Sliced With Love

In ten months’ time, my daughter will be getting married. The planning of this event is sure to inspire an occasional post on this blog. My daughter is so laser-focused on the details of her big day it’s as if her hospital crib should’ve been labeled “Wedding Planner” instead of “Kelly”. Let’s pluck one item from her list today.  Or rather, taste one item.  Let’s talk about wedding cake.

Are you a fan of this grandiose dessert?  Do you revel in the wedding ceremony and the reception, but secretly count down the minutes ’til the big white cake is sliced and served?  Twenty years ago you’d be guaranteed a piece of wedding cake.  Today, the after-dinner options run the gamut.  A cupcake from a tower.  A cookie from an endless table.  Strawberries from a chocolate fountain.  Petit fours or truffles.  Cream puffs.

That’s some veil… er, CAKE!

Given all those temptations, I still choose wedding cake.  Why?  Because it’s not just any cake.  Wedding cake is heavy and layered and full of frosting.  It’s sinfully delicious.  Furthermore, wedding cake makes a statement, one much bigger than the generic desserts you find in the supermarket bakery.  Consider, wedding cake is:

  • white.  “Well of course it is, Dave, but so are a lot of other cakes.”  Yes, but in this case, white means pure and refined (as with the bride’s dress).  Makes that bite of cake just a little more special.
  • tiered.  It’s like several cakes in one.  Stacked with columns or not, cake tiers create an elegant display (and serve a lot of people, avoiding a cake the size of the American flag).  Don’t even think about a taste of the uppermost layer.  It’s (supposed to be) reserved for the bride & groom to enjoy on their one-year anniversary.
  • topped.  Sure, a kid’s cake can have a doll or a dump truck, or some other toy on its surface.  Birthday cakes are dotted with candles.  But only wedding cakes have true “toppers”, typically a miniature bride & groom.  These days you don’t see wedding cake toppers so much.  I’m okay with that (even though I liked the little Precious Moments couple atop our own cake).
  • fondant-ed.  Fondant is like edible wallpaper.  It’s a smooth, dense, shiny layer of sugary frosting you can roll out like cookie dough, to perfectly costume the cake, or to create flowers and other three-dimensional objects.  Fondant seems to come out of the closet just for wedding cakes.  My take?  Fondant looks a lot better than it tastes.  In other words, I’m not really “fond” of it.
  • a statement.  Think about it.  At a wedding you’re celebrating what is, at least for now, the most important day in the lives of the bride & groom.  It’s not as if this occasion happens once a year or on holidays.  It happens once.  Sit back and admire your plate for a second.  That’s an important slice of cake you’ve got there.
Gotcha!

Here’s a happy-ending wedding cake story for you.  When my wife & I got married, our hotel not only hosted the reception, but also created the wedding cake.  As we dashed away to our honeymoon they assured us they’d keep the top layer in their refrigerators.  But when we returned, there was no top layer to be found anywhere.  Maybe a waiter got a little hungry one night or something.  Anyway, without skipping a beat, they perfectly recreated our top layer at no extra charge.  One year later we enjoyed our anniversary with cake after all.  How did it taste?  Just like you’d expect a one-year-old piece of cake to taste.  We threw the rest away.

Our cake (w/ fondant latticework!)

Here’s a slice of wedding cake trivia.  It’s technically called “bride’s cake”.  Sometimes you find two cakes at wedding receptions.  The darker, shorter, more modest-looking dessert; he’s called a “groom’s cake”.  He’s meant to acknowledge more manly tastes.  Accordingly, a groom’s cake is often alcohol-infused.  Or covered in chocolate.  Or shaped like a football.  But no matter how you slice it, the bride’s cake wins out with the bigger, bolder statement.  Hmmm… guys, is there an underlying message at work here?

A groom’s cake

Heads up as I close this post.  There’s a reason I chose wedding cake as today’s topic.  This week, you and the $300 you’ve been saving for a rainy day could win a slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake.  It’s up for auction as we speak.  It’s forty years old, wrapped in plastic and packed into an old cake tin.  One of a kind, right?  Not really.  Charles and Diana had so many guests at their royal celebration they required twenty-three wedding cakes.

No wonder there’s still a slice left.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “A slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake is going up for auction”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Midwest Cookie Madness

I wonder how many modern-day brides still wear “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” on their wedding day.  This time-honored gesture of good luck includes a nod to 1) continuity, 2) optimism for the future, 3) borrowed happiness, and 4) purity, love, and fidelity.  But some brides would rather not mess with the dress, understandably distracted by other wedding-day traditions.  Like 18,000 homemade cookies.

Thirty-one years ago, after my wife and I exchanged our rings, we sliced into an impressive three-tiered wedding cake at the reception; miniature bride and groom perched on the smallest layer at the top.  Per tradition we took that smallest layer home, stored in our freezer and shared on our one-year anniversary: a toast to continued good luck and prosperity.  Had we been raised in Ohio or Pennsylvania however; our guests might’ve been drawn to the cookie table instead.  So says a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Thousands of cookies at a wedding reception?  Sounds to me like the latest quirk of the my-wedding-is-more-memorable-than-yours game (besting cupcake towers and chocolate fountains).  On the contrary, cookie tables are almost as traditional as wedding cake, dating back several generations.  They are the reception obsession of some Italians, Catholics, Greeks, and Scandinavians.

Cookie tables are traditional in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well, and these communities take their baking seriously.  There’s even a Facebook page to exchange recipes, ideas and guidelines (see here).  Cookie tables may soon become a wedding reception norm from coast to coast.

Here’s a “taste” of cookie table guidelines.  Every item must be homemade by family members; or if purchased, only specially-ordered from your neighborhood bakery.  Cherished recipes (i.e. “lady locks” and “buckeyes”) must carry over from generation to generation, no matter how time-intensive the preparation.  Cookies must be as fresh as possible, leading to a flurry of baking in several houses days before the wedding (and lack of freezer space in those houses).  Even the layout of the table itself has rules; considering the number of cookie varieties and which varieties deserve prominent placement.  Finally, the table “reveal” must be decided: 1) Already on display as guests arrive?  2) Revealed by the bride and groom with a dramatic pull of a curtain?  3) Self-serve, or closely guarded by tuxedo-ed cookie stewards?

Cookie tables have one advertised – if not followed – rule-of-thumb.  The ratio of cookies to guests should be around 12:1. That number allows a guest to sample several cookies at the reception, and take several more home for later.  If I apply the 12:1 ratio to the 18,000-cookie wedding (a real-life example), there should have been 1,500 guests.  In fact, there were only 360.  According to the mother of the groom, “…my goal was to have a spectacular cookie table…”  I’m sure the guests thought it was spectacular, helping themselves to an average of 50 cookies each.

Competition plays a role with cookie tables, with the goal of “mine is better than yours”.  One example boasted of “…tens of thousands of cookies, filling nine banquet tables… six people worked for two days on the display”.  Another boasted of “reserved varieties, prepared especially for (and only for) family members of the bride and groom”.  Even the take-home boxes get a personal touch.  With all this attention to cookies, wedding cake – or any other dessert for that matter –  stands in the shadows (like the bride and groom themselves?)

When my son or daughter gets married, perhaps my family will extend the tradition to Colorado and prepare a cookie table.  With my baking skills, I’ll commit to an impressive 3:1 ratio, five different varieties (provided I’m allowed to use store-bought refrigerator dough), and guests will delight in a consistency I can only describe as week-old-but-slightly-burnt.  I guarantee it’ll be memorable.