Cake tastings. Something new. When Dave and I were married, the cake was yellow with white frosting and plenty of flowers. Fulfilling two wedding cake requirements, it tasted good and made only a moderate mess when stuffed into each other’s mouths. Now, young couples research cakes. They attend showcases to collect brochures and perhaps nibble a few samples before making appointments for a more complete presentation. And when Tucker and his fiancé Lisa invited us to Boston to accompany them on this excursion, Dave and I jumped at the chance.
Times have changed since the seventies when my mother took care of the arrangements while I remained at college, desperately partying in the final weeks of school. At age thirty-two, Tucker and Lisa have experienced venues, DJ’s, flowers, favors, and food at any number of family and friends’ celebrations, so they have taken on the details for their wedding; they know what they want.
They wish the wedding and its preparations to be distinctive, to hold a story. Tucker’s wedding proposal to Lisa was carved in 800 pounds of snow trucked into the Esplanade on the Charles River on a hot July day. In April, they went into New York to learn how to craft, file and finish their own wedding bands. Their engagement pictures were taken in settings around Boston that had played a role in the early chapters of their life together. Memories sculpted and forged as much as the snow and the gold.
After a thrilling night Friday at Fenway Park, Dave, Tucker, Lisa and I rallied early for our first appointment at “Icing on the Cake,” the “Best of Boston” wedding cake service, according to Lisa. Paula, the owner, met us at the door and ushered us to a small room lined with models of cakes garbed in sumptuous fondant folds, cascades of marzipan flowers, and glittering silver sugar beads. The kids were leaning toward a cupcake tree or dessert buffet rather than the traditional tiered cake, so our mission was to eat our way to a decision.
With short, wavy, brown hair, dark flashing eyes and a ready smile, Paula had clearly done some sampling in the process of developing her award-winning recipes. She grinned and said, “Never trust a skinny chef.” She was friendly and chatty, professional and organized. She filled out paperwork with names, dates, guest numbers, and the wedding location. She provided binders replete with pictures to spark decorating ideas. She cautioned Lisa away from geometric designs because cutting and placement of the shapes was costly, but was flexible about the possibility of combining silver beads and frosting vines. She was firm in her policy on cupcake tree stand rentals, ($50, and the bride and groom are responsible for returning the stand within seven days of the wedding) but mentioned that many of her brides buy them on Ebay. So many details to consider in cake decisions alone!
After the preliminaries, Paula served plates of multi-layered cake strips: lemon with raspberry or Grand Marnier filling, chocolate mousse, yellow with strawberry filling, and red velvet with white frosting. We took our time, savored each bite, and made note of pros and cons. Well, not many cons; the cakes were moist and delicious. When the plates were empty, we shook hands, gave our thanks, borrowed the bathroom, and promised to get back to her.
We had several hours to recover before Tucker’s suit fitting and our next tasting at 4:00, so we walked down historic Boyleston Street. The 19th century buildings with their graceful mansard roofs, rounded brick facades, and black and gold storefronts were a fascinating contrast to our fellow strollers. Tuck and Lisa were unfazed by the passersby, but Dave and I whispered and nudged each other like kids in a classroom. “How does she keep her balance on heels that high?” “What might be the significance of that tattoo?” “I think that attractive woman was a man…”
You just don’t see that in Easton.
Next, a first for hippie-throwbacks Lea and Dave, a trip to Brooks Brothers for Tucker’s fitting. Past madras slacks in astonishing bands of red, yellow, navy and green; past polo shirts embroidered with tiny whales; past ties awash in lobsters, sailboats and Scottie dogs; past vintage photographs of early Brooks Brothers’ work rooms; past photographs of the original Brooks Brothers themselves, then up the staircase with its polished cherry railing to the fourth floor.
A man in a tailored suit (naturally) greeted my son by name, handed him a dark navy suit, and showed him to a dressing room. Moments later, Tucker emerged, handsome, tall, straight, and pleased at his reflection in the mirror and the pride in our eyes.
