Cakes


After our somewhat disappointing cake experience with Amphora Bakery, one of our friends suggested talking with Elizabeth Vdovjak of Uppercrust Wedding Cakes about our cake needs. Last night, D. and I met with Elizabeth for a tasting and to discuss our options. She said it would be no problem to do our multi-tiered, multi-hued, “Such Great Heights” cloud cake for 40 guests. YAY! Also, the chocolate ganache Battlestar Galactica cake shouldn’t be a problem either.
We tasted a white cake with buttercream and a fresh strawberry and Grand Marnier filling, white cake with chocolate ganache filling, white cake with amaretto buttercream filling, white cake with black raspberry preserves filling, and chocolate cake with chocolate ganache filling. She also cut a slice of fondant for us to taste. The cakes were so good. I was a very happy camper. Her buttercream was not cloying sweet, the cakes were not dry, the fondant was actually edible, and the strawberry/Grand Marnier combination was perfect. It was a much better cake tasting experience.
Her pricing was very reasonable. She quoted $5.50 per person for our Such Great Heights cake (including fondant, fillings, and cloud decorations), and about $75 for our single tier Battlestar Galactica grooms cake. Because she’s located in Fairfax, VA and our wedding is going to be in Laurel, MD, D. and I will need to arrange to have someone pick up the cake from Elizabeth’s location and set it up at the reception location. She is going let us borrow her cake transportation boxes and ice packs, so there shouldn’t be a problem getting the cakes to the cake. (crosses fingers).
We’re pretty darn happy with this cake experience. We may talk to another baker, just to exhaust our options, but I believe we will end up going with Elizabeth.

I was looking at the Non-Traditional Wedding Cake Flickr group last night when I came across pictures from the Manassas Cakery. I got really excited because I thought, “Hey, this person designs unusual cakes, her piping work doesn’t totally suck like some cakes I’ve seen lately, and she’s local.” I thought it was odd that her website redirected to her Flickr photo set, and that I couldn’t find any contact information for her, but I was able to send her an email through Flickr.
This morning, there was a response waiting for me in my inbox:
“I am sorry but I am not taking any more cake orders. I am closing my business.”

Poop. I replied asking her for recommendations for local bakers, so maybe she’ll provide a good lead.

I was so excited yesterday for this tasting. The afternoon felt like it was just dragging along because it *knew* that there was someplace I wanted to be in the evening. Finally, it was 5:15 pm, and we could leave work to head out to the caterer. We arrived on time, but we were a little confused as to which house was the catering building. (You see, Amphora has a bakery in a small strip mall, a free standing restaurant next door, and a house behind the restaurant out of which the catering business operates. )

I was a little nervous standing at the door with cake books and Battlestar Galactica action figures in hand. I’m standing there thinking, “She’s going to think we’re total dorks.” Jade, our event designer, answered the door, and I was relieved. She was young, personable, and appeared to be pretty hip. Yay!

We walked through the foyer of the house into a dining room with a sweetheart table set up just for us. (Yes, I know it wasn’t “just” for us. Other tasting couples get the same treatment, but I appreciated the fact that we weren’t tasting in a kitchen or in a busy restaurant.)

Ok, on with the stuff you really care about: the Food.

First plate: Bow Tie Pasta Salad with asparagus, fresh mozzarella and basil
Bow Tie Pasta Salad
This was very good. However, for this tasting they used a mayonnaise/mustard/possibly horseradish based dressing, which was tasty, but I believe it would be too heavy for an outdoor June wedding. I was expecting their vinaigrette version. The chef came out and explained that they can adjust any of the dishes to better suit our palates, so please feel free to express likes and dislikes for each dish.

