Monday, 18 May 2015

Le Cordon Bleu intermediate patisserie week 12 - someones getting married in the morning

They weren't wrong when they said that the final module would be intensive. One solitary Sunday off and back I went to Le Cordon Bleu for my final week of accelerated baking, which was to be wrapped up by the decorating of a three tier wedding cake, baked the week prior. First, chef took us through the making of sugar flowers and the techniques used to bring them to life. We wired varies elements and then went about making the items we required to create our final masterpieces. 

Having sketched out my final piece and discussed the elements required with my bride to be I thankfully had a very tight plan and list of items to make. As per the grooms request, the cake needed to represent both the UK and Australia in some way. Not wanting to stick flags all over the cake I suggested that the hints from home came in the form of flora and fauna. The flora represented by delicate English roses and Australian eucalyptus leaves and the fauna by a couple of Britain's Collectible, 1970's plastic zoo animals, one a kangaroo and the other a lion. When the toys arrived it was clear to see that they'd been well loved and played with, the lion being a particular favourite. a lick of paint later and they were transformed and ready to make a very special appearance at the wedding. 

At the end of the day I'd managed to produce most of the flowers needed to dress my cake, with the exception of one or two. Having made a handful of wedding cakes in the past I was in no doubt that I'd finish the project in time, I was more looking forward to see how all that I'd learnt over the past 6 months would effect my final product. Thinking back to the cakes I've made, as with this cake, surprisingly I've found the grooms to be very involved in the process. Some, a little too involved. 

Last summer two of my very treasured friends were married in the woods in Devon. It was a wild and wonderful affair. I met both Stu and Charlie whilst working at Epoch Design, a fabulous design studio back in Bristol. Stu and Charlie formed part of the small but incredibly talented creative team and after having worked with and sat next to each other for some 4 or 5 years, they realised that they'd found love right under one an-others noses. We went on to live together, along with another friend Zoe, until they took off to travel the world and discover all it has to offer. At the end of their trip whilst in Paris, Stu proposed. 

I was incredibly delighted when I heard the news and even more excited when they asked me to make their cake! It was a huge yes from me and so the cake briefing process began. The couple requested a fairly simple naked wedding cake which was to be made from lavender and raspberry sponge layers, topped and filled with lavender buttercream. During the discussing and cake testing Stu began to look a little unhappy and for want of a better word, disgruntled. Enquiring as to his unhappiness Stu let on that he'd rather hoped for a chocolate and Guinness cake to be served at the wedding. This was a cake that I'd baked regularly for him and the team whilst we worked together and it was indeed Stu's faviourite cake but it wasn't really the wedding cake the bride to be had in mind. Wanting to keep the couple happy I suggest that I made a chocoalte and Guinness cake also which could be served alongside the naked cake and that we'd call it Stu's Grooms cake. 

Upon doing a little research and reading into the history of the wedding cakes and the traditions that we now employ I discovered that a grooms cake is really a thing! The tradition of the groom's cake can be traced back to Victorian England, when, in addition to the main wedding cake, a grooms cake and sometimes even a brides cake would be served up alongside.

According to me resources, the grooms cake eventually made its way over to the United Staes, and its popularity endured, especially in the south. Many brides found the grooms cake to be appealing as it was a way to honour their new husband and give him the recognition he deserved on a day when most of the attention seems to fall upon the bride. 

What made me chuckle the most was when I read that a grooms cake as traditionally made using a dark chocolate and an alcohol. It was as though Stu already knew! The earliest grooms cakes, however, were fruitcakes, perhaps harking back to a time when it was tradition to cook a fruit cake for the wedding due to its longer shelf life. When processed flour and baking soda were introduced during the eighteenth century, the sponge wedding cake, as we now know it came into existence. 

I read on that the grooms cake wasn't traditionally served at the wedding. It was thought that the cake was displayed and then sliced and boxed up for guests to take home with them as a memento of the day and in particular, the cake would be sliced and given to the single women in attendance. The singletons were encouraged to sleep with the cake under their pillow which would result in her dreaming of her husband to be...or a face covered in buttercream and a stained pillow case. One or the other!

So, as well as a little entertaining, Stu's groom strop lead me to learn much more about the wedding cakes past and also to the introduction of a cake table at his and Charlie's wedding. The guests loved the cakes and really enjoyed hearing about how we'd come to have so many! 

Whilst in class chef talked a little of the history of the wedding cake. It was fascinating to learn that the wedding cake itself is thought to be one of the oldest traditions in modern culture. There sadly aren’t any records in terms of specific dated but by the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, it had already become a well established part of the wedding celebration. Passed down to the Saxons, through to medieval times, and the Victorian era up to the 20th century, many wedding customs remain the same. 

