Our Top Party Cakes of the Year

One of my favorite things about making cakes is that every single one is different.  Every party is different, every guest of honor, so it stands to reason that no two cakes are ever exactly the same.  Here are a few of the true stand out custom party cake creations from 2013.

 

Which is your favorite?

 

This was a challenge... how would you combine NYC, CT, Queens, shopping and family?   A LV trunk cake of course!

This was a challenge… how would you combine NYC, CT, Queens, shopping and family? A LV trunk cake of course!

Seriously... what else screams party but a disco ball cake?

Seriously… what else screams party but a disco ball cake?

Love this adorable elephant cake.  His trunk is up for good luck.

Love this adorable elephant cake. His trunk is up for good luck.

A construction site cake for George's 4th birthday.  My favorite part, the crane holding the 4...

A construction site cake for George’s 4th birthday. My favorite part, the crane holding the 4…

 

Lego Marvel Super Heroes.  Sand Central Station.  Spidey is my fav...

Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Sand Central Station. Spidey is my fav…

Black Lace Wedding Cake

I love it when my clients are willing to go in brave new directions with their wedding cake.  And this black based wedding cake has been percolating in the back of my mind for a long time.  The bride told me a lovely story about the first time she met her groom.  She was wearing a black lace dress and he started to call her Lacy.  The nickname stuck and would end up inspiring the couple’s wedding cake.  Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places.

Next time we’ll cover the whole cake in white lace!

black wedding cake with white lace

A whole new world… Bananas. A recipe.

A few years ago I hit on one of those holiday recipes that became tradition. A sweet potato casserole that had one magical ingredient… banana. But it wasn’t just the banana that made it so special, it was the treatment of it, specifically roasting, that opened culinary doors for me. During my externship after pastry school I was first introduced to roasted ginger to add complexity of flavor to the final dish. Think Chef thought I was a bit crazy asking him why all the ginger was in the salamander.  I was mesmerized.So when I first came across the idea of roasted bananas I knew it had to be good. Great even.

No more waiting for bananas to go overripe to make banana bread. Roasting develops the natural sweetness of the bananas, and it softens the flesh so there is no real mashing to speak of. It takes mere minutes, and its this kind of trick, taking something one more level, that lifts a recipe from basic homemade to something really special.

Here I use the technique to make a ganache that becomes the filling for chocolate sandwich cookies. Very chocolatey, carmely and overall deliciously satisfying, these cookies are as popular on the table as that original sweet potato casserole, and disappear just as fast. I highly suggest you make them, but if you don’t, definitely roast a banana or two… put them in smoothies, bake them into cakes, or just spread them over ice cream. I love the chocolate coconut one I shared in this post. I promise, you won’t be sorry.

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Chocolate Banana Sandwich Cookies

Measurements are given in ounces, but their corresponding volume measurements are in parenthesis following.

1   Medium banana
5 oz   Semisweet Chocolate
4 fl oz   Heavy cream
½ cup   Sugar
½ tsp   Salt

10 oz (2 c)   All purpose flour
3 oz (1/3 c)   Cocoa Powder
¼ tsp   Baking powder
1 ½ tsp   Salt
3 oz (¾ c)   Powdered sugar
4 oz (½ c +1Tbs)   Brown Sugar
6 oz   Unsalted butter, softened
3   Egg yolks
1 Tbs   Vanilla

Filling:

Make the filling first to allow it to set. To ensure success, make sure you have all your ingredients ready to go so you can quickly move through the process and not over cook the caramel.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Poke a few small holes in the banana and roast it skin on, on the rack of the oven for a few minutes until blackened all over.  When cool enough to handle, remove the pulp from the skin and mash thoroughly with a fork.  Let cool.

Chop chocolate finely and place in a medium size heat-proof bowl.

Using the ½ cup of sugar, make a dry caramel.  Heat a light colored medium saucepan over medium high heat.  When hot, sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of the pan.  As it quickly melts and starts to caramelize, stir with a wooden spoon.  Keep adding the sugar in thin layers and stirring until you’ve used it all, all the sugar has dissolved and it’s turned a rich caramel color.    Immediately remove from the heat and carefully add the heavy cream to the caramel.  Be careful as this can spit and continue boiling.  Place the pot back over the heat and bring back to a boil, making sure to re-melt any caramel that may have set up when adding the cream.  Stir in the salt.  Pour the boiling caramel cream over the chopped chocolate.  Gently shake the bowl to make sure all the chocolate is submerged.  Let this sit for 5 minutes.   Whisk completely until silky and shiny. Stir in the mashed banana.  Cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the chocolate.  Let sit at room temperature for 8-24 hours to set completely. Yours may set up faster or slower depending on the room temperature.  Its best to let it firm up at room temperature, but you can also place this in the refrigerator to speed setting but be careful to watch it so that it doesn’t set up to hard.

Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place the butter, brown sugar and powder sugar.  Cream with a paddle on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Mix in the yolks one at a time.  Mix in the vanilla.

Add flour/coco mix in two additions, mixing on low speed just to combine.  Divide the dough in half and place each half between two pieces of parchment.  Roll the dough between the parchment as thin as possible, about 1/8” thick.  Repeat with the remaining half.  Refrigerate or freeze until firm.   The dough may be rerolled.

Using a 2” round cutter, cut cookies from the chilled dough and place them on parchment lined cookie sheets with about a 1/2” of space between the cookies.  Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes until the tops are no longer shiny.   Cool completely.

Transfer the set chocolate banana cream to a pastry bag with a 1/2” tip.  Turn half of the cookies upside down.  Pipe about 1 teaspoon of filling on the upturned cookies.  Top with another cookie, pressing down gently to distribute the filling.

Makes 24 2” cookies.

Wedding Cake Basics

Earlier this year I collaborated with Colin Cowie Weddings to come up with the definitive wedding cake info guide.  Everything you ever wanted to know about choosing a wedding cake can be found below.  And of course lots of beautiful photos can be found  throughout the site, starting with Elegant

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A wedding cake is more than just the highly-anticipated dessert at the end of a wedding meal. It is really a unifying, central element of the event that pulls together the wedding’s theme and décor. It’s both a sweet showpiece and the last, lingering taste of the evening. And if you’re following tradition, the wedding cake is a dose of wedding day sweetness to be shared by the happy couple as they celebrate their first year of marriage.

But just how do you decide what this fantastical confection will look and taste like? That’s where your cake designer comes in.

ALL IN GOOD TIME

You should plan your first meeting with your cake designer 4-8 months prior to your event. However, don’t plan a meeting with your baker before you’ve chosen key elements like your date, venue, wedding dress and color palette. These details will determine both the kind of cake you get and what the design will look like.

You should also have an estimate of your guest count, since the size of the cake will be based on the number of servings. Keep in mind that, though a 12” three-tier cake sounds small, “cakes have dimension, they have detail, and their true presence is about much more than size,” says Penny.

BRING INSPIRATION

Focus on visuals that are related to both your wedding and your aesthetic, including the invitation, color swatches, floral inspiration, dress photos and anything else that represents the style of your wedding. Anything from fashion and jewelry to pages from interior design magazines can be helpful if they’ve helped to dictate how you’ll be decorating your ceremony and reception or how you’ve chosen other details for your big day.

Believe it or not, pictures of other cakes aren’t always that helpful when you’re looking for a custom-designed confection. It can be hard to move away from a cake you love on paper to something that really represents your event if you have pictures of other cakes mixed in with your inspiration. “But,” says Penny, “I do think its really helpful if the couple has done some research and looked at other cakes, to get ideas of what they want, and often more importantly, what they don’t.”

THE TECHNICAL DETAILS

It’s time to get down to business. Let’s break it down, shall we?

  • Standard sized wedding cake layers are generally around 4” tall, each consisting of 3 interior layers of cake and two layers of buttercream or filling, which are iced in a thin layer of buttercream.
  • Cakes can be filled with buttercream, ganache, curds or fruit filling. Buttercreams can be flavored in an endless variety of ways, creating custom flavor palates when combined with the cake flavor. Ganache is a mix of chocolate and heavy cream – rich, decadent and great for maintaining the stability of a cake. Curds and fruit fillings add an extra layer of fruit flavor to the cake.
  • From there, cakes can be either covered in fondant or a thick layer of buttercream. Fondant is a rollable sugar dough, similar to a dense marshmallow. This is what provides the elegant, porcelain-like finish of modern wedding cakes. It allows for techniques, like painting and applique, which aren’t possible on buttercream frosting, while also protecting the cake and maintaining freshness.
  • Once the cake is covered, either in buttercream or fondant, decorative details can be added using fondant, sugar, sugar paste or chocolate modeling paste. Sugar paste is a dough similar to fondant that dries hard, allowing cake designers to create things like intricate sugar flowers.

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MIX IT UP

Now you know the basics, so how can you create something more unique? First, Penny recommends playing with the shape of the cake. Round tiers of equal height are the most traditional shape, but there are many variations – square, rectangle, hexagonal or a series of tiers in different shapes.

