Sugar Flowers vs. Real Flowers for Wedding Cakes

Wedding season is approaching and with it, our email box is full of inquiries for wedding cakes.  Yay! We love making wedding cakes and take our responsibility to create something beautiful and memorable for each client very seriously.  This year, I’m noticing a trend.  Its not new, but its definitely feeling like its picking up some steam lately.    Several brides are asking for plain cakes that they say their florists will decorate with real flowers.

As a professional cake artist with 14 years of experience, I’ve learned many things over the years. I know that brides see photos all over Pinterest or other sites, read magazine articles featuring money saving tips that include the use of real flowers.  Just because its printed by a magazine, doesn’t mean that they consulted experts to find out if these are good ideas or not.  But I’m hear for you, and I know that sugar flowers are premium priced.  I’d like to tell you why…

Wedding cakes are works of art.  They are a unification of many of the details of the wedding day.  They are a symbolic sweet bite shared by the couple, and they are a memory highlight of an amazing day.  But they are also food.  Unless organic flowers have been ordered, flowers are grown with pesticides.  They are not intended for consumption, and so no one really worries about anything but keeping them beautiful, perfect, and insect bite free.  And like with strawberries, the pesticides get absorbed into the flower.  No amount of cold water washing is going to rinse it away. Its inside and out. And those pesticides should not ever be touching your cake, never mind having the stems that soak up all the nasty stuff, stabbed inside your beautiful cake and served to your friends and family.

Some flowers, like roses and pansies and lavender and marigolds are edible in themselves.  This is good, so long as they are grown to be used as food.  But there is a whole other category of flowers that just by themselves are toxic or even poisonous.  Some of these include Ranunculus, Sweetpea,  Calla Lily, Hyacinth, Oleander, Hydrangea and Lily of the Valley.  And more…  Some florists may go to lengths to wrap the stems, but this is also labor intensive and costly. And no amount of wrapping will make me feel comfortable that no toxic liquids are not seeping out and making guests ill.  As the baker, that is my responsibility no matter who places the flowers on the cake.

Next are mites…  little tiny bugs that can embed themselves in between the petals.  Don’t want them on the cake or the plate either.

And finally, to look beautiful for the 4-5 hours your wedding cake sits out as centerpiece to your wedding, flowers need water.  Water is the nemesis of cake.  It can ruin a beautiful fondant application, drip down hand painting, and generally speaking just ruin a wedding cake.  So you have limp flowers after 5 hours when it comes time to cut the cake and take pictures, or you have bulky water receptacles that create ugly holes in the cake and can ruin it.

This is exactly why the art of sugar flowers was developed. To have gorgeous life-like floral arrangements to beautify any wedding cake.  And yes, sugar flowers can be costly.  They are made by hand, petal by petal and pulled together with time and tape.  They are fragile and delicate.  And a showstopper. Sugar flowers are some of the highest level of skills a designer can have, and each adds their own signature to them.

I want each client to have a unique cake that represents them, and the creative use of sugar florals is one of the ways I can do this.  And if you’re going to consider paying a florist for organic flowers, or to individually protect the cake from each stem, why not consider availing yourself of the talents of your designer of choice to create a truly unique wedding cake, inspired by you and created by the cake artist? If cost is the main consideration there are ways of featuring less flowers but in a dynamic way where the cake still has a lot of presence, even if its not drenched in flowers.  Or we can work with other mediums to create unique florals that are not as time consuming and therefore more budget friendly.  Promise, we can figure out a unique visual that will make your cake even more special because it was created with you in mind. And, if by chance you’re the kind of couple that likes to have keepsakes, if properly handled, your sugar flowers can last a lifetime.   Can’t say that for real flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

Fun with Conversation Hearts

Inspired by a request from Tasting Table for a Valentine’s Day piece, we came up with these super fun ways to use those conversation hearts in new creative ways to spice up sugar cookies.

