The Weight is Over: Let Them Eat Cake

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The searing flashbacks from 2002 when I catered my niece’s wedding had almost faded, when her brother – my nephew, Aaron – became engaged last year.

He and his lovely fiancee Erin approached me with a favor.

Thank goodness, he had enough sense to not ask me to cater his wedding. He probably remembered his sister’s wedding reception, and how the food ran out, so by the time the Indiana grandparents arrived at the buffet line, there was nothing left but fruit kabobs and parsley.

I vowed to never cater again. That’s a promise I’ve broken many times over, yet I’m relieved to say I’ve never had a repeat performance of The Night the Food Ran Out at Brooke and Justin’s wedding. Because I love to cook, in addition to this online gig, from time to time I’ve accepted a few catering jobs, only ones I absolutely want to do.

IMHO, the world is divided into two groups: cooks and bakers. I can cook (especially if it involves flour, such as for making pasta), but I’m far more passionate about baking. Even so, I know when and where to the draw the line. Yes to the doctor’s office that ordered 50 sour cream coffee cakes in white boxes with red bows for Christmas. Yes to catering artist receptions for O Street Gallery for two years. Yes to 20 quiches for a ladies luncheon.

No – hell no – to wedding cakes. Wedding cakes are scary. Wedding cakes are out of my comfort zone.

Of course, Aaron and Erin asked me to make their wedding cake. First, I said yes.

Aaron and Erin will marry soon. Aaron might be whispering to his beautiful bride-to-be, "I hope my Aunt Doni doesn't mess up our wedding cake."

Aaron and Erin will marry soon. Aaron might be whispering to his beautiful bride-to-be, “I hope my Aunt Doni doesn’t mess up our wedding cake.”

Next I contacted son Joe, who happens to be a super baker in his own right. He’s a pro, the kind of baker who weighs his ingredients, rather than measure them.  There would be no better wedding cake wingman than Joe.

doni and joe on the sundial feb 28 2017

Joe Domke and Doni Chamberlain make a pretty cool baking team.

In fact, one of the best parts of spending Thanksgiving with Joe and his wife Marie in the Czech Republic with sister Shelly was kitchen time with Joe.

Doni and Joe make bagels in Ostrava, November, 2016.

Doni and Joe make bagels in Ostrava, November, 2016. Photo by Shelly Shively.

Even so, Joe nor I have ever made a wedding cake. Consequently, we had a steep learning curve, but we were not afraid (too much). We got busy and started learning. We each watched dozens of YouTube videos. I loaned myself out to a friend who makes wedding cakes, when she made her daughter’s cake, just so I could learn at the apron of someone who’d done this before.

When I worked out at Align Private Training with Erin Lundgren, I picked his brain for wedding cake information (he’s a former baker).

Not only is Erin Lundgren a great workout partner, but he knows a lot about wedding cakes.

Not only is Erin Lundgren a great workout partner, but he knows a lot about wedding cakes.

With Joe in the Czech Republic and his mama in Redding, we extended our Skype meetings about A News (he’s our webmaster, you know) to include wedding-cake discussions. In fact, a few weeks ago we had a record two-hour session during which we talked about nothing but wedding cakes.

What is there to talk about, you might ask? Thanks for asking. There’s fondant vs. buttercream (buttercream), clear imitation vanilla vs. vanilla extract vs. vanilla bean paste (it depends), round vs. square (round), stacked vs. pillared (stacked). And on and on it goes.

We’ve sent lots of pictures to each other, even of things like the consistency of cake batter.

Doni sent a photo of the whipped sugar and butter mixture - beat for 5 minutes - so Joe could see his mother really was following the recipe correctly.

Doni sent a photo of the whipped sugar and butter mixture – beat for 5 minutes – so Joe could see his mother really was following the recipe correctly.

Each time I made a cake I sampled just enough to know how the cake tasted, but there was no way after losing all this weight that I could leave those test cakes in my house with me. Also, chalk this up to another change since I began this health-and-fitness journey 15 months ago: I am so unaccustomed to eating sugar and carbs that when I do sample cake, it makes me feel weird. My heart races and I feel a little nauseous. I almost feel drugged.

That’s how I decided that the best thing for me to do was share the cake samples with others, such as sister Shelly’s figure drawing class.cake figure drawing class

During the class break, the artists sampled cake and gave their feedback.

Artists loved the cake samples.

Artists loved the cake samples.

So far, over the last month or so, the artists have tasted samples of white cake, chocolate cake, carrot cake and yellow cake.

Joe is leaving nothing to chance, and he’s even created a cake-cutting chart to ensure we don’t – you know – run out of cake.

Phase one of the cake-cutting chart for a 14-inch bottom cake of a 4-inch tall layer.

Phase one of the cake-cutting chart for a 14-inch bottom cake of a 4-inch tall layer.

Aaron/Erin’s wedding cake will have a white bottom layer, followed by a carrot cake, followed by chocolate, and topped with a little 6-inch cake for the couple to take home.

cake chocolate with ganache

Samples of the chocolate wedding cake served to artists at the Oregon Street figure drawing class.

