This month's Tell Your Story is from my good friend Jasmine Gartner who makes the most fabulous macaroons
Ask me to create something in the kitchen that entails sticking precisely to a recipe, and I can’t help but improvise. I’m the kind of person who thinks a “pinch,” a “handful,” and “until it looks right” are actual measurements. My sister, Marieke, on the other hand, is a scientist in the kitchen. Everything she makes a second time reliably turns out the way it did the first time.
I had several reasons for deciding to make my own cake for my wedding a few autumns ago. First of all, I wanted to add a personal touch. Secondly, I was on a budget. I knew I couldn’t do it by myself because of my aforementioned cooking style. My sister was the ideal partner. My mix and match approach led us to a lemon sponge cake with a lemon curd filling. Marieke’s perfectionist approach ensured that we finally got the cake right.
Making a delicious, beautiful cake is an amazingly hard job: the cake wasn’t perfect the way it would have been had a professional made it. Time and patience, though clichéd, are essential ingredients. We put in three trials, each taking a day, over a two-month period, before making the real thing.
Marieke and I started two months before the day. Sitting on the floor of our local Barnes and Nobles, we went through every book on cakes we could find. I found a single layer cake that I loved the look of: a white base, with fine brightly colored stripes.
“But I want a stacked cake,” I said, introducing the first of many alterations. “With daisies.” Marieke pointed out that you have to create a sturdier sponge for stacked cakes, so we could try the recipe listed, but we’d probably have to alter that too.
The plan was to make a large, three-tiered lemon sponge cake with white fondant icing, decorated with colorful pink, green and orange pinstripes and sugar daisies. At the very top, I wanted a ring of candy red roses. Marieke makes amazing lemon bars, and she used that recipe to make the filling.
Then, it was time to go shopping. Our first stop was New York Cake Supplies in Chelsea. This dimly lit store has everything a baker could need or want. I spent $150 and came away with two large – and heavy – bags containing all the necessary hardware: a spinning platter to work on, dyes and nozzles for making the stripes, tiny little daisies for further decoration, fondant and marzipan as a base for decorating the cake, a cardboard circle to place the cake on, ribbon for tying around the cardboard circle, and pans for baking. This excursion took us about two hours. Granted, this was partially because Marieke had to examine everything in the store. “Do you need that?” I asked, looking over her shoulder at a tool that looked for all intents and purposes like a leadless pencil. “Yes,” she said. “What is it for?” I said, perplexed. “I don’t know,” she replied. I lugged my treasure trove home.
The next morning, we started shopping. Lemons, flour, sugar made their way into our basket. Each time we made the cake, we went through about twenty or thirty lemons. Shopping done, it was time to carry out the first draft.
As I reached for my tiny-New-York-City-apartment handheld electric blender, Marieke sighed. “You can’t be serious. Next time, I’m bringing the KitchenAid.” The kitchen became a laboratory and my sister and I were the mad scientists. My husband-to-be would come home after a hard day at work and would force a pained smile at the sight of the chaotic flour-covered kitchen and its cooks. After the first piece of sponge cake melted in his mouth, though, he relaxed and started to look forward to being the guinea pig in our experiments. “Too sweet,” he proclaimed, or “not lemony enough.”
Following the recipe we’d chosen, plus a recipe for lemon curd that I found on Epicurious.com, we worked for about twelve hours. The result was a disaster. The fondant and marzipan were hard to roll out, resulting in a lumpy, wrinkled canvas to wrap around the cake. Fondant, a white sugary dough, can be bought in blocks and then rolled out to the desired thickness – which is usually super thin, because fondant, quite simply, has a horrible taste. The layer of marzipan that goes below it is partially to give added strength, and in my opinion, partially to counteract the synthetic taste of the fondant. The sponge was not good for stacking, the lemon curd too sweet, and the decorating turned out to be the hardest part. As it turned out, neither of us were capable of drawing straight lines. Still I loved that design, so we decided to keep the outside and ditch the rest.
Two weeks later, we decided we needed a new recipe. We refined the lemon curd recipe. We rolled out fondant and marzipan as thin as we could, and wrapped our cakes. We unwrapped the cakes and did it again, until we got a smooth surface with no wrinkles. We spent an hour practicing straight lines. This version tasted much better, though it still didn’t look great.
We pulled off the third attempt in nine hours with good results. We now felt like we were ready for the final product. We made it the day before the party and it turned out to be a success. We figured out how to blend and dovetail our different approaches to kitchen work, plus we had a blast doing it. The guests came back for seconds and thirds and admired the design.
The only downside was that on my next trip to the dentist I had developed more cavities – three! – in those two months than I had in the rest of my life.Articles cakes, lemon sponge, wedding