The Weight is Over: The Cake is Over

My last column described how son Joe Domke and I had worked for months in preparation of making a wedding cake for my nephew Aaron Shively and his bride, Erin Draguesku. They married Saturday.

Aaron and Erin Shively photo by Lovestruck Films.

Aaron and Erin Shively photo by Lovestruck Films.

I confessed my two primary sources of anxiety over making this cake: First, I still have flashbacks from when I catered Aaron’s sister’s wedding 13 years ago and we ran out of food. Second, although Joe and I are both excellent bakers, neither of us had ever tackled making a wedding cake. Although we said yes, we were deeply afraid.

Erin assured us she wanted a more simple, textured cake. Something like this one, with ruffles.

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

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

Friend Patty Bay, who’s been making wedding cakes since 1974, saw this photo and pronounced it an advanced cake; not for beginners. Even so, Joe and I gave it the old college try. Joe practiced in the Czech Republic and I practiced in Redding, and although we came close to the look of the above cake (made with fondant, btw, which nearly everyone agrees is almost inedibley sweet), we had to accept the fact that we’d failed to achieve true ruffle success.

However, we remembered that one of Erin’s Pinterest photos included another wedding-cake option that featured textured lines, no ruffles. We studied it and pronounced that cake design absolutely doable. To achieve the look, Joe used a small stainless spatula.

This modest little cake was the inspiration for the cake Doni and Joe created for Aaron and Erin.

This modest little cake was the inspiration for the cake Doni and Joe created for Aaron and Erin’s wedding.

Although Erin’s Pinterest example was a single tier (of multiple layers), we knew that wouldn’t do for Erin and Aaron’s wedding. So Joe and I designed a 5-tier cake that contained the following: a 14-inch round bottom tier of a four-layer vanilla bean cake filled with white butter cream, topped by a 12-inch round, four-layer carrot cake filled with cream cheese frosting, topped by a 10-inch round, four-layer chocolate cake and 8-inch round, four-layer chocolate cake (that featured coffee and a touch of cinnamon — my personal favorite) filled with chocolate buttercream frosting, all of which was topped with the couple’s take-away 6-inch round, four-tier little carrot cake. All together, the cake was 27 inches tall.

For a week before the March 11 wedding, Joe and I prepared for the final cake. Our duties were divided: I baked all the cakes. Joe was the engineer who made the frosting, leveled the cakes, filled them and did the crumb coats (the frosting world’s Spackle). Joe also ensured each tier was exactly 5.5 inches tall (except for the top cake, which was just 5 inches). We allowed for a half-inch of frosting between each layer.

Joe measured every tier.

Joe measured every tier.

Then Joe wrapped the cakes in plastic, followed by foil, and put them all in the freezer.

We borrowed extra space in neighbor Tom’s freezer.  Two days before the wedding we borrowed son Josh’s hunting ice chest (yes, it was clean) to transport the cakes to the Amador County wedding site where Joe set up shop in our Airbnb rental’s living room where he spent most of  Friday frosting the cakes.

Joe Domke frosted cakes all day Friday as niece Lily (one of the flower girls) hung out and watched. (She wants to have a bakery when she grows up.) Photo by Shelly Shively.

Joe frosted cakes as 7-year-old niece Lily (one of the flower girls) hung out and watched. (She wants to have her own bakery when she grows up, btw.) Photo by Shelly Shively.

Joe stopped frosting cakes in time to help set up the rehearsal dinner hosted by our family (the groom’s side). Son Joshua Domke was in charge of barbecuing all the tri tips, a task for which he graciously volunteered a few weeks ago after I described my plan for the meat.

Doni: “Uh, I bought and froze the tri tips, so I thought I’d thaw them, then marinate them, then freeze them, then thaw them and barbecue them.”

Josh: “Just give me the tri tips, Mom.”


At the Airbnb house, Josh and his wife Kat got busy turning the patio into an outdoor dining room for 30. (Note, we’re friends of the Airbnb owners, who, like most Airbnb hosts, don’t normally allow large parties on the premises. We were extremely grateful.)

From left, Joe Domke, Doni Chamberlain, Josh and Katerina Domke put together the wedding rehearsal dinner.

From left, Joe Domke, Doni Chamberlain, Josh and Katerina Domke were the team that put together the wedding rehearsal dinner, from the decor to the menu.

Kat decorated the tables with a love-bird theme and tiny gold lights.

Katerina Domke decorates tables for the rehearsal dinner.

