Shopping for a wedding cake
opens a world of possibilities
Plus: Toast your nuptials with the perfect wedding wineBy Betty Shimabukuro
Anameri Hoaeae and her fiance, Jason Atamian, are looking a little stunned, standing at the display case at Mary Catherine's Bakery. They have in mind a simple, three-tier cake and they are on a $200 budget.
Sounds easy enough. But the Mary Catherine's wedding brochure lists eight basic cake flavors, plus three types of chiffon. Prices are per tier, from $25 for a 6-inch vanilla to $205 for a 20-inch flavored. And those are just two of the decisions to be made.
Consider also: Shape of tier (round, heart, square, rectangle, hexagon), arrangement of the tiers (with or without pedestals, off-center or straight up), type of frosting (buttercream, marzipan, fondant), color of frosting (sky's the limit), frosting trim (pearl beads, scrolls, swirls, basket-weave, lace, etc.) and then, the decor (frosting flowers, fresh flowers, pressed flowers, ribbons, ferns, and on and on).
And the cake topper: Will it be a plastic bride and groom? A pair of crystal doves? A Precious Moments figurine? More flowers, perhaps?
"So many choices." Hoaeae is in awe. She finally signs up for a simple vanilla cake with white frosting, which she plans to drape with a fresh pikake lei (the idea is from Mary Catherine's sample book). The one thing she knew coming in was that she wanted fresh flowers. "It makes the cake look more alive. It brings out the life."
In this, Hoaeae is part of the mainstream. For several years, if there's been one leading concept in the wedding-cake business, this would be it.
"Fresh flowers are a must," says Christie Ono, owner of Perfectly Romantic Hawaii, a consultant.
"Fresh flowers, to match the bouquet," says Susan O'Donnell, owner of Aloha Wedding Planners.
The standby flower of choice is the dendrobium orchid, a sturdy blossom that gives Hawaii weddings a sense of place. But also popular are lilies, roses, gardenias, daisies and tropical ferns. They may be arranged in a bouquet atop the cake, in clusters up and down the tiers, or in a cascade down the side.
The only rules are that the blooms have a good shelf life, especially if the reception is outdoors, and nothing poisonous. In Hawaii, leis are a distinctive alternative -- easy to arrange, too.
Second concept: Less is more.
"Over the many years I've worked, wedding cakes are getting simpler," says Nancy Remmers, cake decorator for Mary Catherine's. "Brides want cleaner designs. Years ago, she made lots of red frosting roses, or bright pinks, Remmers says. "Today, brides like to see very, very pale colors. They are more subtle with their tastes."
That influence comes largely from style maven Martha Stewart, who counts weddings among her many areas of expertise. The quarterly wedding edition of Stewart's Living magazine showcases the latest and most elegant bridal designs.
Her current edition features a smooth, simple white cake draped in a cascade of deep, red rose petals. Striking and oh, so sophisticated.
When it comes to the flavor of the cake, though, the movement is definitely away from the plain.
Late on a recent Friday afternoon, Nancy Remmers is squeezing out dozens of plumerias from a paper cone, creating a lei of frosting around a cake bound for a wedding the next day. The cake has several tiers: one flavored with Kona coffee and macadamia nuts, another with chocolate, another with haupia.
It is just one of nine cakes she will decorate for Saturday's round of receptions, a typical number for this time of year -- what amounts to the busy season for weddings. Most are a clean white or off-white, but hiding inside are a range of flavors.
Standard bakers such as Leonards may offer only vanilla and chocolate, but custom bakeries offer everything from carrot cake to strawberries and cream to passion fruit.
Shirley Miller of Classic Cakes says a single tier can even be split, with each half a different flavor. "The problem is people eat more cake that way."
(The exception to the good-taste rule is fondant, the smooth, solid icing that's rolled out and applied like a sheet of plastic. It's valued for the sleek, sophisticated look it gives a cake -- very Martha-Stewart -- but the taste is what you'd expect from a mixture of glycerine, glucose, gelatin and sugar.)
Through Perfectly Romantic Hawaii, Ono offers a mint-green cake flavored with pistachio pudding. It's a big seller among her clients, who are sometimes surprised that they can have a wedding cake with flavor. "I think people have in their minds that wedding cake is supposed to taste bad."
Years ago, they did. But in today's market, couples are finding a world of choices, if they shop around and aren't afraid to ask. Take $150 to a standard bakery, for example, and you can buy a three-tier vanilla cake. Take the same amount to Mary Catherine's and you can have a cake with fresh strawberries tucked inside.
In her nine years running Aloha Wedding Planners, O'Donnell has had all manner of requests. Currently on her to-do list is a couple's request for a pineapple cake for their beach wedding. "They said flavored, or shaped or decorated like a pineapple. I'm still researching that."
Start planning three months before your wedding date: Study magazines, take note of cakes at friends' weddings, collect pictures, investigate bakers. Make a budget.
Do the cake walk
Consult your caterer or banquet manager: They may provide cake or other desserts, which means you'll only need a small cake. Some places charge extra if you bring in a cake from outside.
Make some basic decisions: Know your theme and colors, have an idea what flavor you want (vanilla is cheapest).
To save money: Have a (very trusted) friend pick up the cake and assemble it at the reception site, rather than having it delivered. Purchase and arrange fresh flowers yourself, or find a friend to do it. Buy a small cake for the wedding party and a cheaper sheet cake to serve the masses.
Take the cakeA traditional Samoan wedding calls for the cake to have a tier for every year in the bride's age. Mary Catherine's recently did a 28-tier mega-cake -- seven stacks of cakes, each four tiers high.
Couples from Japan, on the other hand, often order just a one- or two-tier cake decorated simply with the phrase, "Happy Wedding."
A cake is a cake, unless it's a wedding cake, in which case it's an event. It's a centerpiece, a showcase, a sentimental device. It must echo the theme of the wedding, the colors of the bridesmaids' dresses, the flowers in the bouquet. It must be traditional, yet distinctive, look good in photographs, feed 100 or 200 or more guests -- and probably should taste good, too.
Heavy burden to place on a mound of flour, sugar and eggs.
If your own wedding is more than a decade in the past, you'd \be surprised by the variety of tastes and designs available today. If you're recently engaged, you'll likely be overwhelmed when it's time to place your order.
Doing it yourselfFor baking: Cake pans, plates, pillars, etc., are sold at specialty kitchen shops such as Executive Chef and Compleat Kitchen.
For decorating: Craft stores carry cake toppers and other supplies. Also try card and gift shops for figurines and crystal pieces.
By the bookFor recipes and how-tos on decorating:
"Cake Decorating!" Wilton Enterprises, 1999,$7.99
"Colette's Wedding Cakes," by Colette Peters, Little, Brown and Co., 1995, $25
"The Wedding Cake Book," by Dede Wilson, Macmillan, 1997, $35
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calendars and events.