A Guide To... Your Wedding Cake Consultation

So, you're engaged. First of all: CONGRATULATIONS! Enjoy every second!

Once the dust has settled though, you are probably reading this with your practical head on. What happens next? How do you plan the perfect wedding? How on earth do you afford it?

Well, as a cake designer who sees dozens of couples every year, I thought I'd write a little blog about what happens when you come and see me and talk cake.

Firstly, I'd say it's never too soon to get your cake booked in. It might be way down on your list of priorities after Dress, Ceremony and Reception Venues etc, but all the very good Cake Designers get booked up quickly. As I write this, in Autumn 2016, I am already taking bookings for 2018. And while 2018 seems ages away, and you might not even know what your cake will look like (or have about 100 different ideas), once you're booked in with me, you can change the design as many times as you like until about a month before your wedding. I'm very flexible. Tastes change and I happily adapt to suit.

So, you've chosen your venue, your dress may be ordered and it's all getting real. Now you are thinking cake. (I think cake about 90% of the time. Welcome to my world!) 

Some venues have recommended suppliers and some don't. If your venue does, you do not have to go with them. This is your big day and it is absolutely fine if you wish to shop around. I'd suggest approaching three or four cake designers that you like the look of (search for Cake Designers near your venue as this will drastically reduce delivery costs) and firstly, see if they are available for your date. I get the majority of these tentative enquiries via email from my website, or via my Facebook page. It's worth saying at this point that you might not get an immediate reply so please don't be disheartened! If I'm quiet, I generally reply the same day. If I'm busy with cakes, it could be a couple of days as sometimes I come home and collapse in a chair. So be prepared for a slight wait before a response.

From this point, I'll explain the process as I do it, as it might be different for other suppliers. (One thing I would say is be wary of any Cake Designers who do not offer tastings. You wouldn't buy your dress without shopping around and trying some on. The same goes for cake. I've had some couples admit that the cake is often an afterthought and have been surprised when I've offered a tasting, but what you have to remember is that you will be feeding this to your guests. You need to know that the cake is worth eating!)

So, your chosen wedding date is available and we've arranged to meet. I've had couples come to me with no clue as to how their cake needs to look, and couples who have arrived with huge physical folders or chockablock Pinterest boards. Neither is wrong - there is no wrong way to approach this, so if you know you need a cake but don't know/care what it will look like, I can help.

But say you have two or twenty cake ideas you like and you are getting stressed. Then what? 

Both these scenarios are why the consultation helps. If you have absolutely no idea, I can usually ask enough questions about the rest of your planned day to find a thread of inspiration, be it the colour of your key flower, to the time of year, to your favourite flavour. Even whether you are a high-fashion couple or prefer things much more rustic. There is the perfect cake for everyone.

And if you have twenty pictures, I can nearly always spot a theme across them all. They might all feature a certain type of flower. They might all be very minimalistic. I can usually identify something that ties them together that you might not have spotted.

Fire, fire, burning bright...

Fire, fire, burning bright...

When you arrive to see me, I will have asked you beforehand what flavours you would like to sample and I will have them ready. I serve my samples in cupcake form as they are easy to prepare and they transport well. (I hold 99% of my consultations in the Gallery, by the fire, where my studio is located, but occasionally I travel elsewhere to meet couples if schedules are a problem.)

As it's practically against the law to serve cake without tea, expect a nice hot cup or two, or coffee/latte/cappuccino if you prefer. Even water!

And this is the point where we talk weddings and cake. 

