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Breaking Cake Together

Once we had a venue selected and booked, it was time to turn toward securing other vendors. The choice of where to focus next was obvious: the cake.

It’s all about priorities, people.

The tradition of wedding cakes, according to a fascinating history by Carol Wilson in Gastronomica, dates back to antiquity: “Ancient Roman wedding ceremonies were finalized by breaking a cake of wheat or barley…over the bride’s head as a symbol of good fortune,” after which the bride and groom would share a few of the crumbs. I’m certain many brides were grateful when this custom (also the precursor to modern-day confetti, says Wilson) morphed into a somewhat gentler crumbling of the cake over the head. Still, both rituals are a little too similar to the disturbing contemporary trend of the bride and groom shoving wedding cake in each others’ faces. Because nothing says I love you like frosting ground up your nose.

I’m equally glad we’ve moved beyond Yorkshire’s “Bride pie” (1500s-1800s), which Wilson describes as consisting of “a large round pie containing a plump hen full of eggs, surrounded by minced meats, fruits, and nuts” and decorated with “ornate pastry emblems.” It sounds like a cross between a Turducken and a fruitcake, and the fertility symbolism is a little less than subtle. According to Wilson’s history, it wasn’t until the late 1700s that a sweet cake finished with white icing became a common part of English wedding celebrations.

Choosing a cake vendor was easy for us. Perhaps it’s a facet of the deeper self-knowledge Steve and I have as middle-aged folk, but we know what we like, and we know when we’ve found it. I’ve been eating at a delightful café and bakery called Wildflour since before I even moved to Virginia (I first dined there on a visit) and introduced Steve to it not long after we started dating. We weren’t surprised when some recently married friends of ours recommended Evie, Wildflour’s baker and cake designer, since just walking past the dessert display is drool-inducing, and previous indulgences had already convinced us her sweets were heavenly. Our goal in scheduling a tasting was not to decide whether to hire her, only which slice of deliciousness we wanted to share with our guests.

Picture, if you will, a wheel of cake: an 18-inch diameter platter filled with radiating circles of rectangular cake slices, spokes of lemon yellow, chocolate brown, red velvet, even a lovely delicate orange, all of it ringed by little pots of creamy frostings and jewel-toned fillings. Our friends had warned us of the bounty and suggested we invite additional taste-testers. It seemed like a great opportunity for Steve’s sons to have some input into the wedding planning. We want them to feel part of the process, but as male twenty-somethings who’ve lived for the past eight years in what Steve has described as a “testosterone-rich, estrogen-deprived” environment, they don’t exactly speak wedding. Heck, when it comes to some of the more new-fangled rituals (what’s an “escort card”? and what is it with unity sand?), I don’t always speak wedding, either.

Heading into our tasting

Heading into our tasting

But we all speak cake.

When we arrived at Wildfour, Evie greeted us, and Steve, the boys, and I all settled in around a long wooden table, the wheel of goodness centered in the middle. It was hard to know where to begin. There were something like thirty flavors of cake, eight or ten fillings, and half again as many frostings. Each bite involved selecting a flavor of cake, deciding whether to taste it on its own or what frosting to pair it with, choosing a second frosting to compare with the first combination, maybe adding a filling to the mix…

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Steve and I knew, going in, that we wanted a single-tier cake for the official wedding cake, plus cupcakes to serve our guests. Having the ceremonial moment of cutting the cake and sharing it with each other is important to us, but we like the playful, informal vibe cupcakes create. Plus, as silly as it might sound, having a variety of cupcakes for our guests acknowledges and honors the rich variety of people in our lives.

It also made choosing easier, because we weren’t trying to narrow in on just one combination. Each of us chose a favorite, then added a few we couldn’t resist. The boys went with red velvet with buttercream icing (Dusty), and German chocolate with caramel (Tucker). We agreed on devil’s food cake with mint icing (Steve), lime with lemon buttercream (I love fruity cakes, and Steve was wowed by this one, too), and coconut with dark chocolate ganache (partly inspired by my mom, the coconut lover—but mostly because the ganache is to die for). As an homage to our wedding cake, which will be almond with buttercream frosting and raspberry filling, our final cupcake choice was almond with buttercream.

We’re still trying to decide whether we want to decorate the cake and cupcakes with fresh flowers or sugar flowers (pictured above), and whether the cake should have swirls or textured ridges. In the grand scheme of life, these are good problems to have.

Planning a wedding requires, in so many respects, negotiating just the right balance between making it “our” day and throwing a party all our family and friends will enjoy. Choosing a simple cake for us accompanied by cupcakes for our guests allows us to do both.  As in, it’s the best of both worlds. As in (I know you see this coming so go ahead and cringe), we can have our cake and eat it, too. 🙂

Of course, there’ll be cake and cupcakes aplenty. Though if those coconut cupcakes run low, I might have to fight for a taste of that ganache.

 

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