Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Wedding Cake Chronicles Part IV (final chapter)

The Delivery

I didn't take a lot of pictures of the final assembly of the cake (it's hard when you're covered in buttercream and under time constraints) but I remember have all 4 cake tiers iced and decorated on their own boards and in the fridge by Thursday evening as planned.

I enjoyed a wonderful Friday laughing as my mom got what might have been her first pedicure and enjoyed a fun rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. If I did anything on the cake after the rehearsal dinner, I don't remember.

What I do remember is getting up fairly early on Saturday and starting to assemble the tiers for transportation. Much like a baby, the delivery of a cake is stressful and traumatic, though arguably less painful.

I assembled the bottom 4 tiers (2 cakes, 2 flowers) and hammered in a large dowel to hold it all together. I'm sure my downstairs neighbors loved me for that, but I figured I got a bye on my wedding day.  All of that went in a large home depot box with a board in the bottom for reinforcement.

I packed the other cakes/ flowers/ topper in their own boxes and brought my tools.

My dad had by far the worst job on my wedding day.  He had been charged with renting an SUV when he flew in with my mom, and it was his job to come pick up me and the cake and deliver us safely to the venue. Even though my dad is a trained ambulance driver, driving a cake is not, shall we say, a piece of cake. In fact, this is the only time you don't want any cake pieces in your life.

My dad and a groomsman carried the heavy box down from my 2nd floor apartment and loaded it into the back of the SUV. We followed with the other cake boxes, all of course on non-skid material.

Then we drove. It was the longest 5 miles ever. You don't realize how bad roads are until you're delivering a cake on them, when every little bump results in a bone-chilling rattle of sugar flowers to point where you're sure all your're going to have left is bits and pieces.  As much as I tried not to visibly wince in the passenger's seat, I don't think I did a very good job of concealing my anxiety.  Thankfully, dad is a really calm guy.

We made it.  We unloaded. I set up.

I added a 2nd dowel through the top 3 tiers and into the large flower tier so that when the event staff moved the cake from the foyer to the reception no tiers would be shed.

Is it level??

My recollection is that I had the cake all set up by 10 or 10:30 AM.  My bridesmaids had arrived at 9 AM and got a jump-start on hair and makeup, and I was relieved to grab a mimosa and join them.

My photographer did a great job capturing the cake and its details.  Here are some of the photos:
The table assignments are on the watercolor cards in the background. 

Flower power.

The gear theme is a nod to the fact that we are both engineers.  The gears on the bottom tier were cut from gum paste.

The cakes were covered in White Chocolate Fondant. I still remember how lovely it smelled.

In short, I am really glad I made my own wedding cake. It's my piece de resistance. And I still have the flowers in my china cabinet. :) 

That being said, friends don't let friends make their own wedding cakes.

The end.

Sweet dreams.

The Wedding Cake Chronicles- Part III

The Design

3 years later seems like a good time to finally write part 3 of this adventure, right?

As I try to write this, I hear my 17 month old upstairs is staging a resistance of nap-time on a snowy afternoon in Georgia. This gives you some indication of why my blog posts have been non-existent.  The hours I was once able to spend watching bad reality TV while making gum paste flowers seem to have eviscerated. 

But, coming back to the days when I decided to make my own wedding cake developed a list of requirements to make it manageable, I sat down to design.  It turns out it's a lot easier to design for a client than for yourself. I mean, my job as a cake designer is to get to know a clients' tastes, look at their wedding or event details that they've already selected, venue, feel, budget, etc. and come up with a cake design for them.  Even after I had found a venue and settled on a dress and colors, I found the design freedom to be a little overwhelming.

  Here is what I ultimately came up with, though I made some adjustments along the way:

True to my constraints, I made sure the design could be mostly done and stacked prior to transportation.  The gum paste flowers are all in styrofoam tiers so that they could be made and assembled in advance of the cake.