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The heart flower cookies are inspired by a little image my mom used to draw everywhere, a small delicate flower comprised of 4 connected hearts which formed the petals.  Four smaller hearts made up the centers and single leaf.   I translated this into a cookie and though it would be fun to use the Sweetheart candies as the smaller center hearts and leaf.    There are two other versions as well, a heart and a lip version.

Chocolate Chili Sugar Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour

1.3 cup cocoa powder

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp chili powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs brown sugar

10 Tbs unsalted butter

3 egg yolks

1 Tbs Vanilla extract

The extra punch of the chili powder really brings the chocolate alive.  If you’re making them for kids, it can be easily omitted or replaced with cinnamon.

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder baking powder, chili 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 to about ¼” thick.  Repeat with the remaining half.  Refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Using a template and xacto knife or a cookie 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 12 minutes until the tops are no longer shiny.   Cool completely.

Makes 15 large cookies or 20 medium ones.

 

Royal Icing

1 pound confectioners sugar

3 egg whites

1 tsp lemon juice

Beat egg whites with whisk attachment on medium speed in a standing mixer until soft peaks form.

Change to the paddle attachment, and add the sifted sugar in small amounts at low speed, until incorporated.

Add lemon juice and beat on medium sped until icing holds its shape. Cover with plastic wrap at all times until ready to use.

TO DECORATE THEM:

Heart Flowers

After your cookie dough has been rolled and chilled, use the template to cut out the cookies.  Print the template out and with scissors, cut about 1/4” around the entire shape.  Cut the chilled dough with an Xacto knife or sharp pearing knife.

Bake the cold cookies in a 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes, turning the sheet tray once during the bake time.

While the cookies are cooling, Make the royal icing with a flood consistency.  Color as desired.  I used a super light baby pink and a for the stem, I mixed some leaf green and brown colors to get a more interesting green.  Place the icing in a piping bag with a number 1 or 2 tip.

Reprint the template and cut out one of the heart petals.   Lying it on the cooled cookie, trace the outline with a number 2 pencil.  With the pink icing, trace the outline you just made, holding the tip about 1/2” above the surface of the cookie.  Allow this to dry while outlining the remaining cookies.

Pour the Sweetheart candies onto a tray with the text facing up so it will be easier to select your favorites.

Using the same, or a larger piping tip fill in the centers of the petals with royal icing. Use the piping tip or toothpick to push the icing into the form.

Place the candies, text up in the center of each petal, with the point facing the center.

Pipe a single green line from the petal, to the bottom of the stem of the cookie.  Place one green Sweetheart in the middle to form the  leaf.

Allow cookies to dry completely for at least 3 hours up to overnight.
Using a lip cutter, or  template, cut the cookies from the rolled and chilled dough.

Bake the cold cookies in a 350 degree oven for approximately 12 minutes, turning the sheet tray once during the bake time.

While the cookies are cooling, make the royal icing with a flood consistency.  Color as desired.  I used a very dark red .  Place the icing in a piping bag with a number 1 or 2 tip.

Pipe an outline of the lips, including the middle line and let this dry to set about 7 minutes, or while you’re piping the rest of the cookies.

With the same or larger sized tip, pipe icing in between the form you’ve piped to fill it. Use the piping tip or toothpick to push the icing into the form.

While the icing is still wet, sprinkle the  red sanding sugar over the cookie, and place the single Sweetheart candy in place.

Allow cookies to dry completely for at least 3 hours up to overnight.

3 Day Cake class in New York City

Just announced today! Come and play with sugar with me and 5 brilliant cake artists and instructors at this three day, three cake class, April 10, 11 and 12, 2015, hosted by the NYC Cake Decorators Meetup.

Instructors are paired in teams of two, Patti Paige of Baked Ideas & Kate Sullivan of Cake Power, Ron Ben-Israel & Elisa Strauss of Confetti Cakes and Toba Garret and Me, to teach three fun New York City themed cake projects. Students will spend one day with each set of instructors and complete a total of three cake projects during that time.

