Hands down, one of the best parts about being engaged is cake tasting. The wedding cake is probably what most of your guests look forward to at the end of the day, and it's your honor to find the right one! But what goes into the session? How can you not only find a tasty wedding cake, but a pretty one? And what level of customization goes into the creation of the dessert?
One of my favorite bakers in the Portland/Hood River areas is Paula of Windflower Cakes. I reached out to her to pick her brain on these very questions! She provided insight into her world as a baker and how she can help make that delicious dream cake we all drool over. Read this fantastic Q&A below!
What is typically involved in a cake tasting session?
We sit down at my wood-top bakers table in the studio and I serve coffee, tea, and present a platter with 4 serving-size slices of different cake flavors. Before we meet, I confirm that I have availability for their wedding day, and then ask them to provide basic information regarding the wedding venue, number of guests, preferred flavors and any other ideas about the cake presentation. To begin the meeting, I explain to the couple and their guests what types of cake they will be sampling. This is often when I go into more detail about the ingredients and quality of my cakes. Once the tasting has begun, all sorts of questions start flying along with comments about how much they are enjoying the samples. We work together to design the appearance of the cake and discuss delivery time, presentation, cake cutting, cake stands, and by the end of our discussion and meeting I provide their wedding cake order estimate.
How do you help couples design their perfect cake?
I begin by asking what their vision is for the cake - if they have specific ideas in mind. Many of the venues here in the Gorge are rustic in nature, so that is often a starting point in terms of style. Most frequently however, during the course of conversation about their wedding day, couples convey their style, theme, and feel for their wedding. Gauging on what they say and describe, indicates to me what sort of cake style would suit them. I have a few cake “dummies” (styrofoam rounds) on display to give my clients ideas of how to present the cake and the dimensions. My abbreviated portfolio on an iPad gives visual reference and helps us narrow down the choices if there is any uncertainty. Sometimes, couples have photos of cakes they have found online and present those to me as sources of inspiration. These are especially helpful for me to identify a specific aesthetic. In these cases I typically inquire more about what it is about these cake designs that they are drawn to, since it’s not my practice to copy other designs. There are some extra considerations that also need to be discussed as outdoor summer temperatures and storage of the cake can affect the final cake design.
What is more popular, buttercream or fondant, and why?
Buttercream is tops! Fondant has a bad reputation since many people have encountered mediocre, food-coloring-saturated fondant. I would agree - meringue-based buttercream has such a delicious mouthfeel and fondant can seem too sugary and sweet. However, there are several brands of fondant that bakers use, of various quality and flavor, so when I do use fondant I opt for the highest quality and best tasting (Swiss made).
What is your specialty flavor?
My vanilla sponge cake layered with housemade preserves (raspberry, strawberry, peach), housemade creme fraiche, and French vanilla buttercream. It’s a little bit like an iced layer cake rendition of the classic English trifle: a dessert made in a glass dish with vanilla sponge cake layered with fresh berries or stone fruit, jam, whipped cream and vanilla pastry cream. My almond butter cake layered with marionberry or cherry preserves, creme fraiche and French vanilla buttercream is also a big hit.
Do you experiment with custom flavors? Why or why not?
I am happy to accommodate some customization to filling flavors, but for the cake layers I stick with my tried and true recipes. These recipes have been carefully adapted to meet all my standards for flavor, texture, baking level, and integrity. When I started out I offered lots of options and the mix and match approach where the client can choose the cake layer flavor and choose the filling flavor. Quickly, it became apparent that offering too many choices was not working, and it came down to the couples asking about my most popular flavors. Believe me, I would love to experiment more with new flavors, but as a one-woman show, I am able to ensure high quality by keeping things simple.
For more, you can find her on Instagram @windflowercakes, and her website at www.windflowercakes.com!