Sunday, January 13, 2013

Alex and Andy's Wedding, Part 1

Last week, I had a wedding order that literally took my entire workweek.  I also had the bright idea to throw a couple tasting appointments in there--I've done this before, and you'd think I'd remember NOT to schedule appointments on a week like that but no.

Anyway, let's start with the good news!  The end results for Alex and Andy's lovely bridal cake at La Posada de Santa Fe:

The bride's cake
The bridal cake was the easier of the two, by far.  But it was still one that, when the bride sent me the inspiration photo and asked me if I could replicate it, I was like, "....yeeeeeaaaahhh."

Basically, when someone sends me something I've never actually done, I have to try to look at its elements.  So, for this one, my mental list was basically:

1) 4-tier smooth-finish buttercream cake -- I can do that
2) Gumpaste rose --I can do that
3) Dozens of large gumpaste petals -- I can do those

The only sticking point, for me, was how to assemble it all.  I decided I could feasibly figure that out and told the bride that yes, yes I could do that design for her.  (Full disclosure: this process happens pretty frequently!  I'm still learning a lot, so when a bride brings in a cake that has a technique I've never done, I of course want to try it out, but I never want to promise something and not deliver, so I have to break it down for myself)

I started with the rose focal piece.  In building your basic gumpaste rose, you start with a base that is a cone of dried gumpaste with (usually) a sturdy piece of wire in it.  The wire gives you something to hold as you make the rose, and allows you to anchor the finished rose into the cake.  I was worried here, though, that the wire wouldn't be enough.  The rose, itself, I planned on making larger than normal, making it heavier than normal.  And then there was the placement to consider--there would be nothing beneath the rose to support it--it was going to be in the middle of a tier, rather than resting on a horizontal surface of the cake.

I ended up building the rose on a wooden dowel--I lost the flexible quality of the wire, but gained a lot in strength and support for the rose, so it worked for my purposes.  I trimmed the dowel down to about 4" and went about building a basic rose.  The only difference in this case is that I wanted a great big rose, and thus needed great big petals and more rows of them--luckily, we had some cutters at the bakery that fit the bill.

The petals were easy, but tedious--roll out the gumpaste, cut it, thin it out, and use the larger end of the ball tool to slightly ruffle the edges.  There are different products and tricks to help them form a slightly cupped shape as they dry--mine is an apple/  When our cafe gets apples and/or avocados, we get them by the case, and they're usually separated from bouncing around by these purplish cardboard pieces that have wide, shallow cavities.  Free, and perfect for petals.  

Once the petals and rose were dried, they got a blast of airbrush.  Our buttercream comes out slightly yellow from our use of butter (opposed to shortening) and real vanilla, and my gumpaste had been pure white, and I wanted them to match.  I mixed up a bit of gold luster dust with vodka, and gave all the rose elements a couple go-overs.  It gave them the slight yellow tinge I was looking for to match my buttercream, and also gave them a pearl finish, which the bride has specifically requested.  

Once I'd built the ridiculously heavy 4-tier cake (4-tiers is about the max I can carry alone), I set it in the fridge to firm up overnight--I didn't want any petals that maybe fell out of place as I tried to attach them to damage the base frosting.  I also didn't want to place the gumpaste pieces until the day of the wedding, as I have anxiety about gumpaste and fondant being in the fridge overnight (you get condensation, which can literally MELT the fondant).  So time came for placement!

I started with the rose--I angled the dowel very, VERY slightly downward as it went into the cake.  I wanted the rose to face straight ahead, but didn't want it at an angle that the weight of it could pull it back out of the cake.  I ended up pushing pretty firmly to also get a good part of the base of the rose to go into the cake--I wanted it more flush up against the cake, rather than jutting out too much.  

Once it was in place, I gathered my rose petal supply (which turned out to be inadequate--I had to make more on thy fly, but that actually worked out a bit better!).  Starting from the rose, I placed petals around it, trying to keep the spacing so it looked natural.  I had to place them close to the rose, itself, rather than closer to the surface of the cake, as I had to leave room for the petals that would need to go beneath.  I went upward first, so I could knock that top tier out.  The hardest part was crossing the ledge between the tiers.  There's a gap due to the sizing difference, but you want the petals to look as though there's not.  I made it work by playing with the placement, but in hindsight, it might be better to shave the corners off the ledges to create a more level plane for the rose cascade.  Since there are eventually petals all over it, you don't see it, and you save yourself the rose petal puzzle.

Going down the tiers was a bit more trying when it came to crossing to bigger tiers.  I needed to anchor the petals, but have them still lie nice and flush with all the other petals, rather than jut out as they appeared to want to do.  What I ended up doing was breaking off the pointy end of the petal, and hiding the broken edge beneath the previous row of petals.  It definitely cut down on the bulk and made things easier.  Downside, though, was when you break dried gumpaste petals, sometimes the whole petal decides to shatter.

Cue the unexpected upside of not having made enough petals!  I suspected early on in the petal placement that I was going to fall short, so I took a break and rolled out a couple dozen more so they could be drying as I placed the already-prepped ones--since I was rolling out my petals so thin to get them as large as I needed, they were drying pretty quickly.  When I got around to the new ones, they were crusted (dry to the touch on the outside, still flexible inside).  It worked out really well, though, as I was able to manipulate them without breaking them, but still have them be sturdy enough that they were keeping the cupped shape and the slightly ruffled edge I'd given them.  

So I finished off the placement, touched up with a partial petal here and there to fill in the odd "void" I saw here and there in the spacing, and blasted the petal waterfall with one more quick go-over with the gold-tinted airbrush spray.

Et voila!  The cake was done!  All I had to do was very awkwardly (and terrifyingly, for a moment, when I very seriously thought my arms were just going to give out while I was still holding the cake) maneuver the cake into the back of our delivery van and get it to the hotel.  The drive is short, so that was a blessing.  But the set-up for the wedding was such that, to get the cake where it needed to go, I had to park on an icy side street, wind my way through a narrow path they'd left open for vendors that had loose cables all over the ground, and a weird (but short) set of steps to navigate.  I had to stop once to let my arms rest (as they gave the feeling of wanting to give out again) and, once I got the cake on the table, literally bent over panting for air as though I'd just run a mile.

In conclusion, I think I need to work on my arm muscles a bit more in the coming months before the next wedding season.  

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