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Wedding cake couture

Today's cakes range from the unique (think Martha Stewart) to the sleek (think Vera Wang wedding gowns). And then there's Krispy Kreme.

By JANET K. KEELER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 17, 2002

Chef Michael Baugh
[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Chef Michael Baugh of Let Them Eat Cake in Tampa puts the finishing touches on bride-to-be Lisa Linville’s three-tiered, aquatic-themed cake.
Pastry chef Michael Baugh spent a little time in a pet store last week inquiring how long goldfish could live without a fresh supply of oxygen.

Baugh, owner of Let Them Eat Cake in Tampa, had an idea for Lisa Linville's wedding cake, and it involved live marine life. He envisioned the three-tiered cake sitting on a base of 10 glass globe vases, each containing two frisky goldfish. On top of the vases would be a round mirror, cutting off the air to the fish, and holding the cake.

The pet shop owner assured him there were varieties of goldfish that could survive 41/2 hours under glass. So when Linville and her new husband, Bill Engle, an avid scuba diver, cut the cake at their Saturday reception, there were white chocolate dolphins leaping up the cake and goldfish swimming underneath it.

Baugh told the bride to have someone release the fish after the reception into the small pond at his West Shore Boulevard business. Unless, of course, some child wanted to take one home as a pet.

"I consider his cakes artwork because it is so beautiful what he does," Linville said the week before her wedding at Tampa's Palma Ceia Christian Church.

Baugh's aquatic creation is typical of the lengths that many couples and cake designers go to these days to give their cakes a personal touch. Baugh has made tie-dyed cakes, cakes in the shapes of swans and pina colada-flavored cakes. Not surprisingly, beach-themed cakes, decorated with sugar shells, sand dollars, sea horses and dolphins, are popular in Florida.

Krispy Kreme wedding kake
[Photo courtesy of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts]
Nina Torres of Cakes Plus in Tampa created this Krispy Kreme Doughnuts cake, a pyramid adorned with ribbons and flowers.
Even Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is getting into the wedding cake act. A trickle of a trend began last year with word spreading that doughnuts could be fashioned into a cake by making a pyramid and then adorning it with ribbons and flowers. Mary Ellen Norton, Krispy Kreme spokeswoman in Tampa, says there haven't been any doughnut wedding cakes locally, but plenty of brides have given out two-pack boxes of doughnuts as wedding favors.

While some brides eagerly agree to unique cakes, most are looking for something more straightforward, something more like their gowns. Cake designers who have been in the business for any length of time know that as bridal gowns go, so go wedding cakes.

In the 1980s, when gowns were layered and fussy and adorned with all sorts of frippery, the cakes were dripping with decorations, too. Tiers of white cake were separated by pillars and decorated with lots of sugary rosettes and lacy piping. Some even had elaborate stairways and plastic arbors protecting the stoic bride and groom figurines perched on top.

Today, gowns are sleek, thanks to the streamlined couture of influential wedding gown and ice skating costume designer Vera Wang, and so are the cakes. Cake designers often want to see a photo of the bride's gown and maybe even the invitation before they sketch an idea. They are looking for design elements, such as sweet little swirls or dotted patterns, that can be incorporated into the cake.

At weddings this year, you will more likely see layers of cakes placed directly on top of one another, rather than separated by pillars. The bride and groom cake topper is less popular, fresh flowers more.

"I see a day when we won't even be using the pastry bag" to pipe rosettes, ribbons or other designs on the cake, says Baugh. Wedding cakes, he says, will be perfectly smooth with no decoration other than flowers or designs sculpted from white chocolate. Get ready for a linear industrial look, he says, because gowns are getting more and more spare.

[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Chef Michael Baugh of Let Them Eat Cake in Tampa shows bride-to-be Lisa Linville how to write a message in chocolate that he will later put on her wedding cake.
Leading the revolution in wedding cake design is Martha Stewart, who many brides depend on to provide the visuals for their dreams. They come to Baugh, and other cake designers, with pages ripped from her magazines. This, they tell them, is the cake they want.

Sometimes Baugh must gently let them know that the layer of cake teetering on the edge of another probably isn't edible, but it likely a form with icing on it. He can tell that because he knows how far a cake can be structurally stretched.

The other thing they need to know, says Andrea Carusetta, owner of Delicious Desserts in Dunedin, is that to replicate an elaborate Martha cake will probably cost about $15 a slice. That means cake for 100 will be $1,500.