Here is a mock-up using cake pans after I ordered the styrofoam for the flowers and the gear-shaped base board, which I had custom cut from a design I made in InkScape:

The crazy thing about the styrofoam tiers is that you need to add 1-2" for flowers on each side. That means their final diameter is 2-4" wider than the tiers you order. So what looks like a modest amount of surface area to cover requires a LOT more flowers than you think, especially when you want a 360 degree flower explosion, like I did.

I spent a lot of nights making flowers. On a couple of heartbreaking nights I broke flowers.

I started with the large roses, knowing they'd be focal points:

The hypericum berries, before dusting (the little leaves were SO FRAGILE. I broke many.)

The dendrobium orchids, hand painted:

The ranunculus, in various stages of completion, before dusting: 

So. Many. Petals.  I put each one on by hand. Little circles.  Many times I asked myself 'why ranunculus??'

Lining them up... this doesn't include all the leaves/ assembling the orchid clusters, etc. There was a lot of floral tape.

Starting to assemble the middle tier:

I had to cover the styrofoam with black tights so that white spots wouldn't pop out through the greenery. It was very tricky.

After all the floral tiers were completed, I carefully stored them out of sunlight. I baked the cake tiers a couple weeks in advance and stored them in the freezer.  And somehow, it was all coming together...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Wedding Cake Chronicles- Part II

The Logistics

So we established in Part 1 that I decided to embrace the crazy and make my own wedding cake.

Being a cake engineer, I had to carefully define the problem: to design a cake whose execution would not preclude me from taking care of my bridal responsibilities.

Those of you who have gotten married know that the week of the wedding is, shall we say, hectic.

How glamorous is this?  This could be you, covered in buttercream at T-6 hours!

I learned a lot last year when I did Lindsey's cake while being her bridesmaid. I had thought through the day of the wedding pretty carefully-- when I would set up the cake, go to hair and makeup, get dressed, etc., but I had forgotten about the day before the wedding.  

Ah yes, the day before the wedding you have a rehearsal and a rehearsal dinner (doesn't that sound like practicing before you actually eat dinner?).  Ostensibly, you ought to show up to the wedding with your nails painted and not covered in green petal dust.  Details.

In planning out my own wedding week, I tried to take the following into account:

On the wedding day:
  1. Cake setup/ delivery
  2. Getting ready/ get all stuff to venue
  3. Get married, reasonably calmly ;)
  4. Enjoy the day!!!
Day before:
  1. Mani-pedi with friends and family
  2. Rehearse
  3. Rehearsal dinner
Day before that: Dinner with both sets of parents (they hadn't met each other yet), accompany then-fiance to a work function

Other miscellaneous to-do items for that week: Make sure dress is steamed and ready, get programs and such to venue, write out escort cards, spray tan, etc.

This all amounts to some significant constraints.  First, I realized the cake needed to be 'done' and in the fridge on Thursday before dinner.  There wasn't really any time to work on it on Friday. Second, I needed a design that could be delivered and set up easily-- nothing complicated.  I wanted no more than 20 minutes or so of setup so I could be getting ready with my girls. :)

On the upside, I was getting ready at the venue which meant that once the cake was set up, I could just run upstairs and join the beautification team.  That made things easier.  

I delegated tasks where I could.  For example, my parents came several days before the wedding and helped with some last minute errands, like writing escort cards and picking up a 22" moving box from Home Depot.  Craig also took on some tasks, like picking up the booze for the rehearsal dinner.

 Make sure your support team has their tasks laid out.  Lola's task was to keep the floor clean.

So how does this all translate to a wedding cake design?

I knew I wanted to do a lot of gum paste flowers-- they are kind of my thing, and on top that, they can be made well in advance.  To save on set up time, I thought I'd put them into their own styrofoam tiers and use them as spacers between the cakes. With no pillars/ spacers/ crazy lighting/ decorations that needed to be added on site besides the topper, I knew I could go with most of the cake already stacked.  I would only be limited by how much could be carried safely at one time and how tall of a cake could fit in the delivery car.  

I thought I'd start the gum paste flowers no later than May or June for my October wedding.  Then I discovered Game of Thrones, and the whole timeline got a little compressed...

