Cakes that make a statement
by HCTG Senior Staff Writer Jolene Rae Harrington
Your wedding vows brought everyone to tears, the guests are raving about the food, and the band is so lively that even old Aunt Ethel took a spin on the dance floor. Now it’s time for the Grand Finale, and all eyes turn to…the wedding cake. Maybe it’s been displayed in a corner for guests to admire in mouthwatering anticipation; or perhaps it makes a dramatic entrance as your caterer wheels it into the ballroom. Everything has gone perfectly so far, yet you wonder: Will it be divine or will it be a dud?
If you’ve entrusted your dessert to one of the Bay Area’s hottest confectionery wizards, you needn’t worry. Your cake is sure to be not only a masterpiece of cutting-edge style but also the embodiment of gastronomic ecstasy.
If you’re like most brides, you want your celebration to convey something unique about you and your husband-to-be. Working closely with a cake maker to create your own wedding cake is one way to “express yourself” at your reception. The best dessert artists only do custom work, and it all begins with the consultation. In a private brainstorming session with your cake maker, you’ll look at photos from their past designs, exchange ideas and taste some samples. Sonya Hong of Butterfly Cakes in San Francisco comes to consultations armed with colored pencils and her sketch pad, and will do a rendering of the proposed cake right before your eyes.
Sam Godfrey of Perfect Endings, whose fantastic creations have been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and in O Magazine, emphasizes that before planning a cake, each aspect of the wedding needs to be taken into consideration. Where will it be held? During what time of year? Will you be having a garden reception or dining in an elaborate ballroom? What will the bride wear? What type of cuisine will be served? Which flowers and colors has the bride decided on? “The cake should look like it belongs in the environment in which it is displayed,” explains Godfrey, and tying the cake into the rest of the design elements helps create a cohesive look and feel. Often cake makers ask the bride to bring in color swatches, their dress or a photograph of it, and the name of their florist.
Such details can also directly inspire the cake maker’s creative genius. For one high-society wedding held in Grace Cathedral, Katrina Rozelle of Katrina Rozelle Pastries & Desserts baked an ornate beauty with each luscious tier linked by baroque arches and garnished with roses similar to the one’s in the cathedral’s courtyard. Beth Robideaux, the pastry chef at Michael’s on Main in Aptos, baked a groovy “mod” cake with neon-colored polka dots that matched the wedding invitations of one couple who had decided on a retro 60s theme. Godfrey, Hong and others often take their cue directly from the bride’s gown. The richness of satin, delicate clusters of seed pearls or an intricate pattern of embroidered lace incorporated into the cake’s landscape mirrors the bride’s attire, and makes a striking visual motif.
Cakes might even capture a couple’s sentimental nuances. Kay Dillon of Beaux Gateaux recalls that at one consultation, the bride and groom showed up with a sack of paperback books that had special meaning for them. “They asked if I could bake a cake that depicted them as vintage leather-bound first editions.” The edible books, which included a volume of bright red marzipan with gold calligraphy and gilt-edged pages, looked good enough to read, and the couple had something strikingly original to present to their guests.
For Maralyn Tabatsky, the baking pro behind Have Your Cake, a concoction she dreamed up for a second marriage stands out in her mind: “The bride wanted a true showpiece that also made the children of their new extended family feel included. We started with the idea of a large sandcastle, then added details like a moat, and small pails and shovels bearing the names of each child.” The bride and groom themselves were depicted lounging in beach chairs, dressed in tux and pearls!
Catch the Wave
Although bakers still field requests for the traditional white Victorian cake, the current trend is definitely for something more streamlined and classic. Butterfly Cakes’ chic, contemporary approach has made this patisserie newcomer an immediate success. Picture the difference between a poufy prom dress from the 50s and a sleek number by Valentino, and you’ll understand why Hong bypasses fussy embellishments in favor of sophisticated polish. Feminine details are still “in,” but are applied with more style, discretion and innovation.
Design themes in demand include cakes made to resemble gift boxes with life like ribbons and bows of frosting or chocolate, and edible gift cards. Cakes resembling a stack of hatboxes are a whimsical way to capture the flavor of yesteryear. Rather than the typical rounds, Susan Morgan of Elegant Cheese Cakes suggests mixing up the shapes, and perhaps piling the layers off-kilter for greater dynamics. Her signature re-creations of gorgeous Limoges boxes come with gold hinges, white scrollwork, and gradations of French blue that make them seem like they belong in a fashionable 19th century drawing room.
Also in vogue are styles that evoke cultural heritage. Elegant Cheese Cake’s “Frosty Fruit Cake” has a Mediterranean flair, with sugared pears, figs and grape clusters that recall a Tuscan vineyard. Sam Godfrey takes the cake with his 12-foot Pagoda of magenta, blue and purple, lined with hand-painted chinoiserie panels, elephants at the base, and frosted Samurai swords. For a Hawaiian bride, Butterfly fashioned the “Tropical Island Cake,” with gum-paste hibiscus and icing in a traditional Hawaiian print design. Their banana cake with mango-cream filling was also a refreshing summer treat. Another seasonal offering that worked perfectly was Beaux Gateaux’s “Haunted House,” made for a Halloween wedding where the wedding party wore costumes. Making frequent appearances at weddings-by-the-sea are coastal cake accents such as chocolate seashells, marzipan starfish, and sugar sand.
