The story of a wedding cake that wasn’t and my new best Baker friend I’ve sworn on a stack of bibles (cake, pastry, and bread) that I would never make another wedding cake on location again and I meant it, but Iris Updegraf, one of my oldest and dearest friends, is one of the most persuasive people I’ve ever known (plus I've always had a special fondness for her daughter) so when she asked me to make her only daughter Devon’s wedding cake in Arizona I agreed but with several iron-clad conditions. First of all, let it be said that the nightmare of arriving in someone else’s kitchen is hard for a non-baker to begin to fathom. There’s the walk in frig with onions and garlic just waiting to invade the butter and chocolate. There’s the Hobart mixer with missing paddle beater and whip with a few tines that have come lose, and of course a dented bowl. There are rubber spatulas that are worn and smelling of spices, no pot holders (real chefs use kitchen towels), bent cooling racks, no timers, dented cake pans the wrong size, uncalibrated and unevenly heated ovens with racks that aren’t level, no thermometers—not even inaccurate ones, maybe a scale of questionable accuracy, and we’re not even talking about the ingredients yet. I agreed to do the cake with the following conditions: First and foremost we needed to bring my assistant Woody Wolston from Minn. He would bring all the heavy equipment such as cake pans and help as both moral support and another set of very capable hands (and in back of my mind I thought that if needed he could run out for missing equipment or ingredients). Next, Iris would go to the site a month before to ensure that everything on my list had been ordered.
Iris checked with the event planner and said that the chef would be honored to have me there and I would have their full support. Just to be sure, I called and spoke to the event planner and we agreed that I would send a list of necessary items. I spent weeks thinking through every possible thing and I submitted the list on June 15, 9 ½ months before the wedding. I also tried to call the chef but he was never available and never returned my calls. Naturally this made me somewhat uneasy—actually very uneasy. But I trusted Iris and knew she’d be on top of it.
By end of August I found myself obsessing about the uncertainty of the situation. I found that when playing tennis with Elliott while on vacation, my mind kept going to the dreaded cake situation. Finally I started to fear that I would arrive in Arizona at the Sanctuary and find that not everything was in place and that my very long and cherished friendship with Iris would be in jeopardy. I knew the pressures of a large wedding and understood the many last minute details, which would demand her attention. I could just hear the event planner saying: “I know you asked for XX chocolate but this XX brand that we have on hand is every bit as good,” and I could feel the rage beginning to burn so I called Iris and shared my fears. She assured me she would never let anything affect our friendship—certainly not a wedding cake--and that she would call the event planner early Sept.
Next, a call from Iris revealed that there was now a new event planner who said that the Updegrafs were not allowed to bring in a baker to make the cake. Iris assured me that she could deal with this as they were paying a small fortune for this wedding and had gotten the permission from the former event planner. Shortly after Iris called and said: “ You’re not making the cake!” My heart leapt in relief but at the same time fell in disappointment because my heart was already in it not to mention that I had dedicated this new cake to Devon in my upcoming book.
Iris is determined, persuasive, but above all very wise. Though she had achieved her goal of persuading the event planner to let me make the cake, she knew that without their enthusiastic and full cooperation it would be nothing but anxiety and trouble for all of us, which had been my very fear. Coincidentally, on the press trip to Switzerland (previously posted), I had met another writer from Arizona and when I told her the story she said: “The new event planner is my best friend—do you want me to turn this around?” I sagely declined.
So end of March I left for the wedding, with one small version of the wedding cake called “The Golden Gift Lemon Almond Cake” in the upcoming book, so that Devon and family could taste the cake I had planned to make. Devon told me about the cake the Sanctuary baker was making. The event planner gave her a choice of decoration and she chose the cascade of gumpaste flowers. They did not, however, tell her there would be an extra charge or what that charge would be. This proved too be an excellent lesson for the beginning of married life as a responsible adult: Always ask the price before hand! The extra fee turned out to be $900. Yes—more than some people charge for the entire cake.
Needless to say I wanted to meet neither the event planner, the chef, nor the baker. The first thing I did when I entered the event room was to get a close up look at the cake. I had to acknowledge that the gumpaste flowers were exquisite. After the dinner was served and the dancing and unbearably loud music had begun, the event planner (not the evil one but I didn’t realize at the time that there was more than one involved so I probably glared at her) came up to me and said that the baker would like to meet me. My first thought was no way but my second was why not and boy am I glad I went with that thought! The baker turned out to be a soul mate—Julia Baker.
We left the noisy ballroom so that we could talk and proceeded to do just that for about an hour. Then we made plans for me to visit her factory the following day. Julia was shocked to hear that they had charged $900 for the gumpaste flowers as none of that was coming her way. It turns out that she is the exclusive wedding cake baker for the Sanctuary but that she has her own independent business of specialty cakes and fantastic chocolates. She started her contract with the Sanctuary in August, which was when they had changed event planners, and my cake had begun to fall through.