Register now for your chance to learn from the best cake talents New York City has to offer and have a blast doing it. Contact nyccakedecorators@hotmail.com for more info and to register. See you there!NYCCDM A NY State of Mind1

Fashion inspired wedding cake…

Some brides know exactly what they want, (and in some cases what they don’t) and sometimes they throw out a few key words that help guide you to the new place.   Both are good, but the latter requires a few more smart questions.

That’s one of the reasons I love Pinterest.  I gather all kinds of beautiful images knowing one day I’ll need a new place to start.  Pinterest creatively rescues me.  I don’t look at other’s cakes though.  That’s the rule.  All the inspiration has to come from a totally different mediums.  Fashion is a never ending supply of pretty.

I’m in love with this dress.  I wish I could wear it to work, but flour would really ruin the sparkle.  Maybe I should get a new job…

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Based on all this loveliness, I created a three tier  wedding cake for a celebration at the Ace Hotel.  Delicate gold flouncy flowers, edible gold glitter and sequins, which in the wrong combination could be way over the top, but here, placing them in the center and softening from the center out, they created a soft, glamorous focal point.  evy (7 of 12)

The Art of Floral Wedding Cakes

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I was introduced to sugar flowers on a Food Network special more than a dozen years ago.  This was before pastry school, before cakes and Sugar Couture, back in a time when I would bounce from creative project to creative project.  My patient husband Jay recalls this time by how it affected him, like for example that time when I was making glass mosaics and he had tiny shards of glass stuck in his socks for months.

After I saw that program, I thought what I usually do… “I can do that”, and immediately ran out to buy my first sugar flower making supplies at the only place I knew of at the time, New York Cake and Bake.  Armed with more a brochure than book, I started to teach myself how to make beautiful flowers out of gumpaste, a sugar dough that dries firm.  I then promptly put them down and didn’t return to them until pastry school.    But then I was hooked.  As Sugar Couture grew, I had more and more requests for these fragile beauties.  People were impressed with their lifelike quality, delicate petals, and their impressive statement on the wedding cakes I made.

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Sugar flowers are some of the most time consuming things I make for my cakes.  The centers are made and dried for days.  The gumpaste is rolled out and each petal is individually cut out, sometimes veined for texture, attached, and left to dry. Depending on the amount of petals and flower form, this can take days, with drying in between.  When they are set, they are dusted with color to give them depth and life, and that color is set with steam.  And then when they are complete, they are terrifyingly delicate.  They can break and chip at the gentlest touch.  They are subject to the weather and have to be kept humidity and heat free to stay beautiful.  This might explain a bit about the price points of of these works of art.

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From time to time I’ll have a client consider real flowers, mostly for budgetary reasons.  I do understand this, but real flowers are rarely a way to go.  Many flowers are toxic, and because of that should not be placed on food. And for the flowers that are not toxic, they can be grown with pesticides that are not used for food, so if you’re going to go that route, organic is the only way.

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There are some flowers that are actually edible, roses, pansies, violets, and these are fine, but you’re limited in the design and use of them because you should never stick a flower stem into a cake. And last but not least, flowers need water to stay beautiful for long periods of time.  Water is the nemesis of cake.  So those flowers that were beautiful when they were first put on, will wilt and slump and when you’re ready for the cake’s photo op, the flowers are long past their prime.  I’ve heard stories from photographer friends who’ve seen the real flowers wilt over the progression of the celebration, their weight tearing the fondant down with them, and ruining the entire cake.    This is the reason the art of sugar flowers was born,  to  solve all these issues and more.  And even better, if you’re the kind of person that likes to keep mementos, the flowers can be removed from the cake, stored and arranged on floral foam with a little desiccant (those packets that come with new shoes), under glass, to keep them beautiful indefinitely.

If budget is a factor, consider a few smaller bunches rather than full on drape or wrap.  Or a single large statement bloom can be all you need to keep all eyes on your cake, and all your guests talking about it for months to come.

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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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