Bakery Confidential

The Missouri Botanical Garden spills the secrets of wedding-cake creators

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Sugared & Spiced & Everything Iced

Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd.

Featuring cake displays and cake-decorating demos, is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 16-17. Admission is included with regular Garden admission. Call 314-577-9400 for more info.

How do you keep a seven-tier wedding cake from collapsing onto the bride? Heck, how do you transport a seven-tier wedding cake from the bakery to the reception hall? And why does wedding cake always seem to taste better than birthday cake?

All secrets will be revealed at the Sugared & Spiced & Everything Iced cake exhibit and demo at the Missouri Botanical Garden this weekend, featuring wedding and other cakes made by top St. Louis bakeries and organized by Cakes à la More's Karen Copper.

If you ask Joyce Moran, head decorator at Karen Ann's Cakes in Clayton, she'll show you the hollow plastic columns that can be cut to any length. Four of them are sunk into each layer of a multilevel cake, and they lock into plastic plates that sit between each level. The resultant extra stability is not enough to stop the cake from toppling if say, someone was carrying the whole confection at a good pace and made a sudden stop. The hidden columns and plates do allow wedding-cake bakers to build a tall tower of cake that supports itself, though -- not unlike the steel rods inside poured concrete.

The cakes are delivered to weddings by van, still unassembled, each layer in a separate box. (Driving around with a multilevel cake is just asking for disaster -- unless you're a circus clown and it's part of your act.) If your wedding is in the area of Laclede's Landing, beware the cobblestone streets, says Moran. The cake is assembled at the reception hall by a decorator who brings extra icing for touch-ups, and with any luck it's kept someplace cool enough that the icing won't melt before the cake-cutting.

Some of the fancier wedding cakes pose extra challenges. At Karen Ann's, they've made cakes with bridges connecting separate columns of cake; cakes with candles or tiny lights; cakes in the shapes of hearts and hexagons; cakes spotted with seashells, starfish and coral; cakes heaped with oranges, apples, berries and ivy; cakes with icing molded to look realistically like draped silk, lace, presents and bows; cakes with full glasses of champagne perched on one level; cakes that look like golden mosaics, Wedgwood china or churches with tall steeples; cakes with silver-jewelry charms embedded within for the bridesmaids to find; and the odd wedding cheesecake.

One noteworthy Disney-themed wedding featured a cake shaped like Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland floating on clear plastic columns above a cake, which in turn floated on more clear columns above a figurine of Mickey and Minnie Mouse kissing in front of a working miniature fountain.

Yet today's bride typically eschews the bridges and fountains of the '70s Mafia-princess wedding for the understated elegance of say, a cake with rolled buttercream icing sprinkled with real flowers -- more of a Martha Stewart-style display of controlled, genteel taste.

What's it like baking wedding cakes all day? Would you find yourself eating cake all the time? Maybe not all the time, says Karen Ann's owner Pam Meenach, but "sometime you just can't stand not to have a piece of cake."

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