Blowing off the Dust

Back in March, I accepted an order for a wedding cake.  Having never made a wedding cake before, this eager little baker looking to prove something to herself simply felt the hand of Fate weighing on her shoulder telling her, “You Must Not Say No…This Is Simply Too Great An Opportunity To Pass Up!”  In my head, the voice of Fate is the same as the voice of God, which, in many popular movies and TV shows, sounds a lot like James Earl Jones.

Fast forward about  5 months and I am without the proper words to describe the experience (this post is wordy, yes, but that’s because I need a lot of words to paint the picture).  Making a wedding cake is not easy.  Well, duh, you say.  But one does not feel the weighty truth of those words until one actually does it.  It is a tale of love (for baking) almost lost, lessons learned in the construction of tiered cakes, redemption at Costco and eventually seeing the light at the end of the tunnel — where one remembers why one does such things and feels like the whole thing was worth it.  But predominantly, mixed with the feeling of accomplishment, one feels exhausted.  Like a mother who just gave birth to a gigantic baby…well, cake in this case.  (I’m slightly disturbed by my continuing likening of creating baked goods to giving birth, but that’s for another post…or the therapist’s couch, perhaps?)

The cake was originally going to be chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, decorated with chocolate-covered strawberries (the bride and groom love chocolate), but eventually it evolved into a red-velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, decorated with royal icing flowers ordered from Etsy by the bride.

The first smart move I made when taking on this project was to ask my friend Su for help.  Su is also a baker, but with many more projects under her belt and with baking as officially her “sideline”, she knows her stuff.  I am mostly a baker who bakes for a hobby but won’t refuse money for it if offered.  🙂  Su has a web site, and it is found at susbakeshop.com.  It is currently not working at the time of this post, but hopefully it will be working soon…technical difficulties out of her control that can only be blamed on those sleeping at the servers and not catching the Database Error: Unable to connect to the database:Could not connect to MySQL error.  You should try going anyway in case it’s working by the time I upload this post.

The next smart move I made was to shop at Costco for ingredients.  I took on this project with the understanding that I may make very little to no profit — I was really doing it for the experience.  Costco sells 25-lb bags of flour for $5.99!!!  I think that was the most amazing buy I found out of all the ingredients I bought.  So thank you, Costco, for your gigantic sacks of flour and gigantic…everything, really!  Without you, I would not have made a respectable profit, which I gladly split down the middle with Su.  And in Su’s oft-repeated words, “I love Costco!”

The third smart move was to ask my friends Tim and Faye if I could use their giant kitchen.  My mom’s kitchen is larger than mine in Astoria, but this weekend, it was a war zone as the new refrigerator was being delivered and she needed to empty out all the contents of our now deceased fridge.  I did bake the cookies for the cookie buffet there, but it was very difficult with the kitchen getting so hot and with no AC (I wasn’t allowed to turn on the AC while baking because my parents didn’t want the bill to skyrocket due to the AC having to work harder to chill a very warm space).

Before any baking was actually done, I had to do what I call “cake math” — figuring out how many times the recipe had to be multiplied (I multiplied by 20, which I arrived at using Wilton’s handy little guide for amounts of cake batter required for different sizes of pans.  I also used Google to convert cups of dry ingredients like flour and sugar into pounds, which was necessary so that I would know how much of each to buy.  I overestimated the amount of a few ingredients (but it’s better to overbuy than to run out in the middle of the night, thus requiring a trip to the store at midnight!), and so had to return a few things after we were done.  One thing we should have done was to keep track of how many recipes of the batter we actually made for the size of cake it was — It was a 12″-9″-6″ tiered cake, the numbers being the sizes of the pans used for the respective tiers.  Next time.

Su and I baked well into the wee hours of the morning of the wedding, having completed assembling and frosting the layers, filling and all, as well as cleanup (I have Faye to thank for helping us big time with this!) by 2AM.  By then, we were too deliriously tired to strongly argue with Faye when she said we should just throw away the scraps that came from carving the cakes.  It was a lot of cake and it was a lot of scraps, which I did get to taste (very moist and delicious cake!).  I could have used it to make red velvet cake truffles, but as I said, I was too tired to protest throwing it out.  I greatly regret this move as I hate wasting food.

The evening of baking was not just all baking.  Baking for a big project is a lot of fun when you’ve got someone to share the load and you have friends who keep you company while baking by providing conversation (though we had to be careful not to be distracted from our measuring and counting of ingredients!)…Faye and Tim fed us hot dogs grilled by Tim, and during the dinner break we watched videos of Russell Peters’s stand-up on YouTube.  If you have not seen any of Russell Peters, you must go here!  Watch any of them, he is great!  When you are baking late into the night, so late it spills into the first hours of the next day, you need to laugh.  You really need to laugh.  Because otherwise, you will want to cry.

We brought the cake the next day to the restaurant where the reception was to be held, a little over an hour before the reception started.  Su and I were watched by those around us helping set up for the reception.  I felt like Duff Goldman putting together a cake with Geoff, watched by fascinated eyes as the cake gradually took on its structure.

All the exhaustion and stress only began to feel worth it as Su and I started to put the sugar flowers all over the tiers.  As I saw the cake come into full reality, I felt a bit of pride and joy, and the sense of accomplishment I felt made the exhaustion go away.  Suddenly the familiar rush of “Wow, I can’t believe I did this…” came washing over me.  Previously I said that this was the first and last wedding cake I would be doing, but after seeing it all come together, I thought that maybe I would do this again after all…  In fact, Su will be working on another wedding cake in a few weeks and I enjoyed working with her so much that I’ve signed on to be her sous-chef for the project.  I can also learn a few things from her.

As Rick says to Louis at the end of Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…”

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