You could also experiment with asymmetrical cakes, with the tiers mounting off to one side of the cake instead of up the center, as well as using tiers of varying heights. Tiers can also be carved to create new, more unique shapes.  Take a look at our portfolio of Bold wedding cakes.

PERSONAL STYLE

Work with your cake designer to create something that represents the two of you as a couple. Penny recently created a cake for a fashion designer using some of her designs as inspiration. Another couple had her create two Cookie Monster figures getting married on the top tier. Her advice? “Always put any idea into the mix. Some will work, some won’t, but a good designer will always try to find a way to incorporate the details that have meaning for a couple.”

BE OPEN TO CONTRADICTIONS

As you talk about the event, details, style and your personal tastes with your cake designer, he or she will probably start to sketch and include many of the ideas that you’re discussing. Penny encourages her couples to tell her whenever she’s hit on something that they do, or don’t, like. Even if they don’t seem to make sense as they’re discussed, considering contradictory details or elements will help you “find the place in between where you can create something beautiful and unique.”

sparkle &rosette

SAY IT WITH FLOWERS

One of the most popular ways to decorate a wedding cake is with flowers. But are they real? Chances are, no, they’re made of sugar paste. These flowers are hand-formed petal by petal. Once the paste is dry and the flowers are assembled, they’re dusted with powdered pigments to make them look as realistic as possible.

The process of making sugar flowers is incredibly labor-intensive, making it extra pricey. The cost varies depending on the type of flower and the amount of detail work involved. They are edible but are mounted on wire, so they shouldn’t be served. Our recommendation? Preserve them as a memento – they’ll last forever and won’t wilt or brown like fresh flowers.

Some blooms can also be made from pulled sugar or white chocolate modeling paste. Since these materials have different properties than sugar paste, they’re not ideal for all flowers, but are another alternative to discuss with your cake designer.

Is your heart set on using real flowers? Most bakers, Penny included, recommend that couples stick with sugar flowers, but if the natural look is what you crave, be sure to bring your cake designer and florist together to discuss your options. Some flowers are toxic and should be kept away from food. In any case, stems should never be stuck into a cake – they should be arranged in plastic flower spikes and then added to the cake.

Additionally, says Penny, since flowers often wilt when left out of water for so long, you should “have your florist add the flowers at the venue.” And any flowers you use on or near your cake should be organic and non-toxic, even if they’re just on the cake table, to avoid any sort of contamination. The complications of using real flowers are some of the reasons the art of recreating flowers in sugar was developed.

A MATTER OF TASTE

When you’re doing your initial cake tasting, mix and match cake, filling and frosting flavors until you find a combination you love. “The clue to the final choice is generally which one has only crumbs left,” says Penny. If there are two flavors you love, talk to your baker about splitting the cake into two flavor combinations, alternating tiers with different cake and filling combinations.

Two flavors are ideal for a buffet or dessert table, where slices of cake are displayed and guests can choose the flavor they’d like. It becomes more complex when the cake is served at the table. “It would be impolite not to offer the same choice to each table, and one flavor might be more popular. In this case, I suggest ordering a bit more of each flavor to compensate.” Talk to your baker about ordering an extra sheet cake or two so that you can be sure to have enough should your guests prefer one flavor over another.

When choosing flavors, consider the seasons. “For spring and summer my favorites are always fresh and crisp, such as a lemon cake or fruity buttercreams. In the colder months, some great choices are pumpkin cake, cranberry hazelnut cake, chocolate spice cake and sticky toffee cake. No matter the season, I love a salty caramel buttercream.” Year-round standards? Red velvet, chocolate and vanilla. Use a flavored buttercream or fruit filling to brighten up a simpler flavor, or embrace the basics and serve the best classic flavor you can find.

Here’s our extensive list of cake flavors.  But don’t let it stop you there… just like our cake designs our flavors are custom too.

MONEY TALK

Cakes get more expensive as details are added. “To keep prices from getting away from you,” says Penny, “focus on one or two larger graphic elements. A single large flower can have stunning visual impact and keep labor costs down. Simple touches like edible glitter can make a cake sparkle.  Stencils can add background texture quickly and easily.” Be straightforward and honest with your cake designer about your budget from the beginning. As you design and brainstorm, they’ll be able to help you create something gorgeous that fits within your means.

The best way to get a wow-factor in your cake while keeping costs down is to make it personal. Whether you use an interesting pattern, a bold color or a single oversized sugar flower, picking a detail that ties in with the theme of your event will make even a more simple cake stand out.