Katerina Domke decorates tables for the rehearsal dinner.

Inside the house, Joe and I set up the buffet table. Josh’s tri tip was the star (not one piece of meat was left over after dinner, by the way). Its co-star was a huge salad that featured mixed greens, arugula, shredded carrots, thinly sliced purple onions (soaked in ice water to make them less potent), homemade croutons, and homemade candied pecans, upon which was drizzled lemon olive oil and balsamic fig dressing, topped with Gorgonzola cheese.

For carbs, we served baked potatoes and garlic bread. For dessert, I made a mixed berry crumble with vanilla ice cream ala mode. I didn’t eat potatoes or bread, but I did try some of the crumble. The tri tip and the salad were totally on program, well, except for maybe the candied pecans and croutons.

The rehearsal dinner was a success, and everyone was happy. All that was left was the wedding the next day.

The patio was the site of the rehearsal dinner for Erin and Aaron's wedding.

The Airbnb home’s patio was the site of the rehearsal dinner for Erin and Aaron’s wedding.

Joe and I felt a fair amount of angst about how we were going to assemble the cake on site. The layers were heavy (we should have weighed them – but the total weight, I’m guessing, was at least 60 pounds). We knew it would be tricky to transport the frosted individual tiers in the ice chest via car, but not as tricky as hoisting the layers from the ice chest and stacking the tiers one on top of another. Joe did that part. I took pictures and offered encouragement, like a wedding-cake midwife.

“You’re doing great, Joe, you’re almost there. Hang in there.”

Joe had scored an area on the top of each cake as a guide upon which to gently lower each new layer.

Joe created a tool from a metal skewer to score a circle 2 inches from each cake’s edge as a guide upon which he carefully lowered each new layer.

Technically, this is supposed to be my column about my weight-loss and fitness journey, so let me pause to address how I did with my nutrition plan.

I blew it. I mean, I didn’t go hog wild and eat whatever I wanted, but I did veer greatly from my Align Private Training plan. I ate cake – samples of each layer – during the days before, during and after the wedding, none of which were “on program”. I drank wine at the rehearsal dinner and wedding, which also isn’t on my program. I had a small serving of the berry crumble, and despite the presence of berries, it still wasn’t on program.

When I returned to Align Monday to resume my workouts, and Matthew asked how my food plan had gone over the weekend, I confessed that I’d fallen seriously off the wagon. That’s OK. It’s a minor setback, and I’m back on the straight-and-narrow nutrition plan that means no sugar, minimal carbs and lots of greens and proteins.

Two weeks ago I’d lost two pounds when Matthew weighed me. Last week – deep into wedding cake preparation – my weight stayed the same. I dread this week’s Thursday weigh-in (after this column is posted) because I am pretty sure I may have gained back those precious two pounds I lost. (Update: Just back from my workout and weigh-in with Matthew. I held steady, though I didn’t deserve it. I’ll take it.) 

I’m not worried. I know I have this. I also know that I looked great in my size-10 dress at the wedding, that Joe looked handsome, and my sister, the mother of the groom, looked beautiful, too.

Joe gets some cuff-link assistance from his Aunt Shelly, mother of the groom.

Joe gets some cuff-link assistance from his Aunt Shelly, mother of the groom.

Before the wedding, Joe and I posed beside the cake. This photograph does not fully express how extremely relieved we were to have the cake finished.

Doni and son Joe Domke breathe a sigh of relief that the cake is finished and it's still standing. Photo by Shelly Shively.

Doni and Joe breathe a sigh of relief that the cake is finished and still standing. Photo by Shelly Shively.

Here’s a close-up of the cake, just in case you want the full effect. (Kudos to the Rocklin florist who took pity on us and arranged the flowers on the cake.)

Doni and son Joe created this 5-tier, 27-inch-tall wedding cake.

Doni and son Joe created this 5-tier, 27-inch-tall wedding cake. They were extremely happy it turned out well.

But all the cake success paled in comparison to the joy of the wedding, and being with family, some of whom we’d not seen for a long time.

Being with family was the icing on the cake.

Being with family was the icing on the cake.

Everything was perfect. The weather, the ceremony, the food and the dancing.

Son Joe dances with Aunt Bethany, while Aunt Saeri dances with cousin Brooke and her daughters, the flower girls.

Joe dances with Aunt Bethany, while Aunt Saeri dances with cousin Brooke and Brooke’s daughters, the flower girls.

