Sunday, December 1, 2013

Men. The mystery unravelled...

Those of you who have read this blog for awhile know that The Evil Cake Genius is married to Captain Leisure.  I have to say that when it comes to husbandly types, I truly hit the jackpot.  That being said, he is still...a there are certain elements of his make up that I will never fully understand.

For years, The Captain, and around 10 of his buddies would go up to Myles' cabin for an annual golf weekend.  Each year, I questioned why they never brought the wives along, and each year, The Captain would skirt around the issue with answers like "it wouldn't be the same"or "it's not that kind of trip".

In 2002, I had a momentary lapse of reason, and agreed to go to "Jackass: The Movie" with the Captain.  The movie's opening is set to Carl Orff's Oh Fortuna and features the entire cast riding down a steep hill in a giant shopping cart, the entire time, beating the crap out of each other.  For those unfortunates who have not had the pleasure of viewing this, here you go:

As I settled in for the next hour and a half of testosterone-filled humor, I had no idea that this movie would be the single most important tool I would ever encounter for demystifying that bizarre beast that is called Man.  The movie is replete with horrible bathroom humor and shots to the groin.  At any given time a cast member would either deliver a blow to the crotch of another cast member, or sneak up behind him with an electric razor and shave a patch of hair off of his head.  All received with a big laugh by the recipient of the abuse and a "you got me" smile.

And all of a sudden I got it...the essence, the very base difference between the male and female of the species.  If Jenna walked up behind me, kicked me in the crotch, and shaved off a patch of my hair, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find it funny.  At least not until after the charges had been filed.  I've seen women end friendships over far less.  But these guys relished it.  By the end of the movie, they all looked as if they had been through a war...and Chemo therapy...and they were all patting each other on the backs and laughing.

And I never asked to go to the cabin again.

Enter Monique and Carl.

I met with Monique and her sister to design the wedding cake.  They were in from Tampa for the week planning the wedding that would be held in Minneapolis.  We designed a beautiful four tier cake with Swarovski crystals and over 900 frosting hydrangeas that would ombre from pink (Monique's favorite color) to blue (Carl's favorite).  It would be a stunner.  But that wouldn't be the only cake.

Monique wanted to surprise Carl with a groom's cake.  She explained that, like most weddings, the decor, the floral, etc. was all about her.  So she wanted one thing to be all about Carl.  Carl is a guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so I immediately thought we'd be putting together a football themed cake...but I was wrong.  Monique wanted a "Man Cave" cake.  You see, some guys are smart enough to not have to wait for one weekend a year to do whatever it is that they do when the women aren't around (see above movie clip).  Some guys, like Carl, have their own space, their Manctuary, where they can smoke cigars, drink Mickey's, eat jelly doughnuts, listen to their music, and scratch themselves where ever and whenever they want.  This was Carl's Man Cave.

It started as a room in their first house, but when they moved into their current residence, Carl and his buddies took over the pool house as their Cave.  It has all the essential ingredients of a Man Cave...great sound system, huge TV, beer fridge, and couches fit for a Man King and his court to lounge away any womaniness they may have encountered in the outside world.  The only thing that Carl claims is missing in his new lair, is a padlock to keep out the women.

And we have a cake.
On the wedding day, we set up the beautiful wedding cake in the cocktail area.  Then, once we received the all-clear, we snuck into the ballroom and set up the Man Cave cake behind a curtain.  No one was the wiser.  Monique waited until guests were seated for dinner, and had the cake rolled out to surprise Carl during the toasts.  She took the microphone and toasted her groom, sharing the inspiration behind his all-man cake.
So, what is the appropriate man-reaction to such a thing?  If I referred to my Johnny Knoxville school of man-havior, I would have to guess he would thank his bride by kneeing her in the groin, but thankfully, those bonding mechanisms are only used between the male of the species, not to be carried over to the fairer sex.  What he did do, surprised me.  He listened to her story, looked at his cake, and cried.  You heard me, 6'5", 349lbs. of pure NFL man-power...cried.  Moved by the fact that she would take the time and care to do something completely for him, he was overwhelmed.  Or maybe it was that he was so happy that she finally got him the padlock and chain for the Man Cave that he'd been requesting...we'll never know for sure, but I prefer the former theory.
So there it is.  Just when I thought I had men figured out, something like this proves me entirely wrong.  So much for my Social Sciences side career.  But that's okay, I think I'll stick to cake decorating as long as I have clients who are as awesome as Monique and Carl.  Here she is taking a bite out of the cake to prove that it's a cake...did I mention how much I love this woman?

