Rachel: Half-Baked

Apparently when it comes to cake, I'm my mother.

Going into wedding planning, I was rather dismissive of the whole idea of wedding cake. Despite the fact that I really enjoy baking and eating, I thought cake was super overrated. I always think of the line in Father of the Bride when George says, “A cake is made of flour and water, Frank.” Because it is. My lack of interest in wedding cake may have something to do with the fact that I don’t care for sweets. (Eric, on the other hand, has a big enough sweet tooth for both of us. Whenever I say I’m not in the mood for dessert, he looks like I just kicked his puppy.) If the traditional wedding dessert was, say, waffle fries, I’d understand spending thousands of dollars. And since Eric had repeatedly told me that he didn’t care about any of the wedding details, I didn’t think this was something into which we needed to put much thought.

So early in our planning process, I suggested that if we couldn’t find a wedding cake that fit our budget, we could just have pie instead. I thought this was a very practical suggestion. To be honest, I like pie even less than I like cake, but I’d never heard of a pie costing upwards of $500. But when Eric heard the term “pie,” I think his brain said, “Look at this f*cking hipster you’re marrying!” and he reacted pretty strongly. Not long after this, we agreed to scrap our original wedding plans, collect our deposits, and plan a courthouse and brunch wedding instead; I did this with the knowledge that some of the money we were saving on the venue or the food would need to go toward a cake. I say this like it was some sort of huge sacrifice, but let’s be honest… if I was choosing a hill to die on during wedding planning, one made of buttercream didn’t sound so bad.

Give Me Some Sugar

Like I said, I had never seen a wedding cake that had blown me away, but it’s probably because I really hadn’t been looking. When looking at wedding blogs, I skim over the cakes and focus more on the color palette, the wedding dress, and the non-floral centerpieces. I was so “take it or leave it” before we’d decided to have a cake, but once I knew we were having one…whoops! I was suddenly so into wedding cakes and dessert bars, Eric began to suspect my whole pie suggestion had just been an elaborate ruse to convince him to increase our cake budget.

We started looking for bakers in the Austin area; I read each baker’s flavors aloud to Eric (real slow and sexy-like). After we set up two tastings, a friend of Eric’s from college reached out and offered to make our cake as a wedding gift to us. We were really touched by her offer, and given that she had made her own wedding cake, along with several others since, we felt pretty confident she could handle it. So we kept our scheduled tastings and planned to meet with her too.

Fifty First Dates

I’ve been approaching the process of looking for wedding vendors much like I did dating. I treat every email exchange with a potential new vendor like I’m messaging with a guy on Match.com. For some reason, I want every vendor to think we’re really hip and fun and that our wedding is going to be awesome so they’ll really want to work with us. Not only is this silly because we’re paying them, it makes it really hard to tell them when we’ve chosen another vendor because now I feel like a jerk. I’m sure they don’t know what to do with brides who end rejection emails with, “I hope we can stay friends!”

This actually wasn’t a problem with the first baker. Our meeting with her felt more like a setup with your mom’s friend’s kid who was great on paper. While she was extremely polite and professional during our email exchanges and in person, there was just no chemistry. She served us five cupcakes in her signature flavors; they were all really yummy but after tasting the first one, I realized I better reel it in if I were going to make it through a whole day of this. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” I told myself, much like I had when having my first beer at 6 AM on St. Patrick’s Day in college. I switched to having just a little taste of the frosting and a couple bites of cake whilst making awkward small talk with the baker. After we left, Eric and I agreed that while the baker’s designs were very nice and the samples we had tasted like really amazing cupcakes, they weren’t exactly mind-blowing. And since this wasn’t offset by competitive pricing, we knew she wasn’t our baker. Which was fine, because I had a really good feeling about our next stop.

Tiers of Joy

So that vendor flirtation I mentioned? With the next baker, I had already been doing it in spades. When I was on the phone with Denise to pre-pay for our tasting, Eric walked in, took stock of my giggling and twirling around, and wondered if he should be suspicious. Her designs were gorgeous, her flavors sounded divine, and her first email to me said, “We love Pinterest brides!” In the dating game that is vendor selection, I’d list “understanding and using the Internet” as my number one turn-on.

When we arrived at the space where she holds her tastings, it was like stepping into a Pinterest board. It took me a minute to realize that it looked exactly like what I had in mind when we painted a spare bedroom in our house pale pink last summer…except whoever designed this space didn’t fail so miserably in their execution that they actually had to buy new furniture and repaint the whole thing a different color, which is what happened to Eric and me.