Most of all, we joyfully celebrated the marriage of Erin and Aaron Shively, and the start of their lives together.

Erin and Aaron Shively celebrate their marriage with a dance. Photo by Brittany Kilpatrick Howard.

Erin and Aaron Shively dance at their wedding. Photo by Brittany Kilpatrick Howard.

The day after the wedding meant clean-up and packing to head home, but not before we gathered most of the clan for a photo.

The party was over, and it was time to clean up and head home, but first, a photo.

We are family.

So, there you go. All these months of planning to make the cake for Erin and Aaron’s wedding and it’s all over. I still wake up thinking of cakes, and have to remind myself the wedding is over.  And I have yet to wipe down my kitchen shelves from the fine dusting of powdered sugar and cocoa powder that settled there during the cake-and-frosting making.

The truth is, I have a touch of a wedding cake-making hangover. Even so, already, we’ve had requests for wedding cakes, which is a lot like asking a woman who just birthed a 10-pound breech-delivery baby after a 27-hour labor if she wants another newborn.

Yes, I am doing assorted desserts and a small wedding cake for a wedding the end of April, but the cake is small, just two layers, so it’s totally manageable.

My and Joe’s wedding-cake education was accelerated, and we learned a lot. For example, in retrospect, I should have just invested in a 25-pound sack (or two) of C&H pure cane powdered sugar, because we ended up buying the powdered sugar in 2-pound sacks – over and over and over again – and I lost track of how many we purchased. I also lost count of how many pounds of butter we used, but I’d guess somewhere in the range of 20 pounds.

I now know it was probably unwise to make a carrot cake tier, because once it was frozen, all those carrots and coconut and pineapple and nuts thawed and imparted moisture into that tier that made the cake difficult to slice. The carrot cake would have been better as a groom’s cake. Duly noted.

But most of all, we didn’t need five tiers for 100 guests, for sure. Fact is, we probably had enough cake for 200 people or more.

Did we go overboard? Yes. Did we run out of cake? Hell no. To quote a baker friend, “Nobody does five layers! Are you crazy?”


Would we do it again? Ask me in nine months.

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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53 Responses

  1. I’ve been wondering how all that went – it sounded like a monumental task to me. But what great (intense!) memories to share with your son and the rest of the clan.  The cake looks magnificent – you should be extremely proud. And relieved. Enjoy basking in the buttercream afterglow!

    • It was a monumental task, but it was really fun and satisfying. And you’re right that I’m left with some great, yes intense, memories.

      I am basking in the buttercream glow, but this week, without eating it. 🙂

  2. Avatar Karen C says:

    WOW, job well done, Doni.  I would have been a mess with all the pressure.  You did it all beautifully and your family is a handsome bunch.

    • Thank you, Karen. The pressure was all internal, because Erin and Aaron (our family is still trying to figure out how to deal with the couple with the same names, and birthdays, btw) didn’t pressure us in the least. They let us do what we wanted.

      And thanks for the kind words about my family. I feel extremely fortunate to be part of this group.

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Thanks, Doni, for taking us from the conception to final birth of THE cake.  I imagine you and Joe will be glad to get back to less stressful baking.  I’m sure Aaron and Erin are grateful for your herculean effort.  Was that a size 10 aunt-of-the-groom dress you were wearing?  Even though you did some off program eating, with all the running around you were doing, I imagine this morning’s weigh-in wasn’t too alarming.  Let us know.

  4. Avatar Darcie says:

    OMG,  the cake is so beautiful!  I knew it would be great, but seriously, you two rock as bakers!



  5. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    But the result of the post-wedding weigh in?????? Kinda left us hanging there. Oh, but wait, this journey isn’t about the numbers. Sometimes I do forget. Life time habit of letting the scales dictate! According to the my trip to the scales this week,  I’m up 10 pounds.That’s right, TEN pounds . . . . I d-d-d-on’t stutter!!. Matthew thinks there’s something drastically wrong with his scale . . . . as do I. I’ve never gained ten pounds in one week in my life!!! And I was, except for one meal, on program all week. Hmmmm . . . . we’ll see what happens next week. But, I’ll admit that it is difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to NOT let the dictate one’s outlook on life.

    • Oh, man! I’m so sorry. Ten pounds up would have really upset me, too. There must be some explanation for that, AJ, because you’re staying on program, and you’re looking good, and your clothes are looking more baggy.