Decorator's Notes: 

Hot Pink!!!  Anyone who decorates cakes can tell you that this color is torture to achieve.  While making the hot pink hydrangeas for Monique and Carl's cake, we struggled, as we always have.  In a bizarre, desperate moment while trying to tint Royal Icing this evil color, I grabbed a bottle of pink airbrush color instead of my usual gel colors.  The Royal Icing came out that perfect shade of Barbie hot pink.  No gnashing of teeth, no agonizing struggle.

We posted our victory on our Facebook Page and quickly tried the same coloring in our Mexican Paste (1/2 fondant, 1/2 gum paste) to make the flowers.  Alas, it was a dismal failure.  But by the time we could post a warning, another decorator, Jennifer Whitmer Spaulding, had replied to our initial post.  She told us to try Candy Colors in the fondant.  We grabbed a bottle of pink Candy Color, and it was absolutely vibrant, beautiful pink!!  To get to the more magenta tone for these flowers, we added a tiny bit of Candy Color Purple as well.  After 17 years of epic Hot Pink struggle, I was so happy, that I immediately added the Pink Airbrush color and Pink and Purple Candy Colors to our shopping site Evil Cake Genius.

You will also find the Gold and silver powders that we used on the groom's cake on our shop.

Bob Marley was the big challenge for this cake.  It was the first thing that Monique requested be included on the Man Cave Cake.  We started by creating a custom mesh stencil of the black portions of the One Love poster.  Then, we printed out the image on Paper, and cut masks to block off the areas of the fondant that would be later airbrushed yellow, red, or remain white.

Once the fondant was fully airbrushed, we let it dry, and then stenciled the detail in black Royal Icing over the airbrushed fondant.  It's much faster and more accurate than hand painting the fondant. Mon!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Rule Followers

I'm a rule follower.

From my first day in Kindergarten, my mom knew she had it made.  My parent teacher conferences were a "break" for my teachers.  They'd invite me in with my mom and just have a nice 20 minute break to chat and relax before the next parent showed up to have to reckon with their certainly "unruly" child's behavior.  I liked it that way.  I liked boundaries, order, and instruction.  When I got to college, I went to my classes, studied, turned in assignments on time, and when I got my first semester's grades, I was thrilled to see that I got straight A's.  And all was right with the universe.  You follow the are rewarded.

Then I met my future husband.

Brian was smart.  Maybe a little too smart.

While I was toiling over my studies every Sunday night, he was drinking beer and watching The Simpsons with his roommates.  My neurotic sense of inflexible deadline was completely rocked when I saw him get an extension on his final project for his painting class for not one, but TWO full semesters.  He rarely studied, never did homework, and still got good grades (all A's and B's).  He frequently calmed my overworked nerves around finals with the words of wisdom "nobody cares what your GPA was once you graduate" and he introduced me to the motto "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission".  And it worked for him just as well (if not better) than my rule following worked for me.  He got busted selling unlicensed U of MN Basketball t-shirts outside of Williams Arena.  He ended up parlaying it into a meeting with the University that resulted in them selling his t-shirts inside the Arena, and at their Hockey venue as well.  That Art Professor not only let him extend one painting across two semesters, but gave him an "A" and went out for drinks with him.  I couldn't decide if all of this made me hate him, or made me overwhelmed with attraction for him.  So I married him.

Just after we were married, I was miserable.  Not in our marriage...that was the best decision I ever made, seriously.  It was my job that was eating me up.  I was working as a photographer, and doing quite well.  I had won some awards, I had been promoted to head photographer between two studios, and was doing what I had always wanted to do.  But it was a nightmare.  As a small business owner myself, I can tell you that as a group, we are the most difficult, megalo-maniacal group of humans on this planet.  We rule like unchecked dictators, and frequently bash our employees for just being in the line of fire of a bad day.  And a rule follower like me, working for a typical small business owner, is not a good thing.  I took every criticism as a personal attack.  The slightest confrontation made me lose my nerve, and I just couldn't handle it anymore.  That's when Yin to my Yang, my husband (The Goo, The Captain) said to me one night.  "You should just quit."

Just like that. No grand presentation, no parting of the skies and thunderbolts, just a simple idea.  And with that, I realized that I had never considered that as an option.  Rule followers don't quit jobs.  But once he suggested it, it was all I could think about.  It was like an open invitation to the Dark Side...the Rule Breakers.

So I gave one month's notice, trained in my replacement, and with absolutely no culinary training,  opened Gateaux Inc.  Nothing that I would have ever considered without being married to Lord Vader himself.  Second best decision I ever made.

But what does this have to do with this beautiful lacey cake?  Plenty, my cakey friend, plenty.

Meet Catie and Chris.  Two rule followers to the highest degree.  Both graduated Magna Cum Laude from law school.  He works in Labor and Employment Law, she works in Merger and Acquisition Law (both fields simplified for my cakey brain).  Translation: they show their clients how to follow the rules...the law...and their both quite good at their jobs.

