Last year, I considered making my own wedding cake…
… which is maybe the dumbest idea, ever!
I gave up on that almost immediately. However, just six months after my wedding, my bestie Margie was getting hitched. Making my friend’s wedding cake? Now that sounded doable.
I asked her if I could; she was totally game.
I had a lot of things working for me: Marge’s wedding was small (only 46 people), local and she didn’t really want a traditional tiered cake.
However, I suck at baking.
I love cooking. You can wing cooking. Baking requires precision, patience and the ability to follow instructions. I lack all of those things. Zoe Francois, on the other hand, knows what she’s doing. She’s a CIA-trained pastry chef, the lady behind the brilliant Artisan Bread in Five series, and also my neighbor. So I emailed her and asked if she’d help me.
God bless her for saying yes.
She then asked me: Do you know what you want to make?
As a non-baker and infrequent dessert eater, my ideas top out at apple crisp and English toffee. But this was for a wedding! I didn’t want it to be just good, I wanted it to be fabulous. Partially because I love my Margie, but also because I am a show-off.
We talked flavor profiles, and I came up with pretzel-chocolate-salty-caramel and tart-lemon-berry. Zoe then whipped up some recipes, one inspired by this masterpiece. I thought: WOWZA! How in the hell am I going to pull this off? But that is why we need guides like Zoe in life; an expert to push you further than you’d ever think of going on your own.
Something she didn’t mention: I was terrified that I was doing everything wrong. And not just things I had never done before (like whip up a meringue), but things I’d done hundreds of times, like measuring a cup of flour. I have tons of confidence doing something alone, but as soon as their’s an audience, I’m second guessing myself.
Zoe is great and nothing but encouraging, so within an hour, I found my stride… which wasn’t exactly baking like a pastry chef, but I was getting things done without overthinking it too much.
I’d like to tell you that making this wedding dessert was easy-peasy.
But that is a lie.
Each individual component wasn’t difficult. However, when you add it all up, it’s like holy crap. We made from-scratch lemon curd and strawberry sauce, meringues, a salted caramel sauce, three sheet pans of cake, ganache, pretzel toffee (plus a different pretzel variation that we ended up scrapping all together). It was ambitious!
Here’s the final product:
Now all I had left to do was deliver the goods.
What if the car was too warm and melted stuff? Or we got rear-ended? Or went over a bumpy road and the cakes toppled over? And the scariest thing: What if the kitchen screwed up the desserts I’d spent the last two days working on?
My helper (aka the husband) and I got everything there in one piece. The kitchen plated the desserts exactly as I’d asked… even though the chef wanted to top my precious chocolate cakes with caramel sauce in a latticed fashion.
I said no way, Jose!
Easily my most panicked moment of the experience.
The bride and groom adored the desserts, as did their guests. A few even said it was the best dessert they’d ever had at a wedding. I have to admit, I was blown away at myself. Just goes to show that sometimes all you need to do is try*.
* And maybe have a friend like Zoe in your back pocket.
* * *
Huge thanks to Zoe, as well as photographer Matt Lien. How great are those photos? Next time he takes my pic, I vow to not be wearing a big, boxy sweatshirt.
Not my first ever Hey Eleanor kitchen escapade. There was the time I made mussels at home. Also, a rack of lamb and dove nuggets (from doves I’d hunted myself!). Cooking/baking is a great way to push your comfort zone. You probably won’t die, the food will likely turn out better than you think, and if you screw up, you can always order a pizza!