of frosted heaven that we call a wedding cake. She could barely wait for them to cut into it. And that was the kind of cake she had always dreamed of.
Nope, not easy.
You see, along with my flare for drama, comes a debilitating perfectionism. In my 18 years of cake decorating, I have done one, count it, one buttercream cake. It was the second cake I ever made. The client insisted that she did not want fondant on her wedding cake, and I folded like a cheap lawn chair. What followed was two solid days of frosting, smoothing, resmoothing, refrosting, a little crying, then some more frosting. It took my husband several hours of "it looks fine", "it looks great", "it's perfect", "you need to seek professional psychiatric help" to get me to finally box it up and agree to deliver it. I delivered the cake, stacked it, received numerous compliments on it, was thanked profusely by the bride, and left the reception site vowing to never again frost a wedding cake in buttercream. My husband, The Captain, fully supported me in my decision, as he was not going to sign up for years of soothing the obsessive compulsive cake lady.
Not that I claim my fondant cakes to be perfect...they are a far cry from it! But there is an inherent smooth, clean, tidy nature to fondant cakes, that preserve my sanity (sort of). That being said, I use carpenter's levels, drafting triangles, and a whole lot of scrutiny to make my cakes as close to perfect as possible.
I sketched up four options for Joi. Three of them were fondant cakes, one was a buttercream cake covered in rosettes, and I told her "of course, I could also do the one from the magazine". Now that I had distracted her with the glory of fondant, I was certain that she would go the more extravagant route. To ensure this, I priced all of the cakes the same, just in case that may be a tie breaker.
But there was no tie to break. When Joi called back to book, she chose original "dream cake" as the cake design. And I happily accepted. After all, it was her dream cake, and I really rather adore her. Surely, I could overcome my need for perfection...put away my levels, and fondant smoothers, and let go for a day...or could I?
The week of Joi's wedding came, and I worked up my plan for how I would frost her cakes to look like that delicious stucco buttercream, but maintain my sanity. The easy solution would have been to let Jenna and Julia frost the cakes. But then, they'd have to deal with a hovering boss critiquing their work as too perfect, not perfect enough, and then someone would find my body in the dumpster behind the shop. So I frosted Joi's cake perfectly imperfect. Boxed up the tiers and delivered it to her reception.
And that's where I learned the lesson in this blog. The art of not being "Too, too".
There was a man at the reception site during out set up. Well there were several men, but this one stood out as someone who everyone knew and respected. He was dressed sharply, and was clearly involved with the wedding in some way. I did what I always do during a wedding cake set up. I completely ignored him. I completely ignored everyone, and everything until the cake is stacked and I can breathe again (no, that part of the wedding cake delivery never goes away). Once the cake was stacked, he came across the room. Much to my chagrin, he stopped in front of the cake and studied it. With his hand on his chin he said "You know what that cake is?" I looked at him, much in the way that my dog Speck looks at me when I make a funny noise. "My wife and I have a saying," he continued. "Too, too." "You know...how some things are just Too....Too.?"
You mean like wearing a wedding dress to prom? Like buying a Murano glass chandelier for a little Cape Cod House? No, I have no idea what you're referring to, Mr., who exactly are you anyway?
Still having heard no response from the cake lady, he continued.
"Well, this cake isn't too, too."
And he was right.
And he was the father of the bride. And one of the wisest and at the same time, coolest human beings I have ever met. You know the type. The guy that can refer to another guy as a "cat" and nobody laughs at him. That chill, soft spoken, doesn't need to embellish his stories....cat.
After the wedding, Joi sent me a couple of photos of her and her groom with the "dream cake".
Photos that confirm that a wedding cake doesn't have to have the minutia of a bride's wedding dress lace, the couple's perfectly recreated monogram, or thousands of edible pearls and rhinestones to be a "dream cake". And that little girl got her tower of frosted bliss, just as she had always dreamed.