Cake for a rainbow wedding

Hello!  It’s been a very long time, hasn’t it?  There were several reasons for this – I got interested in fiction writing, which meant that I had less time to spare for food writing; my wrist kept getting worse, which made baking and typing both painful; I discovered Indian cooking, which meant that I was using recipe books a lot, and not creating many new recipes.  Also… I’ve had kind of a bad patch in the last year or so where I haven’t felt like doing anything creative at all, but this seems to be getting better.

Anyway.  None of this is important compared to the much more exciting fact that I got to make my first ever cake for a same-sex wedding yesterday!

(I’ve been calling it my first Big Gay Wedding Cake, but since I do not, in point of fact, know what the cake’s personal preferences are, I should probably stop calling it that.)

Much has been made in the media (ooh, alliteration!) of gay weddings and Christian bakers and how it’s terrible, awful, so bad, that we might be forced to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings.

But I have to say, I was so incredibly thrilled when the sister of one of my dearest friends was finally able to get engaged to her long-time partner, and immediately asked my friend to relay the message that I’d love to bake their wedding cake, please, pretty please…

I mean, those of you who have met me in the flesh know how I feel about bright colours.  I have rainbow glasses.  I have rainbow ear-rings.  I have rainbow tops and rainbow skirts.  My wedding dress had rainbow chiffon on it.  Let’s just say that when I went to a marriage equality rally last year, I really had no difficulty whatsoever in finding something appropriate to wear, and indeed, at the rally I looked around me and thought, now, THIS is my aesthetic.  I want to go to more rallies like this one.

Anyway, to my great delight, they said yes, and that they would love a cupcake tower, with a cuttable cake on top.

At which point I got super nervous because what if the cake wasn’t PERFECT enough for this very special wedding, and warned them that while I could guarantee cakes that were pretty and delicious and catering to all allergies, I couldn’t promise something that looked, you know, like a perfectly smooth, white, professional wedding cake.

But that was OK, because they wanted rainbows too.  In fact, I was specifically told to make the cakes as bright and colourful as possible.  OK, then. I could do that.

The saturation adjuster on photoshop (or, as I like to think of it, the oversaturation button) was made for occasions like this one…

(And I have to note in passing that while I’m sure there are Christian bakers out there who don’t want to do gay wedding cakes, I suspect that they are in the minority.  Every single cake decorating place I spoke to, without exception, was as excited at the idea of gay wedding cakes as I was.  A couple of people told me that they absolutely couldn’t wait to do their first gay wedding cake – all those colours!  So I think that even if you wanted a proper, professional looking cake, you wouldn’t have trouble finding one.)

One of the brides can’t eat gluten, and we had the usual array of vegan guests and guests with egg allergies, nut allergies, etc.  But that’s what cake towers are for – you can have a different flavour on each layer, and make each one cater to a different set of dietary requirements!

(When I first asked one of the brides what flavours they had in mind, she seemed taken aback and said… “Vanilla…?”  To which my response was equally taken aback.  “Well, I could do that, of course.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever done a plain vanilla cake…”  I then brainstormed a list of flavours.  Needless to say, we did not go with vanilla…)

With at least six colours in the rainbow and only four layers in the tower, some doubling up was required.  I decided on red and pink for the bottom layer, orange and yellow for the next, green and blue for the next, and purple for the layer below the cuttable cake.

Ready to start baking…

This necessitated a remarkable amount of sourcing of cupcake holders – anywhere that stocked orange did not stock purple, and if they had purple, they didn’t have green.  It was bizarre.  I also spent way too much time at Spotlight looking for the right coloured ribbons with which to decorate the cake boards, and then half an afternoon carefully glueing the ribbons to each other to get a two-coloured effect, and then to the board.

I wanted to make sure that at least half of the cakes were gluten free, so the bottom layer was raspberry, pistachio and rose cupcakes.

I made roses out of marbled red, pink and white fondant in fondant molds, and a pale green lemon icing to hold them in place.

The second layer was lemon meringue cupcakes, which I made gluten-free with my standard gluten-free flour mix.  I have made these cupcakes many, many times before, so while I was a little concerned about their structural integrity with the gluten-free flour, I was pretty confident that the rest would be easy.

Ha. The day started well – I successfully separated twelve eggs in a row, which is practically a miracle, and the lemon curd and cupcakes came out beautifully.  And then the meringue failed.  Repeatedly.  It took me an hour and five bowls to successfully make my meringues, and I ended up with meringue all over the walls and myself.