Next post I'll share my original sketch and how it evolved.  Turns out designing a cake for yourself isn't all that easy...  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Wedding Cake Chronicles- Part 1

This post is part 1 of a who-knows-yet-how-many part series.

The Decision

Last September, I got engaged.  We were in Hawaii, and the abbreviated version is he asked, and I said yes.  That was the easy decision.

Then came the real decision.

Our friends would say, 'Congratulations!!  Do you know yet when the big day is?'  (That also was not that hard of a decision.)

Then, to me, 'Are you going to make your own cake?'

Ay, there's the rub.  The million dollar question.  

At first I emphatically said, 'No!  That would be crazy! The timeline is just not compatible with being the bride.'  To which friends often replied, 'That totally makes sense, but...'  Fill in that ellipsis with one of the following statements: 

A. 'But, Roxanne cake is so good!'
B. 'But who IS going to do it? I'd hate to have that job.'
C. 'But maybe you should just not even have a cake then?'
D. 'But do what makes you happy.'

For the record, none of these statements make the decision any easier (no offense, friends.) ;)

There was no good answer to this question for me, or for them.  And even though I started off by emphatically answering 'no,' I was already waffling on the inside.  For a few months the answer was 'I just don't know yet.  I'm thinking about it.'  

Honestly, it was probably a foregone conclusion by the time I booked the venue and catering-- I had already negotiated my cake cutting fee in case I decided I wanted to do the cake myself.  But I at least pretended to waffle for a bit longer.

Sometime during the 'maybe' stage my parents offered the suggestion of designing it myself and/or making my own flowers but having someone else do the actual cake.  I thought hard about this suggestion and then realized this was actually the worst of all possible worlds, not the best.  

DaVinci: Hey Pablo! I've got a lot going on these days but I have this vision of a woman maybe smiling and maybe not smiling-- can you paint it for me? K thks bye.

Picasso: No probs, D-Vinc. I got you.


And that's definitely how they would communicate with each other in 2014.

Now, not that I'm comparing myself to DaVinci or anyone else in that artistic echelon, but I think you get the idea about why this would not be good for anyone involved.  I realized that I either had to do my own cake, start to finish, or completely let someone else do it.  It had to be my art or their art, not some uncomfortable melange of the two.

At the end of my probationary waffling period I changed my answer to the question (which was by far the most asked, by the way).  "Are you going to make your own cake?"

I'd sigh and say 'Yes, I'm planning on it.'

I'll be honest, the new list of responses wasn't much more helpful.

A. I think you're crazy.
B. Are you really sure you want to do that?
C. Well, I guess if anyone can pull it off it's you.
D. How is that even possible?
E. No one will care what cake you serve-- make it easy on yourself.

I questioned my decision up till the very end.  I started telling people 'It's a decision I will live to regret either way, so at least I might as well have good cake.'

Well, it was stressful all the way until the day of, but interestingly, I'm glad I did it.    

In my next post I'll talk about the planning process for the cake and how I made it fit into a seemingly impossible time frame.

Disclaimer: Do not try this at home.  I would not recommend making your own wedding cake in 99.99% of cases. Remember, I even counseled myself not to.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Tenure Clock (Cake!)

So let me answer the question that I'm sure is burning in all of your minds-- does Roxanne still make cakes??  The answer is sometimes. :)  I work full time and I'm passionate about my job, and I'm equally passionate about my health and life, so squeezing in a 2nd full time job is not really an option right now.  However, when the right opportunities come up, I take them.  And sometimes even the wrong opportunities-- as of now, I'm planning on making my own wedding cake.  I'll keep you posted on all of my bad decisions.

Anyway, a great opportunity came up recently-- my fiance was awarded tenure at Georgia Tech!  I was asked to make a cake for the department celebration.  Since he was not the only one being honored at the celebration, I wanted a cake that was universally relevant for everyone who got tenure.  So I came up with the idea of making the 'tenure clock'-- it is a metaphorical thing that many professors allude to during their early years as faculty members when they only have limited time to prove they are worthy of tenure!  Since we are both in the mechanical engineering department, I thought a steam punk clock in the Georgia Tech white and gold color scheme would be perfect.

