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!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Telling Tales

I love making cakes that tell a story.  Sometimes, it's've seen our book cakes, if not, go to our Babies post just below this one to see a good example. (Coincidentally, Miss Charlotte was born yesterday! Welcome Miss Charlie, we're sorry there is a foot of snow on the ground to greet you on your April Birthday.)  Other times we take a more subtle approach, and set up almost a "still life" in cake to share a couple's story (See Samanthony and the Beach for a great example).

When I first heard about Marlene and Bobby's wedding, I knew nothing about them besides the fact that they had chic modern invitations designed by their coordinators Amy Zaroff Events, and that their wedding would be held at the fabulous Graves 601 Hotel.  So, no ruffles and frills in store for this cake.  I planned to work the honeycomb pattern from the invitations on their cake and create a graphic, unique design that would blend with their choice of venue, and their style, nothing more...Then I met them.

Marlene and Bobby are not your typical couple.  They met at college, and that is where the "typical" ends.  As a matter of fact, they admitted outright that when they met they didn't particularly like each other.  To quote the cake (we'll get there, trust me) "Marlene thought Bobby was pompous and Bobby ignored Marlene, since she was just a Freshman".

First impressions aren't a matter of fact, I've heard from several of my clients that they really weren't fond of their eventual spouse when they first met.  It was getting to know them, and learning that they had so much in common that changed the tune of their stubborn hearts.

That must be it!  So, I delved further.  Bobby is in politics.  So that's my answer!  They met in Student Government (according to the cake...Patience, people, we'll get to it!!) so they must be two politically driven passionate people! ...and they are!!! He is passionately Republican and She is an equally outspoken....rrrrrrrrtrtttttttttt....hold everything...Democrat.

Turns out, the differences were numerous.  He was a small town boy, she was a city girl, he's Christian, she's Jewish.  Not even geography was on their side.  Bobby graduated shortly after they began dating and moved from New York to Minneapolis, while Marlene spent that Summer in Madrid, and then went back to New York to finish two more years of school followed by a year in London.

Sounds doomed.

Now, let the Evil Cake Genius interject for a moment.  You see, when the Captain and I decided to tie the knot, we went through the pre marital counseling required by the church in which we were married.  The Pastor, Harry, was excited to share a compatibility test that was created at the neighboring U of MN.  He had administered this survey to other soon-to-be-wed couples and found it very useful in identifying the few inevitable personality/compatibility clashes that every couple must face.  We took our tests separately, and the next week, he shared our highly scientific results. 

Truth be told, he had "never seen a couple so incompatible".  Seeing as we already put a deposit down on the reception venue, the three of us decided to ignore the esteemed University's opinion and rely on the possibility that the Captain, is simply the "Yin" to my "Yan". 

Happily, seventeen years later, I can report that despite the warnings from our Alma Mater, the Captain and I are still not only married, but actually like each other.  My East Coast abruptness somehow balances his California chill.  My embellished stories are balanced by his quiet voice of reason, and I wouldn't have it any other way.   And that whole "I married my best friend" bull, you can keep it.  I have a best friend.  Her name is Sherrie.  And I have a husband, who I live with, fight with, laugh with, cry with, and love. Never trust a couple who "doesn't fight".  They're either lying to you, or they have the most boring relationship on the planet.  Yeah, I said it.

Back to our couple.

With my personal experience and passion for "opposites" attracting, I was thrilled when I saw that Marlene and Bobby had already shared their less-than-typical courtship with their guests.  The designer over at Amy Zaroff  Events, had cleverly put their story together, complete with campy 1950's graphics and created a save the date card that told all!  Even better, they were fully on board with telling their tale again on the wedding cake.  This time, we'd add the story of Bobby's elaborate and thoughtful proposal, as well as their very own happy ending.

We took the graphics from the Save the Date, created the new graphics for the proposal and top tier panels, and ran with it.  All that was left of my original design was a few fondant hexagons on the ledges, which seemed a little lackluster, until we added parts of the story to those as well.