But they were done, so that was good.  I thought.

Then the weather changed overnight and when I got up on the morning of the wedding, all my meringues were weeping.  I had been planning to decorate them with little rainbows, with the meringues representing clouds.  I momentarily considered pretending that the weeping meringue represented entirely intentional raindrops, but I couldn’t do it.  I scraped all the meringues off and started again.

There aren’t a lot of photos of these cakes. This is because they were very naughty cakes and did not deserve to be photographed.

Suffice it to say, this made my nice, relaxed cake baking plan for the morning of the wedding a little bit less relaxed – in the end, by the time I’d got everything done or re-done, got to the venue, assembled everything on the table, and hidden away the rest of the cupcakes, I was just squeezing out from behind the table when the first guests walked in.  (And this is why I always add two hours of contingency time into my planning for events like this – I needed every second of them!)

See that box on the side of the table? Yeah. I basically heard the guests coming and chucked it off the table right after taking this photo. This was really, really down to the wire. Never trust a meringue, that’s my advice.

Layer three was my vegan sachertorte recipe, which I’ll share on this blog next week.  This, thankfully, is a tried-and-true, nearly failproof recipe, and it worked just fine.

I topped these cakes with vegan chocolate ganache, and little buttons that I’d made out of bright blue and green gum paste.

The gum paste was a bit of a surprise – I hadn’t used it before, and when it arrived in the post, I realised that it contained egg-white, which wasn’t going to be great for my vegans and egg allergies.

So, since I had four people who couldn’t eat eggs and 48 cupcakes, I decided to keep the green and blue buttons for 36 cakes, and make twelve lots of buttons out of pure white fondant, which I painted with gold lustre dust.  That way the vegans would have something that was clearly identifiable, but in a way that looked extra special rather than sad…

When I’d been throwing out ideas for flavours, one of the brides had been very interested in the lavender and blackberry cupcake idea.  I was initially planning to just make lavender butterfly cakes with blackberry jam and whipped cream, but when I was at the Ruby Chocolate demonstration at Savour a couple of weeks ago, one recipe that was demonstrated was a whipped ganache – a whipped cream enriched by white chocolate, which made it a little heavier and more stable.

So I decided to see if I could make a blackberry and lavender-infused whipped ganache for these cakes, and it worked really beautifully.  (You’ll be getting that recipe, too, in a week or so.)

For the cuttable cake, I was a bit anxious on several counts.  For one thing, I have done precisely one white wedding cake in my life, and it was the first wedding cake I did, and frankly, it wasn’t very good.  I had a lot of trouble rolling out the icing, and it showed.  But I really did want a proper wedding-cake looking cake if I could manage it.  Fortunately, while I haven’t rolled out icing in the last eighteen years, I’ve somehow improved in the interim – just more cooking experience generally, I suppose, plus the magic of YouTube videos, and it covered the cake beautifully.

I also wanted to make figurines out of fondant, something else I hadn’t done before.  Alas, my first attempt was not auspicious.  The brides started off tall and elegant, but sank, slowly and inevitably, into themselves, and then began tilting drunkenly to the side and backwards.  And their lips protruded like fish lips.  And their arms kept falling off.  It wasn’t a good look.

(Nope, you’re not getting photos of those ones.)

I decided that I could get away with a perfect white cake with rainbow ribbon, and would have another crack at the figurines on Friday and see how that went.  My second try at the brides was informed by the first attempt – I made each batch of colour before I started, and made the bodies short and sturdy, like pawns from a chess set.  I then refrigerated them after each step, to make them get more solid.  The faces still weren’t quite right, and I accidentally switched the heads so that the wrong bride had the wrong dress, but the arms stayed on almost entirely – I had to re-attach one at the venue, and then reattach it again after we removed the brides from the cake for cutting.

But this was a rainbow wedding, and it had been a very long time coming, so I really wanted to make sure that when the brides cut the cake, they got something really special.

This was rather nervewracking, because as you can see, the rainbow is baked into the cake, and I had no way of knowing until they cut it whether it had actually worked.

But it had, and it was a great hit, both with the brides and with everybody under the age of five.  I made this cake pretty plain – and gluten-free – and flavoured with with orange flower water, since orange flowers are traditional for a wedding.