We had a lovely meeting to design a cake for their beautiful fall wedding.  We would incorporate Gunmetal grey, Persimmon, and Orange into the Gum Paste leaf medallion on the middle tier, and copy the incredible Alencon Lace from Catie's wedding dress on the other two tiers.

We made sure that they would have enough servings for all of their guests, and added a little sheet cake for the kitchen to start in on while the wedding cake could still be on display, and had a nice conversation.  I'm always flattered when someone who is in such a challenging career takes an interest in my work, so I was thrilled to field some questions from Chris.  He asked some of the usual questions like: How long does it take you to decorate a cake like this? How do you get the veining pattern on the frosting leaves? How is a cake like this cut? and What makes the Gunmetal fondant sparkle?

I fielded these questions with ease: About 60 hours. We have veining mats that are cast off of real leaves.  The cakes are unstacked before they are cut.  Ground Mica blended with Vodka to create an edible sparkly "paint".

And so, we parted ways until the wedding.

The wedding was on a perfect fall day.  They had the reception and ceremony at the Van Dusen Mansion in Minneapolis, a perfect location for an intimate classic wedding.  We stacked the cake with the aid of the couple's niece, who was waiting around between pictures and the ceremony, and sent her off with a hand full of extra frosting leaves to delight the other guests.  The couple was thrilled with their cake, and sent a gracious email to thank us for our hard work.

Several months passed, and I sent out an email to some of my clients asking for cake cutting photos.  Valentine's day was approaching, and I thought it would be fun to do an album of all of our couples from the previous year with their cakes on our Facebook Page.  When I got the email back from Catie, it had more than one photo, and this note:

Hi, wonderful Gateaux crew!

I'm sending two of my favorite cake-related photos from our wedding at the Van Dusen on October 20, 2012.  In photo #1, I have a horrified expression on my face because my husband thought we were supposed to take the cake apart before we cut it, so he had just picked up the top tier right off the cake!  Photo #2 is shortly thereafter when we were still laughing about it... and actually cutting the cake.

Oh. My. God.
My mind raced.  What on earth would possess a groom to do such a thing to an innocent cake?  Then it hit me.  He's a Rule Follower.  I thought back to our little Q&A session, and there it was.   He wasn't asking How a cake like this is cut.  He was asking "How do WE cut a cake like this?"  And I, thinking he was simply taking a pleasant interest in the nuances of cake structure and catering practices, rather than asking for literal instruction, inadvertently COMMANDED him to UNSTACK THE CAKE!!! And that is just what he, God Bless his little Rule Following heart, did.
I think the most impressive part of this is that he re-stacked it so expertly, that you can't even tell in the next photo that anything happened.  Well, besides the raucous laughter.
Many thanks to Catie for sending me what is my all-time favorite cake cutting photo.  And special thanks to the couple's quick thinking Photographer Ben Garvin for catching this on film.  

Decorator's Notes:

The cake for Catie and Chris was a great project for trying out some new techniques.

The gum paste leaves were made using leaf cutters and mixtures of fall colored luster dusts.  I've found that there aren't readily available leaf veiners for a larger-sized maple leaf, so I channeled my inner Rule Breaker and plucked a Maple leaf off of one of the trees around the shop.  We washed the leaf in soapy water and soaked it in our sanitizer sink.  Once it was dry, we used it to imprint the larger leaves.  It worked fabulously!

The Ribbon detail was airbrushed with Moonstone Luster Dust, available at most any cake decorator supply house.

For Catie's lace, we created two custom Alencon Lace stencils.  One that captured the unusual cartouche pattern on the back of her dress, and another that replicated the Floral pattern.  Both of these are now for sale on our Evil Cake Genius site HERE

Once we stenciled the pattern in royal icing, we overpiped the edges and added some of the lattice pattern piping in the center of the cartouche.  It is truly the most beautiful lace I've ever replicated on a cake.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

West (St. Paul) side story.

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day. 

Or a Vulcan.

All love stories are grand.  But The Evil Cake Genius particularly enjoys those grand, "you and me against the world" love against all odds, love stories.  You know, the Romeo and Juliet, the Maria and Tony, the "...a place for us" kind of forbidden love.  Aaaaah...that's the stuff.

So imagine my joy, when I spoke to James for the first time.  James is a member of the Order of Fire and Brimstone.  No, he's not a Wizard, sorry.  He is, however, a former member of the Vulcan Krewe and therefore a loyal member of the Order for life!

Those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, certainly haven't had the pleasure of enduring a Minnesota winter in their lifetime, so I'll give you a little back story.