What resulted, was one of my all time favorite cakes.  Not only in look, but in spirit.  It's the truth...the whole truth...presented in the best way possible.  In Cake.  Marlene and Bobby chose to embrace their differences as part of their story.  They even had political booster buttons as their place cards, seating each guest at a table identified, not by a number, but by a political ticket from US election history. 

If this is enough reading for you, I fully understand.  Feel free to cut bait now, and go grab a snack, or watch some television, maybe even read some actual literature.  I won't be offended.  But I must warn you, that the story doesn't end here.

Like all good political opponents, Marlene decided to uncover a secret part of Bobby's past and make it public at their reception (which, I might add, was a mere eight weeks before the 2012 election).  And I was thrilled to see that she refrained from using one of the 24 hour news channels, a tabloid, or a newspaper to do the deed.  She used...a cake.

Now, if you read the wedding cake, you know that Bobby moved to Minneapolis and set up house long before Marlene moved here.  So, when Marlene returned from London to her new home with Bobby, she was a little shocked to see that he had decorated the bathroom of their place entirely in Spider Man accoutrements.  He had it all, shower curtain, shower curtain rings, soap dispenser, tooth brush holder, and most importantly, when she asked "Is there a matching garbage can?" the answer was "Yes".  With a sigh of relief, she did exactly what any future wife would do under the circumstances.  She loaded that charming Spidey garbage can with the other Super Hero accessories, and escorted them to the neighborhood's Avengers Head Quarters, conveniently located inside the dumpster behind their building.

This story is a job for the second type of tale-telling cake that I mentioned (what seems like a year ago) in the opening paragraph of the blog.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  A cake sculpture is worth at least as many, plus it tastes better than any of the words I've had the pleasure of eating in my life (see above, I'm East Coast, aaaand Italian, I've eaten my share of words).

So, we whipped up this Super Hero expose, Gateaux style.  With a little embellishment, and  a lot of humor.  Marlene was completely on board, loving the addition of crumpled frosting Kleenex and Q-tips.  She emailed us links to the full array of Spiderman Bathroom D├ęcor that she banished from the apartment, and like any good informant, kept the lid on the "scoop" until just the right moment(the reception).

We set up the wedding cake, watched the couple enter their ceremony, then rushed in for a stealthy Groom's Cake set up during the ceremony.  We wondered what his reaction to his public Super Hero "outing" would be, but alas, we are cake ladies.  We dissolve into a mere puff of powdered sugar by the time the reception is underway.  Thankfully, their fabulous photographer Erin Johnson caught a few shots of the newlyweds with the cake.  Marlene was also sure to let us know how well it was received once they returned from honeymoon.  She even included a great shot of her with Bobby reenacting the Great Bathroom Scene for posterity.  (Notice the finger prints on the cake from some anonymous/curious guest...yes, that's a cake!!)

So, our foray into political journalism came to its well-deserved end.  And back to the Lair of the Evil Cake Genius, we went.  Thanks Marlene, and Spider-Bobby for the reminder that the best love stories are the weird ones.  We wish you spirited election years, and love, and fights, and all that goes with a great marriage.  Congratulations, Mazel Tov, and Tingling Spidey-Senses for years to come.

Decorator's Notes:

Marlene and Bobby's wedding cake was made with custom screens so that an entire side of a tier could be screen printed in Royal Icing in one swipe.  I can't imagine the amount of time it would have taken to hand letter those tiers...I'd still be working on it now.  We sell many screens on our Shop Gateaux Store
The Spidey cake was such fun to make.  We actually ordered a set of the Spiderman Shower Curtain Rings and cast a mold off of it to make ours out of chocolate.  We use a ton of this stuff.  I wish I had a wholesale source for it, but you can find it at
The hand towel was textured by stabbing it repeatedly with a small star tip.  It's not easy on the hands, but makes a great terry cloth texture.
We molded the base of the soap dispenser out of colored white chocolate.  Sometimes you just have to look around a bit to find the right mold.  This one was molded in a quart carton from whipping cream. 
Inspired?  Check out our Evil Cake Genius site for great stencils, screens and cutters.  We're adding new items weekly, so check back often!