Five perfect little wedding cakes were waiting for us in the tasting room, next to a Macbook Air that had my wedding cake Pinterest board on screen. (I told you I’d gotten into cake…) Our intention was to have a two-tiered main cake and a few single-tier cakes along with it. I should say here that Eric said as long as we have a cake, he doesn’t care what it looks like, and while I’ve grown skeptical of these sort of claims, I decided to take this one at face value because this was one area where I knew exactly what I wanted. I’m always embarrassed to admit it when I fall in love with a very WIC-centric thing, but there it is.

We tasted five flavors, including lemon cake with lemon cream filling, fresh raspberries, raspberry preserves, and lemon cream cheese buttercream and strawberry cake with strawberry preserves and white chocolate buttercream. Denise also mentioned we may want to try some other flavors in the future, including pistachio (my favorite) and banana cake (which is when Eric got the vapors). While we ate, she talked to us about the ingredients and how she works. You know when someone is trying to get in your pants and saying everything right, and on some level you’re aware of it, but mainly you don’t care because it’s totally working?

We left totally charmed, and on the brink of a huge crash. We had not been thinking clearly when we scheduled our tastings without giving ourselves time for a lunch break. All either of could think about was meat. Pressed for time, we headed to Chipotle where we took down anything that could take the edge off. We felt better, but I feared it was too late.

Half-Baked

Whenever I think of the term “sugar high,” I think of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. But I was surprised to discover when I experienced my first true sugar high, I felt more like Eeyore. I was sugar stoned. “Maintain…maintain,” I told myself as we walked up to Lisa’s apartment. Unfortunately, being sugar stoned did not cause the munchies, and I was really struggling to get excited about the flavors that had sounded delicious that morning. I realized we should have done this like a wine tasting, spitting the cake out after each bite.

Lisa had put together quite a spread for us; there were four flavors of cake, five flavors of frosting, and even more fillings to try. I tried to think of motivational quotes to get me through. Go big or go home! You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take! Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars! I hallucinated a kitten in a tree. Hang in there!

After my first bite of cake, filling, and frosting, I realized I was so not hanging in there. I looked at Eric, who seemed to be doing just fine. “I’m going to need you to do the frostings,” I said (or, most likely, slurred). “I trust your judgment. I just…can’t.”

At least I was thinking clearly enough to start with the flavors I had been most excited about: grapefruit cake, blueberry cake, and rose frosting. I took a nibble of each and then sat back on the couch in a daze while Eric kept tasting flavors and chatted with Lisa. How is he so sober right now? I thought. I felt awful that I couldn’t be more visibly excited about these flavors and worried that Lisa thought I was a terrible person. (I also wondered if it would be inappropriate to un-button my jeans.) But every time I tried to join in the conversation, I was that girl at the party who gets too high to function and then every so often says something she thinks is brilliant but instead just makes everyone else feel awkward.

Lisa was a very gracious host and sent us home with all the leftovers so we could sample them again after our sugar hangovers had passed. I unbuttoned my jeans and we drove home. We tried everything again a few days later, and there was no doubt in my mind that we had to have some of these flavors at our wedding. I mean, a grapefruit cake, you guys!?

A Tale of Two Bakers

Eric and I were faced with a bit of a dilemma over which baker to choose. Eric suggested we could have Denise make our two-tiered cake and ask Lisa to make the additional cakes. This made me feel icky, like both women would be insulted. When I asked friends for their opinions, they suggested something similar: we could just have one make the groom’s cake, a concept I find even ickier for its implication that the groom’s input in a wedding is relegated to one small corner of the dessert table (and also because it suggests that the main cake can’t be shaped like an iPad). And anyway, a true groom’s cake in our case would be five feet tall with purple frosting and loads of sprinkles, while the bridal cake would be a modest stack of bagels with some really legit cream cheese.

We decided to cautiously approach both women with the idea of having Denise create our two-tiered bridal cake and Lisa creating multiple “groom’s cakes.” I was really worried they wouldn’t be comfortable with our non-monogamous approach, but we just couldn’t decide. (Why do you think we’re having a brunch wedding in the first place? This whole meal is a tribute to the fact that we’re indecisive eaters.) Luckily, both said yes, so we’re now on board to have lemon cake, strawberry cake, grapefruit cake, blueberry cake, and yellow cake with rose frosting.

Because…people want options, right? Apparently when it comes to cake, I’m my mother.

Photo: From Rachel’s personal collection

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