In 1885, a New York reporter wrote that Saint Paul was, "another Siberia, unfit for human habitation" in winter. Offended by this attack on their city, the Saint Paul Chamber of Commerce decided to prove not only that Saint Paul was habitable but that its citizens were very much alive during winter, their most dominant season. Thus was born the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.  The Carnival wraps around the story of King Boreas, the King of the Winds, complete with his Royal court of guards, princes and princesses of the four directional winds, a brassy tart named Klondike Kate, and a whole host of other players that the Evil Cake Genius is pretty much unfamiliar with because she agrees with that New York reporter and has never actually attended the winter carnival (Sorry James).
Then there is the Vulcan Krewe.  An all male squad with the sole purpose of overthrowing King Boreas and taking control of the Carnival, therefore symbolically ending Winter.  Now, if these blokes could actually end winter in January in Minnesota, I'd marry one myself, but that is another story.

So, there you have them...the Royal Family and the Vulcan Krewe.  Sworn enemies...Hatfields and McCoys, Capulets and Montagues, Sharks and Jets.

So imagine the uproar, when James, in his red polar fleece suit, ski goggles and finned hat, saw Emily...a West Wind Princess...across a blustery, frostbitten crowd of faces...and fell in love.

Emily...Say it loud and there's music playing,
Say it soft and it's almost like praying.

Emily, I just met a girl named Emily
and suddenly that name 
will never be the same to me!

So I began grilling James over this.  "There had to have been a rumble at the Carnival, then?  Did you have a knife fight with the Prince of the West Wind?  Did King Boreas forbid her to see you, then you were secretly married, and... "

Sadly, no.  I get no drama, no knife fights, no forbidden love...actually, their Winter Carnival friends think that it's pretty neat that a Vulcan and a Princess would fall in love and get married.  Many of the guests at the wedding would be former Royalty and Vulcan Krewe, and they all get along just swimmingly.

Boooo.  Hissss.

Despite my disgust, I agreed to meet with them to design a cake.

The idea of the cake was to incorporate the theme of Fire and Ice.  The couple would be married in December at the Landmark Center in St. Paul.  Right on Rice Park, a key site in the Winter Carnival festivities.  Their colors, crimson red, gold and white.

This was easy.  Well, not easy....the concept would be easy to design from.  The execution...probably not so much.  We decided to create a winter wonderland of a cake with flickering fire-glowing separators.  Fire...Ice...
but to keep the Vulcans from feeling slighted and possibly causing a riot, we added a bold hand-painted red and metallic gold piece climbing up from the bottom tiers.  A cake that is worthy of the House of Boreus and Vulcanus.  But still, there would be no rumble. Pooh.

Of course, the combination of fire and ice would lead to icicles, so we hung them from the bottoms of the tiers.  And we topped it all with a swirling topper of West Wind fondant.

The wedding came and went and I heard no reports of a violent brawl in St. Paul that night.  Ho hum.
Emily and James were even kind enough to share some of their wedding photos with us.  And then I got it.  I got my moment of romance...of undying love....of, of....

Make of our lives one life,
Day after day, one life.
Now it begins, now we start
One hand, one heart,
Even death won't part us now.

 Just take one look at the pictures of Tony (sorry, James) seeing his Maria (sorry, Emily) for the first time and you'll realize that it doesn't take drama, gang rivalries, or even my favorite...knife make a grand romance.  It just takes two people who love the living bejeesus out of each other.  And a really good cake.

Thanks to Jodi Ann Photography for these beautiful photos!

Decorator's Notes:

James and Emily's cake had a lot of fun elements to create.

The snowflakes were all hand cut out of Mexican Paste (a combination of Fondant and Gum Paste) and coated with edible glitter so that they sparkled in the candlelight.  We use a number of different snowflake cutters, and then cut out the lacy patterns with all sorts of Micro-cutters to make each one unique.

The West Wind scrolls were hand molded in a chocolate filigree mold out of fondant, and then painted with Super Pearl.  The same filigree mold was used to make the Metallic gold scrolls surrounding the red painting on the bottom two tiers.  We hand-painted the red to give it a patina, rather than it be a solid red mass.

