Friday, July 08, 2005

Locating the Best Tasting Wedding Cake Ever!

This past week I went to my second cake tasting. In all, I've made appointments with three bakeries. What a rough life, having to go to exclusive bakeries and sample cakes. Yum!

At any rate, the first baker is quite famous for their breads, and they've just launched into wedding cakes fairly recently. They gave me so much to taste that I had enough to bring home for my darling and one of our friends. And it was so heavy that we just couldn't finish more than three bites total, each. Maybe it was the thick layer of fondant on each piece, or else the fillings. But the entire thing tasted too.... "out of the box." The flavors and textures were either too light or too heavy, and not outstanding in any way, except for the overriding sense of massive weight gain from just having a little bit. It was too bad, because they were also the cheapest of the three bakeries.

My expectations sank, and I began to worry, because we had decided to make the wedding cake the dessert for the reception. My mother keeps saying to me, "No one eats the wedding cake! They all taste terrible! No one will eat it! I'll make you a dessert to bring to the reception!" She was adamant in her belief that spending the money on a wedding cake would simply go to waste.

What weirded me out at the first baker was that they had several tastings all going on at the same time, and in one case there was an... overwhelming mother seated at the table next to me with her daughter. The mom was making all kinds of demands and asking all types of pointed and pushy questions and basically being scary as hell. I was sitting next to them thinking, "Whose wedding is this?" The daughter never said a word! She looked pretty unhappy, come to think of it.

But then I went to Bittersweet, a very well-known and highly-rated bakery in the Lakeview area of Chicago. It's also a cafe and was packed when I got there at about 2:00 p.m. Another good friend, who is a man and a highly-ranked executive and definitely a straight dude, had been invited to several weddings and raved to us about Bittersweet. "You MUST get your cake there!" he exclaimed, and expounded on how fabulous the cakes looked and tasted and how nary a piece was left each time. He repeated it to me three times. "Go to Bittersweet! They're in Lakeview!" So fine. I called and set up the appointment. In fact, Bittersweet is so busy that I had to wait almost a month for that appointment.

It was worth every second of the wait. First I showed the proprietor the picture of my long wished-for wedding cake, a chocolate ganache covered tiered cake with sugared seasonal fruits and eucalyptus leaves in a photograph from, of course, Martha Stewart Weddings magazine. (Surprise!) She examined it and immediately took notes, asked a few questions, and then went to the back and brought out a sampler plate that would work with the chocolate ganache coating, although she took the time to make the point that "What is more important than what works with the chocolate ganache is what type of cake you like, not the frosting."

The sampler plate was served to me, along with complimentary beverages (I ended up gulping down two glasses of water and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice). It held eight or nine 1-2" round disks of chocolate, banana, and almond cake. There were beautifully laid down dollops of fillings: creme brulee, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate, along with a layer of vanilla cream that covers the entire cake just below the chocolate ganache. "Here," she said, "Let me show you how to eat this in order to sample the flavor combinations." She took the fork, sliced a chocolate cake disk in half, then removed the fork and dipped it into the creme brulee to grab a 1/2 tablespoon dollop, then sealed the bite by slipping the half disk back onto the end of the fork and passed it to me. She smiled. "Go ahead, try it."

I slipped it into my mouth and thought I had died and gone to heaven. The look on my face must have said it all, because 10 more customers came racing in to order their baked goods. (No, I'm just kidding.) But really, I felt incredulous at the deliciousness of the cake. Mike had not been overstating it at all. He'd been completely right. Serving a cake like this, using this baker with the obvious skill and expertise to pull off how it should look, would guarantee that not a single piece would be left over. She left me to continue sampling, and I ate the entire dish. I just could not stop myself. "Okay," I thought guiltily, "I'll tell my darling that we MUST go to Bally's this weekend!" And then it was all gone.

One other thing that strikes me is that most women seem to prefer the white fondant or very feminine cakes. But I, and my darling, love the look of the chocolate ganache covering the cake, even if it is a deep brown. After all, our wedding is in the fall, and will be highlighted by the jewel tones of the season -- red, burgundy, violet, orange, saffron yellow, deep green. Maybe I'm doing my "pendulum swing" away from what is in vogue, or rebellion against the overly delicate and ornately decorated, baroque bordering on rococo masterpieces I've been seeing at bakeries and in magazines. A more free form, glowing beauty in natural jewel tones will be just fine.

When I received the proposal, I found the price to be a bit more than I had wanted to pay, but in this case, I'm probably going to get that cake. The way it will look, taste, and be presented by Bittersweet is more than enough to justify it. I have one appointment left with one last baker, also extremely highly rated by everyone with whom I've spoken, and I want to go there to see what their samples taste like and what their price proposal is. Not to mention, it will be nice to have one more chance to sample wedding cakes! Their cake will have to be not just good, but actually superb to beat Bittersweet's. Bittersweet is absolutely excellent, not just with the baked goods, but with their ability to walk you through your expectations, educate you on what is available during the season of your wedding, and their overall level of expertise and customer relations. If the third baker ends up being this good, it'll be a definite struggle to decide!


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