In the past, wheat would feature within the cake and the bride would be encouraged to eat this as well as have the stuff thrown over her to symbolise fertility. The wheat grain also represented prosperity within the marriage and was often give to the couple of a gift. Unmarried women would scramble to pick up any wheat dropped during the course of the celebration to ensure their own betrothals, much as they do today but now we have replaced wheat with beautiful bouquets of flowers. 

During Roman times a wheat biscuit would be crumbled over the brides head and following this the newly married couple were encouraged to eat the crumbs together, these crumbs were called “confarreatio”, which translates to mean “eating together”. After the wheat biscuits had been consumed, the guests would be treated to a selection of dried fruits and nuts and these sweetmeats were called “confetto”, which is where our word confetti comes from! Who knew! 
As well as many others, the custom of crumbling the cake over the brides head, or crowing the bride as it became known, disappeared just before the reign of Queen Victoria. I should image the brides of the time welcomed this disappearance. I can’t for a second image crumbling cake over a brides head, intentionally, today. I’m sure the result would be a black eye and a bill for the hair stylists time! As we saw the tradition of crowing of the bride fizzle out, so we welcomed the ceremonial cutting of the groom's cake, at this time, this was traditionally a fruit based cake baked on butter paper. The results were...not the best shall we say when it came to presentation as without anything for the mix to sit within the baked result was largely uneven and as such unevenly baked. At the beginning of the 18th century the cake hoop was invented solving this issue and so the cake we know today began to take form. At this time the fruit ingredients needed to make the cake were so expensive that it wasn't unusual for fruit cake to be given to members of Royalty and received in much the same way as gold would have been, with great thanks and joy.

In order to preserve the fruit cakes they were covered in thick layers of paste formed by sugar and rosewater. This was applied using a spatular or pallet knife and when set became almost porcelain like. this coating was also used to hand mould or pipe patterns onto the cake and was essentially an early form of Royal icing, or sucre icing. Antoine Careme, who've I've spoken about in the past, took this recipe and modified it to include egg whites, making the mixture lighter in terms of texture and more palatable.

The fruitcake is still regarded, certainly in the UK as the traditional choice at a wedding. More and more these days brides are discounting this and opting for of the moment sponges, but some still want a least a hint of this age old tradition included and request that their top tier be fruit based and kept for the christening of their first born. Next week, I've a couple of birthday cakes to share and can't wait to replay all I learnt of their historical past!

With most of my wedding cakes flowers made, I got chatting to a couple of the girls I was studying with and it transpired that they'd never been to Laduree. Never! Needing to rectify this tragic situation immediately we made our way over to Covent Garden and it was there that I introduced them to the Laduree macaron, which, in my opinion is the most superior of them all. A couple of glasses of wine, a cup of Marie Antoinette tea and a plate of macarons later and they were sold. 

The following day, back in the patisserie kitchen, we had the task of covering our cakes and cake boards with the now traditional layers of marzipan and fondant icing. Much easier then Royal icing and now much preferred by the modern pallet. This task took the best part of the session and before the day was through we'd completed our wired flowers and were ready to get a good nights sleep before assembly and decorating the cakes in the morning. 

Before I knew it I was back in the kitchen, my cakes in front of my, my sketch at my side and step by step I began to build my cakey creation. First I inserted rods in the base cake to help, from a structural point of view, the cakes stability. I then set the second tier upon the first and repeated, allowing for a raised insert. With my bare cake before me I made a start at bringing it to life. This is by far my favourite part - within an hour my cake had transformed and I was incredibly happy with the results. What do you think? Roses, eucalyptus leaves, a lion and a kangaroo. It's a British Aussie cake if ever I saw one.  

Within an hour of the last flower being popped into position and the 1970s plastic toys taking their pride of place, the cake was boxed up and placed, delicately, in the footwell of the passenger seat of a friend of the grooms Fiat 500, next stop - France! I'm yet to receive pictures of the cake at the wedding but I did receive a very lovely email from the groom which read: 

Hi Nichola,
I have not been on contact with you as yet but I wanted to say thank you on behalf of Yohana and myself for providing us with such a stunning wedding cake.

It was greatly appreciated by not only us but our guests also.

Hope your career in the cake world is successful and fruitful as your cake was!

Many thanks

Andrew & Yohana

And that's why I love making wedding cakes. There's nothing in this world quite like making others happy, especially on their wedding day. Well, asides post. I love post. Next week on my path to patissiere I'll be covering Ljubljana, the "cakes" we indulged in and birthday cakes. Tasty stuff! 

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