Today was a clear, beautiful day in the Bay Area. Just perfect for a wedding. Particularly perfect for a wedding of the BVC’s Chaz Brenchley to his sweetie Karen Williams. In the company of about a hundred others, Deborah Ross and Dave Trowbridge were there, as was I, rooting for Team BVC and Happily Ever After. It was a splendid day. The bride wore a gorgeous deep green bustled Victorian dress and a fetching black hat with a green feather; the groom wore a tailored Victorian frock coat, and his customary fisherman’s cap was swapped out for a top hat. They both looked fabulous.
More than that, they looked fabulously happy, which is really the point, isn’t it? I wish I had pictures to show you (I’m sure someone will,), but I had a spot of tunnel vision about the wedding. See, all I took pictures of was the cake.
The cake(s) were my gift to the bride and groom. My exact marching orders were: chocolate-beetroot cake for the wedding cake proper; English-style fruitcake (with marzipan and fondant covering) for the groom’s cake. The wedding colors were green and black. Cake for 100, give or take; theme: steampunk.
I am by no means professional. My gifts as a baker/decorator include a decent palate, a touch of fearlessness, and the desire to play with my food. I took some cake decorating classes a few years ago, and since then I occasionally “oblige” with a cake. When I saw Hugo I knew I wanted to make a cake that suggested clockwork, so my first chore was to make tons and tons and tons of “gears” out of fondant. This would have been worlds simpler if I had been able to find gear-shaped fondant-cutters or cookie cutters. The few I found were huge–4 inches in diameter. So I made my gears by hand with biscuit cutters and a knife:
This took up several evenings after dinner, and amused my family mightily. Once those were done and drying, I set to work on the topper: the bride and groom had requested something totemic: a cat-groom and a turtle-bride. I did my best:
You’ll note that the bride and groom are sitting on–yes–another gear. Trying to achieve something thematic here.
With the topper and the gears done, I set to work on the cakes. The fruitcake was made a month ago: fruitcake has to sit wrapped up for a while to think about its sins and marry its flavors–usually with the aid of brandy applied weekly. The trick with fruitcake, I have decided, is to use the best dried fruit you can find, and as many interesting sorts as you can: not just currants and raisins, but dried pineapple and mango and ginger. This past Monday I made marzipan, and covered the fruitcake in it, then colored some more fondant a nice, vaguely maple-colored wood-grain color, and covered the marzipan-covered fruitcake again. Then, with the fruitcake insulated by all that sugar from the worst that the world could do, I put it aside and began to work on the chocolate beetroot cake(s).
Cake for 100 means approximately three layers, 12″, 10″ and 8″. Plus I wanted to make a 6″ top layer that the bride and groom could take away, freeze, and eat on their anniversary. In practice what this meant was that I would have to run an unbelievable number of beets through the grater: roughly twenty cups worth. I made the four tiers over two nights, not least because my oven and refrigerator are not large enough to hold eight cake layers of varying sizes all at once. As the vast number of eggs and beets and bars of bakers chocolate and pounds of sugar and flour that I had laid in diminished, the cakes took shape, and were frosted: the 12″ and 10″ tiers separately, the 8″ and 6″ as a unit.
I spent Thursday night gilding my gears (which sounds vaguely off color):
as well as the decoration on the fruitcake:
Finally, bright and early this morning I assembled my cake-decorating toolbox, and packed up the fruitcake, the topper, the gears, the cake tiers, and extra frosting, and drove them south to Mountain View, to the site of the wedding. There, finally, I assembled the tiers and started applying the gears in a not-quite random sprinkling across the four tiers, using a little extra buttercream as glue. By this point in the process I had become convinced that the thing was a wreck, that the bride’s day would be ruined by the site of the cake, etc. etc. (This is not dissimilar to my feelings about a book at about the same stage.) But I put the cakes out on the cake tables–lemme tell you, a four tier cake is not a trivial weight–and damn if, once on display, they didn’t start looking pretty good. So you see why I forgot to take pictures of the bride and groom, right? Because after the last week, I was just a little obsessive about cake.
All of us at Book View Café wish Karen and Chaz a wonderful life together, with lots of books, lots of cats and turtles and joy. And lots of cake.
Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, just out from Plus One Press). She is also the author of a double-handful of short fiction, most available on her bookshelf. Her first Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, and The Heiress Companion, and Lady John are now available from Book View Café. She has just completed The Salernitan Women, an historical novel set in medieval Italy, and scheduled for release in winter 2013.