The separators are acrylic, lined with vellum, and we used battery operated "candles" inside the separators so that the light flickered like candlelight.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Their Story

There are a lot of advantages to limiting the quantity of cakes we do per weekend at Gateaux Inc.  Let's start with the obvious...we never have to freeze a cake.  We only take as many orders as we can bake fresh and frost in a four day period, making our cakes the most fresh-moist-delicious-cakes you'll ever have the pleasure of eating.  Add in the fact that we couldn't possibly design and execute such intricate cake designs if we had a docket of  orders backing up on us.  We take one full decorating day for each cake that we make...multiply that by 3 cake decorators on staff, that's on average 39 woman-hours of decorating going into one Gateaux Cake.  Knowing this, allows me, The Evil Cake Genius, to design absolutely absurdly labor intensive cakes for my clients.  People often ask me if I worked for another bakery before starting Gateaux Inc.  The answer is simple.  Any profitable bakery would have fired my ass after one week.  I'm slow, completely type A, and will not compromise the quality of my cakes in either look or taste for anyone or anything, especially for an accountant.  But my favorite part of limiting our orders is the fact that I still get to meet with every client myself.  Call it selfish, but I want to be able to sit down with each client and get the full idea of the event  they're planning.  This gives me the unique opportunity to design a cake that is completely, utterly unique to them.  So I rarely, if ever have to make the same cake twice!!

Often, during these sessions, we turn to more than simply the look of the event for inspiration.  More than most elements party decor, the cake can actually tell a couple's story.  So, I was particularly excited to meet with Sue about her 20th Wedding Anniversary cake.

Sue wanted a Vikings/Razorbacks themed cake to surprise her husband Mike.  A very sweet gesture, but, as I pointed out to her, it takes two to be married for 20 years, so even by law, the anniversary cake is 50% property....I can't believe you haven't taken advantage of this concept in 20 years, learn from the master, Miss Sue...I can teach you so much...
Sue followed with the fact that she wanted this cake to be his because he had given her so much, and she wanted to give him something that was all about him.  She then proceeded to tell me why Mike deserved an all-football-all-man anniversary cake.

Turns out, these two have been through a lot together.  Like most love stories, they met, they fell in love, got married, bought a house, and had an otherwise happy new life together.  Until Christmas, 1999, when Sue's car was hit. Bad.

She was broken up, put back together, had surgery after surgery, and had enough metal pieces and parts put in her to have earned her new Gateaux code name "Bionic Sue".  This spanned not months, but years of recovery (enough that Sue was actually embarking on writing a book about it) .  And Mike was right there to pick up the pieces.

So we talked.  She started selling me on why he deserved a football cake, and the more adorable, sweet, caring, loving stories she told me, the more I decided that Mikey wasn't gonna get a football cake.  This guy deserved far more.

How about we make the cake a prequel to Sue's upcoming book.  Why not use the anniversary to tell the couple's story in the best way possible...cake.  So I set Sue to work...give me... in book title format...the events that made your marriage and you as a couple what you are today.  She was up for the challenge.  By the time we met for our design session, she had covered everything from how she asked him out, to how he proposed.  Couple that with some touching stories, some tragic moments, and some touchingly tragically funny moments (like the day that she returned home from Physical Therapy to, not Mike, but "Miguel"...who had been to her hair dresser that afternoon for a lesson in how to style Sue's hair, as she was too broken up to hold her arms up long enough to do it for herself.  Miguel, by the way, was fired after a 2nd degree burn to Sue's forehead, but Mike still earned husband of the decade for trying.)

Once we had our book titles (and a LOT of laughs) we worked on adding in the Vikings and Razorbacks.  Turns out, that Sue gave Mike Season Tickets to the Vikings for their anniversary one year, so that was pair of frosting Vikings tickets.  Mike became a Razorbacks fan once the couple moved to Arkansas, so we put a Fondant Razorback's pennant next to the Arkansas chapter of their cake.

Now onto the dirt.  No man is as perfect as she is leading me to believe, so I had to do some digging.  Turns out, Mike had some baggage.  In the form of a Cat named Stinky, that came along with him in the deal, and a 1950 Chevy that lay dormant in their garage for more years than either of them would care to admit.  Perfect.  No good cakey homage is complete without a good ribbing!!  Add in the fact that he was acting so nervous the night that he proposed, that at dinner, Sue asked him if he had gas.  Gold!!! Pure Gold!!!

Sue also wanted their fur-babies represented on the cakes.  These two have had so many rescue pups that to name them on the book titles would be a whole other library of a cake.  So we made frosting dog tags for each of them and scattered them on the tiers.  Now all that was left was to top this off.  Literally.  What do you put on top of such an epic cake?  Twenty years is a long time, but it is really just the how about a frosting pen and inkwell to represent the rest of their unwritten story.

I can honestly say that I hope to make them another cake in 20 years, and another after that.  I love my job.  I always say that us cake people have it easy.  Florists get to work on weddings, but they have to work on funerals too.  Cake is typically saved for happy occasions.  We do mostly weddings here at Gateaux, Inc. I'm thrilled to always be meeting with people who are in love, and excited to start their lives together.  But, it is the anniversary cakes that always get me.  After the ease of youth, good health, and new love passes, it is these anniversary clients...who give me the most joy.  After the rubber hits the road, and time has passed, for love to be as sweet as cake and sugary frosting...that is something to smile about.