      Me? I just returned from my morning workout and weigh-in and was shocked to learn that I held steady (at whatever weight I am, which I don’t know, because Matthew won’t let me see). I didn’t deserve to stay the same, but it made me want to really stay on program before my body wakes up and realizes that I went off the rails last week.

      Hang in there, AJ, and try not to focus on the numbers. My prediction: The next time you’re weighed the extra pounds will be gone.


    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      AJ, you must keep us posted about what had to have been a malfunctioning scale.  I assume that, as with Doni, Matthew commandeered your home scale; so you didn’t have a second one to compare to.  Fitness guru Covert Bailey cautioned not to be a slave to the scale.  But to have that dratted device register a ten-pound gain when you’ve been so good, is disheartening.  Ignore the scale; you know it’s wrong.  It’s just a machine, after all.

  6. Avatar Debbie says:

    Absolutely loved and thoroughly enjoyed  reading all the details of “The Cake”, the dress rehearsal dinner, the wedding and reception.  This has been an exciting build-up for months.  I remember cake-tasting one evening the carrot cake recipe, which got two thumbs up.  To hear how everything fell into place beautifully just warms my heart.  You and your family look so beautiful and happy.  What treasured memories you penned for your family, and experientially shared with the rest of us.

  7. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    This entire post made me smile.  The two of you engineers could have designed an entire building!  The end result was magnificent, because of course it was.

    Here’s to a successful cake design and delivery, and to the happy couple!

  8. Avatar Tom says:

    Beautiful cake!  It looks like one hell of a wedding and grooms dinner and reception.  I know how hard you and Joe worked.

  9. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    Doni …  that is one beautiful, gorgeous, tastefully looking cake.  You and Joe did a magnificent job on it.  Your dedication was worthwhile.  But it’s not fair to show us such a delicious looking cake, make our mouths water, and leave us licking our monitor.  Congrats on creating, what looks to me, and I’m sure Sublime, a masterpiece cake.  And I loved your message about family.  Sounds like everyone had a wonderful time.  And I love that patio.

  10. Steve DuBois Steve DuBois says:

    I’d also like to say, Doni …  that I love the mother son relationship.  Creating something beautiful together that so many people can enjoy, must be an amazing feeling.  Your story was heartfelt on many different levels.  Oh!  And I LOVE buttercream!!!!

    • Yes, the mother-son connection was really sweet. Joe and I already work together on A News, so we’re used to each other’s ways, and we like to cook together, but this cake was a whole other level of cooperation that only strengthened our connection (well, there was that one tense moment when we disagreed over which frosting to use, but we survived it).

      I love buttercream, too. Too much.

  11. Avatar Debbie Brown says:

    beautiful cake!!!

  12. Avatar Terrie says:

    Lovely cake!   Thank you for sharing your heart warming story. I’m trying to pin the cake on Pinterest, just in case there is a wedding in our family someday. Now where are the recipes for each of the different cake layers?

    I have a problem calculating how much food to make for a gathering.  I think it is a gene I inherited from my grandmother and mother, who would bake and cook up a storm.  My cousins likened it to a Bobby Flay “throw down.”

    • You made me laugh about the Bobby Flay throw-down. Yes,  I have difficulty, too, making too much food.

      And I had a hunch someone would want the recipes. That’s a post for another day. (Though I’m not sure I’d do the white cake recipe again. I have another one in mind that I think I’d use.)

  13. Avatar Darlene M. says:

    Bravo Doni!! What a task. I promise the April cake will be like delivering a premie !

  14. Avatar Barbara Stone says:

    The cake looks beautiful and I have it on good authority (last night’s drawing group) that it was delicious, too! Congratulations on the cake and congratulations on enjoying the event, even with the extra calories, and getting right back on track with your program!

    • Thanks. The chocolate was my favorite, followed by the carrot, and the white came in last. The white cake also had issues being on the bottom, and having some of the air compressed from it from the weight of the top layers. It was weird. I’ll have to research that more.

      You’re right about getting back to the program. I’m just so grateful I didn’t gain today.


  15. Deb Deb says:

    Loved this!!  Wonderful photos, gorgeous couple, fantastic wedding cake, and lovely, lovely family 🙂  Well done to you all, and congratulations to the happy couple!

  16. Avatar Canda Williams says:

    Oh Doni, what a great column.  So fun to read, and as usual, you crack me up.  That cake was spectacular!  What engineering masters you are.  The two of you are such an incredible team, and how rewarding to have the cake as well as everything else in the wedding come out so beautifully.  The photos are so sweet.  They definitely show the joy and love of your beautiful family.  Thank you for sharing, Doni.  Sweet dreams, and congrats on holding steady.

