By Beverly Bundy
Knight Ridder Newspapers
There's something new in wedding cakes and, no, it isn't borrowed. Today's brides are ordering cakes with a moderne elegance that wasn't even imagined as recently as the 1980s.
"The cakes then were like the dresses," says Tsuki Caspary-Brooks, owner/chef of Dolci in Irving, Texas. "The cakes were all bouffy, like the dresses that had all that lace. No wonder people love Vera Wang wedding dresses - they're such a sophisticated change."
Today's wedding cakes echo the clean lines and lack of frippery of the popular designer. Instead of sugar flowers and interminable rows of piped icing, the new millennium bride is apt to order fresh flowers to decorate a cake that is blanketed with a satin-smooth fondant.
"A big difference is that brides are older now," says Kate Manchester, author of "The Perfect Wedding Cake." "Instead of being 22, a bride is more apt to be 32. Maybe it's a second wedding. She's more certain of her tastes and she has opinions and she has seen more. She's more grown-up."
Manchester worked for a year with the queen of cake designers, Sylvia Weinstock, on a previous title, "Sweet Celebrations," and Weinstock wrote the foreword for "The Perfect Wedding Cake." During both projects, Manchester watched many a wedding evolve from concept to creation.
"Couples would come in and have definite ideas about what they wanted. Maybe they had met in Italy and wanted something of Italy in the cake. Or they wanted the cake to match the decor of the reception room or the flowers they planned to use or even the tablecloth," Manchester said. "A wedding is all about details, and since the cake is the second most photographed item after the bride, those details are important."
Attention to the tiniest items isn't limited to high rollers on the coast who work with the doyennes of cake decorating.
One bride brought Caspary-Brooks a piece of her gown's trim so the cake could be decorated to match. Another had a representation of herself and her groom created in bisque for the cake topper and wanted it incorporated into the cake's design. And for a recent wedding, Caspary-Brooks created chocolate his-and-hers ski poles to serve as the cake topper.
Nor are trends limited to the East Coast glitterati. Randy Gehman of the Four Seasons in Irving is hearing from brides who request "lopsided" cakes, a look popularized by another big New York wedding name, Colette Peters.
And ultimately - photogenic centerpiece aside - the cake is going to be eaten. After all the bells and whistles, the chocolate ski poles, family crests and matching lace trim, brides want their cakes to taste good. Gone are the days of a choice of white or yellow cake.
Gehman of the Four Seasons combines fresh cream and berries piled on Chambord syrup-soaked yellow cake that is slathered with buttercream and enrobed in rolled fondant. Caspary-Brooks offers a lot of citrus flavors, including an orange tiramisu cake and a chocolate cappuccino cake finished with a vanilla cream cheese or a mocha or chocolate frosting.
It's a labor-intensive process, and Caspary-Brooks doesn't hesitate to decline bookings for outdoor weddings where her natural ingredients will wither into a puddle from the sun.
That's a sentiment Manchester fully understands.
"It's an extraordinary amount of work, baking, trimming, slicing, filling," says Manchester. "It's architecture, really, with the fondant, getting it as smooth as glass. Then the flowers and the ribbons and anything made out of gum paste. And finally, it's going to be a plated dessert that needs to taste good."
Eric Helland, of Texas grocer Central Market, gives a lot of credit to the big names of the business for raising awareness and appreciation for the art of pastry work.
"The Sylvia Weinstocks and Colette Peters have really raised the bar and the expectations that people have for a cake," says Helland.
"These things start with the wealthy and then trickle down - whether it's fashion, food or cars."
"And whether you think it's a good thing or not, Martha Stewart is national," says Gehman, "and her influence is everywhere."
This artistry doesn't come cheap. It's not unheard of for a star like Weinstock to earn $10,000 for a cake. But it's a price that many couples seem willing to pay.
"People are so much more sophisticated about food now," says Caspary-Brooks. "If they order a tiramisu cake, they understand that means a higher price for the mascarpone."
© 2002, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.