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The Weight is Over: Let Them Eat Cake

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.”

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.

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.

With Joe in the Czech Republic and his mama in Redding, we extended our Skype meetings about A News Cafe.com (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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’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.

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.

As 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.

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.

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.

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 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!