Extravagant Wedding Cakes

Tara and Travis were married last summer.  As a long time client of mine, it was a privilege to get to make their wedding cake.  They are an amazing couple and they had a celebration that suited them to a T.   No ordinary wedding cake would do…   their showstopper featured their dog Piko.

Because not everyone likes to cut into their best furry friend, we set him on a “leather” bed cake.  And he had to be dressed for the occasion, only a black smoking jacket would do. A pipe completed his ensemble.   As a final personal touch to the couple, the board held two 45 records representing music that holds meaning for them and their relationship.  It was a fun cake to make, and one I’m super proud of.  I thought it was pretty terrific when their wedding and cake were featured on the Green Wedding Shoes blog, but this past Sunday, the cake was featured in the Style section of the New York Times, in an article that heralds the return of the extravagant wedding cake.

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photography: Matt Miller from Our Labor of Love

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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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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!

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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.”

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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.

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!

 

Good Cake Question!

Custom cakes are for special occasions, not the everyday.  So its natural that certain questions come up, repeatedly for me, but the first time for my clients.  I’m happy to answer any questions, and the blog is the perfect place for these.

Today’s question,   How long does it take to make a specialty cake?

-The process of making a custom cake starts with brainstorming in the very first phone call.  From there, ideas are refined and developed until its time to sketch.  10 minutes to 1 hour

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-Depending on the amount of detail and your sketching abilities (or lack thereof in my case) a sketch can take any where from 15 minutes to an hour.  There are often revisions as well, each sketch adding on to that timing.

-Once the design is set, supplies are ordered.  Research is begun to find the right source material.  1 hour minimum.

-Many cakes require that detailed plans and templates be created.  30 minutes to 2 hours.

-The amount of details incorporated into the cake will determine how early you have to start working on it.  For something with say sugar shoes, each piece needs to be made, and then dried overnight, so those would need to be started almost two weeks in advance.  And over that time, will take from 1-4 hours to complete one shoe.  Most things will be made in the beginning of the week the cake is due.  Sugar flowers are made petal by petal and can take anywhere from 1 to 12 hours over several days to create.  A design heavy in sugar flowers will take much longer.  A design that includes modeled sugar figurines will add at least one hour per figure for simple ones, and several hours for more complex, layered ones, again, with days of drying time in between.

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-Then there is baking.  Its about 15 minutes to mix cake batter, and about an hour or so to bake a 3″ thick cake.    The cakes then cool for hours, but that is not active time.  There’s 30 minutes for making buttercream, 10 minutes for making sugar syrup, and additional time if the buttercream is flavored, say caramel.  Then the cakes are split, filled and chilled.   Then they are covered in buttercream and made ready for their final covering of fondant.  If its a shaped cake, you’ll also carve it and it will get a few additional layers of buttercream.  For a basic shaped cake, the time required is about an hour.  For carved add at least another 1-2 hours onto that.

-Once the cake is prepared, it gets covered in fondant, 10 minutes per tier, stacked, 15 minutes, and then decorated.    Lots of details lots of time.  A simple cake can be completed in about an hour from here, more complex structure would add as well.  Sculpted cakes can be dressed, painted, details added and take anywhere from 2-6 hours down to the ribbon being glued on the edge of the board.

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All told, I can spend anywhere between 6 and 30 hours on a cake.  And after this list,

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I’m sure you can see why!

Let me know what cake question you’d like answered in the comments and I’ll be sure to get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

Wedding Cake 101

Getting married?  Know someone who is?  Well here is all you need to know to get started on your dream custom wedding cake.  I spoke with Colin Cowie Weddings to discuss all the basics and gave some great tips on finding inspiration for your perfect wedding cake.

We covered topics including when to book, inspiration, shapes and styles, trends and flavors.    One of my favorite tips is about contradictions.  So often couples come in and offer conflicting ideas and feel uncomfortable about that.  But that is the perfect place to be to find something new…

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.”

 

Click through to Cake Design 101 for all the tips to feel confident going out into the cake world.

Gorgeous Brooklyn Winery Wedding

I’ve been making wedding cakes for more than 8 years now.  Over that time, I’d never experienced a cancellation, that is until we started getting pummeled with these crazy hurricanes and “Perfect Storms”.  The first time someone postponed a wedding was for Hurricane Irene, and that wasn’t until the very last second.   I had a lot of cake to “donate” after that, and so became very friendly with my neighbors.  Lots of things stopped and were put on hold through hurricane Sandy.  So this February, as we were getting more predictions for the latest Super Storm I worried that Gretchen’s wedding the next day at Brooklyn Winery might be affected.  When I checked in, I think she might have thought I was a little silly… nothing was going to stop her wedding from happening and certainly not a little bit of snow…or rain… or wind…

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Brooklyn Winery Wedding

It ended up being quite a lot of snow, but it had stopped well before Gretchen’s day started and the wedding went on without even the faintest hint of anything standing in its way.  And if it dared, the warmth and joy in this room were going to melt it all away.

Brooklyn Winery was transformed into a gorgeous, earthy celebration space and Erica from Clean Plate Pictures captured it all beautifully. I love seeing the cake cutting photos…  love that shot of the first cut into cake, the peek if you will.

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And how can you not love this one….


Brooklyn Winery Wedding

Maybe I’m projecting, but that one look says “this is the most rich, decadent, scrumptious bite I’ve ever had.  I’m in heaven.”  Okay, I’m heavily projecting, but its still a pretty fantastic shot.    And these are just some of my favorites.

 Head over to Clean Plate Pictures and see the whole wedding, all the smiles, the dancing, the fun and love…

 

 

 

 

 

First Wedding Cake of the Year!

Here we go 2013!  Starting off sparkly.

Gretchen’s wedding this snowy weekend was at a gorgeous venue in my neighborhood, Williamsburg BK.  Brooklyn Winery is a natural space with bare wood, tall ceilings and a warm and cozy vibe, just perfect for a wedding any time of the year or a drink any night of the week.   And, you can get your own growler of wine to take home.   My favorite kind of favor!

The decor of the wedding cake was collaborated with the brides dress and a gorgeous sequined floral detail that was on it.  For the fantasy flower, we created hundreds of mini sugar sequins and adhered them to the free formed flower ad then gave it a bit of luster.   Silver dragees made the center of the the sugar flower and were picked up again as a detail above the banding at the base of the tiers.  Sugar branches covered in glitter framed the touches of lace and negative space.

The wedding cake was made from two flavors,  Chocolate Cake with Raspberry and Ultra Rich Butter Cake with Caramel Buttercream.   I’m not always a fan of  offering more than one flavor, since it can cause some distress at a seated dinner.  It would be rude to not place a piece in front of every guest, and if the most popular flavor is gone before everyone has made their selection, someone can be left disappointed.  But, I am a big fan of it when its served at a dessert station or buffet and  everyone is allowed to take their own plate.  Not everyone will choose cake then and  its first come first served.  No one to blame but yourself, if you’re too busy dancing to grab your  favorite flavor.