Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Maine Wedding Cake, Part II: The Maine Event

Life has been sweet here the last few weeks. Buttercream, sun, love, and friends, all outdoors as much as possible. Flowers in my hair, lipstick on my teeth.

I'm turning into a wedding connoisseur this summer--I can make the obligatory complaints and assess the finer points with the best of them, with two down and one to go in a 5 week span. I know that's amateur hour for some of you, with three a week during the summer month, but for me, two weddings of people very close to me in two weeks is a marathon.
I have a lot of feelings about weddings, what they are and how they're handled, and I'm still trying to work out exactly what a lot of them are, but there is one thing I do know: Weddings are a production, and can be a disaster when not properly produced and stage managed (and written and performed). Although, in almost any situation, wedding guests do get to squeeze babies. (Role of baby performed by the charming Lucy, below. From her expression it is entirely possible that I am squeezing too hard).To be clear--where there is loving family and a happy couple, any wedding is joyful, but it really is true that production values matter to the experience in many ways. Things that make an 'audience' of guests and a 'company' of the wedding party feel clear, at ease, well used, and well displayed add immeasurably to the satisfaction and contentment of a ritual well performed.
Unsurprisingly, the marriage of a producer and a writer/actor, carefully planned and showcasing many of the talents of their performing and designing friends, is an impressive thing (especially when graced with real feeling and impeccable weather). From the big house, to the good people, to the rosemary on the chairs, and the thoughtful, gorgeous, catering (not to mention the bluegrass band), Stacey and Avi's wedding was the best kind of show--one that helps all concerned to participate and improve the joy at hand, where the basics move smoothly enough to leave room for playful improvisation, where it all seems, well, effortless. Without anything seeming overly slick, everything just went so well and it was so easy to be a celebratory part of the whole.

One of the best talents of a great producer is knowing how and when to delegate, and Stacey and Avi were wise enough to invite their friends and family to join them in ownership of the event. Flowers, lights, cake, and all manner of tasks were given into the hands of people who put all their love into them, with impressive results. Going into the creation of their wedding cake, (my first) I knew that it would never be a professional affair--it would be rustic and slightly messy, but it would taste fantastic. Secure in the knowledge that Stacey and Avi would rather have the work of my hands than all the fondant in the world, I felt free to experiment and to be daring and imperfect, and to learn.
Cake assembly began the Friday night before the wedding. One of my greatest worries was leveling the layers so that the cake didn't list to one side, something I don't have much of an eye for. An iphone level app was generously loaned for the purpose, but it turned out the counters were uneven, and I wound up eyeballing it, but I think it got pretty close.Throughout the process, I had constant help from everyone in the house, in the form of company, moral support, zesting, advice, grocery runs, photography, and encouragement. Matt asked every morning what I needed, and made it happened, and meticulously documented every step of the process, while grilling and making fires in the yard every night as well. Thank you. Thank you all.
The bottom layer, ten inches in diameter, was filled with pastry cream, strawberry jam, lemon curd, and the lemon buttercream that also covered the cake. Because the fillings were a bit liquid and the icing, being just butter and sugar, wasn't very stable, I froze the cake for at least 45 minutes to an hour between every step, between layering and crumb coat, and refrigerated all three tiers for a while before and during the final frosting. The top two tiers, at eight and six inches respectively, had the same fillings but substituted wild blueberries for strawberry jam.

We had gone back and forth about decorations, but in the end, it was very simple. The cake plate provided (Stacey's Grandma Ann(e?)'s), had glass balls all around the edge, and so I just piped similar balls around the bottom of each tier. I had to work fast, as the icing wasn't very strong, and the weather was warm, but in the end, it looked very lovely. The outer coating wasn't completely smooth, and lemon curd almost oozed out in a few places, but the overall effect was lovely. It took my breath away when it was finally piled up. Regarding the piling--the cake was a relatively dense cake, and fairly heavy, so I did reinforce the bottom layer with dowels before piling on the second tier, but didn't bother for the next one.

To decide on the floral decorations, I took a poll--bright black-eyed susans, or tiny blue forget-me-nots. Since everyone but me voted for forget-me-nots (everyone is twee), on they went, in every imperfect part of the icing. We did have a brief moment of wondering whether forget-me-nots were in fact poisonous, but decided to go ahead, and just asked the caterers to remove them all before plating, which they did with masterful skill. All in all, it looked good, tasted better, and for a first effort, was a triumph. Thank you, Stacey and Avi, for a challenging assignment and wonderful week.
Next up, wedding #2, and team cupcake. Thanks to Risa for additional photojournalism. Thanks to Rose Levy Berenbaum, Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and all the rest of the writers, bloggers, and photographers who provided expertise, recipes, and examples.


Luke said...

The Cake turned out lovely!

Is that Mariam F-D in the first picture?

Catherine said...

aww i wanna do it again!

Katya said...

Luke, it is. More pics of finished cake up soon.