    • Well, thank you. And regarding the engineering part, Joe gets all the credit.

      And the love and appreciation of family and being together was absolutely the best part.

      🙂 xo

  17. Avatar Judith King says:

    I enjoy your well written stories, thanks!



  18. Avatar Connie Koch says:

    Fabulous and amazing job Doni!  You and Joe should be so proud!  It looked beautiful and delicious as well!  Kudos to the bakers!  🙂

  19. Avatar Patty says:

    YESSSS!!!!!! That cake is beautiful!!! You and Joe were so amazing!  It is fantastic how you were able to do what will now be called “The Doni/Joe Accelerated Wedding Cake Making Course.” Impressive and very, very cool! Congratulations on a successful cake.

    • Well, Patty, I relied a lot on memories of working with you that weekend on your daughter’s wedding cake. One thing I remembered (later) was that you pushed a little on the cake layers as you assembled them. We forgot to do that, and there was a point before the cake was cut when the top tier listed just a bit to the left. Joe and I were really sweating that one. But if anyone else noticed, they didn’t mention it.

      Thank you for your wedding-cake instruction. I remain your humble helper any time you need me.

  20. Avatar Cindy Moore says:

    I loved reading your wedding cake story, Doni, interspersed with all the wonderful pictures of your family!  What an ambitious project you and Joe took on!  It looks beautiful, from the photos, and I can attest to the fact that it tasted delicious! (I got to sample some leftover bits. 🙂 )  Hey, I have an idea, . . .  would you like to make the cake for Libby’s wedding?  Just kidding!!

    • Thank you, Cindy. Libby’s wedding cake? Gulp. Glad you’re kidding. I think the beauty of doing a wedding cake for family as a gift is that there was the understanding that we were mere novices, and knew that if the cake wasn’t perfect, we would be forgiven (add more flowers, STAT!). I’m sure Libby will have professionals make her cake and it will be beautiful!



  21. Avatar Ginny says:

    Beautiful job on the Cake, Doni…….

    And, your weight, too…..


  22. Avatar Kathleen Gilman says:

    Doni, you never cease to amaze me!  You and Joe made a masterful cake, and what a fun thing to do with your son.  I’m so glad you both were able to share your baking skills with your entire family.  It looks like everyone had a great time at the wedding, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it!

    • You’re right, Kathleen, that what made it all so much more fun was being with family. These kinds of stressful events can test people, and we came out with flying colors.

      (Regarding taking on this cake project, truly, ignorance was on our side. We just didn’t fear it so much because we had no experience – and knew not to Google “wedding cake fails”. Lucky for us all the planets lined up for a successful outcome. Seriously,  I doubt I’d try another 5-tier cake again, but would try to talk the couple into a 2-or-3 tier, with other elevated 4-layer single cakes. Oh, and btw, Erin and Aaron did not ask us to make such a big cake.  It was my decision.)

  23. Avatar Sally says:

    Totally extraordinary in ALL respects!!!!  My question would be, learning the cake was actually 5 separate cakes with 5 individual flavors, how did one even begin to slice it??  Obviously memories forever were created! CONGRATULATIONS!

    • Thanks, Sally. You ask an excellent question, and the answer came when I helped Patty Bay: After the couple does their ceremonial cut of the cake, then they go away to dance and the cake people dismantle the cake, tier by tier: first the little couple’s carrot cake (which is boxed and set aside for them), followed by the 8 and 10-inch chocolate layers, and then the 12 inch carrot, which left the remaining 14-inch bottom vanilla bean tier. With all the cakes sitting on the table, you cut slices (5 and a half inches tall, 1 inch wide) and plate them so guests have an assortment from which to choose.

      In retrospect, Joe and I should have just dismantled the cake and let the catering folks cut the slices, but he and I, along with Josh and Kat, cut and plated the slices.

      We had LOTS of leftovers, some of which we put in boxes for the family to take home.

  24. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Doni, how long do you soak red onion in ice water to remove the sharpness?

    • Oh, the time varies. But I’ve even put the onions in ice water and  then refrigerated for a few hours, until I’m ready to make the salad. The ice water also keeps the onions crisp.

  25. Just beautiful cake! From a cake lady! Love the story! It’s in your DNA and u didn’t know It! Lol congratulations to the couple!