Little Lessons from Big Cakes


The first wedding cake I ever made was a bit of an architectural nightmare. Not because the bride wanted a conglomeration of little cakes but because I was living in student housing and we had a mini-stove with a half-sized oven that wouldn’t hold anything more than 12″ wide.

The bride and groom chose a private city hall ceremony and there was a surprise reception being thrown by her office-mates, one of which was a friend of Mom’s. So Cindy said, ‘Just do what you think would be good, I’m sure it’ll be fine.’ Not words the decorator hears often (if ever!).

This was during my basket-weave phase so paired that with pale green vines and leaves and some pink roses. It took a few nights, total, to build all the pieces and then it was the day to deliver the cake. Downtown. At lunchtime.

You know, I’d never before noticed how steep the road was at that first light leaving my street.

Stopping as slowly as humanly possible did not thwart gravity and, yes, one of the base cakes slid off the back seat and partially under the drivers’. I pulled into the nearby gas station, panicking as I threw open the doors, and surveyed the damage. You know what? There’s approximately 4 inches between the floor of the car and the bottom of the seat, just slightly shorter than my base cake. The damage was minimal and fixable.

I drove the rest of the way going no more than 20 mph. Downtown. At lunch. With the seat pushed as far back as possible, one hand on the steering wheel, the other stretched behind me to avoid any further gravitational issues that might arise.

Just because this was my first wedding cake doesn’t mean I was totally unprepared–I had icing in parchment bags all ready to go, the necessary decorating tips; I could and would fix the mistakes. The basket-weave proved easy enough to repair, a few vines needed re-piping and a rose was taken from the back of the center tier to replace the one that the seat smooshed.

Everyone loved it and I had a bit more confidence when the next cake request came in.

My First Wedding Cake, circa 1998

* * *

This story was on my mind because this weekend my baby brother is getting married to his high school sweetheart and I am coming out of my cake-retirement to do the wedding and groom’s cakes. It’s a destination wedding at a just-far-enough-away beach to necessitate renting a place down there for the weekend and doing half the baking and all of the decorating on site.

I’ve learned something from every one of my cakes, I’m sure this one will be no exception. Here are some past lessons:

  • Always bring extra icing–a little of the sweet stuff can smooth over any obstacle.
  • A spatula, pair of scissors, tape and confectioners sugar should always been in your toolbox.
  • Place tiers in sturdy, over-sized boxes and seat-belt them in before starting the car.
  • There is no such thing as too slow when you’ve got $300 of cake in the back seat.
  • Bring a helper.
  • Take a picture of the cake after it’s set up–for your book and to prove that when you left it was still standing (didn’t happen to me but it has happened to others).
  • Leave plenty of time to assemble the cake and do any finishing work before the wedding is due to start (especially if you’re also a bridesmaid!).
  • Ask to see the topper ahead of time. If the florist is bringing it, make sure they know just how big the cake is (or isn’t–I delivered a cake for 50 only to have the florist plop a foil-wrapped [classy!] package of flowers on top that was 2/3 the height of the cake).
  • If you’re stuck on a design element after 16 hours of decorating, take a break, take a shower, it’ll come to you.

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