No complaints so far, except that the white frosting was too sweet.

Shelly Shively, mother of the groom, has shared test wedding cakes with her fellow figure drawing artists.

Shelly Shively, mother of the groom, has shared test wedding cakes with her fellow figure drawing artists.

Luckily, Erin the fiancee knows what she wants, and gave me and Joe some guidelines in the form of Pinterest examples. I love visual aids. This cake, below, is Erin/Aaron’s first pick. Notice the ruffles. Aren’t they cute?

I showed this photo to my friend who’s made wedding cakes since 1974.

“That is not a beginner’s wedding cake,” she said.


This ruffle wedding cake is what Joe Domke and Doni Chamberlain would like to create for Erin and Aaron's wedding.

This ruffle wedding cake is what Joe Domke and Doni Chamberlain would like to create for Erin and Aaron’s wedding.

Joe and I practiced those edible cake ruffles two continents apart. Joe was the first to attempt fondant. He did not nail it.

Aaron and Erin, if you reading this, rest assured this cake was a test. Your actual wedding cake will be beautiful.

Aaron and Erin, if you’re reading this, rest assured this cake was a test. Your actual wedding cake will be beautiful.

I saw a YouTube video that suggested that one way to make ruffles was to run fondant through a pasta machine, a kitchen tool I happen to be very comfortable with.

It was kind of a disaster. Besides, everyone agreed that although fondant may make cakes look cool, it tastes awful. So we’re ditching the idea of using fondant.

Doni's ruffle cake was not worthy of a wedding, but it tasted good, once the fondant was removed and thrown away.

Doni’s ruffle cake was not worthy of a wedding, but it tasted good, once the fondant was removed and thrown away.

The only thing that salvaged my white ruffle cake was its white chocolate leaves, which we’re not putting on Erin/Aaron’s cake (sad), so it was a moot point. Not to mention white chocolate isn’t really chocolate, but let’s not go there today.

Meanwhile, Joe carried on with practice ruffles, first horizontal, all piped by hand.

joe practice horizontal rufflesAs you can see, Joe nailed the buttercream ruffles on his test cakes. Finally, he and I are ready for the real cakes.

Joe practiced vertical ruffles.

Joe practiced vertical ruffles.

So far, we’re keeping the little lovebirds out of the loop with our cake trials. No sense bothering the sweeties before the wedding, since they have so many things to do before they marry.

Aaron and Erin in the snow.

Meanwhile, despite all this cake-making and cake-testing, I am doing my best to stay on my nutrition plan. After all, I have my wedding outfit to wear (size 10, by the way), and I want to look nice.

doni on the sundial over flooded river

Especially with all this baking, I know it’s even more important to work out and eat well, and by well, I don’t mean unbridled amounts of wedding cake.

Today’s the day super Align trainer Matthew R. Lister weighs me, and I’ll see if those cake sample pieces have caught up with  me.

Joe applies frosting to a white wedding test cake.

Joe applies a crusting white buttercream frosting to a test cake.

Either way, Joe is now here visiting, and we’ve redoubled our cake-and-frosting testing. We’re in the home stretch. It’s going to be good!

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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26 Responses

  1. Avatar Ginny says:

    Good job to both you and Joe, and congrats to the upcoming bride and groom.  Great column.

    Blessings to all.

  2. Avatar Denise O says:

    You are SO brave!!!!  My oldest daughter had Chocolate De Nanette make the most tasty cake – basically two layers with white chocolate granache and fresh flowers on top, then a couple of sheet cakes for the masses.

    I bet yours is going to be majestic. Lucky nephew!!!



  3. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Oh, Doni . . . . I got all sidetracked the other day. I meant to comment on how special it is to have kids home from so far away, something I understand so very well. And on top of that, to have an experienced baking partner in this SCARY endeavor. Well, what’s not to love.  I knew Joe was our web-master, but I didn’t know of his talents in the kitchen. HAVE FUN!!! . . . . and I bettcha those pounds are just too frightened to make their appearance again. I predict a happy weigh-in.

    • Thanks, A.J., and guess what?!!! I LOST 2 pounds today! (Matthew gave me three days of having carbs at lunch and dinner, which ends today, to get me back in the weight-losing mode. It worked! I wish I’d had those three heavy-carb days during the wedding weekend. Matthew? Hello? 😉


      • A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

        don’t know if you still pick this up, but sharing anyway I did not have a good weigh-in last week. Hasn’t happened the often for me so I was a tad bummed (only a tad). I texted my daughter that I had a GREAT workout but not such a great weigh-in. . . . to which she responded, “Mom if you have a great work-out there is no such thin as a bad weigh-in!” Food for tho’t there . . . and low calorie food, at that!! LOL!!