I have to say, I am very, very proud of this cake.  I do think it’s the most beautiful wedding cake I’ve done yet, and one of the tastiest, too.  And I am so extraordinarily happy to have been part of this wedding – I missed the ceremony due to the meringue disaster, but when they got us all lined up to form a living rainbow based on our outfits, and the brides came dancing in to the reception hall the strains of ‘I do, I do, I do, I do, I do’ with their son running ahead of them trailing a rainbow ribbon, I had tears in my eyes.  I have tears in my eyes again writing this.

I mean, this is a food blog, so this post has been all about the cake and how delighted I am with it.  But I am so very thrilled that my LGBTQIA friends can finally have the weddings they’ve been waiting for, that their relationships are recognised by the government (and even by the Uniting Church!), and that we can all come together and celebrate that.

It really was the most joyful gathering I’ve ever been a part of, and it was such a privilege to be there.  Congratulations, Kathryn and Rachel!  May your years together be many, and as full of joy as yesterday was.

P.S. – I don’t know if I’m going to be back here regularly at this stage.  A lot of the factors above still apply, in addition to the fact that dealing with photos on my computer is becoming increasingly time consuming and annoying – and you can’t really have a food blog without photos.  But there will definitely be recipes up for various bits of this wedding cake over the next few weeks, as well as some recipes for the things I did with the leftovers.  After that?  Who knows.  We’ll just wait and see what happens…

Wedding cake without a top layer, representing the uncertainty of the blogging existence…

 

Travel Post: Football, Animals, and the road home

I had planned to attend A’s church on Sunday, but in the end, sleep took priority, and I instead rose in a more leisurely fashion to begin contemplating packing and what I might need to post home, before meeting A for lunch along with her friend I, last seen in costume at Barockfest two years ago.   It was really great to catch up with her again, though as she is still working with scientists, lunch quickly degenerated into scientist and grant stories.

church

With my flight home only two days away, we had earmarked Sunday well in advance for a very important cultural experience.  I refer, of course, to the football again.  Not the France versus Ireland game, which we watched on A’s computer while I weighed my luggage and wondered just when I had acquired so many toys for my niece (answer: constantly and at every town I stopped in across three countries), but the far more exciting German game against… (oh that’s nice.  I didn’t bother to write who their opponents were in my diary.  Clearly, the cultural immersion.  Sorry, whichever team you were.)

Anyway, watching football at home while saying ‘Oh la la, c’est pas possible’ a lot and commenting on the attractiveness of the respective goalies (we both tend to barrack for the goalies) (this might be why we watch so many nil-all draws?) is all very fine, but this is clearly not the proper way to do things.  No, to watch football properly, one must go to a beer garden, ideally in the grounds of an old castle.

Continue reading

Travel Post: Back in Mainz, and a Feast

Saturday was a massive cooking day.  A couple of years ago, A showed her friend R my cooking blog, and he started following it.  When he heard I was visiting, he asked if I could come to his house and make a feast. (This is a little less opportunistic than it sounds – he volunteered himself, his wife K and my friend A as kitchen hands and bought all the ingredients. And provided all the wine and other drinks.)

This sounded like fun, so I said yes, and he got very excited and started inviting his friends to a feast cooked by ‘a famous Australian food blogger’, at which point I started feeling a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype.

dsc_0562

Before we left for Dresden, A and I started to plan a menu, and R promised to order us a chicken from a local farmer.  A had told me that the farmer’s chickens are always huge, so I had planned to stuff it with rice and fruit and nuts and serve it with lots of different vegetable accompaniments, which I felt would be ample for the 6-7 people likely to be in attendance.

I relayed this to R, who immediately texted back ‘are you sure there will be enough food?’

Oh, R.  You read this blog.  You should know better.

Continue reading

Travel Post: Germany, with Dresden, Opera and a trip on the Elba

Thursday dawned atrociously hot again.  We started the day with a quick cherub poll, before heading out to meet with another of A’s friends near the statue of Friedrich August der Starker (who we suspect fathered all those cherubs – he apparently fathered quite a few non-cherub people, and his statue is suspiciously gold, so it’s plausible.)

We had breakfast outside and in the shade, and talked rather too much about Australian politics and refugee policy, which apparently the German right likes to hold up as an example of what to do (ugh).  Then we talked about German politics.  Apparently, we had chosen a good time of the week to come to Dresden – Mondays are when the neo-nazis like to protest outside the Opera House.  Lovely.  The Opera House has struck back at this by putting up huge banners saying ‘Offnen Augen, Offnen Herzen, Offnen Grenzen’.  So now every photo of the protesters is effectively surtitled with the slogan ‘open eyes, open hearts, open borders’.  Nice one, Dresden Opera House.