Questions I ask include the following:

  • The date and time of your wedding service and whether this location differs from the reception. (Civil weddings are massively increasing in popularity so it may be the case that the ceremony and reception are at the same venue.)
  • What flavours you would like.
  • Do you require any favours, or little extras? (I provide favours, cupcakes and/or biscuits as place settings etc.)
  • Any food allergies in your immediate family and whether this needs to be catered for in the cake. (Some couples say yes, some say those with allergies intolerances can just avoid the cake.)
  • The details of your florist. (In case the cake requires fresh flowers.)
  • The details of your photographer. (This is so I can approach them directly and purchase any photos of the cake for my portfolio.)
  • Who your wedding coordinator is at your chosen venue. (In case I need to contact them for any reason.)
  • How many does the cake need to feed?
  • What is the theme of the wedding?
  • What are the key colours?
  • What are your key flowers?
  • What time will the cake be cut? (For naked cakes this is especially important as it will be standing out exposed to the elements and there are steps I take to keep it moist.)

At this point, we've usually got to know each other a bit and in my mind, I have a decent idea about what it is you need, and you have a decent idea about the type of person I am and whether you like me. It's a lot like a job interview in some respects! You need to feel comfortable with me as you are paying me for a service. You can ask me as many questions as you like during the consultation and I do not push for a decision at this stage. You have tasted my cakes and you (hopefully) liked them, but I appreciate that you may be seeing other suppliers and shopping around. I send a quote via email for you both to look over and I ask that you let me know if you wish to go ahead and book (or not) when you have received it. This means I can release your date to other couples if you are going elsewhere, or book you in if you have chosen me. And then, once you have paid your deposit, that is you booked in and one more thing ticked off your list!

I hope this has been of some help. Please ask if you have any queries. I love talking cakes and weddings!

 

 

 

 

The Point of No Return.

I've been making cakes in a professional capacity for five years, and prior to that, more than I care to remember for family, friends and just me. By now I must have made thousands. I always said I could make my famous chocolate cake blindfold, and as for a good old Madeira, well, I can do that in my sleep.

As it turns out, even professional cake makers have off days, and mine came a couple of weeks ago.

You've probably been there. That place when your mind wanders off down memory lane and you forget where you are. Well, I was in my studio with two different cake mixtures in two different Kenwood mixing bowls. Chocolate in one (the one with the handles for heavier quantities) and Vanilla Madeira in the other bowl (no handles, for lighter mixtures). Everything was weighed out - two gorgeous Mason Cash bowls with cocoa powder/flour mix in the beige bowl, and just SR flour and a hint of baking powder in the blue. My butter and sugars were both creamed to almost white. Nice and fluffy. The eggs had been added and there was zero curdling and I was ready for the dry ingredients in both.

So far so good...

The cocoa mixture was supposed to go in the handled bowl, and the SR Flour in the other. See how methodical I am?!

And then, as it was close to my 40th birthday, I was listening to the 25th Anniversary, "Live at the Albert Hall" recording of The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom and I share a birthday, you see. It had its premiére on my birthday in 1986. So every year, I listen, remember how much I love it and pretend I can sing soprano. I've seen it four or five times and have artwork of it on my walls at home.

Sing for meeeee!

Sing for meeeee!

 

And as I listened and warbled, my mind drifted to when I was younger and how I drew the original album's artwork on my Art Portfolio. I loved the single rose and the mask. I wanted to be Christine. I always identified with the Phantom and sympathised with him and thought Raoul was a bit of a wet mop. Give me dark and mysterious (and mentally unstable!) any day.

As my mind wandered, I went from school to Sixth Form, sitting around the Common Area, drinking vending-machine hot chocolate from the machine in the dining room - the on the left though, as that was the more chocolatey-tasting one - and my thoughts then went my first proper boyfriend who was neither dark nor mysterious, but at the time I thought he was the Best. Boyfriend. Ever. As you do. 

