Too much choice is not always a good thing. With wedding cakes, it used to be easy. Forget cookies, cupcakes, elaborate fruit tarts, whoopie pies, or gateaux. If it wasn't a towering pyramid of sponge tiers cloaked in fondant, it wasn't a real wedding.
Other countries have their own traditions -- the French eat profiteroles, the Brits tuck into iced fruitcake -- but in all cases the wedding cake was a long-settled question, not open for debate. It was inevitable, perhaps, that this monolithic tradition would succumb to our compulsion to turn everything into a personal statement. We're living in the age of the selfie, after all. But as long as taste is the winner, who's complaining?
Still, the options complicate an already stressful day. Who better to shed some light on this vexing question than Brooklyn-based bakers Renato Poliafito and Matt Lewis, whose book,Baked: New Frontiers in Baking (available now), is all about finding new twists on beloved classics.
We also asked two married couples, Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler, and Ed Droste, of the indie-rock band Grizzly Bear, and Chad McPhail what their fantasy wedding dessert would be -- and challenged the Baked boys to make them.
What cake would Poliafito and Lewis choose?
Poliafito: Mine is an off-the-menu cake at Baked called the Black and Gold Cake. It's a devil's food cake made with super dark chocolate and dark chocolate whiskey pudding between the layers. We cover it with black and gold sprinkles.
Lewis: Our malted-milk chocolate cake. It would be pretty elegant with the contrast between light and dark when you slice it. It's not an in-your-face flavor -- it's very subtle.
Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler
"I am very neutral about cake," confessed Doonan, before adding that Adler was not, and that we should therefore go with his taste. "He loves cakes from a bakery in his hometown of Bridgeton, N.J., named Century Bakery. He loves the juvenile ones, which are decorated like a football field. His team is the Philly Eagles, so any attempt to refer to the Eagles would be greatly appreciated. The cake itself should be vanilla. These Century cakes are unpretentious and unszhooshy and lowbrow."
A Wedding Cake primer
1. "It's OK to think out of the box when it comes to weddings," says Poliafito. "We always say, 'Keep it simple, and do what you like.' If you like pie, have pie."
2. "Right now a big trend is the dessert table. Instead of just having a wedding cake, people can pick and choose from an assortment of desserts."
3. "Even with a dessert table, there's usually a centerpiece cake--maybe not massive--around which the others are arranged. We have a four-inch layer on top of a six-inch one. It's a smaller presentation cake that the couple can slice into."
4. "Don't go crazy with the fondant. We think there are a lot of over-decorated cakes. We try to keep it simple, modern, elegant."
5. "Keep it all edible--and looking edible. A cake in the shape of a car tastes like a car, actually. You want to avoid that."
6. "Don't try to bake your own wedding cake. You have so many other things to focus on. You don't want to ice a cake in your wedding dress."
Tip: Quality, not economy
"People tend to think you
can make a chocolate cake and use a Hershey's, or a lower-quality chocolate, and get a passable cake," says Lewis. "But if you're making a brownie or a chocolate cake, you want to use the best quality chocolate you can find--with a high percentage of cocoa mass."
Ed Droste and Chad McPhail
"We both hate wedding cakes and would like peach cobbler with ice cream."
Recipe by Baked
3 cups all-purpose flour, chilled
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. fine sea salt
8 oz. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6-8 fresh peaches, peeled and sliced into wedges (frozen is fine--just make sure to thaw before baking)
4 tbsp. of all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together. In a measuring cup, stir 3/4 cups water with several ice cubes until it's very cold, discarding any remaining ice.
Toss the butter in the flour mixture to coat. Place the mixture in a food processor and pulse in short bursts until the butter pieces are the size of hazelnuts.
Pulsing in four-second bursts, slowly drizzle the cold water into the food processor through the feed tube. As soon as the dough comes together in a ball, stop adding water.
Remove the dough from the food processor and divide it in half. Flatten each piece into a disk and wrap each disk first in parchment paper and then in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough until firm -- about one hour.
In a medium bowl, gently mix peaches, flour, and sugar to coat. If peaches are releasing a lot of liquid, add a little more flour. Set aside.
Put the flour, sugar, and salt into a food processor and pulse for five seconds to mix. Add the pecans and pulse until they're finely chopped and thoroughly incorporated.
Add the butter and pulse until combined. The mixture will look like very coarse sand. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator.
- Flour the countertop so the dough doesn't stick. Roll the dough with a rolling pin to be slightly larger than a deep pie dish. Take the pie dough and place it over the pie dish and press it down into the edges.
- Add the filling to the pie shell. Pile the peaches toward the center.
- Add the crumb topping. Try to cover the entire pie. Place in oven at 350deg F for about one hour, or until crumb and crust appear golden brown.
- Let cool. Dust with confectioner's sugar.