Have Your Cake
With bakers using inspiring and edible materials, you really can eat it too.
OF ALL THE ATTENTION-GRABBING DETAILS THAT GO INTO YOUR WEDDING, you and the gown will win top honors. Second on the list? Your cake. (Apologies to the groom.) Destined to win the event’s most-popular-dish award, it can also serve as a jaw-dropping centerpiece. And, considering how much thought and energy you put into your own looks that day, it’s only fair to give your grand finale the same attention.
While many brides want the cake to match everything from the invites to the bouquet, these days you can also draw inspiration from your personal life, relationship and hobbies. Bakers are using the cake top as a three-dimensional canvas, applying new techniques and materials to create inspired masterpieces. How about featuring a replica of your dog on top? Or a flock of doves taking flight? These ideas are not only feasible, but edible and stunning to boot.
“EVERYBODY’S GETTING AWAY FROM THE old-fashioned plastic figurines,” says Jörg Amsler, owner of Truly Jörg’s Patisserie in Boston and Saugus. “Now I do a lot of toppers that have to do with individual interests.” He uses pastillage (white, pliable sugar dough) and chocolate to make toppers as varied as figurines of the bride and groom sitting in a sailboat to an exact replica of a couple’s bicycles. “When I’m using pastillage, I can go crazy with the stuff,” he says. He works with it like modeling paste, creating freestanding sculptures that he lets dry for 24 hours before painting them by hand with edible paint.
“There’s something about the art of confection that really gets people excited,” says Ellen Bartlett, owner of Cakes To Remember in Brookline. She makes superbly detailed figurines of brides and grooms out of gum paste (also called sugar paste, a doughy mixture of confectioner’s sugar and natural gums) and says, “It isn’t necessarily as smooth or polished as clay or porcelain but having somebody make a miniature figure of you is kind of fun.” She recently made a cake for a second marriage and built gum paste statuettes of the whole family, which included the groom’s two sons who were seven and nine years old. “As soon as the boys saw the cake,” she says, “they immediately ran over and grabbed their statues and started eating them.”
Boston’s Art of the Cake owner and baker Ursula Argyropoulos has used gum paste and handmade or commercial molds to create everything from an utterly life-like red-breasted nuthatch to a princess coach in the shape of a pumpkin. “I’ve had a lot of requests for pets lately. The bride and groom will give me a photograph and describe the personality or even bring him in,” she says. “It adds something to the cake that is highly personal to them.” For this type of request, Argyropoulos spends hours building a silicone mold by hand which she then fills with the paste or whichever medium she chooses. Once it dries, she removes it and hand-paints it for the perfect, detailed flourish.
Of course, such stylization requires plenty of patience and time. But how much of either is a baker really willing to devote to this type of project? “Plenty,” says Argyropoulos. One cake took her an entire month to create from top to bottom, and another required weeks of searching for a specific Wedgwood china pattern image that a couple wanted to replicate. “In that case,” she says, “baking the cake was the easy part.”
Buyer beware: The extra time and efforts required to create such personalized details equal extra money. Amsler notes that he typically charges for labor, time and material on top of the set price of the cake.
Married to Tradition
“FRESH FLOWERS ARE STILL POPULAR,” says Jenny Williamson, owner of Jenny’s Wedding Cakes in Amesbury, but argues that by creating edible ones, brides actually have more options. “Flowers made from sugar paste can be very stylized so you can do more with it than you can with the real thing,” she says. She uses sugar paste to create flowers that are either out of season or difficult to get in New England. Once molded, the paste can then be painted in a rainbow of colors. “We did a wintertime cake with dogwoods recently because the bride really wanted to incorporate them into her theme,” she says. And while there are commercially made molds for flower petals, Williamson takes pride in creating hers by hand, rolling the paste out into very thin sheets and shaping each petal individually.
Erika Bruce, owner of Jamaica Plain’s Le Beau Gâteau, finds that working with fruit can add a naturally elegant touch. “I like to sugar grapes, figs, pears or apples for a very natural-looking arrangement that has a sparkle to it,” she says. She does this by dipping the fruit into egg whites and then into granules of sugar that dry into a shimmering crust. She also recommends sprucing up the cake by using edible powders such as luster dust. “When I brush the luster dust over [handmade] seashells or fruits, it gives them a really nice pearlescent quality,” she says.
Walk on the Wilder Side
PULLED SUGAR, WHICH RESEMBLES FINELY blown glass when it’s dry, is also making its way onto cake surfaces, adding a splash of color and elegance. Argyropoulos has been practicing with it a lot lately. “It can be very dramatic,” she says. “You can do wonderful underwater scenes with fish and coral, or fun things with penguins,” she says, adding that penguins are a popular wintertime theme. “Your imagination is the only thing that would limit you.”
Amsler recently used poured caramel to make an intricate fleur-de-lis cake topper, and says he’s constantly inspired to do three-dimensional toppings for dramatic effect. He also receives many wintertime requests for snowflake-themed cakes. “We pipe white chocolate out onto parchment paper in the shape of a snowflake, making them all different sizes. Then we lift them off with a spatula and create a 3-D tower on top of the cake to make it look like actual snowfall,” he says.
ONE THING TO KEEP IN MIND, SAYS Argyropoulos: “Technically, sugar paste is edible, like Necco Wafers are edible,” she says. “But they also last for years. So they don’t need to be eaten, especially if you want to save the pieces as a memento.” Some couples even save these hardened icons and leave them on display in their homes after the wedding.
For decorative cake materials that you really won’t mind eating, try marzipan (a workable mixture of sugar, almond paste and sometimes egg whites), or every girl’s favorite, chocolate. Bruce sometimes layers a thin sheet of marzipan over the icing of a cake, which gives the cake not only a smooth surface, but also a nice hint of almond flavor.
And at Jenny’s Wedding Cakes, Williamson says that if requested, she can make multiples of any marzipan creations that are attached to the surface of the cake. So if nuts or fruit are part of the theme, each slice can be plated with a small, edible memento.