Wedding cakes heaped in whimsy
Think Alice in Wonderland in rolled fondant icing with tilted tiers and a cacophony of colors."Skip to next paragraph
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I was showing my mother a blueprint of my wedding cake. She was not amused.
The base was bedecked in bright blue-and-white argyle checks, surrounding a second layer of buttery yellow with red-and-white icing flowers. The top, an encore of blue, yellow, and white, but in polka dots and stripes. As for the cake topper: strands of white, er, spheres.
"How are you going to keep it from tipping over?" my mother asked with a smirk.
She had wanted a "traditional" cake the kind my fiancé and I had just seen on pages of pictures at the bakery. To us, the white castles of confectionhad all begun to look the same. That's when we decided that ours would have a huge helping of whimsy. And that the bride and groom figurines would not make the guest list, thank you very much.
After our wedding last June, where we served this very cake (at right), we were still smug with our dare-to-be-different decision. That is, until the food editor of this paper asked me to write an article on wedding cakes. Turns out, we were just mere cogs in a whole torte-reform movement.
So I called upon Sylvia Weinstock, who has been creating high-end wedding cakes in New York City for more than 20 years, for some solace. First I asked her to distill the latest wedding-cake trends into four adjectives. She gave me: "whimsical, nontraditional, personalized, and delicious."
Now I felt sheepish.
"I've topped a cake with a replica of a couple's dog, and another with a pair of skis," she says. She's even crafted an entire cake into a gigantic fish for a couple who loves fishing.
Modern baking methods have cultivated a generous amount of creativity among the almost wedded. Not to mention a higher demand for better-tasting cake.
"Brides these days are older, and they have more sophisticated palates they've eaten various ethnic foods, they've traveled more, and they also want something that's a little different," confirms Ms. Weinstock.
No more of that bland, sawdust-tasting white sponge cake. On mine, for instance, I opted for a different flavor on each layer: tiramisu, chocolate with fresh raspberries, and vanilla with fresh strawberries and cream.
Chocolate is the hottest alternative to vanilla, says Weinstock. But gaining ground are eclectic flavors such as ginger, cardamom, pistachio, and blood orange. In fall and winter, popular choices have been spice cake with caramel, hazelnut with chocolate mousse, and almond cake with apricot cream.
Competing with the traditional round tiers are square, octagonal, and hexagonal confections. The bride and groom toppers, meanwhile, most likely grace cakes when they are a sentimental heirloom or to add kitschy flair. Or in some cases, custom-made marzipan figurines resemble the couple.
Breakthroughs in icing during the past 20 years are a main reason for the moist, flavorful cakes of today. "Before, a cake might have been decorated for days or even weeks [before the wedding] with a hard icing made of egg whites and sugar," says Weinstock. Worse, the icing couldn't be refrigerated, so the simple cake made without butter, eggs, or fresh fruit was bound to taste stale by the time it was served.
And before that, around the early 1900s, the wedding cake du jour was a large, heavy fruitcake that was so labor- intensive (due to primitive baking methods back then) that it was often made not weeks but months in advance.