Decorator's Notes:

Mike and Sue's cake was a true labor of love.  I had made book cakes before, but this was the most titles I've ever included in one design.  In the past, I would have laid out each title and projected the art onto the side of the cake with a Kopykake-type projector and hand-painted each letter.  For such volume, I decided that I had to utilize my favorite new method of Mesh Stenciling fondant with royal icing.  I created custom mesh stencils for each book title.  You can see other Mesh Stencils on our Evil Cake Genius site HERE
Another of my favorite cake decorating toys was used quite a lot on this design.  It took me a couple of years using a standard clay extruder before I finally bit the cakey bullet, and bought one of these bad boys.  I wish I had done it earlier...hell, I wish I would have invented these, they are brilliant. 
I used the extruder to make the book bindings, striped bands on the covers, and the gold ring around the inkwell.  I couldn't live without a clay gun, it makes precision work so much easier.

The Black fondant on the bottom tier was chocolate fondant to start with.  I always warn my clients, that if they want to have a black tier, that it is best to make that tier a chocolate cake.  The dark chocolate fondant is so close to black to start, that it keeps the fondant from fully saturating with food color and becoming unworkable.  We typically split our multi-tiered cakes between several flavors, so a chocolate tier is almost always somewhere in the mix, might as well use it strategically!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

House and Home

What is it about that word "home"?  Humor me...say it out loud...don't worry, I'll wait.

Now, doesn't that feel better?

It's very soothing, comforting, and well, just plain warm and fuzzy, isn't it?

"House"...Nothing.  Just a word.

I remember the afternoon that we closed on our house.  My husband (The Captain) and I signed paper after paper, and nodded and smiled like we knew what any of those forms meant, then we got in our car and drove to our house.  We stopped at MacDonald's drive through, got two large fries, and sat on the bare floor of our empty living room sipping Champagne, eating French fries and dreaming out loud.

But it wasn't a home yet.  And it wouldn't be, for a long time. We had the hard wood floors refinished, moved in our furniture, bought a dog, but it still wasn't a home.  Home is a process.  When we built our fence and The Captain carried our pup Speck, in one hand, nail gun in the other,  to determine how close together the planks had to be by holding up her teeny little head to make sure it wouldn't fit between them...a little bit of home happened.  When the dining room light fixture dropped from the ceiling in the middle of the night, and the three of us crept down the stairs behind a baseball bat to investigate the noise...a little bit more home happened.  When we filled the house with friends for Pumpkin Carving Brunch on Halloween, Oscar Parties, Twin's Playoff Games...a little bit more.  Every new trick that the Captain taught Speck for my birthdays, every holiday, every fit of laughter, every tear, crack in the wall, leak in the roof, waltz in the living room, spider in the bathroom, dinner party, takeout on the couch, late night, early morning, hug or fight, made our house a little bit more Home.

Now, what the Hell does any of this have to do with wedding cakes?  Patience, people...I'm getting there.

Linda is one of my favorite clients.  We did her daughter's wedding cakes and invitations in 2010.  Her style is impeccable, she knows how to work with color, design, and even Hershey Kisses (see the blog).  Now she was calling for daughter number two.

She described it as an "at home" wedding. 

I've heard about Linda's house.  I've never been there, but knew that it had been featured in magazines.  And I wasn't surprised that her daughter would want to have her wedding there.
We began to plan the cake, desserts, and invitations immediately.  Not having seen the house, I went off of what I knew about it.  It belonged to one of the most stylish women I knew, and it had been featured editorially in magazines.  I pictured a live-in gallery.  A place that you could host a swanky cocktail party, a place that was impeccably put together and thought out.  Nothing like my little two bedroom Cape Cod.  And I wasn't entirely right.

I met with Linda and Rachel, and began showing them the concepts that I had for the invitations, etc.  There wasn't a set color scheme, or theme, so I was just listening to Rachel describe the wedding to get an idea of what we should design.  Funny thing.  She didn't describe colors, patterns, d├ęcor, or anything of the kind.  She described the feeling of an at home wedding.  Funny thing is, that by her description, I walked back into my office, and came back with a photo of a cake that I had found online (don't know how I did this job before the Internet, insert "old" joke here) that I loved.  I never thought I'd have the right wedding for it, but it made me feel all the things that Rachel was describing.  And even though none of the cakes in my portfolio quite grasped what she was looking for, as soon as I showed her this little unassuming cake, she confirmed, that it was exactly what she wanted.

We followed through with a beautiful pale grey invitation with just the tiniest calligraphed heart motif and red envelope liners.

