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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.

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.

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’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.

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 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.”

Gladly.

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 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.

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 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 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.

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 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. 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.

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

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 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.

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?”

Perhaps.

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