I started by buying some decorative gears from Amazon and making some custom molds.  In the above picture, you see the original metal gear, the mold I made, and one of the gum paste gears on the right.  I made the gears by gently spreading gum paste into the mold, and it was a bit trickier than I'd planned on.

I then made some templates for hands and numbers.

And cut and cut and cut with my little x-acto knife:

I used a mixture of gold and bronze luster dusts with fan brushes to give the pieces their final coloration.

Then got to putting the cake together!
It is a chocolate cake iced in vanilla buttercream (always a fun challenge):

To make the border, I used the FMM border cutter set:

And finished with luster powder.  Then I just had to configure the gears!

Of course one of the engineers at the reception asked if the clock was functional.  :oP  But most seemed to appreciate the tenure clock concept.  And really appreciated liqueur-soaked chocolate cake with chocolate truffle filling.

So there it is!  The tenure clock!  Congratulations to my fabulous fiance and his colleagues who were awarded tenure this spring. :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Duomo Cake

 A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a coworker to make a cake for his anniversary as a gift to his wife-- he wanted the top dome of the Duomo cathedral in Florence.

For anyone who has done or seen architectural cakes before, you know it's easy to do them badly, as they require more precision than your typical cake.

Here is my rendition, with my template photo in the background:

The cake was formed from 3 6" round cakes with some sculpting.  The topper was gum paste.  There were many hand piped and painted details-- I tried to capture the spirit of the Duomo without necessarily replicating every detail, as that would have taken weeks. :)

However, I did make 8 tiny flying buttresses for the side of the topper.  I then piped on the added details like the arches on the roof.  

Because of the octagonal shape of the Duomo, I made many templates for this cake to get it as close to perfect as possible.

Happy Anniversary Fred and Amy!! :)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lindsey's Wedding Cake!

I know I'm long overdue for a blog post.

The truth is, I've done only a limited number of cakes since starting a new job in January.  It is too much for me to work full time (and worse, 125% time when I'm also teaching at Georgia Tech) and try to take on big cake projects regularly.

However, when the right projects come around, I still take them on.

Over a year ago, when my dear friend Lindsey got engaged, we made a deal about who was doing her wedding cake. ;)

I was also a bridesmaid in her wedding, which was super fun, but I really hadn't thought through all of the logistics of trying to be in two places at once.

I started early last week making gum paste flowers...

Like these deep purple lisianthus...

And more flowers...

 Like these hydrangea...

And more flowers...

Like these ivory roses....

It is hard to know exactly how many flowers to make, even with a 'vision' in mind.  Gum paste flowers are rigid and cannot be compressed to fill spaces.  I usually make a lot of extra flowers to make sure I have what I need.

And then it takes me an extra 3 hours to arrange them, fyi.

I did the baking on Wednesday and Thursday, and started filling cakes on Friday:

Lindsey had the bottom tier chocolate with grand marnier syrup and espresso truffle filling.  Her top two tiers were lemon cake with fresh raspberry puree, chambord syrup, and vanilla swiss meringue.

I was particularly proud of this flower:

This is a two-tone purple and white lisianthus.  I've never seen another gum paste flower like it.  Probably because it was a huge nuisance.  But here it is! :) 

Here it is after being arranged into the topper, with leaves and spray roses:

I knew the ivory roses were going on the gray middle tier, which was inspired by the bride's mauve sash with lace:

The lacy leaves were hand piped using ivory royal icing.

I had the cake pretty well finished up late Saturday night for the Sunday wedding.  The rain (mostly) held off, thankfully.  Although, I have had to invest in a dehumidifier for my place because it has been so horribly humid and rainy that my sugar shoes started melting and collapsing.

But on a happier note, here's the finished product!

Somehow, I made it to everything I was supposed to!

And I had a blast celebrating Lindsey and Kyle!  Congratulations!!

And there was cake for all.

The end.