So, earlier this year, my friend Rhiannon emailed me and asked me if I’d be willing to do her wedding cake and maybe cater her wedding. “A lot of my friends have allergies,” she warned me, “So of course I thought of you…”.
You may possibly have noticed that I love baking and that yes, baking around allergies is something I do quite a bit of. So I got very, very excited and jumped up and down a few times and said Yes, yes, yes I would LOVE to make your wedding cake and cater your wedding!
And then I went away and thought about it and realised just exactly how many things I would need to be doing simultaneously on the day of the wedding – at which I was also singing, though Rhiannon didn’t know that part yet (surprise duets are the most fun) – and carefully counted the number of hands and brains I had and concluded that I needed at least two of me, and probably three or four of me, to manage at all.
Assiduous efforts to achieve mitosis were unsuccessful, and cloning was rejected as impractical, so I rang Rhiannon back and went, “Um, I still really really really want to do the cakes, but I don’t think I can do the rest at the same time…”
(to which she replied “Yeah, I thought that was probably a bit crazy, but you never know your luck,” or words to that effect)
Rhiannon set me a few challenges with this cake. For one thing, there were the allergies, and she had not understated the fun involved in this; nut allergies and gluten intolerance are easy enough to work around, seafood was unlikely to be an issue with cakes, and I’m pretty good at vegan baking these days, but fructose intolerance always drives me a little bit crazy, not least because there doesn’t seem to be a definitive list of what I can and can’t use *anywhere*.
Fortunately, one of my fructose people was also the Most Organised Bridesmaid, and was happy to be emailed repeatedly with questions such as “What about tofu? And maple syrup?”. And thank heavens for that, or I would have gone even crazier than I am already…
Flavour considerations were actually really quite easy – Rhiannon and Reed wanted warm, spicy flavours, and had actually looked through my blog and made lists of things they liked the sound of. Better still, they had deliberately avoided recipes which contained remarks from me about how I was going slightly crazy making them, which I definitely appreciated.
Reed was very excited about chocolate and chilli, they both liked the sound of fresh ginger cake, and Rhiannon really wanted hummingbird cake, so that was simple enough.
And then we came to aesthetics. This is always one of those tricky things, because I’m not really a cake decorator by trade – I’m just not that much of a perfectionist, and there’s a lot of things I can’t do. If I can work with chocolate or sugar, I’m fine, and I do a pretty good line in little icing skulls, but very few people want icing skulls on their wedding cakes, and flowers aren’t something I’ve ever tried, so that’s a little more difficult.
Also, of course, it’s surprisingly difficult to tell someone what you want in a useful amount of detail – too much precision makes life very difficult for the decorator, but if you leave it too open, the decorator has no idea where to start and decides to go with icing skulls… (NB: I have never actually put icing skulls on a wedding cake. There was a construction site cake that developed a few OH&S issues, however)
So Rhiannon and Reed wanted something to go with their outfits – black and silver, deep red or royal blue. And they wanted toffee decorations. Which are kind of gold. Hmm.
Just for added fun, the wedding was a pagan one, so themes included eternity and spring and flames and contrasts between light and dark (hence the black and silver). And spring, of course, means flowers. Did I mention the wedding was in August? Not much blooms in my garden in August that isn’t poisonous…
I decided, after some thought, that silver, black, red, blue and gold all together would look a bit too much like someone’s football team, and decided to discard blue entirely, on the grounds that there are very few edible blue foods and royal blue cake decorations are hard to come by.
That left silver, black, red and gold, which was a little better, but I have issues with silver and gold together, I don’t think they work well. I had silver-covered cake boards with a white brocaded central column from a previous wedding cake; I decided to keep the white column, and cover the boards with black paper, and then use cake wrappers in dark metallic grey, silver-grey and white, with red highlights.
I had an idea about representing flame through macadamia nuts dipped in caramel and left to hang, so that each nut would end up with a gold toffee spike on top. This seemed to go best with the hummingbird cake.
