Sunday, March 18, 2012

Have Your Cake and Make It Too

Brad and Ashley, 2009
Every person has a role in the infrastructure of a family. We have dentists, house builders, musicians, electricians, seamstresses, car dealers, personal trainers, florists, hairstylists, nurses...valuable types.

I am the cake lady.

Wedding cakes are the darndest things, aren't they?
A pile of flour, sugar and fat, all dressed in its Sunday best and waiting for the bride and groom to take one bite out of it and then walk away. As if to say, "Who cares about the cake? Get us to the honeymoon!"

Cakes run from a few hundred dollars to thousands, tens of thousands. They take anywhere from four hours to 4 days to create. I have created sugar flowers that take weeks to prepare one petal at a time. So why do we spend so much time, effort and money on something that is probably going to stand in a back corner, and has 2 million calories, and might get thrown away by catering in the end?

Please write in if you have an answer.

I'm not great at piping. But for Brashley we added "Est. Feb. 7,
2009" and lots of personal words and nicknames they had
for each other. It was very personal, even though we were also
going for elegant.
Since antiquity, weddings have been celebrated with a special cake or bread. The Romans use to break bread over each other's heads for luck. The wedding party would then scoop up the crumbs and put them under their pillows at night for good luck or that they might be married next...or fertility... maybe I should have crashed an Italian wedding. Tradition also says that breaking the cake symbolized the breaking of the bride's virginal state and the subsequent dominance of the groom over her. Ah. So that's why the tradition no longer exists. Well, it's sort of impractical to pick up a four-tiered cake and break it over the bride's head. Messy. Think of her $90 up-do.

Oldest wedding cake. White icing gone brown.
In the 1600s two cakes were made, one for the bride and one for the groom. The groom's cake was typically a rich fruitcake. In fact, the oldest cake still in existence was iced in 1898 and on display in bakery window until the 80's. It was covered in royal icing. (The stuff that hardens) When they tested the middle of if with a syringe, it was still moist. YEEKS. That's one up for the fruitcake. In contrast, the bride’s cake was usually a simple white cake with white icing because white was a sign of virginity and purity. Maybe that's why there are so few white cakes anymore... just sayin'.

I think it's very ironic that someone like me, that's had chronic miscarriages and didn't get married until she was dying her gray hair every month...has been responsible for dozens and dozens of wedding cakes. Humphf! Cheap superstitions. Lotta good it did me.

I've been to a few weddings. But it all started back in 1976 when I got a cake decorating kit for my 12th birthday. What was the first cake I decorated? My own, of course. I only remember that it was lavendar and that I had one distinct thought "I think I've overdone it." There you theme emerging.... It's just that it was so fun to squirt that little frosting flower on...everything.

I built my first wedding cake when I was 18. It was for my very funny cousin Jim and his gorgeous wife Laneeda. That was 1983 and the only reason I remember is that I have a picture of myself standing next to it, wearing the dress I wore for high school graduation. We used plates and columns for that cake, but I don't think I put any kind of stabilizers in it. It had maroon buttercream roses and it was leaning at the start. It finally fell over - well, I caught it before it hit the ground. We turned my handprints to the back.

Jared and Heather Peck, Early 90's?
I should have taken a class I guess, but my family needed a cake lady. I've been ballsy. My reasoning is always that if you attach a big deadline to something (like a wedding day, an opening night) you simply HAVE to learn how to do have no choice. So that's the education system I put myself through. That, and the Food Network. I'm pretty good at lookng at a picture of something and figuring out in my head how it was done. After the "fall out" with columns we bought a stand that held cakes without all the fuss. The "early cakes" like Jared and Heather's were covered in buttercream and we used a lot of baby's breath back then. Brian and Melody Hadfields was the same...look at that fern! Do they even grow fern like that anymore? Brides don't even want "filler" anymore. The trend now is "dry-stacking" the flowers like the lavendar roses on Megan Houston's cake. Gorgeous.

