Linda: Once somebody asked Hank and me how we did it, all that time together crammed into my tiny kitchen, such a big project. How did we not hate each other? I said that the key for me was to let Hank have his way, just nod and go along with his suggestions, even if I disagreed. Hank looked at me and said , "That's what I do with you."
Hank: We signed up for another of B. Keith's classes in May, this one on fondant. Fondant -- a mixture of sugar, water and glucose that is boiled and then cooled into a doughlike substance -- is what you see on all trendy wedding cakes now, and our hopes were pinned on using it. It's rolled out in a thin layer, then draped on the cake and smoothed, in theory, into a satiny surface. It looks great, but often tastes rubbery. We bought two buckets of fondant, for $55 each. In class Keith had us practice kneading and rolling the fondant on the table. We placed the fondant on a Styrofoam cake. It occurred to me then that most of the cakes I'd been admiring in books might very well be Styrofoam.
(Photo Illustration by Francisco Caceres)
Linda: We crowned our practice cakes with the humorously inappropriate: a ballerina, a gay couple, a bar mitzvah boy. When we realized we were running out of time to find the real topper, as it's called, I spent hours on eBay. Most toppers were either too kitschy or too frilly, with ceramic tinkling bells and plastic trellises, Minnies and Mickeys and kittens with tails curled into precious, pukey hearts. Hank wanted superheroes, and I loved that, but when we went to Toys 'R Us, we saw that action figures had been drinking their milk; they'd gotten so big that they would have toppled off their eight-inch stage, overwhelming our cakey splendor and weighing themselves straight down through the skating-rink-smooth fondant.
On our second trip to Toys 'R Us, we found a line of plastic toys revolving around a sporty gal named Polly Pocket, bendable, perfectly sized and colored in aqua, lavender and white. Polly's boyfriend's name was Steven, just like the groom's -- and he had a shirt that said so! There were motor scooters! There was a friend with brown hair, like Amy's! I was giddy. At the craft store, I found edible silver pearls and big, flat, white candy hearts: our polka dots.
Even better, the cakes were getting smoother now, tastier.
Hank: But with six weeks to go, getting a perfect, uncracked fondant onto a cake larger than 10 inches in diameter was still mostly a disaster. With our work and traveling schedules, we really only had about two practice cakes left.
One night I flipped past the Food Network just as it was showing the making of a wedding cake at Disney World. There was a giant machine into which the cake decorators dropped globs of fondant the size of basketballs. At the other end, the fondant came out of the machine smoothly onto the cake, like a perfect linen bed sheet. I screamed at the television in a state of astonishment and revelation. A few nights later, I had a dream in which I solved our fondant problem by rolling it out between sheets of wax paper, which prevented the fondant from tearing while we lifted it from table to cake. This turned out to be not so brilliant in practice. The last night Linda and I tried fondant, it tore again, and we got angry at each other, and the cake we made looked like a Tiffany blue garbage bag cinched around a boulder. So we admitted defeat and decided instead to frost the ultimate cake with a pale blue buttercream. On the drive home, as I was coming around a curve, a layer of that bad fondant cake slid onto the floor. I left it in the dumpster behind my building. Throwing a whole cake in the trash is very Julianne Moore in "The Hours." It felt like hiding some dark, domestic secret.
Linda: To hell with rolled fondant -- spackling the icing on is one of the most satisfying parts of cake-making. Creamy, smooth, shiny (all that butter).
* * *
Hank: With a week left before the wedding, Linda and I decided we didn't have another practice cake in us. We had this date with destiny. It was either going to happen or it wasn't. Amy and Steven came over on our next-to-last Cake Night, and brought us pizza and presents. We were supposed to give them their first sample of actual cake, but instead we frosted Styrofoam cakes with buttercream. I liked the look on Steven's face. I don't think he believed we'd actually ever made any cake.
A mixture of fear and confidence propelled us toward Saturday, the wedding day. On Wednesday night, we bought the rest of our ingredients and took inventory of our supplies. By now we'd spent about $1,500. We went over our refrigeration and transportation plans with military precision; I had already inspected the kitchen and met the manager at Sea Catch restaurant in Georgetown, where the reception would be held. Cake Night was about to become Cake Day.
Linda: Thursday and Friday, we took off from work. Day One, as always, was mixing and baking and making the frosting. We leisurely baked three chocolate and three yellow cakes, no griping, no rushing. We even went out for sushi while the layers cooled.
For the icing, we had two KitchenAids going, a new one (mine) and an old borrowed blue one. We could have used four. We had to mix and color the icing in several batches. We used a potent food coloring gel that stained fingers and tongues and off-white dining chair cushions. It was impossible to match our original barely cornflower blue, or match the batches against one another. The frosting I tried from one bowl tasted metallic, so I bent over the sink and spat and spat, and made some more.
Hank: While torting our 12-inch chocolate layer on Friday, I cut it crooked and we had to pronounce it dead. We immediately went into rescue mode. Within minutes, we were mixing batter for a new layer. We were so serious, so efficient, and it was at this moment that I finally realized we were going to pull this whole thing off.