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TRENDY OR TRADITIONAL?

Penny filled us in on the latest trends she’s seeing in cake design. Engaged couples and cake designers are using tier separators to increase the height and create a more shapely cake. Metallics have made a jump from the runway to the dessert table, as has the use of glitter and sugar gemstones. “Bold colors and graphic patterns are all very popular right now.” But Penny would rather set the trends than follow them. “I always encourage couples to be inspired by non-cake things they adore.”  Click here for more Graphic cakes.

And what if you’re more of a traditionalist? “All-white cakes never go out of style. Simple, clean and classic will always be just that.” Bunches of sugar flowers against an all-white cake are always stunning. Keep it understated for a cake design that will look gorgeous the day you cut it as well as in your wedding photos 20 years from now.

So collect your inspiration and get creative. The world is your oyster and, now that you’re armed with all you need to know, you’re ready to design the ideal cake for your wedding day.

The latest from Brides Magazine

Did you know there is a hot season for wedding proposals?  Well there is, and its now through February.   As newly engaged couples are dreaming about all the possibilities, I’d suggest considering one of my favorite new trends in wedding cakes… hand painted cakes.

This one was made for the November/December 2013 issue of Brides Magazine.  They sent along a gorgeous vase for inspiration and we worked to honor its form and grace.  Blue is always an amazing color to incorporate in wedding cakes.

Painted Wedding Cake

This cake can be scaled as required but in its original form served 85 guests.

What would be the inspiration for your painted wedding cake?

Erick and Elena… or my pick for wedding cake of the year

With Thanksgiving only moments away, I started thinking about 2013 as a whole, and all the work I’ve been privileged to create.  I get to be a part of so many special moments because of what I’m lucky to do as a cake designer.  I’m often surprised by which cakes resonate with the world at large, but I’ll tell you this year, for me, it was this wedding cake.

Erick and Elena have been clients for a while now… his 40th birthday cake, their engagement cake. Every single cake I make is important to me and with it I hope to build a relationship with every client.  When I’m blessed to have them come back over and over, I feel a special responsibility to surpass their expectations. That creates some sleepless nights, and a few mini panic attacks here and there, but they always subside with the completion of the project.  Sunday nights are good sleeping nights for me.

Eric and Elena really created an over the top gorgeous wedding.  Their reception was held at the Mandarin Oriental, with 300 of their closest friends and family.  They nailed all the details, monogramed napkins, stunning florals, and favors from Sugar Couture featuring I Love NY cookies and matching mugs, in bags printed with their wedding monogram.

 I Love NY Cookies

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And, because it was also Erick’s parents anniversary, the bride and groom surprised them with an anniversary cake, which was a modernized version of their original wedding cake from so many years ago.  Not kidding, the original had pink package bows… you know the kind you buy at the drugstore?  Yeah, those were the decoration.  So we updated with sugar bows, pink swags and shimmer.

Seven tiers of strawberry champagne cake with strawberry buttercream.   Covered in white fondant, the cake was a canvas for the 550 hand made sugar flowers that covered it.  Garden roses, peonies, heritage roses, and orchids all lightly dusted with a blush pink to match the wedding colors.  And the final detail was the hand piping of the pattern from their invitations.  So many hours of work and love went into this baby.  We assembled it in three pieces for transport and then put it together on site.  How amazing to see the cake table in the middle of the room, and the cake as a centerpiece with New York itself as the background.

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For a bit of the beauty, take a look at their video teaser by Robert and Kathleen Photographers.

 

I’m in love with this cake. Its a beautiful mix of my cake style and traditional wedding cake style. Its  the tallest cake I’ve made to date, and most definitely the most sugar flowers. So now to start thinking about how to top it in 2014.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Lego Marvel Super Heroes Cake

If you haven’t heard from me in the last couple of weeks… this is why.  A showstopper cake for today’s launch of the new Lego Marvel Super Heroes game.  Our scene features Sand Central Station, inspired directly from the game.   Four feet long, 32 inches wide and 2 feet tall, the location was the perfect setting for Hulk, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Loki, Black Widow, Spiderman and Thor to save us all from Dr. Doom.   Weighing in at approximately 70 pounds this cake would easily feed 180 and took more than 70 hours to create.

 

lego marvel cake

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Couldn’t have don it without the support and talents of  Lauren Nisenson, and my Chief of Operations, my husband Jay, who always makes me look good.

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And a special shout out to the front door staff at the Bryant Park Hotel, who went above and beyond to make sure our super heroes made it up to the 24th floor.

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