Monday, April 12, 2010

Cake Is GREAT For Breakfast

Friday marked the official six month countdown to the wedding! Andrew and I clearly have been occupied with house-related things and it was time to get our heads back into wedding planning.

Cake tastings were something I was equally looking forward to and dreading. Obviously, as a baker, the cake is one of the most important elements of the wedding for me. And who wouldn't look forward to a day of eating cake and more cake? The intimidation factor came in terms of the design. I didn't think I had a clear vision of what I wanted, other than the fact that I wanted it to be completely buttercream frosted (no fondant for me) and few other decorating elements to be incorporated. Turns out, I had a clearer vision that I realized once I started describing my ideal cake to three different bakers. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Saturday morning, we woke up early like kids at Christmas, knowing that we had three cake tasting appointments at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. I had picked three places after doing a ton of research and reading reviews on the bakeries' quality of cake, decorations and level of service.

First stop was The Icing on the Cake in Newton. I'm kicking myself for not visiting this place before we moved out of Newton! We met with the owner Paula after waiting around 15 minutes. She had the schedule of wedding appointments listed on the door and it looked like she had couples spaced out 45 minutes apart. We were impressed by her professionalism and demeanor - talking with us, she immediately starting sketching out her vision of our cake, based on what we (really me) telling her on the cake design. Midway through the meeting, we got to pick five types of cakes and fillings to try out, the most generous of all the places we tried. At the end of the meeting, we got a Xerox of the sheet on which she took notes of the flavors we tried, the sizes we discussed, clear pricing for every aspect of it and a rough sketch of the cake. This was all without having to make a commitment to go with them. Very cool, I wish all vendors had this level of transparency.
Next, we headed to a boutique bakery that I knew would be the most expensive out of the three - Cakes to Remember. I was going in with the view that if the cake was that good, it would be worth the extra cost. Based on reviews I had read online, I knew that they were only open by appointment and only made cakes for large parties.  Out of the three places, Cakes to Remember really made the best impression with their cake flavor list. The other places had you mix and match your type of cake and filling, which is usually what you want. But this list made me drool with its descriptions of custom cakes - and this is only a sampling of the overall cake list that is emailed to you after you schedule an appointment.  We met with the owner, Ellen and found her to be very nice as well. There was definitely a different feel to the appointment, it was more of a casual conversation with a general outline of the cakes you were looking for after flipping through the cake books. Maybe it was a wise vendor tactic not to get too involved until you have a commitment, but I did get a strong sense that the second consultation (after signing with them) would be the detailed one. Unlike the other places, Ellen sent us home with the four cake types we had selected ahead of time and gave us detailed instructions on how to let them warm to room temperature before sampling (more on this to come later). As this was a relatively quick consult (I would say 30 minutes, we had time to kill before we headed over to the last bakery, Party Favors. We parked in Coolidge Corner and decided to have lunch at the Upper Crust.  Finally, I could take my camera out and take pictures!

First, the very cool "dropped" ceiling of pizza pans:
A shot of my favorite dining companion and our custom pie of roasted peppers, feta and bacon - yummy if a little too droopy to eat by hand (you had to use a fork and knife for the bottom half) and a deliciously crisp crust:
We were careful not to fill up too much since we knew we had more cake waiting for us.

Andrew and I really enjoyed the hands off aspect to the consultation. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't neglectful in anyway - rather, it was more chill while still being informative. The consultant (correction: her name is Cynthia) sat us down with the books and immediately grabbed us our two pre-selected cake options and glasses of water. I was disappointed when I first made the appointment that we only got two cake choices, but they gave us each a generous size slice of each flavor (rather than having us share a slice of each).

Cynthia left us mostly alone as we flipped through the books and sampled the cake, but would come back periodically to talk with us. She sat down and listened to our design concepts and like the previous two places, was very clear in terms of the different size cakes that were available (three tier vs four tier) that would serve our wedding size. She also also sent us away with a preprinted brochure with some of things we discussed written down. Even more impressive than the HUGE pieces of cake they sent us home with was the fact that Cynthia heard me teasing Andrew that I should've picked a chocolate type of cake for him to try (having gone for a white cake and a marble cake as our two chosen flavors) so she added a chocolate cupcake for Andrew and a white cupcake for me - now that's customer service! I also have to add that Party Favors was the only bakery out of the three to feature fresh fruit in its fillings as opposed to jam.
When we got home later that night, you think we'd be tired of cake after a day of tasting it. Think again! We were dying to dive in to get our first taste of the cake from Cakes to Remember. This is what the box they sent us home looked like - all four of our choices were clearly labeled:
To make it feel more like a tasting, I put all four choices on a cutting board and we dove in with our forks.
What did we think? Very tasty, but we didn't love the cake flavors enough to justify the higher price tag. We did fall in love with the Almond Joy flavor, which made me wish that they did smaller birthday cakes. I guess that will just have to be one of my next baking challenges, trying to replicate their flavor.

And what did we do with the leftover Party Favors cake? We had it for breakfast the next morning (sorry mom and dad), thus making it a weekend of having cake for breakfast, and it literally lasted us until today when I ate the last cupcake.  I have to say it was a very smart idea for the bakeries to send cake home with us - not just for the obvious goodwill and sugar high feeling but because it was really useful to taste the cakes side by side and compare them.

The verdict? Icing on the Cake won out. I loved that fresh fruit in Party Favors cake, but found their frosting to be a wee bit too sugary and piled on too thick (I can hear all you frosting lovers out there protesting, but I like a good frosting to cake ratio). Regardless, the great customer service we received there has definitely convinced me to buy some cakes in the future from Party Favors.

Overall, we liked Icing on the Cake because of Paula's professionalism, her design concept for the cake, and most importantly, how the cake tasted. An added bonus is the fact that they will make you a free one year anniversary cake if you give them a professional photo of your wedding cake. No need to freeze that top layer, I told Andrew that our tradition would be to eat the top layer after we get back from the honeymoon!

For those lucky ones out there, we can't wait for you to see and try the cake at the wedding! And yes, I've deliberately tried to keep the flavor(s) under wraps.

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