The Color of Cake
“White on white is out; color is in,” says trend-watcher Karina Diaz, a San Francisco wedding photographer who appreciates the way a really special cake can light up the lens. Susan Morgan agrees: “Cake trends follow fashion trends, and this season red is hot, hot, hot.” One baker designed a cake frosted entirely in fiery red, which signified good luck to the couple’s Chinese-American relatives. “More and more people are asking for jewel tones,” observes Maralyn Tabatsky, whose whimsical application of blues and purples in her stacked cakes would brighten up any venue.
Both real and hand-crafted edible flowers add splashes of color to the usual monochromatic palette. “Real blossoms make the cake look fresh,” Karina Diaz observes, “especially in an outdoor setting.” Roses, orchids, calla lilies and even cheerful gerber daisies are sought-after selections, but these days anything goes. Some of the most spectacular blooms you’ll see on cakes are actually fashioned of chocolate, and virtually indistinguishable from thereal thing. Morgan’s spectacular “Good Luck Cake” features tiers of “bamboo reeds”—really rolled chocolate—in beige to pale green hues right out of nature. The luscious red roses atop the cake are also chocolate, but you wouldn’t guess it until you took a bite! Most cake makers work directly with a bride’s florist. “The flowers on the cake might coordinate with the bridal bouquets, boutonnires, even the centerpieces, for a very ‘tied together’ look,” says Sam Godfrey.
Cake Do’s & Don’ts
Flowers can play another important role by separating the tiers. Plastic pillars are way pass, but a cluster of yellow rose buds between layers? Bellisimo! Another faux pas is the traditional topper. Be it a bell, dove or a plastic bride and groom, nix the chatzkes and use flowers instead. If you really want a topper, consider having it constructed as part of the cake design, such as Have Your Cake’s comical jack-in-the box with the bride and groom popping out of the top. Katrina Rozelle often crowns her creations with a silvery standing monogram of the couple’s initials. Another exception to the Topper Ban is if you’ve found something truly lovely and vintage, such as an antique picture frame, or a pair of expertly handcrafted statuettes from your parent’s wedding. In that case, the nostalgic theme should also be woven into the rest of your event.
Good Enough to Eat
Back in the olden days, wedding cakes were meant to be seen but not necessarily eaten—guests would take a bite or two of the dry slice with the sickeningly sweet frosting to be polite, then hastily set it aside. Of course, post-millennial Bay Area partygoers have much higher expectations. “When you bite into your cake, your mouth should say, Wow!” asserts Sam Godfrey. For many, the best way to guarantee such exuberance is by using chocolate. Sonya Hong reveals, “I have people come in all the time and ask me, ‘Is it okay to have a chocolate cake?’ I tell them to order whatever they really like.” Kay Dillon says half of the orders she gets at Beaux Gateaux are for rich chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling. Chocolate isn’t just hiding on the inside—it also makes a bold showing in the frosting. In the hands of an artist like Susan Morgan, chocolate takes on whole new identities, and she is known for her exceptional use of a white chocolate blend to create her lifelike roses.
Naturally, Morgan’s company specializes in all varieties of cheesecakes, customized to suit particular tastes. Maybe it’s our inner child expressing itself, but she says candy add-ins are all the rage, like Butterfingers, toffee, or Heath bars. Katrina Rozelle agrees: “People are really going a little wild, adding all kinds of fruits and nuts, too.” Kay Dillon doesn’t keep a menu of flavors because she’s always making up new combinations for her clients. One of her most inspired creations was a Mandarin Orange Mousse Chiffon Cake, delicately scented with the rose petal wine the bride was serving with dinner. What if you like vanilla toffee crunch and he insists on carrot cake? No problem—you can choose a different flavor for each layer. “A cake should be as adventurous and interesting on the inside as on the outside,” Bob Doxey of Theobroma reminds us, and his company offers exciting versions of European classics.
For those who still want a touch of the Victorian in their wedding, why not choose the “Chocolate Lavender Cake”? Lavender was traditionally added to give chocolate a delicate sweetness, and in Theobroma’s adaptation, two layers of rich chocolate cake join three layers of chocolate lavender souffl pastry and lavender buttercream, with a side of lavender syrup.
If there are any Mediterranean elements in your wedding, be it setting, cuisine or heritage, wrap it all up with one of Theobroma’s enticing Modern Mediterranean offerings. The always-delicious chocolate/hazelnut duo makes their “Giandua Cake” simply irresistible, especially when it’s flavored with frangelico and finished with chocolate ganache. Or make your guests an offer they can’t refuse with the Sicilian Wedding Cake, three tiers of polenta filled with chocolate buttercream, accompanied by warm galliano caramel sauce.
Wait, There’s More
If you’re planning an intimate reception, there’s nothing like presenting your guests with their very own miniature wedding cake. Katrina Rozelle bakes tiny three-tiered desserts and says, “I love to watch the guests’ faces when they’re served this charming, completely unexpected jewel of a cake. It simply takes their breath away!” How about a special sweet for your sweetie? Groom’s cakes are making a major comeback, especially when they’re uniquely his—shaped like a soccer ball, a tackle box or even a laptop computer!
Wedding orders at Elegant Cheese Cakes also include a “Day-after Cake,” a small present of a dessert with an edible gift card bearing the names of the bride and groom. When the last handful of rice has been tossed and you’re alone at last, share this petite pastry together as husband and wife, and savor the success of your celebration and the brightness of your future.
Mmmmm…how sweet it is!
READ MORE ABOUT CAKES:
Not Your Grandmother’s Wedding Cake
Questions To Ask When Hiring Your Wedding Cake Designer
The Icing on the Cake
Find your perfect wedding cake designer:
Northern California Wedding Cake Designers
Southern California Wedding Cake Designers