A Pastry Chef in 2 Weeks: A Wedding Cake on Overdrive (Story in Full)

February 16, 2009

“Yes…” I said, with the same kind of hesitancy I would use when asked to pony up and buy a flight to Mexico. With that same self doubt that comes after accepting an enticing challenge. That morning after.
“…I really… want to make your wedding cake.”
She peered over her glasses.
I was overwhelmed, thinking that I was not a baker, not a pastry chef, and had never made a wedding cake before. On top of that, I was answering to a psychologist who could probably see straight into the grottos of my mind. I was naked trying to maintain the composure of professional caterer.

I looked down at where the raindrops had fallen onto the Martha Stewart Wedding Cake cookbook. Shit. We were overstaying our welcome at Green Apple Bookstore, pilfering recipes from cookbooks we had no intention of buying. Thus would be the leitmotif of my two week journey to build a wedding cake, amassing information without the needed investment. Could I pull off a wedding cake?

I think I did.

I started with emails to friends, putting the word out, gathering first hand experience. There was some, but again, I didn’t know what to ask for.

I went to the library, bought a copy card, and Xeroxed marked pages of information onto a small stump’s worth of paper. I read them, collecting tips, cross-referencing information, befuddling myself further in some cases.

I combed the blogs for information. Smitten Kitchen provided a tale about the novice experience. I also found 40 iterations of raspberry curd.

I considered white v. yellow cake. But did it matter when the bride already had three children, the oldest of which, my best friend?

I pondered buttercreams, curds and temperature dependency. Would 120 bodies in a room melt my presumptive cake?

I wondered about the implications of height and girth. Would my cake implode under pressure?

I developed visions for the aesthetic of my cake. I doubted my frosting skills and pulled in my friend Ariana to be the decorating guru.

I made a test cake with four layers, each with different permutations of colors, flavors, and textures. I packaged the slices in Tupperware with sheets of parchment paper that were marked with my URL, linking to a four question survey.

I visited ‘
Have Your Cake’, the only professional kosher wedding cake facility in the bay area, on Christmas Eve to gather industry secrets.

I looked for cheaper methods of sourcing. I collected Kitchenaids from friends and lined them up on the counter. I went to 4 different Sur la tables in search of cake rounds leaving without satisfaction. I ended up going directly to bakeries for handout cake boxes. I bought a lazy susan and fishing wire at the hardware store. I played nice with the fanatical misanthrope who owned the second hand baking supply store on Divisadero street. I borrowed 6 inch pans and parchment piping bags from bakeries. I bought lemons in the Mission for 20 cents and berries from Whole Foods for much more. I did the rest of my shopping at Costco, buying 6 dozen organic eggs, 32 sticks of butter, and 20 pounds of sugar.

I made timelines and spreadsheets for game day, estimated volumes and cooking times. I made discreet tasks for my co-chef, Lisa., and wrote them down on cards, taping them to various areas of the kitchen. I rented movies to pass the time when conversation ran out.

The day I baked came and passed with only minor disturbances and one major hiccup. I was thankful that my chemistry background afforded me the discipline of baking with precision, whereas in my regular life I was a mess, tank top inside out and backwards. We baked, cooled, leveled, torted, filled, stacked, and frosted layers of cake in 12 hours. By the end of the day we had three tiers of cake, varying in size, ready for stacking the following day. We were crazed off sugar and burritos.

After boxing the tiers and belting them in the car, we attempted the two block drive to Ariana’s house where the tiers would sit in the cooler overnight. As we ascended the hill between our houses, Ariana and I watched in disbelief as the top half of the 14 inch cake we were carrying slid backwards on its own filling, into our arms. We yelled for Lisa to stop the car but she couldn’t, in fear of running out of gas. So in slow motion we laughed in hysterics and waited out the minute it took for us to overcome the hill, our arms all the while paralyzed, caked in cake. I could only imagine that the cake, which took me two weeks to build, was about to fall apart in the minute it took us to traverse a couple hundred yards of bumpy terrain.

Gravity is a funny thing. The same force that pulled the cake down off its base and into our hold, reconciled the fault line when we descended the hill. The layers slid back into place as if they were equipped with ball bearings. Filling extruded out the seams like jelly in a squished pb&j, but all in all there was nothing more than ruffled feathers.

The next day I was showered by complements from fifty-somethings, formers friends’ mothers, expressing disbelief. The bride purged her emotional overload at the sight of the cake. We all laughed when she gulped the blessed wine during the service. I filmed them dance the Hora, struggling to hold the shot steady, well into my fourth drink. The night progressed and I daringly draped my body across the cake for a photo shoot, inches from squashing it like a bug.

The next day I awoke, sore from dancing and running around for days straight but forgot . I barely remembered if the bride smashed wedding cake into her husband’s face, although I think she did. I missed the slight mention of something herbal being passed. I loved it. I love it.

I doubted myself and I delivered, but realized that the apprehension dissolved days before the wedding day.

What is to come chronicles the culinary part of my journeym although the intellectual and psychological is harder to convey, sensed only in my confidence.


TJLoop85 said...

Well I have to say your hard work paid off, because the wedding cake looks greats.

I wish I had the skill to design wedding cakes like these, but I am not that gifted...and therefore, I leave it up to the professionals.

Great job.

Elra said...

Wow Katie, This is unbelievable! I never made wedding cake in my life. Goodness you are very talented, girl. I am amazed!
That is really really beautiful wedding cake.

Ah..as always, I really like to see your photo. Gosh, you are so young, probably the same age as my son.

To Order said...

katie. i cannot BELIEVE your chutspa.what an amazing story. will you teach me, please??

Aji said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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