Taking a Vow to Make Tasty Wedding Cakes

`WHEN I teach my students I always warn them about a couple of things,'' says Meridith Ford, a pastry and baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. ``One is never do your own wedding cake.''

Seven years ago, Ms. Ford was an ambitious bride-to-be who decided she would do everything for her at-home wedding, including making and decorating the cake. Though inexperienced as a chef, she was a good cook and had successfully made several cakes for friends' weddings.

``I had prepped and done everything in advance,'' she says. ``Then I started to ice the cake, and nothing would come together.'' The buttercream frosting she chose for the pound cake began to drip in the sultry Atlanta heat. Frustrated, she headed to the family barn where she pondered her situation for several hours. Once she had relaxed, she returned to the kitchen where she created another cake that ``turned out beautiful'' and was thoroughly enjoyed by the guests.

Since that June day, Ford has created numerous wedding cakes - from chocolate to carrot, from simple to ornate. The most popular request she gets is for a cake with buttercream frosting and decorated with fresh flowers.

FORD says a misconception exists about wedding cakes: Many people believe they can't taste good. ``When I was growing up and was going to weddings, the cake was the most dreaded part of the whole thing,'' she says. ``The average person does not realize they have an alternative to this cardboard sugar-paste cake that you go out and get from your average bakery.''

Dreading the cake is ``the last thing I want someone to think about when they come to a wedding.'' A good chef can create a cake that looks and tastes good, she adds. Having a cake made by a professional who specializes in wedding cakes often doesn't cost more than buying it in a bakery, Ford says.

Costs for a wedding cake are calculated by the slice. They range from about $1.50 per slice (per person) to as much as $10, with the average at about $3 to $5. ``I could make a really nice cake for $4 a slice,'' she says.

Ford, who sometimes spends as much as 14 hours a day teaching at the culinary college, makes wedding cakes on the side when she has time. The wedding-cake recipe at left is a classic butter-cake recipe; the lemon and strawberry cream filling and white-chocolate buttercream recipes have been in her family for years.

Of course, you don't need a wedding to try them out.

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