Cynthia David finds out wedding cake bakers are part artist, part psychic.
Wedding cake bakers must be part psychic and part artist, says Austin D’Souza, a technical consultant with Dawn Foods, one of North America’s leading suppliers of baking ingredients. “The chef must be able to read the couple’s mind and translate their ideas into a cake,” says the third-generation pastry chef. “It’s an art form.”
With marriage on the rise in Ontario and British Columbia, where same-sex couples have swelled the ranks, and 75 per cent of Canadian marriages involving a religious ceremony, according to Statistics Canada, it’s safe to say that the wedding cake – a tradition dating back to the Roman Empire – continues to play an integral part in the ceremony.
When D’Souza and his wife wed 14 years ago in Bombay, guests were treated to a 10-tier cake. Such lofty cakes continue to be popular in Asia and the Middle East, he notes, but since coming to Canada two years ago, he’s observed that Canadian brides prefer a more modest three-tiered cake.
Carrot cake, light mousses, chocolate, cream and fruit fillings are all popular here, he adds, and the wedding cake has become a dessert, rather than simply a showpiece. As tastes have changed, so has the cake’s creation. In the past, it would take two to three days, and mounds of butter, sugar and egg whites to make and ice a wedding cake from scratch. “Nobody wants to do it anymore; customers don’t want to pay the price, and few people have the expertise,” says D’Souza, “so we’ve created products to make it easy and more economical.”
Dawn Food Products originated nearly a century ago, as a tiny bakery known for its doughnuts, in Jackson, Mich. When bakers began asking for the recipe, the owners blended the mix and sold it. By 1920, they were selling more mix than doughnuts, so they sold the bakery, and launched the first industrial bakery mix company in the U.S., named for a baker’s early-morning start. Customers include in-store bakeries, wholesalers, foodservice, and mom and pop bakeries.
While Dawn continues to manufacture glacéed fruit in Toronto, along with fillings and fondant, the wedding fruitcake soaked in brandy is definitely in decline, says D’Souza. Traditional brides, however, will still order fruitcake as the top layer of a tiered cake, to freeze for their first anniversary or the birth of their first child.
Of all the company’s cake mixes, manufactured in Saskatoon, the “Red Velvet” sponge mix, in the Baker’s Request line, is creating a stir across Canada, says D’Souza. Long a huge seller in the U.S., the burgundy-coloured cake is soft and delicate, with a unique flavour. “More and more professionals are requesting it.”
Tropical fruit cake fillings under Dawn’s “Temptation” label are also gaining in popularity, says D’Souza. Purées include mango, kiwi, guava, pina colada and tangerine, and the company is working on passionfruit and trendy pomegranate. In the berry line, strawberry remains a winner. It’s perfect for folding into a cream, spreading between cake layers or mixing with mango.
Instant icings are a boon to chefs, D’Souza adds. Instead of separating eggs, and waiting for the icing to dry, they simply add water to Dawn’s royal icing mix for piping and lattice work. Fondant, still a must for a classic cake, can be bought ready-made and rolled out to create a smooth finish. “It makes life easy,” says the chef.
While a thin layer of marzipan is no longer needed as a barrier to prevent the liquid icing from making a cake soggy, it still makes lovely roses, as D’Souza demonstrated in the company boardroom recently. He also showed off delicate sprays of intricate, lifelike pink and white lilies he had handcrafted from sugar. These flowers can be bought ready-made from Asia, he notes, but many brides are opting for fresh flowers.
D’Souza began his career working after school in his family’s wood-fired bakery in India, with his seven siblings. “We did everything by hand,” he recalls. He ended up working in Kuwait, developing markets for international food companies, and cooking for the oil-rich country’s royal family. He began using Dawn products in 1983, long before joining the company.
Last spring, Dawn launched a line of no-sugar-added cream, cakes and fillings to meet demands for healthier eating. The items are easily incorporated into special-occasion cakes, says D’Souza, and the response has been positive, particularly at the craft level, in foodservice, and in seniors’ homes. Dawn also sells fruit syrups to soak a cake, a non-dairy whipping cream and a buttercream.
When he’s not working in R&D, D’Souza visits customers to show them new ideas, and troubleshoot when problems arise working with products. “Most of the time, the issue is time, money and lack of professional skill,” says D’Souza. “Sometimes, a customer comes in with a photo of a cake they want and the baker calls us for help.”
Decorating and merchandising tips are also available through Dawn’s Canadian and U.S. websites. Says the baker: “We want customers to know that our service doesn’t stop when the bag is delivered to the back door.”
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