  4. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    My sister offered to make the cake for her son’s wedding, but after numerous tries with fondant, turned the job over to a pro.  I’ll have to tell her that fondant doesn’t taste good.  At a recent wedding I attended, the couple chose to have a very small, beautiful cake for show – and for themselves – then had a couple of varieties of simply decorated cupcakes for the guests.  Very civilized.  No messy crumbs and frosting on fingers and the table, and everyone had the same size piece of cake.

    • Well, I suppose there is that rare person who loves fondant, but I’ve yet to find that person. It’s so sweet it makes your jaw hurt, IMHO.

      I didn’t mention it in the column, but I’ve been hired for the desserts for an April wedding, and I’m doing pretty much what you describe: I’m making a small wedding cake, and then many assorted little desserts, including tiny cakes that are the same flavor as the wedding cake.

  5. Avatar Karen C says:

    What a dedicated and determined person you are.  Great job to both of you for sticking to it and getting it all right. 


    I felt your pain with the running out of food story.  Our daughter came out two summers ago, and rented a home on Lake Shasta for her large brood of her kids, foster kids, plus her fiancée at the time. I planned a family reunion there with easy enough sloppy joe’s done in a crock pot, a great bean dish in another crock pot and my grandson brought Mexican rice and coleslaw.  I bought large buns to hold a good portion of the sloppy joe’s., with a few extra.  What I did not plan on was one or two heavy eaters who unbeknownst to me, helped themselves to three sloppy joes’, complete with buns.  I ran out of buns before   one couple even got there.  I was not happy with the two already overly fed children who inhaled too much food and did not give a thought to anyone else.  Luckily, I had tons of other food left over, enough for the family to enjoy the next day for lunch.  Besides all the cooked food, I had a massive tray of heirloom tomatoes from our garden, cucumber sticks and large butter lettuce leaves from Farmer’s Market. I thought some of the ladies might like to put their sloppy joe mix in a lettuce leaf, and some did.  I figured with all that food, no one was going to make an extra sandwich, with such large buns already!  One never knows.

    • Well, Karen, since you brought it up … one of the issues with my niece’s wedding was that it was supposed to be appetizers, but some of the young men who were guests treated it like dinner, and stacked their plates high. I did many things wrong, too, though, such as providing big plates, and putting the protein (chicken satay, etc.) at the beginning of the table, so they filled their plates with the most entree-ish foods, and by the time they got to the fruit kabobs there was no room on their plates. (It was an old world tropical theme.)

      It sounds as if you handled your disaster perfectly! The lettuce cups sound actually more appealing to me. Good job!


  6. Randall Smith Randall Smith says:

    Josh and Joe were at Market Street yesterday for lunch.  Both opined that visiting your kitchen would be a good idea.  I thought when the story was told that you would be all frosting and angst.  Samples which they meant was not a first thought!

    Making wedding cakes has to be right there with climbing Shasta, everyone wants to, few make it.

  7. Avatar Gerrine Peckenpaugh says:

    The worst cake story that I have witnessed was when a local baker set up the wedding cake and then left. I happened to be the first to arrive at the reception and saw her walking away. I entered the reception room to see the cake fall. I think it was too fresh to firm up and hold the upper layers. The bride laughed (there has to be one glitch) and we all ate cake in bowls. The cake tasted fabulous………and everyone was happy.


    • Oh, Gerrine. That is a nightmare! What a happy, easy-going bride to laugh at the mishap. I guaranteed I would not laugh. We are putting dowel supports in our cakes, to prevent any falling.

  8. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    Your sample cakes LOOKED awesome…I did NOT sample them myself but I can tell you how they looked…lol

  9. Avatar Canda Williams says:

    What a great and fun column, Doni.  That ruffle cake is gorgeous, and I know you and Joe will knock it out of the park with your cake.  Can’t wait to see the pics.  xoxo

  10. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    I’m was delighted to be one of your taste testers at the O Street Gallery drawing group.  And thank you for that!

    Your wedding cake story reminds me so much of my work in pottery.  Part of the project is artistic, but a lot of it is engineering.  The buttercream ruffles remind me of a clay slip finish I did on a pot that required the precise moisture content for the slip, the correct moisture content for the pot and a very steady hand to apply….over and over in a particular pattern… don’t get this on the first try!

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, and great photographs with us.

    • You know, I can see how pottery-making and cake-making are similar. Joe and I are a good team because he has more of an engineering mind. And you’re right: for anything like this, it takes many tries to get it right.


  11. Avatar Jorgi says:

    I can hardly wait to see the pictures of the cake(s). And, I just know the cake will be beautiful as well as delicious!

  12. Avatar Terrie says:

    Cake stories!  Loved this! My grandmother made fabulous cakes but they were always crooked and sliding.  My mother always instructed us to pick her cake when we won the cake walk at the school carnival. My grandmother also made way too much food and now I have that trait–fear of running out! Now it seems that everyone is dieting…so maybe it would not be an issue?

    I was once asked to bring a pre-made wedding cake up to  a wedding Mount Shasta.  I said no as I am sure it would have been a disaster!

  13. Avatar Patty says:

    I am smiling from ear to ear!!!