Unable to escape nostalgia, I invited toddler Tucker into the room, and remembered that same look of restrained pride – eyes alight, small smile (big smile fighting to break through, but held back) - on his little face while building a bi-plane from toothpicks or nailing a plank of wood onto a fort. My boy. Soon to be married...
With deft movements, the tailor made a series of chalk dashes on Tucker’s sleeves and marked the locations of the buttons down the front. Lisa rose from her seat and tugged at the back of the jacket a bit, ran her hand down Tuck’s arm, then stood back for the full effect. The two exchanged happy smiles.
Anything else? The question flashed in a glance from the tailor to Tucker, Tucker to Lisa, Tucker to us. Nods of satisfaction all round. Perfect.
After lunch at Sel de la Terre, we marched (running late! We lingered too long over lunch!) back to the garage to grab the car and drive to Conditor Meister, “master baker” in German, for our second tasting.
A different ambience entirely from the calm at Icing on the Cake, this shop sold pastries from expansive display cases and was feverish with activity. Held in their parents’ arms, children licked frosting off cupcakes, or whined and pointed with that goal in mind. Customers studied wads of dark chocolate, smoothly iced mocha topped with espresso beans, cream puffs, and chocolate dipped strawberries. Which one to choose? Perhaps a selection? To eat now or take home? The air was warm and heavy with yearning and the scent of baked goods.
We had business to attend to. Lisa checked in with Kimmy, a woman of twenty-two or so, olive-skinned, with long shining black hair pulled into a ponytail. We followed her to a room in the back, again, lined with cake models and binders of possibilities. She sat with us, noted the necessary information on her clipboard, then left briefly and returned with a tray of pastries. Full size pastries from the display cases out front. Cupcakes gussied up with multi-colored sparkles, roulades, a swan-shaped raspberry cream puff, chocolate mousse, fruit tartlets, key lime pie, and mini-cheesecakes.
Did I mention that Lisa is forced to follow a gluten-free diet and Dave is lactose intolerant, so Tuck and I were the sole tasters for this sugar-rich array?
We dug in. The roulades, cake rolls with fillings of lemon and Oreo creme, were divine – a surprise as they looked dry and mundane. Lisa reminded us, however, that wedding guests would make their choices based on “curb appeal” and those rolls might not even touch lips. The fruit tart was pretty, vaguely healthy, not my favorite, but a colorful addition to the assortment. The cheese cake? I’m not a fan, but many are. Actually, Tucker and I are of the “if it’s not chocolate, it’s not dessert” camp, so we tried to consider others’ tastes and stretch beyond our instinctive grab for the mousse.
Not wishing to waste, Tuck and I were thorough, and left little but crumbs and frosting smears in the ruffled paper pastry cups.
And then Kimmy appeared with another tray.
What? Yes. “And there’s more to come.” We would have paced ourselves if we’d known! Taken a tidbit only of each! But no. Resigned, we took new plastic forks and gingerly tried the almond crusted marzipan mounds, raspberry filled chocolate candy cups, and crumbly cannolis. We had a job to do.
Wistfully, Lisa asked if any of the desserts were gluten-free and was rewarded with a hunk of fudgy…um, fudge. Even Dave took a taste. Heavenly.
“Want some coffee?” Dave asked. God, yes. Something to cut through the sugar bloat.
“There’s more,” Kimmy said.
“Impossible,” Tucker and I gasped. I would have thought open season in a pastry shop a blissful dream, but could not imagine prying my mouth open for another forkful.
“Then I’ll pack them up along with your favorites,” said Kimmy brightly.
Tucker and I parried about who would take the two boxes of complimentary pastries. “Really Mom, you take them.” “No Lovin’, I want you to have them.” Reeling as we were from all that frosting and filling, rarely have we been so gracious about desserts. I won the debate and left the boxes behind with my son, in hindsight, a hasty move. Coffee with one of those almond crusted marzipan mounds sounded pretty good Sunday morning.
When Dave and I left Boston, dessert discussions were still underway. After that selfless day of gluttony on behalf of friends and family, would a stand of Paula’s cupcakes entice the wedding guests, or a delectable array of cream puff swans, fudge cake and lemon roulades?