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PASTRY ARTICLES: PASTRY ART, DESIGN & PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES
Designing the Cake:
Tips For the Bride From a Baker.

By Renee Shelton

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Some brides have known for years exactly the kind of dress they want to wear on their special day. For flowers, some brides prefer all white, all roses, or an eclectic mix of vibrant colors and fragrances. And other brides concentrate on finding just the right music to play, breaking down the wedding into tasteful little arias. When it comes to cakes, some brides favor bows and swags while others find the whole process of designing a cake and choosing a flavor daunting. It shouldn't be. It's the last part of the wedding when the couple shares a fun and sweet 'beginning slice' of their marriage together.

When a baker sits down with a client, it is always best that descriptions, ideas and desires on the part of the bride be as specific as possible. Here are some ideas and tips that brides can use and keep in mind when choosing a cake. Since the cake is a culmination of a beautiful union for the bride and groom to share, not only with each other but with all of their guests, it can be either a reflection of the couple's tastes or an extension of the wedding itself. Through years of creating cakes, I have gathered a list that any bride needs to consider for the planning of her wedding cake.

The considerations to keep in mind for designing your cake are: baker, ideas, flavor, decoration, special considerations, groom's cake and budget.

First of all, choose a baker (the person who'll be making your cake), you feel comfortable with. Budgets can always be factored into the final decisions. Look at all the work they have done. Ask to be sure those pictures are the work of the baker doing your cake or the bakery in general you have chosen. You need to know this in order to receive an accurate representation of the product they put out, and since the pictures may be the work of several decorators or just one. This is your cake on your day, and you need to have a person, or bakery if many cake designers are on hand, that you feel at ease constructing your cake from your ideas.

Second, your ideas are paramount in the designing of the cake. After all, this is your day. Where to get some ideas? There are countless images on the internet of bakers highlighting their work. Magazines showcasing famous designer's cakes are fun to flip through. Clip or download as many that catch your eye and try to narrow down reasons why: do stacked cakes strike your eye? or square or shaped? a certain monogram style? satin, glittery embossed or metallic lamé ribbon? Other design ideas for your cake include the borders of your invitations or the lace-work in your dress. Both of these make the cake unique to your wedding. I have included portions of some samples brides have given me to work on for different cakes over the years on this page (click all the links in blue for details and picture examples). One of the most memorable for me as a cake designer was when a bride brought in antique hand cross-stitched linens. These were then photocopied and the design was incorporated in the border design of the cake. Note: as much as cooks love stories behind treasured recipes, bakers love stories behind unique designs for wedding cakes, and so will guests.

Also keep in mind what colors your wedding theme has and the flowers you will be using. These can be used to highlight your cake tiers or incorporated into the final design. For example, your bridesmaids dresses may be lavender in color. Your cake therefore can have a lavender color in whole or in accents, candied lavender flowers in sprigs on each tier, fresh lavender in a floral topper or on each tier, or the cake can be scented with a light lavender syrup. At your favorite fabric store, take a look at the ribbon selection. These can be used as borders, topper bows, wind up tiers of the cake, or used as a complement to your cake at the cake table. Take each idea, and write it down, sketch it or cut it out, snip a favorite swatch, and place them all an idea book or folder for you to take with you to your visit with your baker.

This leads to flavor - the third important, albeit fun consideration. The interior flavor can be just about anything you want. Chocolate is no longer left for the groom's cake, and is wonderful paired with fresh raspberries. If you are a chocolate lover, a flavor choice can be to use dark, milk and white chocolate mousse all layered with dark chocolate cake. Use one mousse or all three. If fruit suits your fancy, fresh jams and marmalades can be smoothed on cake layers before topping with a fruit mousse or whipped cream filling. The cake itself can be flavored with orange or lemon zest, accented with poppy seeds, or left plain and scented with a Grand Marnier or Cointreau syrup. Coffee is another popular flavor, and is wonderful paired with chocolate. Other flavors and unique fillings include crème brulée, cheesecake, dulce de leche, bittersweet ganache, Bailey's or another liqueur mousse, and caramel. As you can see, the sky is the limit for flavors. Let your imagination with your taste palate be your guides here.

By choosing a filling, your outside design can be chosen, or in some cases limited. For example, buttercream icing on the outside must be refrigerated, so the filling can be any mousse or whipped cream-based one. If you desire an intricate royal icing design on rolled fondant, note that royal icing cannot be refrigerated and your fillings must be altered to reflect that. But your cake filling need not be boring on account of that restriction. Indeed, your choices can be wonderful spice cakes, chocolate tortes, tiers of nutted cream cake layered with carefully handmade jams, chocolate cake accented with mini chips or layered with a rich dark chocolate or vanilla bean-spiked white chocolate ganache or even an apricot ganache. The outside design is probably the most important, visually, and it also helps narrow the possibilities on what will be used on the inside.