In the Tampa Bay area, most brides pay between $2.50 and $9 per person for wedding cake. The price can go higher, but it is unlikely to go lower. Baugh charged Linville $2.95 a slice for her cake, less than he normally would for such a creation, because she agreed to let him assemble the cake on Chocolate Is My Crayon, his cable access TV show that airs in Hillsborough County. (7:30 p.m. Tuesdays on Ch. 19 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays on Ch. 20).

What makes Martha cakes and the amazing trompe l'oeil style of New York masters Sylvia Weinstock and Colette Peters, also featured in many magazines and books, is the satin-smooth finish of the icing. That look is created by using fondant, a sugary icing that comes in sheets and is rolled out like pastry dough, draped over the cake, then molded.

Fondant is more popular in Europe, where many pastry chefs are adept at working with the elastic mixture, which they typically make from scratch and do not buy in sheets. Rolled fondant, says Delicious Desserts' Carusetta, has gotten a bad rap in the United States because it is sometimes used unflavored and the mixture of sugar, water and glucose is too syrupy sweet.

Elegant wedding cake
[The Perfect Wedding Cake]
Elegant cakes iced with smooth fondant are popular among today’s brides. This ivory-colored creation from Kate Manchester’s The Perfect Wedding Cake is decorated with marzipan fruit.
"It's awful unflavored," she says. "I make my own so I can flavor it with anything, like almond or lemon. You can flavor the rolled fondant, but the flavoring must really be worked into the icing."

The other drawback with fondant is that the chef has one chance to make it work. If the sheet tears or a little speck of cake gets in it, its glasslike finish is ruined. This also adds to the expense.

Fortunately for brides who adore the sleek style, most pastry chefs can achieve the look with buttercream frosting.

Other features can drive up the price of a cake such as sugar bows, ribbons or flowers made by hand from gum paste, called the more palatable pastillage in French. Architectural flourishes or unusual supportive devices also are additional.

While the outsides of wedding cakes are becoming more romantic and elegant, the inside is exploding with flavor. Baugh's most popular cake is white chocolate raspberry torte, and No. 2 is cheesecake paired with pound cake and a raspberry filling.

"Brides want really yummy-tasting cake," says Carusetta. "The days of dried-out cake are over. I do a lot of chocolate cakes. Many of those white cakes are chocolate inside. I've even made tiramisu wedding cakes. Once I did a red velvet cake for a Christmas wedding."

Bonnie Schaefer, owner with daughter Jill Whelan of A Special Touch Cakes by Carolyn in St. Petersburg, says a beautiful cake is only as memorable as its taste.

"You don't want people to walk away from a wedding saying, "Hmmm, where did you get that cake? It didn't taste very good.' "

Her most popular cake flavor is amaretto raspberry swirl, which she says wins rave reviews. For Mary Dunham, who will marry Richard Giglio this Saturday at Northeast Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, taste meant everything, and she was smitten with Cakes by Carolyn's offerings. Her four-tier white cake with raspberry filling will be adorned with fresh roses and a Lenox bride-and-groom cake topper.

Though Dunham chose a more traditional cake, she opted for the Krispy Kreme Doughnut favors. When the couple's guests leave the reception at the Museum of Fine Arts, a Krispy Kreme deliveryman will hand them small boxes of two doughnuts each. The doughnut favors are $2 a box plus $50 to have them handed out by a Krispy Kreme representative.

"I can't tell you how many times I've left a wedding reception and gone to a drive-through. People are hungry after all that dancing," says Dunham. "It's also a nice treat for out-of-town guests."

The Krispy Kreme man, Harvey Bailin, and his trusty basset hound, Woody E. Doughnuts, will be busy on Saturday. From the Dunham-Giglio reception, they will travel by PT Cruiser decorated with Krisy Kreme logo and colors to the nearby Renaissance Vinoy Resort's Sunset Ballroom on Snell Isle to hand out doughnuts to guests leaving the reception of Anne Pena and Parker Stafford. Stafford is the executive chef of Tampa's Splash restaurant, and Pena says he's given his okay to the down-home favors.

"We thought it was a cute idea," Pena says.

Cute for favors but not elegant enough for the reception. For that, they chose Chantilly Cakes in Safety Harbor to make a three-tiered cake of raspberry and almond cake with white chocolate mousse filling. The frosting will be buttercream, the favorite fondant look-alike.

"We opted for a giant bow on top without a cake topper," Pena says. "Very Martha."

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