A day in the life of the Turquoise Squirrel - or - an Ode to choosing the right supplier
Okay guys, you might have noticed I’m not one for writing long posts or pouring my heart out on social media. However, bear with me, because I feel the following story is extremely important and relevant to future brides, wedding cake suppliers and anyone interested in baking. I will tell you what happened to me on Saturday last week, and then explain what thoughts I had on this. If you know anyone getting married, or if you have “cakey” friends, please pass it on.
So, the story begins on a sunny Saturday morning... 😄
I had 2 wedding cake deliveries that day, the first was done and dusted, and I was getting ready for my next delivery all the way in Pretoria. One of the lovely staff at @oakfieldfarms came to me and asked if I can have a look at a cake that someone had delivered. I had started to crack and really didn’t look so hot. So in my mind I thought: no biggie, I will help them and just take some of my sugar flowers or decorations and cover it up, make it look gorgeous for the bride and groom and shove the cake in the fridge until the cutting. Well think again, this is what I found:
The cake had sunken in so much that the central ‘dowels’ poked out about 10 -15 cm, it was leaning like the tower of Pisa, and it seriously looked like one of those “nailed it” cakes you see on Pinterest... my heart sunk... I had a chat with the mother of the bride and told her there was no rescuing this cake. I didn’t say it, but in my head I thought this is the Titanic and it’s going down! It was just a matter of minutes before the whole cake would be on the floor, and no-one (other than Rachel and Chandler from friends) likes to eat cake off the floor (just watch the episode about the cheese cake if you’re interested).
I said to her the only solution I see is to take the cake apart, stash the layers separately in the fridge so they can be served up to the guests, take off all the decor, and make a fresh dummy cake for them from scratch. That was 3 hours before the cake had to be up and standing!!!!! And I still had to do my delivery! (Which would take about 2 hours)... I disassembled the cake, and it was much worse than initially expected: there were no cake boards separating the cakes. No dowels in the cake tiers to hold up the weight of each tier (I will explain that later on if you don’t know what I’m talking about at the moment). Some of the sugar foliage on metal wires was just placed straight into the cake, which is totally unacceptable - I mean it’s inedible hardware just poking into cake - not cool! And the most shocking: we found a MASSIVE splinter inside the cake!!!! Geeeeez, that is beyond unacceptable. I added some pics below for you.
As I was taking apart the cake I kept muttering very unlady-like things and kept saying: I can’t believe this!!! We popped the cake in the fridge and I took off the decor for the dummy cake.
I asked my helper Roxane to cover some of my own dummy cakes while I’m gone, and then I vowed to drive like the devil, and get there and back as soon as possible. I was even reassured that there wouldn’t be cameras on that road that day, so I got my led foot out. And really, I don’t speed, EVER (although the German likes to come out every now and again)... and what do you know: they pull me over!!!!
My heart was now on the floor, and I had to fight hard to not burst into tears. The police officer waved me over, and showed me where to park, I looked at him with big eyes and asked if I’m allowed to swear... he said: “Sure, go ahead. But you can’t swear at me, then I’ll have to arrest you”. I had a sad little giggle and then I fired a round of swear words that shall not be repeated here at myself. Then a lady police officer walks over to me and asks: “So, Mam... what happened? You were driving 144km/h on the highway” and I started rambling, the words just came flooding out, trying to explain to her the wedding cake situation, urgently pointing at the cake in my boot and even showing her the pictures of the drooping cake at Oakfields... then I stopped and said: “I’m so sorry, I talk a lot when I’m nervous”... she was so so lovely and so patient. I apologised profusely. She gave me a very low fine for how fast I was driving, and truly, it couldn’t have been a nicer experience for what it was. We had a couple of giggles together at the situation, and I thanked her, and was on my way. This time profusely checking my tachometer as I’m going, determined to now be a good, law-abiding citizen.
I arrived at the venue half an hour late, but still perfectly in time with the delivery (just not as early as I usually want to be there). I set up the cake, everything went well, and then I was swiftly racing back to Oakfields, worried about time and whether I would make it on time, hoping and praying Roxane had managed to cover the dummy cakes for me (which is actually much harder than covering real cakes). And cover them she did! There was only one more for me to cover, and then I assembled them and added the decor that I had ripped off the puddle cake (that’s what I call it - cause it was literally 20 min away from being exactly that - a massive puddle on the floor and a huge headache for the cleaners). It didn’t end up looking too bad, at least it looked like a wedding cake! I added a piece of the real cake to the back and we covered it with fresh roses, so the couple could at least cut the cake for the photos. At 10 minutes to 3pm I delivered the dummy cake. All's well that ends well. Now I still had to finish my orders for Sunday. Luckily I’m a bit of a night owl, so I managed to have everything ready by Sunday morning at 10... with very little sleep, but hey, everything got done!
Now, you might think the cake was delivered by a friend of the family or something, but no! It was a proper company, they arrived in their chef jackets! And when we phoned them to tell them what had happened and that their cake was collapsing, and told them to come back to fix it, they said: “nope, we’re not coming back, we’re not in the area anymore. Just pop it in the fridge and it will be fine. I thought to myself: Erm, its your job to fix it, and heck no! Its not going to be fine!— I am not going to name names; it’s not my place to do so. I just want to take the opportunity to explain to everyone why wedding cakes are expensive, how much work goes into them when you do it properly, and why it is crucial to find a good supplier!!! Here we go:
Cake is meant to be soft! You could very well stack a bunch of Rusks into a sky high construction; that would be perfectly solid! But not very pleasant to eat. Cakes are soft and they get heavy! Often times my cakes end up being 10-15 kg! Now there is absolutely no way you can stack 15kg of polenta on top of each other without it compressing, so why would you want to try that with cake?! A wedding cake gets stacked with support dowels in each tier, so it’s pretty much built like Venice. The cake below is held up by solid columns that carry the weight of the cake above, so very minimal weight is put on the actual cake. I made a little drawing for you. To be able to be placed on the columns (=dowels), each cake needs to be put on a cake board, to make it sturdy and have a level surface (once again, we don’t want the tower of Pisa). What I do on top of that is place a long wooden dowel all the way through all the tiers that anchors into the bottom cake boards, so even if you tilt the cake, they can’t slide off. Here is the sketch for you:
For further durability, I cover all my cakes in white chocolate ganache, which is semi-hard at room temperature. I easily use 3-4 kg of white choc in my ganache for an average 3 to 4 tier cake! Thats a heck of a lot of chocolate! And only after the layer of ganache do the cakes get covered in fondant or modelling chocolate. Even if it’s hot in the venue, the ganache is very very unlikely to start melting (unless you’re having your wedding in the Sahara desert). For me, just to assemble the cakes, it usually takes me 1 hour to put it all together and make sure it’s sturdy and straight, that is not including the ganaching (that can take 10 minutes to half an hour per cake) . Now you can see how cost and time can very quickly add up, and that’s not including any cake, fillings, or decorations. Please guys, just understand that wedding cakes take time and a lot of materials to make them stackable into these sky high gorgeous centre pieces you’ve always dreamt of!
So, with this in mind, rather have a smaller cake, or dummy cake if necessary so it fits your budget, but then don’t run the risk of cutting a puddle on your big day. Bakers, please don’t cut corners! You’re allowed to charge what you’re worth!