Having your cake and eating it, too

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Ah, the wedding cake — the often tiered bakery marvel lavished with frosting and sugary details that look more like art than food. The wedding cake is a staple of any ceremony and its cutting is often a highlight moment. Whether or not you shove a bite into your spouse's mouth or not is entirely up to you, but the cake itself should be a reflection of you both.

From elegant to geometric, cake designs and flavors are as numerous and varied as every couple is unique. Like the other elements of your wedding, the cake should also be a reflection of your style and your wedding's theme. However, like all aspects of planning a wedding, one must take cost into consideration when exploring cake options — some elements are more costly than others, like sugar flowers whose individual petals must be created by hand. The time of year and venue also needs to be considered. A fondant cake (in the culinary arts, the word fondant refers to two types of sugar-based pastes used in preparing and decorating cakes, pastries and confections) would be a better choice than the traditional buttercream icing if you're planning on an outdoor summer wedding. Fondant doesn't melt as easily.

With 30-plus years of experience and a genuine love of designing cakes, Jocelyn Lucero of Jocelyn's Cakes in Taos has helped create the perfect cake for many couples. Finding out the wedding theme and feel of the day, how many tiers (tied to how many servings needed), flavors, fillings and exterior design are all covered during a consultation, which lasts about an hour, Lucero explained.

"The first question I ask is, 'During the last wedding you attended, do you remember the cake?'" she said.

Over the years, she has noticed many trends and those trends often change from year to year. Rustic cake designs and more vintage styles are popular these days.

"There are two worlds out there," Lucero said. "People are wanting cake designs that reflect natural things — not so fancy or busy. And wooden presentation bases have become more popular."

Also popular, she continued, are cakes featuring a lace design, for example — to reflect the bride's dress.

Lucero recommends that couples should order their cake about 6 months in advance, to a year out for out-of-towners. She also highly recommends saving the top tier or a slice or two for later. Lucero has heard many a story about the couple being so busy socializing that they miss out on enjoying a whole piece of cake.

The first-anniversary slice

To freeze slices or the top tier of your cake, or not to freeze, largely depends upon the cake's ingredients. Because of dairy and eggs, most cakes have to be frozen to prevent spoilage. Keep in mind that fondant cakes or cakes made with citrus curd layers preserve better than alternatives.

This may not cross your mind, but how the cake is served also determines whether it's worth saving any of it for posterity. The most risk to your cake becoming a bacteria magnet occurs when it is transported to an event location. Was it out on the table for eight hours in the sun at the park and then wrapped up? If yes, you're risking contamination. No amount of freezing will kill bacteria. If you're hosting your event at a catering hall that's around 68 degrees inside, it's less likely to take on tons of extra bacteria during the ceremony and reception.

Wrapping your cake correctly also greatly makes a difference. The actual freezing process is not usually the problem; it's that most people don't wrap the cake properly. Moisture is the enemy when it comes to freezing. It is recommended that you wrap it as tightly as possible — there's no such thing as overwrapping — so that no additional moisture or bacteria collects on the cake. Every time you open and close the freezer, you let moisture in and poorly protected cake risks getting freezer burn. Still, it's true that cakes are great candidates for freezing if you control for contamination and freezer burn before preserving.

The consensus among expert bakers is to eat the saved cake at your first-year anniversary, but not beyond then. The decorative flowers, made out of sugar paste, basically last forever. Sugar without moisture doesn't spoil.

As your first-year anniversary nears, don't just take a slice or an entire tier from your freezer and put it on your counter to defrost. A day or two before the anniversary, move it to the refrigerator (still covered). After it's defrosted, remove it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature (still wrapped). You'll also be eliminating that soft outside, frozen inside problem.

Remember: Memories last a lifetime; frosted cakes do not.

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