Special considerations for you or your guests are another point to consider. These include dietary restrictions or choices and special decorations used. If you or your groom is a diabetic, you may choose to have only the top layer sugar-free or have a separate small cake created with the exact design as the actual wedding cake for the ceremonial 'couple's cutting and sharing of the cake'. Or if you know that a guest or two has a dietary restriction or an allergy, you may want to create special desserts for them in lieu of the cake so they can partake in the eating of dessert with everyone else. If you are a vegetarian or on a macrobiotic diet, there are many recipes that can be used for the cake, filling and for the decoration or outside frosting. I have done macrobiotic cakes with special fillings and frostings upon request, and special dairy-free cakes and fillings. Always try to have a tasting of these specially created cakes to be sure the final product is what you want. Note that some very particular recipes may be labor intensive, and the baker may charge accordingly. There are also special bakeries or pastry shops that may specialize in this area, so check them out first if your entire cake and dessert will be a specially made one. They will usually be experts in the field, or bakers or pastry chefs with experience with those recipes.

Also, keep in mind any inedible decorations used on the cake, if any, and notify the person(s) or staff serving the cake so that they can be removed before serving. For example, note some metallic dusts are in fact aluminum or bronze powder used for decoration only and should not be consumed, while pure silver and gold leaf are edible. Your baker will know which will be used on your cake and will coach you in finding the right decorations for your cake.

A groom's cake? you ask. Well, yes. These have gone by the wayside in some years, but are still popular. A wedding cake is usually a light and colorful design of the bride's choosing, while a groom's cake is where creativity can come in for the groom. They are generally chocolate and can reflect hobbies, passions, an alma mater or even state of birth for the groom. For example, I have done a ganache-icing groom's cake in the shape of the great state of Texas for a groom's cake, and cakes with pennant flags as the focal point and shape. While the wedding cake can be formal, the groom's cake can be all-fun. What is the groom's hobby or favorite sport? This can influence the shape, such as a football, a soccer ball or golf ball motif, guitar-shaped, or a western-style hat. An alma mater can influence the colors used on a plain round cake, and a gardening buff can have specialized marzipan figurines created especially for him.

Lastly, budget should be taken into consideration. This is noted last here, but is an important factor (and for some, the most important) and can help guide you in your final decisions. But, don't think of budgets as limitations. Of course, the more elaborately decorated the cake is, the more it will cost, usually. Here are some alternatives and things to think about when a cake budget is a major factor in your wedding. If you see a seven-tiered cake in a magazine that truly strikes your eye, but might break your budget, consider having your baker create a smaller scale three-tiered cake with sheet cakes made up with the same filling and outside frosting. This also solves the problem for larger weddings. Here you can have an elaborate two- or three-tiered cake created for display and for you and your groom to cut and share while having simple sheet cakes made up for the dessert. You need not be relegated to small rectangular slices placed on a plate, but you can jewel-it-up, so to speak, by serving it with jeweled-colored fruit and berry sauces or coulis. Doing this can cut down on price while still serving an elegant creation for your guests, and make the cake service more of a dessert course than a simple cutting. And what about having individual 9"- or 10"-cakes created for each table in a very simple white icing design, for each table as a showpiece and for dessert with a two-tiered version for the cake cutting and for display?

These are things that I have suggested to brides that venture to say, "I'm not sure," when I ask what they want for their cake when we sit down together, and they have no ideas gathered as yet. With these tips, creating a wedding cake from start to finish can be a fun and enjoyable part of the wedding planning. Some brides have asked to keep any sketches that I draw up for them at our meetings, which I gladly give, since this can be an important part of the bride's wedding scrapbook.

Finally, from a baker or pastry chef's viewpoint, there are some cakes that are memorable to us, that we keep sketches and notes on to reflect back on and smile. Those include cake sketches from a grandparent's wedding, replications from a unique invitation or a swatch from a bride's wedding lace, unique colors from a wedding party, a vibrant cake picture from a magazine, a favorite bible passage inscribed on the cake or incorporated into the border, or a design from a Tiffany's box that enclosed a cherished engagement ring. These can all be challenging to us, to be sure, but make our jobs unique in that we make a little dream come true for the bride through the cake itself. Keep challenging us, brides! and have fun collecting ideas for your cake.

Renee Shelton

Copyright © 2004-2010 Renee Shelton.
All Rights Reserved.


 

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