And then I looked down and I had added my dry ingredients to my Kenwood bowls, and the batters were promptly spooned into their respective tins, but after a quick taste test of both batters, the vanilla batter tasted lovely and sweet. And the chocolate one was a bit stiffer than usual and tasted very rich. Odd, I thought. I put them both in the oven, and it was only as I was getting ready to wash everything that light dawned and I saw the problem. The Kenwood bowl with the handles should be smeared with the remains of chocolatey cake batter, and the non-handled one should be providing me with delicious vanilla batter to lick. Except it was the other way round and it dawned on me; in my reverie, one of the cakes now had too much sugar/butter and too little flour, and the other had too much flour/cocoa and not enough sugar and butter. And there was nothing I could do except watch and wait.

 

Once out of the oven, the vanilla one was obviously a massive fail. It kind of did what a soufflé might do and rose very quickly but then imploded in on itself. The chocolate one at first glance didn't look all that bad, but when I tapped on the top, it sounded a lot like a loaf of bread rather than my lovely moist chocolate cake. 

Then, once cooled, I cut them. 

It's holey, Jim, but not as we know it...

It's holey, Jim, but not as we know it...

See the massive hole and the raw cake mixture around it? That's not ideal. And also the crumb is very loose and did I mention it was raw in the middle? Some might be tempted to cut out the raw bit and pass it off as a Bundt cake, but a quick nibble of the crust revealed the cake was overly sweet. Nice if you have a sweet tooth, but not good enough.

Drier than a...

Drier than a...

See, now I love chocolate and I love chocolate cake, and after slicing this, I thought, "well actually, it might not be good enough for my customer, but I wonder if it salvageable as a 'take home and stuff in my face with a cup of tea' sort of cake?"

Turns out, it was very dry and also very bitter. I use a high quality cocoa powder, and trust me, it needs the correct amount of sugar to balance the bitterness. This cake was sadly lacking in the sweetness department. 

So, I did what any self-respecting perfectionist would do and I started again from scratch. And I'm happy to report that the second time around, I paid full attention to every step of the process, and it resulted in lovely, moist, perfect cakes. I have kept the chocolate cake though as if I crumb it up and mix it with some chocolate buttercream ganache, it will make lovely truffles or cake pops. The vanilla one went in the bin, sadly.

The moral of this story is simply this. If you are an amateur baker, take heart. Even professionals make mistakes so do not beat yourself up about it. If you are a pro, I'd suggest that a mistake here and there reminds you that sometimes being able to do things blindfold might not be a good idea. Neither is thinking about olden days when you should be concentrating on the job at hand! And no matter how loudly you sing, you will never be Christine Daae...

Cake- the 2.0 redux. 

Cake- the 2.0 redux. 

Love Never Dies...

My customers frequently challenge me in terms of the designs they ask for. In the last twelve months alone I have been asked for everything from Optimus Prime, edible Lush Bath Bombs and  caravans to Lady Gaga, chandelier wedding cakes and Art Deco Flapper dresses. 

One such challenge was the first of this week's cakes. The recipient is a huge fan of Bram Stoker's Dracula - the film featuring Gary Oldman and Keanu Reeves - so the brief was to recreate the original movie poster artwork.

I had a rough idea how I would do this one. Essentially I had a couple of options: I could print an edible image of the entire graphic onto an icing sheet and just stick that onto a round cake. Alternatively I could "animate" the gargoyle with fondant or modelling chocolate, basically modelling it and cutting out the Dracula lettering by hand. I decided to go for the latter as I knew if I got it right the effect would be much better. More time consuming, but much more effective.

The gargoyle took a few attempts as I my modelling chocolate was very sticky and frankly, there was more on my hands than on my work surface. (This is because I'd complained earlier that day that my studio was freezing cold, so I'd put the heating on. Rookie mistake.)

Fondant gargoyle, still sticky with some tentative shading.

Fondant gargoyle, still sticky with some tentative shading.

So, instead, I decided to work it in fondant. Often sculpting with fondant doesn't work as it's much harder to blend in joins and cracks than with chocolate, but for this, I actually liked the cracks visible as the gargoyle is supposed to look like stone.

I was fairly happy with the first attempt at this, but I decided to leave it overnight to set before I decided whether I was going to paint and dust it properly. 

