Expert Advice: Wedding Cakes
Continued (page 2 of 3)
Like all aspects of the wedding business there's a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation that goes into the making of a dream. Sylvia makes sketches of the cake during this meeting, taking notes on preferences. Then she lets her office take over. Marianne Lyden, Sylvia's cheery office manager with nerves of steel, takes all the information and breaks it down for the various departments and enters it into the computer. She prints out the particulars for baking, construction and design, and a contract is then sent to the client. Tina Eng-Caban, the head baker, orders the raw ingredients; Vilna Peters, who supervises the sugar-flower area, determines colors, variety and amount of flowers, and directs the staff of 12 under her. It takes a full-time staff of 24 to produce these admittedly expensive creations.
There is an entire basement construction department run by Ben Weinstock, Sylvia's husband, and Richard Harris, a carpenter. They direct the staff that cuts and saws the wooden disks for the cake bases, as well as the inner structures that are one of the tricks to wedding-cake production. Sometimes a Styrofoam layer must be built between two cake layers to support a heavy garland around a cake's exterior. Precision, weight and balance are necessary to avoid tilting, sliding, collapsing and other disasters. Michele Hickey, who's in charge of art production, fashions the wire inners that serve as the structure for the figures, and then goes on to mold and paint them.
When a cake is finished and iced, it sits in a very cold walk-in refrigerator for at least a day before it is cold enough to be delivered. Even the cake boxes are custom-made, and labeling is a no-room-for-error, collaborative effort. Sylvia often will travel with her cakes to personally assemble them—she has been to the Caribbean, France, Hawaii, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Sylvia is vehement on the subject of cakes and bakers. A "Sylvia" cake is iced with pure Italian meringue buttercream or, depending on the season, whipped cream—not fondant or royal icing. Only pure fruits and rinds, and Callebaut imported chocolate are used: "What a ridiculous waste of calories to eat a synthetic dessert," she says. Sylvia and I agree that brides and grooms are vastly more sophisticated in their tastes these days, having developed their palates by the time they are ready to plan their weddings. Requested cake designs are often more whimsical and flavors are far more adventurous than in the past.
Talk to your baker about your menu. Will it be heavy or light? Are you serving a dessert and, if so, what kind? The cake should complement the meal.
Chocolate mousse filling in a chocolate cake is the most popular by far, but Sylvia's personal favorite is yellow cake with lemon cream. She remembers working with a bride who wanted her wedding cake to replicate the look of the topiaries used for her centerpieces. Sylvia delivered—right down to the icing flower pot. Currently, there is a wedding cake for a Parisian couple in the works, with two roosters being fashioned to sit on top; another cake will be topped by the Simpsons for a couple who are fans of the show.