Wedding cakes are both lovely … and horrible. They can bring great money into my shop, but wedding stress is, well … there just isn’t anything quite like wedding industry stress.
The Texas Renaissance Festival offers the most complete Renaissance themed weddings available anywhere in the US. The 53 acre park includes five formal wedding venues. Costumed brides and grooms enjoy their weddings and receptions within the park on festival days only. So, on average, 27,000 guests and 2000 workers are making a Renaissance village come to life surrounding their nuptials.
My bakery within the park provides the wedding cakes whenever they are wanted at a reception. We’ve had as many as 7 cake receptions in one day, requiring multiple cakes at each. Cake designs are simple. The reception is outdoors, near Houston, TX. It’s pretty much guaranteed that the weather will be either hot, or wet … sometimes both. Fondant is the obvious choice. We use a delicious almond flavored fondant for the white wedding cakes, and dark chocolate fondant for the grooms’ cakes. We dust those grooms’ cakes with 100% cacao that we get from my favorite spice monger in Houston.
This past season, an average wedding weekend involved 4 cake receptions, with each reception having 3 to 6 cakes. I’ve always baked back up cake blanks, one of each size. We’d slice them into layers as elements in our two-fork-treat giant creations in our pastry cases after the final wedding of the weekend.
The third weekend of the 2010 season started out looking like an average weekend, with five weddings, but only 3 cake receptions. Saturday there was a 12:30 delivery, then at 1:10, the festival’s wedding coordinator called and asked me if I had cakes for the 1:30 wedding. Mr Sniffen & Miss Kiss had not ordered cakes, but showed up with cake knives and toppers for their reception, and the intention of buying cakes from us on the spot. I assured the wedding coordinator that we could make their wedding day dreams come true, and promptly stole prepped cakes for a Sunday wedding and had my cake decorator start finishing the spare blanks for the Sunday wedding. Whew … that was pretty easy … and the wedding coordinator thought I was a rockstar, at least for that moment.
Fast forward to Sunday. We have two weddings scheduled and no backup cake blanks. Mike Wyatt, a videographer for the Travel Channel is inside of my bakery filming Bananas Foster Cheesecake topping and other random pastry building until 1:30, when he accompanies us on our cake delivery. With an amazing lack of forethought, the three kitchen managers who wear radios set off across the site, carrying cakes.
No matter how slow-motion the event seems … there is never quite enough time to keep it from happening. A turned ankle … and one of us was going down while holding a 12” wedding cake that folks were going to be cutting into in 15 minutes. Extreme Matrix-like contortions only managed to cause week-long body aches, but there was no catching the cake. Just as we thought it was saved, the momentum slid it off the cake board and onto the ground. I called into my radio: “Queen’s Pantry, we have a cake down. I repeat, we’ve lost a 12” white cake. We need another one delivered to New Market Arbor within 10 minutes.” The Hubby heard me. His 3 shops are on the same radio frequency. He asks “Queen’s Pantry, did you copy?” No answer … Katy, Rich and I all look at our radios. “Crap!”
The Hubby sets out for my bakery from his fruit shop, and Rich starts running too. At this point, Rich is near hysterical, so festival goers see a gangly 6’ tall gypsy boy at a dead run … crying while saying “I can’t believe we dropped a cake!” & “Thank Gawd it wasn’t me!” alternating over and over.
The next wedding reception was scheduled for 45 minutes later … and we stole its’ 12” cake … you know … the one they actually eat at the reception. *And* we’d already used our spare cake blank, *And* we were out of prepared white frosting, and the mixer bowls were full of mousse and Bavarian cream. So it looked like this: Katy carved two 12” cake rounds out of white sheet cake, and then we troweled cream cheese frosting on them to contain the crumbliness, while Karen rolled fondant, Katy prepped the bakery bag for the edging and “Voila! … heart attack averted.” The next batch of cakes was delivered by serenely smiling bakers, and the 2:30 wedding was none the wiser.
After the delivery, as we came down from the adrenaline rush, my management team sat over cups of tea and strategized how never to allow another moment like, well, like any of the 37 stressful moments in a row that we had just experienced. We shifted our strategy to one where we go ahead and completely decorate the back-up cakes, and maintain a backup of every size until the last wedding is over, and then we serve these cakes in our pastry case as “Left at the Altar”, “Tainted Love”, or “Jilted”. We also established specific delivery times that do not conflict with the times of day when our retail business is slammed. In the past, New Market Arbor’s caterers gave us a 15 minute delivery window for cakes, whereas the Italian Village caterers like to have a cake delivered at least 2 hours earlier, and they do the set-up themselves. The delivery changes will go into effect with the 2011 season.
Hopefully all of these changes will lessen the stress a bit. I’m writing this 2 months later, and the memory still manages to raise my heart rate.