Brian and Melody Hadfield, late 90's
Megan Houston, 2011
The one at the top of the page is my brother Brad's cake. That was a knockout if I do say so myself. I've learned a few things over the years. It was stacks of fudge cake and brownies. That thing weighed far more than the bride. It was filled with chocolate mousse, caramel gooeyness, nuts.... always add the nuts.

There are so many cake shows on television now and after watching Cake Boss and visiting the store in New Jersey I decided I should take a class in fondant and sugar roses. I'm really glad I did.
Practice roses from class.
These are time consuming but so fun.

This cake was my final project for my fondant/ gum paste class.
I was acting in Musical Comedy Murders for the summer so I
took this one to the last night of the show. Good timing.

I have encouraged brides to stay away from fondant because it doesn't taste very good. But Andy and I learned how to make it with marshmallows from watching You Tube videos. Seriously! If there is something you want to learn how to do, it will probably be on You Tube.

Fondant still, however violates my policy of taste first, beauty second. My philosophy about the cake is the same philosophy I have about life. It doesn't matter what it looks like on the outside as long as it is amazing on the inside.

Here is one of my favorite cakes because it was amazing on the inside. The bride came to me and said "we don't like cake can we do cheesecake?" I had never made homemade cheescake before so we were pretty excited to have that assignment!!! WOOT! We made about 12 cheesecakes just to make sure we could pull it off on the big day. (We didn't have to practice as much as we did...but we had to try every flavor or course.)

Cakes for friends. Amanda Gerry, 2011
 Cheesecakes! Good choice.

What I didn't know was that I would need carpel tunnel surgery a few days before the wedding. My sisters bailed me out of course by listening to me bark instructions for cheescake making, and I spent the weeknights before the surgery making white sugar roses so we could just assemble it on the day of and not have to pipe anything. That would have been P.A.I.N.F.U.L. It all worked out. I love the colors too. Her husband is in the military - hence the red, white and blue.

Wendy and TJ cutting the cake
Close up Wendy and TJ
Another one of my favorite cakes was the first one Andy and I did as a married couple. It was for Wendy Milam and TJ Penrod, two of our great friends. Colors: White, Black and Green, flowers: Mini Cala Lillies and White daisies. Thanks to new technology, we  built some long stemmed LED lights so that it would be sparkly in the gazebo outside. This ribbon trend also is still going strong.

Incidentally, by feeding each other, the bride and groom are symbolizing their commitment to provide for each other. Wendy and TJ own a very successful comedy improv club/school. They spend their life making other people laugh. Must have been that cake.

The best thing about cakes is that it brings people together. I love to decorate a cake at my moms house. She has a kitchen in her basement and everyone gathers to see it happening or to help out. I love that.

This is a cake we did in the basement kitchen for my brother Andy and his ultra-chic wife Sarah. Thank goodness she was ahead of her time. I thought it was going to be the ugliest cake because I was used to using a ton of flowers and buttercream ruffles, etc... She challenged me and I'm so glad she did. The colors were green and brown and we used these tiny green orchids and a single bead of chocolate. So elegant in the end. Good job Sarah.

Andy and Sarah Shelton, 2007
Tracy Wells and her sister Laurie taught me that you don't have to stack a cake either - I'm glad I learned that from them, because that's what I ended up doing for myself.
Laurie Wells, 2010? LOVE these colors!

Tuacahn High School, 10th Birthday, Homecoming 2009
I can also be talked into the craziest things by students. This birthday cake was for Tuacahn High's 10th birthday and because I was in charge of student council at the time we (they) decided that we were going to get birthday cake for everyone at the Homecoming dance. Buying cake to feed 200 people was out of our budget. So guess who ended up making this SEVEN cake monster? It was fun and unlike most wedding cakes, it disappeared in about 10 minutes flat. Nutsy colors...but whaddya do? I cannot turn down a student.