Night seemed most easily represented with dark chocolate mousse and silver edible stars. And somehow, this fitted thematically with the chocolate cakes with their shot of chilli heat.
For spring, I was simply incredibly, incredibly lucky – I went wandering around cake decorating shops and found wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. Red flowers, just as requested, and with a rhubarb flavour that would complement the ginger cakes.
For the top two cakes, I decided to see if I could make miniature croquembouches without burning all my fingers this time, and then decorated them with the accidental spun sugar and rosemary and pineapple sage flowers – the only edibles blooming in my garden, and fortuitously of a suitable size for a miniature profiterole tower.
The fun part then became making the cakes to suit all the allergies, and making them amazing. Because you want the allergy-friendly cakes to be so awesome that everyone else is envious – anything else is just unacceptable.
I decided to start with my Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes that Everyone Can Eat, and make them more awesome, with a hot chilli ganache filling and a smoky vegan chocolate mousse on top. I actually made them too hot for myself, but everyone else loved them.
Since I only had one vegan on my list, and I had also made the vegan version of Snake Cake, as well as Strawberry Walnut and Lemon truffles, Apricot and Pistachio Truffles and Chocolate Hazelnut and Fig Truffles, I decided that I had sufficiently covered the vegan market, and moved on to making sure the fructose intolerant were sorted.
The fresh ginger cupcakes had plenty of fructose-friendly potential (also vegan potential, just not both at the same time, since a lack of eggs plus lack of gluten leads to a very crumbly cake), and were already dairy-free. I based them on a David Lebovitz recipe, and then added a blood orange and rhubarb filling, to make them more decadent, and a vegan buttercream flavoured with some of the hibiscus syrup and blood orange zest, for the hibiscus flowers to perch on top of. And then I put a sliver of glacé ginger inside each hibiscus flower, just because.
The hummingbird cakes had gluten, dairy, egg *and* nuts, and by the time I got to them, I was so used to my gluten-free flour and dairy substitutes that the batter looked very strange by comparison. (I realised afterward that I had made an entire wedding cake without using any butter, though I did end up using a small amount of butter in the icing for the hummingbird cake. Still an odd thought, though)
Of course, the batter may also have looked strange because I forgot to add the canola oil to it, making the hummingbird cakes accidentally low-fat. Fortunately, they had so much fruity nuttiness in them that they were quite moist despite this.
They got a nice, lemony cream cheese icing, just because they could, and the aforementioned nut flames.
And then I started having a huge panic, because the wedding was outside, and the weather was cold and wet and exactly what you do not need when you have a cake covered in caramel ornaments! So we packed everything very carefully into boxes and didn’t assemble the cake until the last possible moment, to increase the chances that it would stay together…
And it did. I’m actually really proud of these cakes – I did manage to fulfil my brief of allergy-friendly cakes that looked and tasted spectacular (the ginger and rhubarb ones were some of the best things I’ve done, and I understand that the chocolate chilli ones were a chilli-lover’s dream). My only regret was that I learned too late (as I was assembling the cake tower at the wedding) that one of the bridesmaids had an intolerance to fructan, not just fructose, and I think to a few other things, as she couldn’t eat any sugars at all, and so there was nothing I had made that she could eat.
On the other hand, I did manage to cater for several undeclared allergies and intolerances, just because I’m paranoid enough to make sure there is always something gluten- and egg-free, even if I’m not told about it! So that was a bonus.
And the wedding itself was beautiful, with the bride and groom in fantastical and gorgeous costumes, and the guests dressed in an amazing and beautifully-made array of fantasy-themed garb. And the priestess had the most impressive presence and poise I have ever seen. And Melbourne didn’t – quite – rain, despite clearly wanting to.
Congratulations, Rhiannon and Reed – may your love indeed be an eternal one.
Edited to add the recipes for all three kinds of cupcake:
Ginger and Rhubarb (low fructose, gluten-free, nut free)
Chocolate Chilli Cupcakes with Chipotle Chilli Mousse (low fructose, gluten-free, nut-free, vegan)
Hummingbird cupcakes (vegetarian)
This time last year…