The groom got involved, and mini pumpkin pies, cheesecakes and giant turtle clusters were added to the order. 

The delivery was on a chilly October afternoon.  I arrived at the house eager to set up one of my favorite cake and dessert combinations ever.  My only concern was how this was going to hold up to a designer house.  As soon as I pulled up the driveway, all of my concerns were quelled.  The stone house with a big bay window had quaint shutters, beautiful shade trees, and a tent extending into the back yard.  When I went inside I was floored.  My expectations of some over-designed, "don't-sit-on-the-couch", "don't-touch that" house were completely off base.  Linda's home, while incredibly beautiful,  was warm and comfortable.  Welcoming.  The black-walled living room that I had heard of wasn't some overdone statement, it was actually so cozy that I wanted to pull down one of the books on the wall of bookshelves, send my assistant to set up the cake, unfold the fuzzy throw on the couch and read myself into a nice autumn nap.  The bride's gown hung from the balcony over the lofted family room ceiling, and I could feel the energy and the joy of the day and the history of the home.  The cake was set up on the dining room table on Linda's own cake stand, and surrounded by candy cinnamon hearts (Linda's idea).

The whole set up was exactly as Linda had originally said..."an at home wedding", which is very, very different from a wedding "at my house".  I thought of how intimate and personal the whole idea was.  How honored the guests must have been to be invited, not only to a wedding, but into the family's center.  But the one thing I bet none of the guests knew is that they were taking part in something that would make this already warm, inviting house even more of a home.  And they didn't even need a baseball bat or a nail gun to do it.

Many thanks to the incredible Liz Banfield for the fabulous photos of the cake cutting!!

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.

Enter Joi.

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 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

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.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Secret Ingredient

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough" -Mark Twain

I've been decorating wedding cakes for 18 years.  I've seen trends in design and flavor come and go, some I wish would have stayed a little longer, others (like rosewater infused cakes, which give me a pounding headache when they're baking and in my opinion taste like you're eating some one's grandmother...just sayin') I'm glad have passed.

Every once in a while, completely independent of current trend, I have a string of cakes that have a uniting theme.  This is what happened this late summer and fall at Gateaux.

Let's start with Cassie and Andrew.

They had a beautiful wedding planned, and their invitation had one of the most beautiful Damask patterns I'd ever seen.  That invitation, coupled with their striking color scheme of white and charcoal with a punch of purple in the floral, made designing their cake a breeze.

Once the sketches were complete, I brought out my flavor list and handed it to them.  Typically, the groom is all over this part of the appointment.  He has done his duty of not squirming in his seat too much while the ladies in the room are discussing the finer points of Brocade fabrics, the difference between Charcoal and Gunmetal grey, their preference of Cymbidium over Cattaleya orchids, etc. and now he gets to talk in terms he can truly understand...dessert.

Andrew, however, handed the menu to Cassie and leaned back as though his part of the meeting was over.  I was puzzled.  After all, he was quite involved in the design of the cake.  This was his chance to, well, eat!!  I asked him why he wasn't as excited as he should be about choosing his cake flavor, and he answered those blasphemous four words that no cake decorator should ever hear... "I...don'" 

Once I regained consciousness, I investigated further.  I've seen this syndrome before.  Surely, he was a pie man.  I've had those before.  Actually, it was a guy who only liked Pumpkin Pie, who inspired our Pumpkin Walnut cake flavor, which is to this day my personal favorite of all of our cakes. 

Alas, Andrew was not a pie man.  He wasn't a sweets man at all.  "Surely, there must be something you like?" I asked.  And he replied, "Whiskey".

Game on Andrew, Game on.

I do samples once a month.  Since we never freeze a cake, we bake up all the flavors that my potential clients have requested, and everyone comes in on sample day to pick up a box of cake slices to take home and share with their family.  This gave me about three weeks to figure out how to put my cakey money where my mouth was, and create a "Whiskey Sour" wedding cake flavor.  I didn't stop there, I also promised a purple velvet cake to compliment the frosting orchids on the tiers.  Typical me.

We played around with a lot of options that next baking day.  And recalling my headaches during the "great rosewater trend of 2010" I refrained from putting whiskey in the batter.  Instead, we made a limoncello flavored batter with a kick of lemon zest, and filled it with a Mousse that was positively drunk with whiskey.  To my surprise, it was not only acceptable, but delicious!  As a matter of fact, Cassie and Andrew chose to split their wedding cake between the Whiskey Sour cake and the Purple Velvet cake filled with the Whiskey Mousse!

When we set up the cake, the bridal party was milling around between photos.  It was such fun to see the reaction of the bridesmaids when they saw the cake, and the reaction of the groomsmen when Andrew told them that this otherwise beautiful, elegant cake had one badass secret ingredient....besides love.

