Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Fabulous designs are more than just icing on the cake
Food writer Lindsey Nair
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For some women, it is the month for dreaming about diamond rings, cascading lace and showers of rose petals.
But for Amanda Underwood, 28, of Roanoke, June brings very little dreaming at all. In fact, she often stays up into the wee hours bent over her edible works of art.
She is a cakemaker, and weddings are her thing.
"I thrive on it," said the Johnson & Wales University graduate. "I love being at that stressed-out point where you can't do anything else but concentrate on that cake."
Like Underwood, many cakemakers consider themselves artists, and the popularity of shows such as "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network are taking their masterpieces to new extremes.
Occasionally, a customer still will order a traditional wedding cake. But for the most part, the plain, white cake with columns and a smiling plastic couple perched on top is about as current as that puffy-sleeved bridesmaid dress hiding in your closet.
"I've done several this year that are not white at all," said Casey Giannini of Casey's Cakes in Roanoke. "One was alternating brown and teal and another was light blue and green."
In Underwood's gallery, there's a purple-and-lavender swirled cake, a cake marbled with ribbons of blue and orange, and an elaborate blue-and-green confection decorated with coral, seaweed and tropical fish.
Down at the Cake and Dessert Pantry in Ridgeway, chef Derrick Beverly recently made a solid fuchsia cake decorated with white scrolls.
"When they first showed me the picture, I was like, 'Oh, my God!' " he said. "But after I decorated it, it actually looked nice."
From fondant to cupcakes
The wilder cakes are made possible in part because of fondant, a mixture of sugar, water and cream of tartar that is cooked to a soft, pliable consistency similar to Play-Doh. Long popular in Europe, fondant has grown increasingly common in the United States.
A solid sheet of fondant can be draped over a cake to give it a smooth, porcelainlike surface. It can easily be tinted, flavored with candy oils or blended to create a marbled look.
However, I've always heard that fondant tastes about as good as Play-Doh, too. To choose a fondant cake, I assumed, was to choose appearance over flavor.
But the cakemakers I talked to insisted that fondant's bad reputation is undeserved. Unlike the old Wilton brand, they said, newer fondants can be beautiful and delicious.
Underwood and Giannini use a brand called Satin Ice, which they said not only tastes good but is also easier to work with. Beverly uses Choco-Pan, a white chocolate rolled fondant that he orders pre-colored and flavored from a distributor in Indianapolis.
To get a bride's dream color, he said, all he needs is a swatch of fabric.
In addition to bright colors, brides these days are ordering up stripes, scrolls, polka dots and pinstripes. According to The Knot, an online wedding planning site, one of the most sought after color combinations for 2008 has been black-and-white.
While flowers are still well-liked, bakers said customers are turning to more elaborate handmade, edible flowers, which can tack a lot of time and cost onto the project.
"Now, you are finding that people are wanting to be extravagant," Underwood said. "There seem to be more people who are willing to pay more money."
Also the rage in recent years are "cupcake cakes" which consist of individual cupcakes stacked together in tiers to resemble a traditional cake. Cupcake cakes eliminate the need for slicing and serving.
The most imaginative and daring brides these days are choosing an unusual effect that used to be a bride's worst nightmare: the topsy-turvy, Seussical wedding cake.
"A friend of mine just did a cake that was all slanted," Underwood said. "It looked like it was teeter-tottering and about to fall over."
Underwood herself opted for a "Mad Hatter" style at her own wedding. It was whimsically slanted and airbrushed with tie-dye colors.
As cake styles have evolved, so have the traditional bride-and-groom topper. Custom-made toppers such as the bride and groom's initials, a pair of wedding rings or hearts can be sculpted out of fondant or gum paste. Beverly said even those couples who do choose a bride-and-groom topper are picking race-specific versions. Couples can even buy mixed race, military or same-sex toppers.
Bakers such as Underwood, Beverly and Giannini see changing cake styles as an opportunity for new challenges. And one of the biggest challenges, they said, is gently talking a bride out of a dream cake that may look like a nightmare come wedding day.
"When people come in and say, 'I want this, this and this,' I say, 'That's not possible, but we can do this and that,' " Beverly said. "I give them other options or bring them back down out of the clouds."
Did you have a crazy wedding cake?
Do tell on the blog!