A’s friend grew up in the DDR and used to be the principal flautist in one of their top orchestras.  When A shared our conerns regarding the cherubs of Dresden, he immediately started coming up with theories about hidden cameras and microphones, which was both unsettling and illustrative of the kind of imagination living much of one’s life in the DDR endows one with…

It really was dreadfully hot and sticky, but we wanted to visit the rebuilt Frauenkirche.  This was burned to the ground during the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and was only restored in the last decade or so.

frauenk

They tried to replicate the old building as far as possible, and even used some of the bricks that survived, putting them back in their original locations on the building.  You can see them quite easily, as they are burned black, while the new bricks are white. Continue reading

Travel Post: Germany, with Dresden and so many cherubs

Wednesday morning dawned bright and hot.  My friend had a physio appointment in the morning, so I decided to stay home and write some postcards.

That was when I first noticed the cherubs.

che3

To be accurate, I had, in fact, noticed a cherub or two (or five) in our apartments the night before.  They were a little hard to miss.  But I had excused them on the grounds that cherubs are what happens when you get baroque, or even pseudo-baroque.

But there were more than five cherubs.

che2

Continue reading

Travel Post: Germany with Naumburg and Leipzig

With the music festival over, Monday was our day to explore Naumburg properly.

We had our sights set on the cathedral, but on our way there, we visited a rather special plush toy shop, called Kösen.  The are known for their highly realistic plush toys, and their toymakers sketch the animals from life, going to zoos or even overseas to find the animals in the wild and observe how they move.  The toys are then designed based on these sketches – and (alas!) priced accordingly.

toy1

The shop was rather spectacular with highly realistic jungle animals, farm animals, and birds.

toy4

Continue reading

Travel Post! Germany, with a Medieval Music Festival

Saturday was another slow start for us, followed by a long drive north and east to Freyburg for a festival.  We provisioned ourselves for the road with bread, fruit, tomatoes and some glorious capsicums that reminded me of tulips from Dutch paintings.

sat1

And then my friend’s mother, M, who was sharing the driving, and who would get along very well with the Italian side of my family, brought even more provisions, apparently feeling that we might starve without her intervention.

My friend A has been wanting to get me to the Montalbane Festival for Medieval Music for years, and I’ve never been in Germany at the right time.  This time I was – but we had that book launch to attend on the Friday, and Freyburg is a long way from Dedesheim.

So rather than going with our original, more sensible plan, of driving up on the Friday and attending a modest selection of offerings on each day of the Festival, we had elected to drive up on the Saturday afternoon, and then attend EVERYTHING on the Sunday.

sat2

So we drove, and drove, and drove, north and east, past lots of castles, including the Eisenach, which is where Martin Luther threw an inkpot at the Devil, and you can still see the stain on the wall (we did not stop to look at the stain).

And finally we reached Naumburg, where we would be staying.  We did this with a surprising lack of wrong turns – my friend A has been to Montalbane many times, but apparently never without getting lost or delayed on the road.

sat6

Continue reading

Travel Post! Germany, with Heidelberg, Soccer and Theology

And we are back to the travel posts, with our first glimpse of Germany!

Taking the train to Germany always has some interesting moments.  Changing trains onto the more local line is particularly good fun, because the signs at the station don’t always mention the name of the station that is on your ticket, and one has to wander around with a large suitcase looking for a map which might suggest the likeliest train to get on.  Fortunately, I did manage to find my way onto a train to Mainz Hauptbahnhof, where I was met by my friend A.

A has an apartment just on the edge of Lerchenberg, near Mainz, which is full of windows and light. Below, there is a carpark, a row of trees, and then open fields.  At this time of year, even though Mainz isn’t really that far north, the horizon never gets absolutely dark.

mainz

I’d arrived in the late afternoon, and A had just finished her University semester, which had been fairly taxing due to several conferences late in the term and the fact that she is actually working in a neighbouring country and taking the train back to Mainz every weekend.  Given that I had been busily walking my feet into ribbons all over Paris, and was still recovering from that endless cough, I was very happy with her plan for a quiet few days, and a chance to sleep in and catch up.

We took a walk through the fields near Lerchenberg, which I foolishly failed to photograph – there really are long fields of barley and of rye, with the occasional bright red poppy raising its head.  This was very lovely, and the first taste of an Arthurian theme which would recur several times in our German travels.

