Sweet and Simple

By Bev Bennett

CTW Features

When prospective brides discuss their wedding cake wishes with Maggie Estavillo, they describe what their mothers served at their own celebrations.

"They even bring in pictures of their mothers' wedding cakes and ask us to replicate them," says Estavillo, chef/owner of the Nostalgia Bakery and Catering Co. in Sacramento, Calif.

Welcome to the wedding-cake renaissance.

The creations that were popular a generation ago, including red velvet, carrot, 7UP and German chocolate, are showing up on contemporary wedding cake tables.

These cakes, which are both familiar and affordable, are as appealing now as they were when marriage was just a spark in your parents' eyes. However, it's not simply familiarity that puts old-style cakes on the wedding menu. It's flavor, too. If you've been to enough weddings where cakes' tilting layers trumped their taste, you know how important a delicious cake is to your guests. Just ask your mother. Her cake was to-die-for!

Comfort Cake

Comfort foods have been a presence in wedding menus for a couple of years, says Joyce Scardina Becker, director at Events of Distinction, a San Francisco event planning company. So it's no surprise that the return to satisfying dishes also is influencing wedding cakes, making old-fashioned desserts popular once again.

You don't want to dumbfound your guests, and by serving such long-treasured and acceptable flavors as devil's food, you can assure everyone that they're not eating anything mysterious.

"Some clients want to please everyone's palates. They're coming back to basics," says Estavillo, who runs her catering company with her sister Mary, the wedding cake baker.

The home-style cake also says you're stepping down from extravagance and returning to a simpler style, which is another trend, according to Kate Cavotti, an associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Estavillo also is witnessing the return to more modest cakes. What she calls retro cakes have little in common with what she was selling two years ago.

"People were saying they're foodies. They wanted food they saw on the Food Network," Estavillo says. But that's changed."Even though the economy is picking up, brides want a bang for the buck," she says.

The new sensibility doesn't mean you have to bake your own wedding cake - you've got enough on your plate - especially when you can buy it.

"You can have someone else produce the cake, but it seems more home-style if you have nostalgic flavors," Cavotti says.

Baking It Old-School

You'll find these cakes at bakeries around the country. Some may even skip the traditional tiered wedding cake-structure to get the homey flavors you want.

Rebecca Rather supplies cakes to some of the best weddings in Texas, although she no longer does traditional wedding cakes.

"People really love my cakes, so they order that for their weddings," says Rather, owner of the Rather Sweet Bakery & Café in Fredericksburg, Texas.

"I'm absolutely getting more orders for cakes than I did five years ago. For a wedding coming up the bride wants a variety of flavors," says Rather, who is supplying 10 cakes, 2 of each flavor for that nuptial.

Rather's repertoire includes such mouthwatering creations as spice maple cake with caramel sauce, raspberry white chocolate with macadamia nuts and tuxedo cake. Hummingbird cake also appeals to her clientele.

"I like to take my grandmother's cake and update it," says Rather, co-author with Alison Oresman of "Pastry Queen Parties" (Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, 2009).

Classic Flavor

Red velvet, vanilla, chocolate and marble cakes along with champagne cake or its non-alcoholic variation, the 7UP cake, are in heavy demand at Nostalgia.

Like Rather in Texas, Estavillo's cakes are prized for their flavor.

"When we do fondant cakes people scrape off the icing. People don't like all that sweetness. They want a great-tasting cake," says Estavillo.

No matter what the frosting consistency, today's cake is white.

"I keep getting requests for really white cakes with really big flowers and tons of leaves - with a touch of green for the leaves," says Estavillo, who associates the look with wedding cakes from the '60s or '70s.

But if you think that cake will look as plain as cauliflower on a white plate, don't worry. Classic cakes can assume new styles, too. For example, for a large wedding ask for a multilayer cake with a different flavor for each tier. For a small wedding, Estavillo recommends a six-inch cake surrounded by cupcakes.

You also can order your favorite vintage cakes as cupcakes, say the bakers.

(c) CTW Features


The Caketionary

If you've dedicated your sweet tooth to sticky toffee pudding, pain perdu or other trendy desserts, you may not be acquainted with the cake revival. You could ask your mother to reminisce - or you could just check the following "caketionary" for the delicious details.

Tuxedo Cake (above)

This cake, a specialty of Texas baker Rebecca Rather, is a butter-based chocolate cake, coated with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate glaze for the black and white tuxedo effect.

Devil's Food Cake

This dark chocolate cake may be made with cocoa or melted unsweetened dark chocolate. Devil's food cake calls for chocolate frosting.

Champagne Cake/7UP Cake

A light white cake that uses either beverage in the batter. Champagne cake is often tinted pink.

Red Velvet Cake

Cocoa-based chocolate cake with red food coloring in the batter. If you're planning a green/natural wedding, this isn't the cake for you, advises Joyce Scardina Becker of Events of Distinction, the San Francisco-based event planning company.

German Chocolate Cake

Made with milk chocolate, butter and eggs and finished with a dense coconut, pecan and butter frosting, this may be the richest-tasting option.

Carrot Cake

Moist, spicy and dense using shredded carrots and nuts. Carrot cake slathered with cream cheese frosting is an excellent choice when you've got three generations to please.

Hummingbird Cake

Imagine cream-cheese-frosted carrot cake but with pineapple and bananas instead of the vegetable.

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