I write a lot about entertaining, and it is true that I enjoy feeding family and friends. And I generally like to do everything myself.Most of the time, I look to make the food special and the prep …
I write a lot about entertaining, and it is true that I enjoy feeding family and friends. And I generally like to do everything myself.
Most of the time, I look to make the food special and the prep simple, so I prepare everything ahead. But sometimes, including guests in the cooking can be part of the fun.
Recently, I had a brand new challenge and very short notice: my son Jake's wedding. He and his fiancé Juliana, who is from Brazil, have been sweating the immigration laws and have spent over a year trying to secure a fiancé visa. They met and fell in love when she was in the United States working and attending school. But when her visa expired, she had to return to Sao Paulo.
Fast forward to three weeks ago. After 16 months of Jake traveling back and forth to Brazil, her fiancé visa came through. The rules stipulate that once she arrived in the States, they would have to be married within 90 days. But the current administration is threatening to change all the rules, so Jake and Juliana decided to take no chances. Thus, a week after she arrived in the U.S., they flew to New Mexico to get married in our backyard.
When they announced their intention to get married in Taos, I couldn't have been more thrilled. I had always hoped they would plan a wedding in my favorite place in the world, Taos.
Needless to say, I usually insist on preparing all the food myself. But given the short timing, I enlisted the help of a few close friends who just happen to be great cooks. The menu -- an array of delectable finger foods that required no silverware -- came together seamlessly and bountifully.
The greatest challenge was dessert: The Wedding Cake. I, of course, planned to make my son's favorite, a moist dense carrot cake with a buttery cream cheese frosting. I basically planned a simple two layer cake with a smooth frosting, and maybe a few real flowers on top.
I happened to mention to my dear friend and neighbor Charlotte that I was making the cake myself. She hesitated a moment, and then said, "Well, my mother used to make wedding cakes for a living. And I decorated cakes for a bakery in high school." Bingo! I could count on Charlotte to give me advice.
Charlotte recommended that we watch a few YouTube videos on making sugar flowers. It turns out that the flowers on cakes are made days or even weeks ahead out of a substance called gum paste. (Gum paste is a sugar-based dough similar to fondant, which is used to create detailed designs and decorations. The difference between gum paste and fondant is that while fondant remains somewhat pliable, gum paste dries hard, making it an ideal material for edible flowers.)
Once we were versed in gum paste techniques, Charlotte ordered rose cutters, leaf molds and gum paste online. Before I knew it, we were in her kitchen rolling out gum paste and creating the most beautiful sugar roses and leaves I had ever seen. Actually, it was Charlotte, an artist, who made the beautiful roses and leaves. I limited myself to mixing the gum paste with food coloring, rolling it out, using the cutters, and building a few rosebuds.
You can order premade gum paste flowers, but they're expensive and all look the same. Instead, by creating them ourselves, we had the satisfaction of fashioning each one a little differently. I was in sheer bliss spending hours of quiet flower-making with Charlotte, who at one point said, "You know, I really couldn't have left you to do this on your own. I mean, as a friend…" A true friend, indeed!
I had originally thought I would make the cake ahead, frost it and freeze it, but Charlotte saved me from that disaster. No, no, no! she said.
After removing the cake from the freezer, it would have sweated, possibly ruining the frosting! Instead, she instructed me to bake the cakes two days before the wedding.
Before making the batter, I buttered the pans well. Then I cut parchment circles to cover the bottoms of the pans, buttered them too, and floured the pans, dumping the extra flour from one pan to the other. I used a double recipe for the batter and had just enough dough left over to bake a cupcake size cake layer in a ramekin, which was so adorable, we decided to use it as the top layer as a pedestal for the cake topper.
The cakes sat out on the cooling racks uncovered overnight. The next afternoon, the day before the wedding, while everyone in the family was busy with other tasks, I made two batches of frosting, and took the frosting and the cakes over to Charlotte's kitchen. There I attempted to spread the layers with the cream cheese frosting. But getting a smooth result was not easy. I was unhappy that some of the cake could be seen through the frosting, but Charlotte told me this was all the rage and gave a rustic elegance to the cake.
Once frosting was complete, Charlotte began decorating by placing the antique bride and groom (that had sat on my own wedding cake 29 years earlier) on the tiny top layer. Then after piping a border, she carefully arranged some of the now-hardened sugar roses on the frosted cake. I joined in the fun, using a few more flowers than she thought we should, but in the end, we were both really happy with the result. More importantly, Jake and Juliana were blown away. In fact, so was everyone else.
The goal of a wedding cake is beauty and tradition. But although looks are everything, there is something to be said for taste. Let's not forget, this is dessert for the reception. So while perhaps unusual, the carrot cake made for something delicious that everyone wanted to eat.
We removed the top two layers and set them aside. Tradition has it that the couple should eat the top layer of their wedding cake on their first anniversary. So now it awaits, carefully wrapped, placed in a box, and safely stored in Charlotte's deep freezer.
Moral of the story: You can teach an old dog new tricks. Trying something new can be both fun and scary. But it's worth the risk. The result is always more special and memorable than when you just buy it.
And for my part, I think my son will never forget his wedding day or that his mom made his wedding cake.