Reality Check: Take This CAKEBy Michael Karol Posted: Jul 7, 2009
When is a cake a soap opera? I'll get to that in a minute. I'm not a big fan of reality shows in general. I want scripted shows, with real actors. But the reality is, reality shows are easier and cheaper to produce, so we're stuck with them. And now that it's summertime, the living might be easy, but it's not easy finding a decent show to watch that's not a rerun.
While flipping channels a few weeks ago, my eye was drawn to a program on a channel I don't normally watch: WE tv's AMAZING WEDDING CAKES. After only several minutes, entranced, I TiVo'ed the series so I'd catch new episodes every Sunday night at 10 p.m. This series, which has "No guts. No ganache." as its Web site slogan, had me at "Hello."
This ain't your grandmother's coffee cake!: Lauri Ditunno (center) and her team at New York's Cake Alchemy pose with their art-deco inspired "topsy-turvy" cake. The bubbles are blown sugar, and the R at the top is made of sugar "gems" that light up.
— Courtesy of WE tv
Ganache, as I've discovered, is "a whipped filling of chocolate and cream, used in desserts such as cakes and truffles." You'll also discover the many uses of buttercream frosting, how to pipe icing and pull sugar professionally, what a fondant is (it's a "thick paste made of sugar and water, often flavored or colored, used in the making of candy, and the icing and decoration of cakes," or a candy made of such a paste) and how to make a sugar bubble.
But for me, the joy is not in the meat and potatoes (or sugar and cream?) of the cake ingredients, but in following the teams chosen to headline this season, and how they create masterpieces of marzipan, and every other cake ingredient, that make their clients deliriously happy. The cake designers include Cake Alchemy of New York (owner/manager Lauri Ditunno "specializes in sugar flowers and blown sugar glass"); Christopher Garren's Cake in Orange County, Calif. (owner Christopher Russom either "goes big or goes home"); and Merci Beaucoup Cakes in Los Angeles (owner Reva Alexander-Hawk works with her sister Karen and buttercream master Marc Gravelle, in a bakery "that's never short on drama").
That's where the soap opera comes in. Whether these experts are preparing an art deco tower reminiscent of New York's Chrysler Building, a cigar humidor cake — featuring gorgeous "wood-paneled" fondant inside and out, and also full of cigars, all edible, natch — as a bride's present to the groom, or a Japanese-themed treasure topped with a silver-leafed, white chocolate origami swan, there's drama aplenty as each team consults with their clients to get an idea of the kind of cake they want. Then they work at a feverish pace, against often impossible-sounding deadlines, to get it done.
There are arguments, mostly about "Should we do this or that to create this effect?", and various frustrations as the staffs prepare and the owners give thumbs-up or down on parts of the cake … plus the occasional last-minute redo, always a guaranteed stress-inducer. But in the end, each team pulls together and produces a joyous, edible wedding gift that honors the couple getting married and is no doubt the hit of their reception.
I've not yet seen an unhappy face on any of the couples when they're presented with the cake at the end of each installment. That includes this viewer; as the cakes take shape, I find myself mesmerized by the production processes and elated by the results. The only thing that saddens me is, I can't taste the final product! The cakes are so gorgeous, one might be hesitant to cut into them. They are true works of art; but more than that, they exist solely to make people happy, and we need so much more of that in these troubled times.