Julia had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and was a chef in France for several years. She wanted to meet me because she had learned how to make wedding cakes from my book The Cake Bible when she returned to America. My Sunday visit to her factory was shear bliss. And I wouldn’t have minded a bit making a wedding cake in her perfect setup! Here is a sample of her work from her website but I encourage you to click on this link and visit the site. http://www.juliabakerconfections.com
And here is the laborious list that I had compiled last June for the wedding cake. Maybe you can use it, or parts of it, should you be foolish enough to do a wedding cake away from your own home kitchen!
Questions for Iris Updegraf:
What time is the wedding?
Is it still 120 people?
Woody and I will probably arrive Wednesday 25—can we organize the tickets in Oct?
Where will we stay, how close to the Sanctuary, and how to get back and forth?
Questions for Beau
OVENS: What kind of ovens (can we use two) and are the shelves level? Are they calibrated? please put a teaspoon or two of water in a cake pan and see if it stays in the center of the pan
Mixer: What kind? Need 6 quart mixer with paddle and whisk attachments with 1 extra bowl
Refrigerator: Is there a walk in that would not have savory smells such as garlic or a frig large enough to hold a cake stored in a 36 inch high container?
Scale: Do you have a digital scale and is it in grams and can weigh as little as 1 gram?
Work Space: Is there a relatively cool isolated space to work where we won’t get in the
way of other production?
TIMING: How far ahead can you order essential equipment and ingredients? I’d appreciate knowing they are there at least a month ahead as some of the things may need to be special ordered.
***PLEASE NOTE: The exact brand names and varieties of ingredients where listed are critical. The exact size of the cake pans is also critical. Almost all places listed know me so it may help to mention this is for a special cake I’m doing in Arizona.
Green & Blacks white chocolate with vanilla bean: 5 pounds (Contact Alice Shore 973-909-3902 and ask re wholesale possibilities
blanched sliced almond: 2 pounds
bleached all-purpose flour: either Gold Medal or Pillsbury 8 pounds
AA unsalted butter (preferably Hotel Bar but NOT high fat) 12 pounds
Boyajian pure lemon oil: a 5 ounce bottle www.boyajianinc.com/citrus.html
Eurovanille vanilla extract 2 tablespoons Crossings: www.crossingsfrenchfood.com 800-209-6141 or SOS Chefs: www.sos-chefs.com 212-505-5813
turbindo sugar such as Sugar in the Raw: 12 pounds
organic eggs: 5 dozen jumbo
sourcream (FULL FAT): 8 pounds preferably Breakstone or Land O’ Lakes
Rumford baking powder: 1 can (available in all Health Food Stores)
baking soda: 1 box
fine sea salt: small container
corn syrup 2 bottles
fresh lemon leaves
baker’s sugar or superfine sugar: a 4 pound bag
Baker’s Joy spray that contains flour and oil (no other brand)
Pam spray (the original not flavored)
Six dozen large lemons with smooth thick skin
small container of vegetable shortening
Precut cardboard rounds: 4 of each: 6, 8, 9, 10, and 12 inches
long serrated knife: blade needs to be minimum 13 inches long
heavy duty cake decorating turn table (Wilton or Ateco)
flat presentation plate about 15 inches in diameter (the CAKE décor is gold and silver)
robot coup or food processor with bowl that has no cooking odors
cake pans (2) of each 6 inch, 9inch; (3) of each 12 inch pans (pans need to be exactly those diameters and exactly 2 inches high—can be purchased from Wilton: Wilton Industries: www.wilton.com 800-794-5866)
heavy duty pancake or hamburger turner
gold and silver dust— Easy Leaf Products www.easyleafproducts.com 800-569-5323
three or more 3 to 4 quart bowl
1 or 2 medium size whisks
1 half sheet pan (to toast almonds)
Combrichon fine wire cooling racks, (4) 24 centimeters (9-1/2 inches), (4) 28 centimers (11 inches) (4) 36 centimeters (14 1/4 inches) La Cuisine: www.lacuisineus.com 800-521-1176 or JB Prince: www.jbprince.com 800-473-0577
Gobel non stick tart pan with removable bottom: 12 12 inches/32 centimeters (La Cuisine or JB Prince)
set up for melting chocolate (a saucepan and large bowl is fine)
medium saucepan: 1 1/2 quarts (for lemon syrup)
small strainer (for the lemon juice)
citrus juicer or reamer
2 or 3 silicone spatulas (new)
small sharp shears
A few disposable pastry bags
A large plastic box or a few smaller ones with covers (for about 2 dozen lemon roses)
Cambro or other bin minimum 18 inches diameter by 23 inches high preferably new but must be odorless and preferably clear (this is to store the finished cake)
A roll of duct tape
heavy duty foil
parchment sheets (preferably not rolls)
Nordicware transfer round
carpenters level & wood shims
small sharp knife and brush for roses
Pourfect liquid measures
small metal spatula
decorating tips—star and pearl & couplersbowl scraper
knife for roses and brush
favorite icing spatula
small offset spatula
small straight spatula
ribbon: gold and silver
(gold and silver dust)
Roses: I may make them here. We will also use real lemon leaves with them. Probably will only do 12 coming down front of cake at an angle. will wait to see what liz does at photo shoot.
for the the roses we need 3 dozen large smooth thick-skinned lemons
for the zest for cake and buttercream 30 ASK FOR 6 DOZEN LEMONS