I love the photo of Cassie hesitating to cut her cake, and the photo of  "I don't like cake Andrew" (yep, that's your new code name around here) taking the matter into his own hands.

Now, we move forward a month to Erin.  Erin wanted to surprise her groom with a wedding cake.  Not a groom's cake, a wedding cake.  Her planner, the lovely Sarah at Lasting Impressions, called us in for the task, because this was no ordinary wedding cake.  Erin wanted it shaped like a giant bottle of Jameson Whiskey.

And we're off again...

When I met with Erin and her mom, I must admit, that I wasn't expecting a sweet little young thing to walk into my shop.  I guess I have a misconception of what a girl who wants a whiskey bottle wedding cake should look like.  I expected someone a little older, a lot tougher, and possibly covered with tattoos.  Again...just sayin'.

So I interrogated her.

Turns out, the couple had been studying abroad and travelled quite a lot together.  While in Australia, his parents paid them a visit, and brought with them bottles of Jameson Whiskey.  Now we're onto something.  The fact that the Whiskey reminding them of their travels together made a lot of sense.  I quickly changed the design to a whiskey barrel. 
We could create a life-size whiskey barrel with a life-size chocolate bottle of Jameson on top.  The barrel would be branded with postmarks of the places they had travelled together (almost as if it had tagged along for the ride).  Once we added this concept, the stories began.  From how he fell asleep on an anthill while camping in Australia, to the earthquake they had survived in New Zealand.  We added little touches to the cake to tell their story, and I was ready to talk flavors.

More ready than they knew....I had the Whiskey Sour cake up my sleeve!  They sampled the cakes, and chose three flavors.  The Almond cake, The Tuxedo cake with Fudge Filling, and my favorite, Pumpkin Walnut.  The lesson, you can't tell a cake/book by it's cover/frosting.

We were setting up a S'mores buffet in another room when Erin and Mike entered their cocktail hour and she surprised him with the cake.  I have never heard such a reaction.  The guests roared and cheered like someone just hit a home run.  I had no idea what was going on in that room until the photographer came into our staging area to let me know that that raucous cheering was during the cake reveal and cutting.  And boy, did she ever capture it on film!

So there you have it...a tale of two Whiskey cakes.  I don't think we'll be seeing an upswing in the trend, but do very much enjoy the two that I had the pleasure of working with this past year.  So here's to you Cassie and Andrew, Erin and Mike

"May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea.
May it always be the other guy
who says this drink's on me."

Decorator's Notes

Cassie and Andrew's cake was one of my favorite, and at the same time most challenging Damask Cakes.  Her invitations were quite intricate, and I didn't want to compromise on the cake.  So, I brought in a graphic artist to help me sort through and turn the damask pattern into something that would stencil well.  Fortunately for anyone who wants to reproduce this look, I have added the three stencils that we created for this cake to our Evil Cake Genius shopping site.

The separators for this cake were custom cut Styrofoam dummies, covered in Swarovski Crystals.  While we refuse to do dummy cakes (what fun is it when people say "that isn't a cake" and you can't reply "you bet your sweet xxx it is!" we do use styro for separators when they are going to be covered entirely in crystal.  Best not to tempt any busy caterer to serve a slice of Austrian Crystal to some unsuspecting guest.

The solid grey tier was imprinted with a quatrefoil pattern.  I couldn't find the imprinter I was looking for anywhere, so I resorted to making my own cookie cutter and used it as an imprinter for that tier.  You can buy sets to make your own cookie cutters here
The chocolate Jameson Bottle was hand-molded, and the label was screen printed fondant.  The barrel cake weighed 140 pounds, and is responsible for my first-ever Cake Injury!  We were not prepared for quite how heavy it would be and needed to move it in and out of refrigeration to decorate it.  Before the fondant was even placed on the cake, it took three of us to maneuver the beast in and out of the fridge.  By the time the cake was covered in fondant, we had pulled down a rolling table from storage, and built ramps to wheel the table up to the refrigerator shelf height and then back down to the table height.  Unfortunately, it was too late for the Evil Cake Genius.  I pulled a Pectoral muscle somewhere in the pre-ramp stage of decorating.  If you've ever pulled that particular muscle, you can attest to the fact that it is the slowest of all injuries to heal, and there's nothing to do but wait...and make up a better, more heroic story to tell everyone who asks why you're wincing every time you turn your head more than ten degrees.  I prefer the "lifting a car off of a small child, or fought off a half dozen Ninjas story.
Many thanks to my friend Lindsay at "A Wish and a Whisk" cakes in California for helping me figure out how to structure the beast without it imploding under its own weight into a cakey black hole.  Next time, you're coming to help me move the thing around Lindsay!