Like wedding bouquets, wedding cakes are changing to reflect the rustic but elegant style that many brides are choosing. Just like the flowers they carry, brides want their cakes to feel appropriate for their venue and their venues now include barns and vineyards, in addition to the beautiful ballrooms in Loudoun County. Earlier this week, I spoke to Lora Vennettilli Gookin, the owner of Gateau, Distinctive Cakes in Warrenton, Virginia. We talked about changing styles in the cakes she is making for today’s wedding couples. “The style choices are determined by the type of icing - fondant or butter cream. Fondant-iced cakes are more formal and are being ordered with metallics, and in particular, gold. However, we’re seeing a huge increase in butter cream cakes with textured icing. These cakes suit the more rustic, romantic barn weddings.”
Lora opened Gateau in 2008. “I started making cakes for my kids when they were young so I didn’t have to buy grocery store cakes with shortening and dyes.” After discovering that baking was her passion, she attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale Arizona. When she and her family moved to Northern Virginia in 2011, Lora moved her growing enterprise to Warrenton. Her original motivation, baking chemical free cakes, continues to be an important part of her recipes. Her wedding cakes are free of commercial shortening and dyes. She uses aluminum-free leavener and unbleached, un-bromated flour.
We talked a lot about fresh flowers on wedding cakes. Lora shared that more than half of the cakes that she delivers this year will be decorated with fresh flowers. From a designer’s perspective, fresh flowers are a beautiful way to continue to emphasize the look of your wedding and potentially add some “pops” of color or textures that you were hesitant to incorporate in to your personal flowers. Since brides are choosing very simple cakes with textured icing, the flowers complement rather than compete with the cake’s design.
I asked Lora what advice she would give to brides that were choosing to decorate their cake with fresh flowers. Here are some of her ideas and suggestions:
Coordinate and Communicate
Lora explained how she prepares for each cake delivery. “I always confirm our cakes with the brides or their coordinators two weeks prior to the wedding to make sure that there aren’t any important changes that could affect the design or delivery of the cake. There’s a very important sentence in my follow-up form that asks the bride to confirm that flowers will be provided with a request for the florist’s name.”
She also suggested that you share the size (number of tiers) and the approximate dimensions of your cake with your florist. This will give your designer a sense for how many flowers it will take to create the look you are trying to achieve. On a few occasions in the past, Lora has arrived at a reception site only to discover that flowers were never ordered for the cake. Coordination and communication between you, your floral designer and your baker will ensure that there are no last minute issues on this vastly important day.
Delivery and Set-up
“The cake is usually there last,” according to Lora, “we arrive an hour before the reception begins if there are no fresh flowers on the cake, one-and-a-half hours if there are a lot of flowers. This means that we are the last vendors there, and in many cases, the florist is already gone. The flowers are usually left on the cake table and I decorate the cake myself.” Timing is everything then, and if there is a miscommunication regarding the cake flowers, there is little time to react.
Caring for the Cake
The cake can be and is meant to be on display for several hours -- unless it is really hot. “On a really hot day where there is no true air conditioning, the cake should be refrigerated. It’s not that the cake will collapse, the icing itself may eventually get a little soft.” Lora reminded me that a fondant, which is really a layer on top of buttercream, will help keep the cake cooler.
If your wedding day is warm and in a spot that is difficult to cool, keep the cake in a cooler for a while, or cut the cake a little sooner than you planned to make sure that the texture is perfect for you and your guests.
Designs that are simple, pretty, elegant and natural
The textured cake relies on the skill of the baker. This simplistic but dramatic look is created with different tools that achieve different textures like the smooth offset pearl and horizontal ridges on this Gateau cake.
I asked Lora if she had a favorite or preferred style. “I love the fresh flower toppers with the textured tiers. Maybe a few flowers on the middle tier and more around the bottom of the cake. I love blush and tangerine flowers with a little bit of natural greenery, and I have been delighted to see Queen Anne’s Lace and Hypericum Berries this year.” As for unique, Lora described a cake that she made and decorated this spring. “The bride wanted fresh fruit on a naked cake, berries, figs, apricots, grapes and blackberries in little groupings.”
About 10% of her wedding clients request naked cakes. They are very pretty and rustic but Lora warns that without icing on the sides, the cake can begin to dry out a bit. “I recommend the birch effect, where we ice the sides and then scrape some of it off. This remaining icing helps to keep moisture in the outer edges of the cake.”
A special thanks to Lora for sharing her expertise and suggestions for this blog.