Continue reading

Recipe: Ratatouille for a ratty week

Taking a break from the travel diaries to write down a recipe that has been a bit of a lifesaver for me this year.  It tastes like comfort food, it’s full of vegetables, it creates copious leftovers, and it takes maybe ten minutes of preparation time.  Probably less, really.  And because the vegetables are all soft, I can even make it when my wrist is acting up and doesn’t want me to chop things. 

You can serve it with all sorts of things, really.  It goes with bread and hummus (or you can fling some chickpeas in to bake with the rest of the ratatouille), or grilled haloumi (which you can also chop into chunks and throw in to bake for the last ten minutes); with roasted or boiled potatoes and felafel or grilled fish or chicken; it’s great over giant couscous (again, with chickpeas), or stirred through pasta, or even made into a bake with bocconcini and more pasta. 

You can serve it hot, or warm, or at room temperature.  Tonight, I’ll be serving it hot with some little pies from Zaatar – lamb, and haloumi, and spinach.  And probably with some roast potatoes because everything is better with roast potatoes, especially when you are eating super late because it took nearly two hours to get home from work and your husband hasn’t even managed to leave work yet and it’s nearly 9pm…

This is not as fancy as my other ratatouille recipe, but it tastes very nearly as good and takes far less time.  It’s Friday night-worthy, which is really saying something, especially after a fortnight like the one I’ve had, with lots of stress and very little sleep.  (Though one of my scientists did bring me cake to cheer me up, which was possibly the nicest thing anyone has done for me ever.)

Oh, and it doesn’t create a lot of washing up, either.  Just one giant baking dish.  There’s really nothing not to like, unless you are entirely anti-vegetable.

img_2355

Your Shopping List

3 large capsicums, preferably in different colours
2 red onions
2 medium zucchini
1 largeish eggplant
olive oil
lavender salt
black pepper
rosemary
dried mint
400g cherry tomatoes
500ml – 750 ml (whatever size bottle you have) tomato passata
dried basil

(I know these amounts are very vague.  It really is a sprinkle of this and a sprinkle of that, and it is very much to taste.  If you don’t have lavender salt, a pinch of salt with some culinary lavender is good, or skip the lavender and add a little fennel, and rather more rosemary.  It will be fine.)

Continue reading

Travel Post: Paris with many parks and a fond farewell

It’s Wednesday, and I’m sitting in a train that has just departed from the Gare de l’Est and is rapidly gaining speed.  My initial destination was going to be Reims, but I got home last night and discovered an anxious message from my penfriend – apparently, Paris had been having big and rather violent protests during the day (several of which I appear to have just missed), and the SNCF strikes were on again.  I considered my itinerary – Paris to Reims, Reims back to Paris, Paris to Kaiserslautern – and decided that the odds of at least one of these trains being cancelled was quite high.  I have been *extremely* fortunate with strikes and everything else in Paris, but there is such a thing as pushing one’s luck.  So I cancelled all my Reims bookings and am now headed straight for Mainz a few days early.  I’m sad to miss Reims, but I had visions of taking days to get myself to Germany from there if the trains stopped…

I decided that Monday, the day when most museums are shut, would be a good day for walking around the 19th and 20th arondissements and crossing off some of the parks on my list (I had a LIST, oh yes.  It had chocolates and patisserie and museums and parks, all sorted by arondissement and by priority, and with the arondissements grouped by proximity, so that on any given day I could choose which collection of items to cross off.  It is possible that I am a tad over-organised, but I was a Catherine with an AGENDA, which included at least a brief visit to every arondissement in Paris, and there was no time to waste!), so I started the morning by exploring the park at Buttes Chaumont.

My inner Metro geek was delighted to discover this involved going on line 7 bis, which I haven’t been on before.  I spent a little bit too much time on my journey trying to work out which Metro lines I had been on during this trip.  Certainly 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 7bis, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.  Probably 4 and 6.  Probably not 8 and 9.  Certainly not 3b.  I did a fair bit of walking and bus travel, and didn’t take notes.  Next time, I shall be systematic…

chaumont1

This is actually a modern park, and I think a constructed one.  It’s very hilly (if you look at the Crypte Archéologique in my previous post, you can see the Butte Chaumont even on the map of the pre-settled area of Paris), very popular with joggers, and has unexpected water features and a gazebo.

chaumont5

Continue reading