An Old-Fashioned Wedding Cake of Great Sentiment

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Many years ago, while going to school at night, I worked as a medical secretary for a wonderful internist--Dr. Maurice F. Goodbody. He and his family became good friends and I was invited to their weekend farm outside of Hope, NJ (near where we now live) he referred to as "the beyond Hope farm"! I used to make lunch for him every day, cooking in the tiny lab on a tripod set over a bunsen burner until he informed me that his wife was complaining that he was gaining weight, never hungry for dinner, and the whole office was smelling like a short order joint. So you can imagine what a turn around it was about 15 years later, when I received a photo of Dr. Goodbody mixing a cake from my recipe in his eldest daughter Mary's magazine. Yes: Mary Goodbody was a founder of Cooks Magazine. Here it is, 46 years later, and Mary's daughter Laura was getting married at the farm and wanted to have a wedding cake just like her grandparents' cake back in 1944. I don't think I knew that the date was scheduled for August, the hottest and most humid month, when sight unseen, out of my mouth popped: "I'll make the cake"!

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So many of you have written on the blog asking about what kind of cake and buttercream to make under adverse temperature conditions. Now it was my turn. Laura wanted a buttermilk cake--that was easy--my favorite is in The Cake Bible. But when I saw the above photo of the original cake I went into a panic. Such elaborate decorations that have to taste good yet hold up with little to no airconditioning plus I haven't piped roses or much of anything else for years. I switched over to marzipan roses and simple borders. My biggest fear was should anything go massively wrong the poor bride would be without a cake. It's not like I have a bakery with lots of extra layers and buttercream in the walk in. I called my dear friend Betty Van Nostrand, the brilliant cake artist and teacher, for advice. She also doesn't pipe flowers but opts for gumpaste. She recommended that I keep the side decorations minimal to prevent them from falling off the cake. The most important suggestion, however, was that for piping I use vegetable shortening instead of butter. I wanted to use my favorite mousseline buttercream because though a little tricky to emulsify, once achieved it holds up the best at hot temperatures. So Woody to the rescue to run some tests. We both thought it would be a no brainer as vegetable shortening is so much more forgiving than butter but to our surprise it refused to incorporate smoothly. "Try adding some liqueur--that always does the trick" said I. Nope! In a total leap I suggested adding butter and eureka, smooth as silk. The day before the wedding, so it would be as fresh as possible, I baked the cake. I had already made the two mousselines (all butter and part Spectrum shortening) and had them chilling in the cooler back room. I composed the cake layers, frosted them, and would like to have chilled them before stacking but no room in the frig so carefully I placed the layers on top of each other and, breathing a major but temporary sigh of relief, refrigerated the entire cake. I had a bowl of lemon peels saved from some lemon curd I had made a few days earlier to sweeten the smell of the frig. Piping the roses was like bicycle riding, i.e. one never forgets. But I had to move the operation into the cooler back room, setting the buttercream and a bowl of ice water on the ironing board. Dipping my piping hand in the ice water helped immeasurably. I left each rose on the rose nail and set it in an egg crate in the freezer. I didn't put them in place until the cake was at its final destination so that I could place the cake topper on first. I decided to transport the cake from NY to our fridge in Hope that afternoon instead of waiting til the following morning. Thankfully the usual tie ups on route 80 were minimal however, I did not factor in the setting sun! Realizing at the last moment that the large styrofoam container was not tall enough for the cake, I used a large cardboard box set on my lap. The car's air conditioner has been failing for months. I used my back pillow to shield the cake from the sun, shifting it as the direction changed and grasping it firmly to ensure that it would not topple onto the cake. Three quarters of the way there, horror of horrors, i saw that the bottom tier was beginning to slip off it's silver foil base separating it from the bottom buttercream border. Quickly I tilted the box the opposite direction swearing to myself that if I ever transport another tiered cake I will impale it with a stake all the way through to the bottom base. Once in Hope I discovered that in my departure anxiety I had forgotten my piping bag, extra straw supports for the top tier and piping tube. The tube wasn't a problem as I have a few in my Hope kitchen along with a coupler to keep it in place. I resorted to using my recommendation of a quart size freezer weight zipseal bag which worked perfectly to restore the border. Into the refrigerator with the cake and then we drove over to the local gas station where they kindly gave me two large plastic straws. The next day, after lunch, we drove over with the cake, again shielding it against the mid-day sun. Mary showed us into the one air conditioned room of the house with a table set up for the cake. I had to laugh at my fears of refrigerator off-odors when I smelled the faint mustiness of the old farmhouse in mid humidity august. I loved the cake topper Mary's sister had found for the cake. The frozen roses behaved perfectly. And we went back to our house for a few hours until wedding time. The wedding was amazingly fun and joyful reconnecting with old friends and enjoying the excellent cuisine of chef Andre from Newton, NJ. The ceremony was held in the meadow with dramatic bursts of thunder in the background. Reverend Susan M. Craig, cousin of the bride, officiated (and I had the honor of sitting next to her at the dinner). The rain held out until the very end and then poured down on the wedding and catering tent with a vengeance the entire rest of the evening. Toward the end of the dinner the caterers had to hold up umbrellas over the servers and pitchers over the food! Clearly mine was not the major challenge of the day. When I saw Laura feed her new husband, Brian Cook, the first piece of cake tears came to my eyes. If you would like to read more about the wedding, beautifully written from the mother of the bride, click here!