I owe a lot of my happiness at Lehi High to the Andersen family. So when Emilie was getting married I could not let anyone else do her cake. It was right after I had taken that fondant class and I was feeling ballsy. She was the fondant wedding cake guinea pig. We made 15 pounds of fondant with french vanilla marshmellows (so it wouldn't be white-white) and 20 pounds of buttercream to lay underneath it (for taste). The wedding was in northern Utah so we drove the ingredients from St. George to my moms basement in the back of our little car and attempted to assemble our first fondant wedding cake in a kitchen that doesn't have any appliances or utensils. We ended up leaving the buttercream in the fridge in St. George and so we started over there - putting us WAY behind. It was like a Food Network Challenge only for real and what a nightmare. I have a whole new appreciation for what they do.
Step One. Bake it all and get it in the freezer.
Step Two. Slice them in half and fill them
with yummy stuff. This cake was called
Rasberry Lemonade and you could smell
it from the next block down.
It had about 8 lemon rinds in it.
The red dots that you can see on the top
of the cake are thick heavy straws
(inserted down into the cake) from
Maverick (the gas station by our house).
The secret is, make good friends at
the Maverick. Thanks Janet!

Step Three. Dirty Ice

Step Four. Decorate. Fix the topper that
you broke taking it out of the packaging.

Travel to the venue and pray. Smile that it made it in one piece
and I am still upright after 24 hours of teaching myself how
to do a fondant cake.
When the florist only gave me about 6 stems of flowers from the wedding I was freaking out! I didn't know what to do. But, Emilie didn't want it covered with flowers and I FINALLY learned that LESS IS MORE which I have always had a hard time with. In the end, everyone was aghast at this cake and I realized that sometimes you have to buckle to the times and learn how to do what the customer/bride wants.

Did I do my own cake? Yes I did. It took my mind off things. It really relaxed me and it was cheaper of course. I always felt bad that by getting married at such a late age, I should try to do as much of the wedding as I could on my own. I am the family cake lady after all and that certainly doesn't excuse me from doing my own cake.
Jandy's Cake. Garden themed for the venue.
You can sit a cake on just about anything.
Andy's favorite desert is chocolate cake, so I did it all in homage to him. I added a lot of nuts because he's a little nuts, the situation was a little nuts, we had a lot of nuts in the family... The bottom layer of each cake was a brownie layer, and it was filled with ganoche, homemade caramel and chocolate mousse. The ribbon covered all my buttercream mistakes and the flowers were done by my sister Paula and my cousin Melissa. Gorgeous. (The room was covered in these amazing bouquets) I intentionally stayed away from doing all the layers in white... I was 41 after all.

We were scheduled to get on a plane and fly to Miami that night, so when the karaoke got away from us and we realized that it was past time to leave, we cut the cake, ate the traditional bite and left. Andy didn't even get to have a piece. TRUST me, at the time I could have cared less. ;-)

My mom saved the top layer for us which we stuck in our freezer and a year later, we thawed it our and realized that the pins that were stuck in it, should have been taken out, because they had rusted. So we thought twice about having a piece on our anniversary! Dang cake. Oh well.... it would have been really ridiculous of me not to have one.

Andy and I have a cake website that is a work in progress. You can visit it at
It's not much right now, but as soon as we finish the next show...!!! HAHAHAH isn't that the truth.

Though it took me forever...I have had a great time finding all the pictures for this blog! Thanks for helping me everybody.

So why do we spend so much time, effort and money on something that is probably going to stand in a back corner, and has 2 million calories, and might get thrown away by catering in the end? For me, the wedding cake symbolizes the first meal we will have together as a family so the wedding cake is really a celebration of creating a new family isn't it? I don't know about you, but when our family gets together there is always food. Once in your life, you shouldn't care about how much it costs or how many calories it has and it should be four or five feet tall and covered in sugar.

I used to feel really bad that I didn't become a doctor, and I can't fix your car when it's broken, build you a house and DO NOT let me cut your hair or draw your blood...but if you need a wedding cake, I will be there for you. My life's lesson for this journey through time via the wedding cakes in my life, has taught me that every member of a family has important gifts to give, or in my case, to give back. I've been given so much.

Even though my siblings and cousins are all married now, I'll never be out of business...that's for sure. Check out the next generation! WOOT!! 16 wedding cakes waiting to happen. I can't wait!
Jan's wedding, 2006. All the Shelton grandkids (at the time) ;-)