Taking the Cake

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Dessert tables are enhanced by modern reinterpretations of the wedding day classic.

By Michelle Franzen Martin

An exposed cake at Sea Island | Amy Arrington Photography
An exposed cake at Sea Island | Amy Arrington Photography

No wedding tradition is anticipated by guests more than the newlywed couple cutting the cake. The earliest wedding cakes date back to medieval times when a newly married couple exchanged a kiss over a tall stack of small pastries; the tradition goes back even further to the early Romans, who broke bread over each other’s heads as a symbol of fertility. More than just a link to the past, the modern wedding cake has evolved, bringing together tradition, trend, style, and, of course, taste.

“I definitely see a shift in our society’s attitude toward wedding cake,” says Megan Kaminski, executive pastry chef and owner of Megan Joy Cakes based in Vail, Colo. “Cakes are also reaching a new level of design. Many now resemble works of art.” Just like a bride’s dress, wedding cakes have a style of their own.

 

A Slice of the Big Day

With renowned pastry chefs lending their talents, wedding cakes are essentially edible haute couture—they are one-of-a-kind, elegant and delicious. The most common way for modern brides to make their cake unique is by ensuring it reflects other details of the big day. The lace motif on the bride’s veil, the flowers in the groomsmen’s boutonnieres, even allusions to the venue or a shared hobby can be transformed into works of art with the cake as a canvas.

Many cakes incorporate elements of art or nature. | Photo by Katie Grant Photography
Many cakes incorporate elements of art or nature. | Photo by Katie Grant Photography

Sea Island’s cake artist, Katie Schultz, has earned her stripes creating cakes that capture the many details of the wedding day. “Katie is a visionary when it comes to wedding cake design,” says Kacee Popa, Sea Island’s wedding manager. “Our brides are constantly in awe when she starts sketching custom designs, just for them. Not only does she make a delicious cake, but she produces a fabulous piece of art.”

The cake artist’s success is the result of working closely with brides and grooms to ensure that their cake is just as memorable as their wedding day. She meets with the couple to talk about their wedding decor, the bride’s dress and all of the other reception specifics; then she designs a cake to complement all of it. Every detail is coordinated, from the colors to the flavors. “The dresses, the floral decor, all of those things influence the wedding cake,” she says.

Kaminski agrees that elements of the wedding venue and surrounding atmosphere frequently make their way to the cake. And as a seasoned baker who specializes in creating cakes for destination weddings, she knows how different environments can influence her product. “Many of my Colorado clients seek out cake designs that have some sort of rustic element to them paired with softer, polished accents,” Kaminski says “Think Aspen bark, branches or leaves with lace, beading, sugar feathers or frill. Clients with beach weddings often seek lighter, flowing and more simplistic cake styles: whites and creams, pastels and organic designs.”

And season is also likely to dictate the scheme. Just as often the case with wedding colors and flowers, whites and pinks are popular in the spring and summer, when more weddings are held outside and draw inspiration from nature. Darker colors provide drama in the fall and winter and contrast with details that mimic the silvery whites and grays that are ubiquitous in holiday imagery.

Dresses can inspire cakes, as this Megan Joy Cakes confection mimics fabric. | Connie Dai Photography
Dresses can inspire cakes, as this Megan Joy Cakes confection mimics fabric. | Connie Dai Photography

Just a Taste

With the current focus on seasonal ingredients in cuisine, it’s no surprise that the time of year also impacts wedding cakes. The design for the wedding cake is often conceived early in the planning process, but Robert Bennett, executive pastry chef of Classic Cake in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is quick to remind couples that they should be planning, especially at cake tastings, for the season of their wedding.

While the trends that govern dessert appearance have varied widely in past years, the flavors that have found popularity are notably constant through time. Schultz says traditional flavors such as pound cake, vanilla and chocolate are still hugely popular at
Sea Island. A few other favorites, however, include the classic White Wedding and the Sea Island Salted Turtle cakes, filled with pecans and caramel.