The next stage was the baking of the cake which needs no explanation (hint here, don't forget to add the eggs, like I forgot to do with a cake the other week, then wondered why it looked weird and wasn't rising - I blame tiredness!) but as the cake was cooling, I applied the first layer of colour to the gargoyle's head. It was quite patchy and blocky at the point - the shading will be done when this coat is dry.

First colouring. Looks kinda blocky at this point.

First colouring. Looks kinda blocky at this point.

So, the next day I made some zingy lemon buttercream, some lemon syrup and I torted, drizzled and filled the cake. Then as the layers were settling, I rolled the gum paste for the Dracula letters. I find when cutting sugar and gum paste it is best to roll it to the required thickness, then let it air dry slightly before cutting, otherwise it can drag as you slice. And the knife blade has to be sharp. (And given that it is sharp, don't then do what I did last week, and run your thumb over it to wipe off bits of sticky sugar. Because there will be blood which meant I had to down tools for 24 hours. I am that daft sometimes.)

Tracing the lettering outline.

Tracing the lettering outline.

There is a lot of waiting for things to dry in cake-making. You get used to managing your time effectively. (Or sometimes when it's hot and I'm impatient, I leave my studio, go downstairs and hang out with the Gallery owners for a bit!) 

As I waited for the red gum paste to be dry enough to cut, I ganache my cake with a creamy white chocolate ganache. Then, as this was setting in the fridge, I went back to the letters and cut them out. By the time they were cut, the ganache was hard enough to cover in fondant. As the picture above shows a sort of stone-effect, craggy background, I decided to marble my fondant using a mixture of white, chocolate brown and pale yellow. 

After applying the fondant and smoothing any noticeable bumps, I then distressed it with a dusting of colour then brushed it with alcohol to "drag" the colour. Then I added the gargoyle, stuck the lettering in place and left it alone to dry and set.

 

And here is the finished cake. (Before it was delivered I did a couple more tweaks on the colouring of the gargoyle, just adding a bit more light and shade!)

Spotlight On... Simply Flowers

I absolutely love weddings. There is something about the creativity, excitement and love that goes into every single one that makes them a joy to be a part of. And I'm lucky to work with some exceptional suppliers and venues. So I have decided that every now and then, I will blog about one of them. It will help any brides and grooms out there by offering another perspective on fellow suppliers in the industry. 

This week, I am focussing on Linda at Simply Flowers in Alnwick. I first met Linda properly when she did my wedding flowers back in 2012. I was one of those brides who went into the consultation with no clear idea about what I wanted. "I just love flowers!" I exclaimed. "Like, all of them!" Credit to her, she did not roll her eyes in sheer frustration (she should have!) and the flowers she did for my wedding were perfect. It was like she'd looked into my head, understood what I was wittering on about and nailed it. 

 

I loved the roses in my bouquet; such a gorgeous colour. The flowers she provided for the tables were really simple, arranged in glass jars and bottles, as that was exactly how I wanted them to be. I am not a fan of large floral arrangements where the guests can't see each other across the table!

Linda was lovely and I've had the pleasure to work with her a couple of times since at different weddings in the area. Sometimes she's been and gone before I've arrived with the cake, but I've always been impressed with her arrangements. 

So if you are looking for a florist, Simply Flowers is one in the Alnwick area I would definitely recommend!

www.simply-flowers.co.uk

www.facebook.com/simplyflowers

 

New Website

Hello! It's been a long time coming but the new website is taking shape. I decided to totally overhaul the design - my business is rapidly expanding so the website needs to reflect that.

There are new things happening: more classes (1 to 1, cupcake decorating, Baking For beginners, children's classes), and there are changes coming too. Stay tuned. 

As ever, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I even have Snapchat though I'm not entirely sure of a) the point of it and b) how to actually use it.

 

Thanks for stopping by and I'll be back soon!