Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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When creativity is rewarding

Wedding cakes are a perfect way to express your creativity. They are a sculpture that you create out of sugar. They are the center piece of the wedding reception. They are beautiful and elegant but never more than the bride herself. They are an expression of your creative side.

I started making wedding cakes about 20 years ago. The first one was for a customer of the restaurant I was working at. We had a very good reputation for desserts and so this customer decided that our cakes would become her wedding cake. Now let me tell something, you can make cakes all day everyday until the cows come home but when you get yourself involved in a wedding cake, you better know what you’re doing. So, I didn’t. I’m just putting it out there. Never volunteer. With that in mind, this bride knew exactly what she wanted. I think it was at that moment, I would never watch Martha Stewart again. This cake was all about Martha. What happened to the cakes we made here?? Even Martha would approve. Surely she should be told. Hardly. I soon learned the bride gets what the bride wants. It was a learning experience and one I would never forget.

I sat down with her and asked her what her “vision” was. She was all set with pictures. Great. She wanted this exact cake but with our cake flavors. I’m 1/2 way there I thought. It was the typical now fondant (which wasn’t typical then) cake with sugared flowers, extensive bead work and sugar lace. Did I mention this restaurant had a bar? The entire time she was talking I was thinking “Shaken not stirred, Shaken not stirred”. I had to do this. I knew somehow I could pull it off but this was no ordinary cake.  After the bride left and we had a decent deposit, the work began. Sketching the cake out and a lot of flower work was ahead of me. I had 6 months to sweat this one out. As the months went by, it seemed to be getting easier. I made so many flowers out of sugar I was going to offer them to FTD to sell. The wedding was now two days away. The flowers were done. The cakes were being baked. The fillings were being prepared. So far so good. The night before the cake was put together and placed in a cool room so it had time to set. All that means is the cake has time to settle so there are no surprises on the drive. Now let me tell you, the delivery of a wedding cake is more stressful than the initial meeting with the bride. I had 15 miles to drive in the summer in a tourist town. It was going to be a slow ride. With every cake, you must have a “crash” kit. This contains spare flowers, buttercream, pastry bags, spatulas and Advil. Since this was my first cake, I didn’t have the “crash” kit. I didn’t know better. It was the only cake I didn’t have one. Thanks to a fellow pastry chef who was there when I returned from my delivery. Best third degree talk I ever got.

The vehicle runs about 10 minutes with the air conditioner. I go into the kitchen and pick a victim for the ride with me. No one wanted any part of this so of course the new dishwasher is recruited. His only job is to hold the pan steady that the cake is resting on. I look over at my new partner on the way over and notice he isn’t breathing. This kid is scared to death. That was enough to relax me because I couldn’t let him see me sweat. So I told him,”It’s no big deal. You’re doing a great job”. He gives me deer in headlights eyes look and then takes a big breath. If he only knew what I was thinking at the same time. I was petrified.
We get the cake there and by the grace of the Good man, I didn’t need the crash kit. The cake was set up and I checked with the caterer to make sure it was to their expectations. When I got the nod, I couldn’t run out of there fast enough. The kid?? Right on my tails. After a big sigh and a few good laughs, he became my new cake co-pilot.

The beauty of these cakes is you can offer different flavors for each tier. I often do. If a bride and groom are at the initial meeting, I will ask them each what their favorite flavors are. Each tier becomes their favorite and then a neutral flavor is number three. If there is a budget constraint, no problem. I’ll offer a ceremonial cake that is two tiered and then a sheet cake in the kitchen for additional servings. Cupcakes are a great way to work with a budget and still be beautiful. Just add an 8″ ceremonial cake on the table so the couple has something to cut. I’ve made whoopie pie cakes with the color scheme as the fillings. I’ve made assorted pies for a Fall wedding and the most elegant French wedding cake: The Croquembouche. This is an amazing display of culinary talent. It’s cream puffs filled with a vanilla pastry cream and then dipped in very hot melted sugar and arranged in a cone shape. The remainder sugar is then quickly spun to make an angel hair to arrange around the display. Sometimes I add sugared violets. Weddings are as wide as the imagination will carry. No request has been too weird. Well, maybe a few have been a bit odd but not for the couple. I’ve also done gluten-free weddings which any one of these ideas can be made 100% gluten-free. Almost anything can be made into a wedding cake.

