Monday, January 28, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

In the days following a wedding you'll find me decompressing with friends and inevitably one of the top questions I'm always asked is: "So, tell me about the cake?" When it comes to weddings, the cake is a big focal point of the reception. It has its own table, atop a pedestal surrounded by candles and flowers. Spectacular wedding cakes are practically worshipped and photographed almost as often as the bride and groom. The cake not only has to be visually appealing, but also be a little slice of heaven. I'm of the opinion cake bakers have to be some of the most creative people around. These geniuses do much more than whip up tasty confections, they create works of art and often times they have little more to go on than a client's dream. One of the best Richmond has to offer is Kara Buntin of A Cake To Remember. If you're getting married this year and have yet to secure her services, good luck finding an opening on her calendar, she's already started taking dates for 2009! I was lucky enough to have her answer a few questions for my reader. Ladies and gentlemen (yes, I know grooms-to-be visit here also!), may I present cake baker extraordinaire, Kara Buntin...

Please tell us a bit about your services and how you got started in the industry.
My services include custom wedding and groom's cakes, and that's it. I'll do smaller special-event cakes for my wedding cake clients, but I don't do them on a regular basis because I focus on wedding cakes alone...I'm not the Walmart of cakes! I think of myself as a baker first, so I bake everything from scratch and never use a boxed mix, or "pre-weighed dry ingredients," as they're sometimes called. I have a background in studio art and costume design, so I like to incorporate different designs into my cakes whenever I can. I make everything from scratch, including my gumpaste flowers and my rolled fondant. Most people in this area buy their rolled fondant and gumpaste flowers pre-made, but I prefer to make everything myself because I can make more varieties of flowers than you can buy pre-made, and my fondant tastes better than the kind that comes in a 10-pound tub! I can make special-diet cakes, such as vegan and reduced sugar formulas, because I'm not relying on boxed mixes. I do all of the work myself, from baking to delivery, so I don't hand off the responsibility to someone else. Because of the attention that I give to each cake, I only do a limited number per week.

I got started in wedding cakes by going to culinary school at Newbury College in Boston. I have a Master's degree in counseling psychology and had been working with children when I was thinking of making a career change. Newbury had just started a Pastry Arts program, so I did that and received a certificate in pastry. When we moved to Richmond 9 years ago I got my Virginia business license and started doing cakes. I like doing wedding cakes because I can incorporate my interest in baking and my interest in artwork to make a beautiful centerpiece for each client's wedding.

What should a couple expect during a cake tasting and design consultation?
During the consultation, you'll take some time to discuss your ideas with your baker, look at pictures of cakes that they've made, then taste some samples. Couples should get ready for a cake consultation by thinking about what type of cakes they've seen and liked or not liked. If you've chosen colors for your wedding you should have samples if you can, and if there are specific design elements (monograms, etc.) that you'd like to use, bring a picture of those. The more information you have for your baker, the easier it will be to get exactly the look that you want for your cake. This is also the time to ask the baker about specifics such as whether they're licensed, what their specialties are, who actually decorates and delivers the cake, and if the pictures that you're being shown are cakes they've actually made. You should also ask about whether they bake from scratch or use cake mixes, how their cakes are priced, and what types of fillings and cake flavors are available. One of the most important topics to bring up, and one which a lot of people try to avoid, is your budget for the cake. If you have a budget and tell your baker what you're aiming for, it can help to narrow down your options.

What are a few of the most popular flavor pairings?
Wedding cake flavors have really changed in the last twenty years or so. It used to be that you could get white or pound cake, and that was about it. The options now are limited only by the baker's ability to produce different flavors. A properly constructed wedding cake can be made from any number of flavors, from pound cakes to a softer butter cake. Some of the more traditional flavors are almond cake with an amaretto Italian meringue buttercream, Lemon cake torted with raspberry buttercream and preserves, and a dense chocolate fudge cake with fudge filling. Some non-traditional flavors that are popular with my clients include a lime cake that's torted with lime curd and a lime meringue buttercream, a chocolate cake with peanut butter meringue buttercream, and an orange cake with a chocolate truffle filling.

For the couple who doesn’t necessarily want a large wedding cake, what are some of the alternatives?
If you're having a smaller reception and don't need a huge cake, you can still do a smaller one that will serve your guests and look like a wedding cake, as opposed to a large birthday cake. You can do either a small two or three-tiered cake, and as long as the diameters of the tiers are small you can keep the number of servings down. If you just don't like cake and are planning on not having one at all, I'd rethink that...A lot of guests expect to see a cake being cut, so it can get a little strange to ignore the tradition. You could have a small cake just to cut for the photo op, then serve different desserts. You could also do something like a cheesecake wedding cake if you don't like regular butter cake. Some people get a fake tier on their cake to make it look bigger, but keep in mind that that isn't going to save you a lot of money if you're thinking about doing that to help your budget. Decorating the cakes is what takes a long time, and decorating a fake tier doesn't take any less time than decorating a real one.

It seems when it comes to the groom’s cake, the sky’s the limit. What have been some of your favorite designs?
Groom's cakes are a lot of fun to do, and my favorite ones are the 3-dimensional cakes that look like something other than a cake, because they always present a challenge. I did an Xbox recently that was fun, and soon after that I did a 3-D mounted deer head. I think that funniest one was a fish that was mounted on a plaque...It was the groom's prized possession, and the bride told me that she'd bring me a model to look at. The day she brought it, I opened the door and saw her standing there with the actual mounted fish, so I could work from the real thing! That was kind of a surprise, but the cake looked great when I was done with it!

Thanks Kara, your cakes are awesome!

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