By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
in ANEW Magazine, June 2006
Column: Around the Table
“I love wedding cakes over any other type of cake because of its grandness and what it stands for,” says Betty Arp, proprietor of “I Do” Cakes by Betty, providing custom, cutting-edge cakes from scratch in her licensed home kitchen. “Maybe I'm a romantic, but I still think love can last forever.”
We’ve all experienced wedding cakes that were just tasteless towers of cloying confection – and that just is not acceptable to the 46-year-old Missouri native. “A cake not only needs to look beautiful but taste fantastic,” she insists. “Wedding cakes have had a bad reputation for years of being dry and flavorless. All too often clients say that not everyone eats cake at a reception. My response is that people will eat the cake if it’s a good one. Word spreads at the reception when it’s good.”
Along with traditional white cake, Arp’s varieties include raspberry mudslide, lemon poppy seed, hazelnut and turtle. Strawberry mousse is a favorite filling of late. Unconventional choices don’t scare her a bit. “Couples are going for all-chocolate wedding cakes,” she says. “Why not? Who doesn't love chocolate?”
A wife of 25 years and mother of three, Arp is passionate about flavor, and that includes her approach to what she calls the most exciting trend in wedding cakes: “Fondant, fondant, fondant! It’s the most creative medium for confectionery artists. Trends and tools are growing. Colors, textures, faux looks. It's endless,” she says. “Don't believe the things you read about it as far as taste. As with buttercreams, there are good recipes and there are bad recipes. Clients come to me saying that they love the look but not the taste. After a tasting with me, they’ve booked fondant cakes.”
So what is fondant? Imagine edible Play-doh made chiefly of boiled sugar syrup that can be rolled out like pie crust, draped over cakes and shaped, yielding a sophisticated, satiny finish. It’s a smooth, constructed look that you just can’t get with traditional buttercream frosting.
Also important is gum paste, which is a supremely workable medium and, despite its odd name, capable of great beauty. Dating from medieval times, this pliable, sturdy clay made from boiled sugar and natural plant gums is increasingly edging out the more fragile choices for sculpted flowers and other decorations.
VVK: How did your business get started?
BA: I made many birthday cakes and party cakes for family and friends over the years. The opportunity came to put a licensed kitchen in my home in 1993 and I jumped at it. My first wedding cake was done for someone in my church that I just called and said, “Would you give me a chance?” It was the best call I could have made. Within the next year this bride had two sisters get married. I have since done another brother and sister in the family. Now I’m doing cakes for their children's events.
VVK: How does a wedding cake order work?
BA: I usually receive either a call or e-mail from couples who want to set up an appointment for a tasting and get more information. I meet with clients at the dining table since my bakery kitchen is not that large, so the family just clears out for a while.
I don't freeze my cakes and I want to make sure the customer is tasting what they actually will be getting for their event. I appreciate the fact that people want to taste the product before purchasing, but I can't have too many different flavors to taste at one time without a lot of waste. It can be a challenge because I don't have a storefront to sell extra cake if someone doesn't show up for an appointment.
VVK: What’s your culinary background?
BA: I learned strictly at my grandmother’s and mother’s skirts. I started cooking around the age of 9. I come from a background of cooking with no recipe. A little of this and a pinch of that is how you make something. I do follow a recipe with the cakes so that I have a consistent product, but I’m not afraid to try new flavors.
That's how I developed my popular "Champagne Cake." This cake has a very distinct flavor that’s not at first noticeable, but then you get this little zing. [Once] I was describing it to a bride. She had not had a chance to taste it yet, but said that she had always found that champagne was dry and wouldn't that make the cake dry?
VVK: Tell me about your passion. Why cakes?
BA: I got interested in decorating cakes watching a very special aunt who did wedding cakes for family. I was so amazed at the frosting roses she would make. She told me someday she would teach me how to make them. She died suddenly before I got that opportunity.
Many years later, I received a beginner’s cake decorating kit and I was hooked. I took classes in a local store that sold supplies. Since that time I’ve taken many classes, even traveling to Toronto to take a rolled fondant class. I also attend conventions of years of the International Cake Exploration Societé (ICES) to stay updated on the new trends, techniques and tools. I was the state representative for ICES several years ago.
VVK: What was the most unusual wedding cake request you ever got?
BA: The bride wanted to surprise the groom with a three-dimensional deer with an arrow in it. The groom was an avid archery hunter. I made a red velvet cake deer with an arrow, but I refused [the bride’s request] to make the deer appear to be bleeding. The bride loved it, but the groom was afraid to cut it for fear of it exploding or something.
VVK: What was your favorite cake?
My daughter's wedding cake. It was an ecru fondant cake with white cutout lace pieces joined by fine string work. It gave the cake the appearance of being covered with a lace cloth. The top and bottom tiers had edible satin ribbon around them, with the bottom tier having a large bow with tails and the top tier ribbon overlapping and appearing to be secured by an antique brooch. We used fresh flowers from my own flower garden to accent. It was a joy to make.
VVK: What’s in and out of style in wedding cakes?
Stacked cakes with no pillars are in. Anything plastic is out. The bridges and fountains of the ’70s and ’80s have pretty much faded.
VVK: Any advice for our readers ?
Don't worry about what everyone else wants. This is your day. Get a cake style that reflects your taste. If you want whimsical, do it. If you like elegant, do it.
Oh, and white is white is white. The lighting at your reception is going to change whatever color white you have to another color white. It's okay.
When newly married, Arp made angel food cake from (gasp) a mix. “It just didn’t cut it with my husband,” she says. “It was not like his mom’s.” One mother-in-law’s cake recipe later, Arp had “the favorite of my entire family” and a popular birthday request.
So get out your sifters and mixers – air, air, air is the key to this feather-light treat, lovely either plain or topped with berries.
PEGGY’S ANGEL FOOD CAKE
1 2/3 cups (about 13) egg whites
1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour, sifter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 additional cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extract
Sift flour and first sugar and set aside. Combine egg whites, cream of tarter, salt and extracts. Beat on high speed two minutes till whites hold a medium to stiff peak. Reduce speed to medium and slowly sprinkle in the cup of sugar.
Reduce speed to low and add flour-sugar mixture evenly and gently, over the course of about a minute and half.
Put batter in an ungreased angel food tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
Invert pan onto a tall bottle to cool.