For me, after 20 years, wedding cakes have become somewhat easier to create. Even though every one is as different as the bride herself, they offer a challenge and just rewards when finished and delivered. There’s a great sense of satisfaction. It’s a sculpture. You are a sugar artist that has been hired to create this center piece.
Although experience helps to make the events leading up to the delivery more tolerable, the delivery itself has never gotten easier. It’s still white knuckled, no breathing and a quick dash out the door. And when you get out the door and back in your vehicle it’s then you realize that creativity is very rewarding.

 

This cake pictured is a gluten-free cake that I made for a beach wedding. The sea shells are hand-made and a use a little blue to pull through the white chocolate to tie in with the hydrangeas. The weird thing I was talking about? You can’t see it but the bride asked as a surprise if I would draw the symbol for Star Trek where they needed to cut the cake as a surprise for her groom.


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Back to pie crust…Crimping

To crimp or not to crimp…Not a famous quote but probably should be.

Crimping a pie crust is as individual as you are. It’s a necessary step to a successful pie and the one you create becomes your signature.

In Webster’s Dictionary, crimping is defined as “To cause to become wavy, bent or pinched as in to pinch or press together in order to seal”. Well said. Now if Webster’s had a sense of humor they would finish the definition with : “Because if you do not seal properly, you’re going to have a blow out and a heck of a mess to clean up”. That’s the truth. Even though it’s a necessary step, it’s a decorative step as well. Remember, if the pie looks amazing, it’s already starting to taste amazing.

The different styles depend on how you’re feeling that day or if you have developed your own signature way. At some point you’ll make enough pies that you develop your own style. Mine is the simple yet effective “pinch”. The pinch is when you take your thumb and pointer and create a “v” with your tips. Then you take your opposite pointer and press it into the “v”. Each time you will place your thumb in the last crimp. This is a very popular method. The clown ruffle is a crimp that is smooth and looks just like the ruffle around a clown’s neck. Use the same thumb and pointer on one hand and then turn the opposite thumb flat to create the shape.Some others are the dreadful looking fork press. Just take a fork and smash the two crusts together. Not attractive at all but it’s out there so I’ll just consider this a for warning. Remember, what you do outside the crust, reflects the inside. If you’re ever with someone who is doing this, now’s the time to show them a beautiful decorative crust. Best excuse for you to rescue them and cover up that mess. The decorative look is after you finish the crimp, make small cut outs like little leaves or circles. Egg wash the entire crimped crust and then lay each leave on the crust overlapping the last. Leaves are especially nice for this in the Fall. I have posted the pie crust with the circle overlay to show you. I have also posted a picture to show you how to do the entire crust with circles. This is a nice trick because you can create vents without intentionally puncturing the crusts. Just leave small vents when you lay the circles down.

If you’re making a gluten-free crust, working with small circles is a very easy way to work with that crust. It can be a challenge to move a large circle without cracking it. Whether you’re gluten-free or not, these tips work very well for any pie.

If you are making a single shell, it’s a really good idea to make the complete shell already with the crimping done and then freeze it. You only have to freeze it for an hour but remember, you have butter in the crust (you better be using butter!) and as soon as it hits that oven, it might want to relax. This is just an insurance to be sure your quiche or cream pie (heavens!) will hold up. I like to make a batch of pie dough and then make them all single shells and have them ready to go in the freezer.

So that’s my lesson on crimping. I never thought there was that much to know but I guess once you start talking about it, there’s more than you think. There’s more than I thought! Feel free to add any ideas you have. Remember to have fun. Making pies with kids and watching them create their own styles (sorry about the mess) is actually more fun than eating the pie itself. It’s almost time for the holidays so you have plenty of time for a few dress rehearsals. How bad can that be? Here’s a quick tip: If it’s that bad (including the blowouts): Regardless of what it looks like, save it by putting a serving of the pie mess in a dessert glass and add a scoop of ice cream and another scoop of the filling. People will think you made the best dessert ever! And do you know what? You just did.

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