An array of alluring cake flavors and colors, presented by Vail, Colo.-based Megan Joy Cakes | Cara Leonard Photography
An array of alluring cake flavors and colors, presented by Vail, Colo.-based Megan Joy Cakes | Cara Leonard Photography

Bennett lists fruit flavors as popular candidates for warm-weather weddings. While the tradition of lemon and buttercream are anything but new, Kaminski breathes new life into these variations. Sour cream cake with lemon-white chocolate ganache, mixed berry compote and hibiscus flower buttercream is one of her most requested types, along with her coconut butter cake, complete with dulce de leche, Himalayan pink sea salt, toasted coconut flakes and white chocolate buttercream.

The new approach treats cakes as more than an expected standard: Kaminski carefully constructs desserts that incorporate a mixture of flavors and textures. This deviation from the traditional cake-filling-frosting combination allows brides and grooms to put their own spin on the cake they share with their guests while still giving a nod to beloved traditional tastes.

 

What’s New

While many cake tables boast flavors that are old favorites, they are interpreted into elaborate designs that are far from expected. Brides and grooms are turning to the newest trends to wow guests, and Sea Island is helping elevate the confections to unexpected heights.

Exposed cakes are trending with Sea Island couples who embrace simplicity. “[An exposed cake] is exactly as it sounds,” Schultz explains. “The icing is on the inside, leaving the cake itself exposed. It’s beautifully done and becoming quite popular.” While the exterior of the cake is left uncovered, it is frequently accented with fresh flowers or made colorful with cakes and fillings that have been dyed complementary hues. The extra frosting is rarely missed.

Other couples are looking for a novel concept on the cake table. Borrowed from abroad, French wedding cakes, called “croquembouche” (meaning “crunch in the mouth”), also are a growing trend at weddings. Bennett finds himself crafting more of these architectural treats. The cakes consist of light pastry balls, called choux, that are piled into a cone and stuck together with caramel. They’re often decorated with flowers, nuts, ribbons and ganache, making them perfect for incorporating wedding themes in a cosmopolitan way. Unlike cake, which needs to be cut and served, croquembouche is served by pulling the pastries and toppings off of the central cone, which some newlyweds invite their guests to do themselves, a process that reinvents the cake-cutting tradition.

A croquembouche by chef Robert Bennett
A croquembouche by chef Robert Bennett

Many Sea Island couples hope to find a happy medium between honoring age-old customs and embracing new ideas—and grooms’ cakes help achieve that balance. An old tradition, grooms’ cakes are served at many Sea Island weddings. Often, they are chocolate-flavored and have designs that represent the interests of the groom. More recently, the cakes have become more playful. Schultz recalls creating a special 2-foot groom’s cake. “The cake was designed to look like a huge dog on the couch,” she says. “It was really something.”

For couples across the nation, it’s not about passing fads when it comes to making the cake special; at Sea Island, it’s about incorporating the details that express their interests and personality to make the day special. Maeve Rochford, executive chef and owner at Sugar & Scribe Bakery in San Diego, describes a four-tier cake she made for a couple that blended science fiction and the industrial revolution. The different layers represented an antique hatbox, the mechanical gears of a watch and a corset, all underneath a top hat crafted to look like one worn by the bride with her veil.

Sea Island Wedding Photographer_Sunday Grant Photography (1 of 1)
Sea Island created an entirely edible 2-foot groom’s cake that represented the couple’s dog. | Sunday Grant Photography

 

There is boundless inspiration for couples to get creative with the cake. And with the popularity of elaborate wedding cakes on social media and television, a brilliant idea can be found at the touch of a button. Couples are only limited by their imaginations when it comes to how they make the final course special.

And that really is the reason for the cake: It’s a way for couples to share something meaningful with those that matter most and to commemorate their special union. Chocolate, vanilla, a croquembouche cone or traditional tiers—when it comes to the cake, there are no wrong answers. Every bite is sure to leave a delicious memory.

 

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