Our wedding is just over 6 months away now, so we’ve started the quest for a baker. Deciding what kind of wedding cake we would request was preceded by the dilemma of whether or not we would even have a wedding cake. I had initially suggested we serve a selection of vlaai after our wedding dinner (Toon’s family is from Limburg), however the groom had already decided that he would quite like something more traditional. As it happened, we would find out that in the Netherlands, before the US influenced wedding themes took off, couples would serves several vlaai instead of towered cakes, however by the time we discovered this we already had our hearts set on something else entirely.
Typical Dutch or Limburg vlaai.
We discussed a typical British wedding cake: heavy fruit cake, with a thick marzipan icing – not something either of us would be particularly keen on. Toon also admitted that he isn’t a big fan of fondant icing or chocolate cake. I have to admit, while I enjoy the odd Mr. Kipling French Fondant Fancy immensely, fondant on the scale of a large dessert doesn’t really appeal to me either, and I always think it can look a little tacky if not done properly. So this more or less decided for us that we would not be having a fruit or chocolate cake, or fondant or marzipan icing. For a little while we played with the idea of having a croquembouche cake – a typically French wedding desert, made of a tower of profiterols and coated in a caramel glaze. As a very continental and glamorous option that you don’t see very often in the USA, UK or Netherlands, as well as a type of cake that doesn’t involve dried fruits or heavy icings it was initially very appealing. I mean, who doesn’t love profiterols? However, after a while, the idea seemed a bit pretentious and maybe a bit ambitious, so we began to seek out other options.
L: Typical French celebration cake, the crouquembouche; R: Typical British wedding cake, iced with marzipan.
Quite unwittingly, while browsing the online wedding website Green Wedding Shoes I came across the idea of a “naked style cake” – basically a cake with filling between the layers but no outer icing, with couples choosing powdered sugar, flowers and fresh fruit as decoration instead. This current fad has already become well known throughout the USA for couples wanting to do something different, are going for an outdoors or “rustic” theme, or for couples who – like us – aren’t fond of thick icing. I presented the idea of a naked cake to Toon who at first thought it was a bit weird and extreme, but after doing some more online research also started to become more intrigued by the idea. While seeking out a baker and choosing a cake wasn’t very high on our list of wedding planning priorities, based on our general cake related preferences, a naked cake seemed to be a natural choice.
Eventually we felt ready to begin actually searching for a bakery that made wedding cakes. Toon had discovered an English baker who seemed interesting so we emailed, requested more information about a tasting. There began an interesting, but brief exchange, which informed us thoroughly about the artistic integrity of bakers as well as another dimension of apparent wedding etiquette.
L: Wedding cake iced with fondant; R: Naked style wedding cake.
We explained from the beginning that we were not interested in a cake with too much icing, especially with any fondant, and provided some examples of designs we might like. The baker – who had requested for us to be as specific as possible in describing our requirements in order to offer us a quote – declared that she would not make a naked cake as the sponge would dry out. She explained that especially in hot weather, the only way to prevent a butter cream filling from melting is to keep a cake in the fridge, which she is not a fan of, but with fondant the sponge would stay moist and the butter cream would also somehow be protected. We asked if there were any other icing options besides fondant that would work well, however she was not as forthcoming as we hoped she would be. In the end, we decided to give this baker a miss as she was obsessed with the idea of fondant, despite us making it quite clear we were not interested in it for our cake. So much for the customer is always right.
It occurred to me later that this baker might be so pushy about fondant, not because it is what she is used to working with, or because as a professional she believes it makes the best cake icing, but because she can ask a higher fee for a cake when she has to decorate it. The work that must go into ensuring the fondant is smooth and glossy shouldn’t be underestimated, and I admire anyone who has the patience, talent or inclination to even bother, but I don’t think it gives any baker the right to try and bully their potential customers into an idea they’ve already considered and declined, just because it would be worth a few euros extra.
Last weekend we eventually went for a tasting with another baker who seemed receptive to our idea of a naked cake. She served us three delicious varieties and explained that unlike sponge, “real” cake is made with so much butter it is unlikely to dry out in the way the previous baker had suggested. She said she would be happy to make the cake we asked for and gave us an amazing quote. Things always fall apart though when they’re too easy. While discussing the upcoming festivities (Sinterklaas) with our so-called dream-baker, she gleefully told us about the Zwarte Piet decorated cupcakes she planned to make later in the month. I still don’t know if it was the sugar rush or the immense disappointment that made me feel nauseous as I stood up to leave, but I knew we would have to decline the fantastic offer laid out for us on the cake tray…
As we cycled back to the city, cursing our bad fortune and jittery with the sugar taking over our blood-streams, my fiancé and I were reminded of what all this planning has been about; we are beginning a life together – a life that neither of us plan to spend promoting businesses that make money from racist images. Our wedding cake isn’t just a decadent indulgence for us to share and enjoy with our closest family and friends on one of the happiest days of our life together; it is also part of the fabric-of-the-future we are weaving together. In short, if we resent spending money in pro-Zwarte Piet establishments every other day of the week, why should our wedding day – the most significant day of our relationship – be any different.
Turning down such an amazing deal does suck though and I have to admit I should have known it would be too good to be true. And as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake …
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