The best cake cookbook ever written is 25 years old this year! I am of course talking about The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, now in its 49th printing.
Gilda loves this book so much she has two copies — the original printing, and the slightly revised version published in 2005. Gilda tends to use them both at once. The main differences between them are: (1) the newer one has an updated equipment and ingredients list; and (2) the older one has more cake batter and frosting spilled on it. A lot more. Speaking of cake, here’s some now:
What’s in that cake? Glad you asked! It’s a three layer chocolate butter cake, filled with espresso buttercream, covered in fondant, and decorated with hand sugared pansies.
Where were we? Oh yes, The Cake Bible.
This quarter century old work is packed cover to cover with precise scientific explanations of… everything. It was ground-breaking back in 1988, and it remains equally valuable today–as devoted fans of Rose Beranbaum’s work will readily agree. Many of whom (including yours truly) would be hard-pressed to name any other possible contender in a top two contest.
Before we get flamed for our unbridled enthusiasm, we should point out that not everyone adores The Cake Bible. Some cake making enthusiasts do not like it even one little bit, thank you very much. They can be fairly vocal about it, too. Which Gilda finds endlessly amusing. Gilda barely has time to read cookbooks she DOES like. She can’t imagine spending any energy on those she DOESN’T. Naturally, Artie (being Artie) has a complete theory about why people do this, but that’s another story.
Thanks to the mountains of useful information in The Cake Bible, Gilda has made a lot of really delicious cakes for a lot of really nice people. Here’s another one:
That was a four layer yellow cake filled with raspberry preserves and pear mousseline buttercream, covered with marzipan fondant. It served 50 people at an engagement party. It was delicious (seriously, I dream about eating this cake). And it was a trial run for… the wedding cake.
Little Known Fact: The foundation of every successful wedding cake is a generous slice of math, with a large helping of geometry sauce on the side.
Better Known Fact: Wedding cakes are expensive and time-consuming; when you make one, you really want to get it right the first time.
Professionals who produce dozens of wedding cakes every year have their formulas down to a science. They know exactly how much batter is needed for every size of pan, how many servings each pan makes, the amount of filling required to assemble any size layer, and how much fondant it takes to cover it. As soon as the bride decides on the cake’s design, flavors, and number of servings, these bakers are ready to roll.
Not so for the rest of us.
For the rest of us, planning a large wedding cake is a challenge. As Gilda discovered after she recklessly agreed to make one. For 250 people.
The fact that one may be an excellent baker with years of experience is pretty much irrelevant when it comes to large scale cake planning. What’s needed at the planning stage is information. A lot of information. Much of it difficult to come by.
Wait–am I making you nervous? Not to worry. It all worked out okay.
No, silly, that’s NOT the whole cake. It’s just a second top that Gilda made for the wedding party’s table so the bride could have her cake and eat it, too. Not everyone gets two cake tops, but Gilda happens to be very fond of this particular bride.
Here’s the whole enormous thing (well, most of it… there’s an additional 70 servings stored under the table). About 20 minutes after this photo was taken, Gilda took it apart and served it to a couple hundred people–quite a few of them more than once. That was fun. And messy. And tasty. And yes, after everything that went into it (including a few nerve-wracking moments related to its transport and final assembly)… a little bittersweet, too.
There was something in this cake for everybody. The bottom layer was an almond-hazelnut cake filled with tart cherry preserves and Amaretto mousseline buttercream. The middle layer and one cake top were chocolate butter cake filled with Frangelico mousseline. The second top and the extra servings under the table are another yellow cake just like the one described above.
Among Rose Beranbaum’s many generous intellectual gifts to the baking world are the pages and pages of charts and formulas that she included in The Cake Bible to make wedding cake planning easier and less error prone. Gilda doesn’t know if she’ll ever make another wedding cake. One thing she knows for certain, though: If it were not for The Cake Bible, she would have thrown herself off the parapet in despair long before she ever turned on the oven.
Another thing Gilda knows is that she was delighted to be asked to do this, and she’s very glad she did it. The process of sizing and scaling this wedding cake deserves an entire post of its own. It was a fascinating, and very educational, experience. We’ll get into those details another time. Meanwhile, speaking of things we’d never done before….
For the two weeks leading up to the wedding, the entire Hasslefactory was engrossed in crafting a couple hundred hydrangea blossoms and buds out of gumpaste. Artie loves nothing so much as figuring things out, so he was in heaven. Gilda loves nothing so much as making exquisitely beautiful ephemeral things, so she was in heaven, too–once she got Artie to stop obsessing over process improvements. They’ve both been fantasizing about crafting an entire world out of gumpaste ever since.
More credit where credit is due:
The three wedding cake photos in this post are provided courtesy of the amazingly talented Alissa Brickman, owner of A Fleeting Moment photography studio. Alissa, you rock. One final shot:
As for you, Cake Bible, we wish you a very Happy Birthday, and our congratulations (and deep gratitude) to your wonderful author!