Second and Third plates: Char Grilled Spanish Style Skewers featuring marinated and grilled chicken, turkey sausage, and shrimp AND Pineapple Chicken Skewers (not pictured)
Spanish skewers
These skewers were good and light. The turkey sausage had more flavor than I expected. (My skewers don’t have shrimp because I don’t eat shellfish.) However, in my opinion, these skewers couldn’t hold a candle to the Pineapple Chicken Skewers, which I forgot to take a picture of. Unfortunately, some of the chicken on D.’s Pineapple Chicken Skewers were underdone (as in pink and squishy), so it put him off a bit of the Pineapple Chicken Skewers. 😦

Fourth plate: Wild Rice & Currant Salad
Wild Rice Salad
Isn’t it pretty? It looks like it’s going to taste good, right? Unfortunately, it didn’t. The Wild Rice Salad didn’t taste bad; it had no distinguishable flavor. D. came to the same conclusion as well. There were chickpeas, zucchini, and peppers, and what are supposed to be currants. (D. and I believe those are just yellow raisins.) I was anticipating an earthy, but sweet flavor.  The chef offered a suggestion of maybe swapping out some of the vegetables for some fruits like kiwi and strawberries and adding a touch of honey to make it lighter and sweeter. That’s an interesting thought, but I think having two starch based salads and no green salad is a bit much. I think we may opt for some fun Asian vegetable salad instead… ooh, maybe a fruit and jicama salad… that would be tasty.

Fifth plate: Herb Marinated Flank Steak and Roasted Seasonal Vegetables (not pictured)
This ended up being their Asian Marinated Flank Steak. I wish I took a picture of this. The flank steak was great. The only change we’d want for the flank steak is to cut back on the cilantro. However, the roasted vegetables were not pleasant at all. The vegetables had this “I was overcooked and over-seasoned earlier in the day” wilted look. They weren’t pleasing to the eye and unappetizing to me. I’m a big fan of steamed, crisp, just barely cooked, vegetables. Also, since we’re going with more of an Asian inspired BBQ, we may want a mixture of Asian vegetables served instead. (Jade packed up a to-go box full of extra flank steak for us to take home. Guess what I’m going to have when I’m done typing this.)

Cake Tasting:
Days before the event, we had gone through Amphora’s list of cake and filling options and chose the flavors in which we were interested. Unfortunately, instead of providing a platter of cake and filling samples, we were brought a collection of four cake squares.

Chocolate chiffon cake with chocolate Frangelico bavarian cream filling.
Chocolate Frangelico
D. and I want a chocolate cake for our Groom’s Cake. This chocolate chiffon cake, I believe, is the driest cake I’ve ever had. I had to ask when this cake was prepared, and Jade didn’t know. The chocolate cake D. and I sampled at Cakes Plus blew this cake out of the water.

Yellow chiffon cake with Grand Mariner filling.
Grand Mariner
Also surprisingly dry, not quite the flavor profile I’m looking for.

Yellow chiffon cake with espresso buttercream.
Espresso
At first bite, it was really good. After the third bite, it was cloyingly sweet.

Yellow chiffon cake with white chocolate mousse and raspberry preserves.
White chocolate
This cake had the right moisture and the mousse wasn’t too sweet. I didn’t really like the raspberry preserves, but we talked with Jade, and this mousse cake can be made with a layer of sliced strawberries instead of the raspberry preserves.

While we were stuffing our faces, I showed Jade some ideas for our “Such Great Heights” cake. We would like to have a cake shaped and airbrushed similar to this cake.
Fishcake

But instead of the fish details, we’d like white chocolate clouds, similar to this cake.
Cloud cake
However, we don’t want the freehand piped clouds.

Unfortunately, (I’ve said “unfortunately” far too many times in this review.) the minimum for a tiered cake is 80 guests. That’s twice as much cake, at twice the cost, than I need. However, if we book our catering with Amphora, our wedding cake is 15% off. I was trying to broach the idea of a covered styrofoam layer to create the illusion of height, but we never got around to discussing it as an option.

So, to sum up:

Catering:
Service: 4 out of 5 stars (Jade was very personable, and the chef is amenable to tweaking the menu to suit our palates.)
Quality of Food: 3 out of 5 stars (If D.’s chicken on the Pineapple Skewers were cooked a bit more and the roasted vegetables were cooked less, we’d be much happier.)
Value: 5 out of 5 stars (The cost is extremely reasonable for the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area.)

Bakery:
Service: 3 of 5 stars (We weren’t happy about the way the cake tasting was done. We feel like we’ll need to schedule multiple tastings to try the combinations we want. Also, the limitation on tiered cakes makes me sad.)
Quality of Food: 2 out of 5 stars (We really were not impressed with the textures and flavors of the cakes and fillings. Part of me feels that we’d just be settling if we got the yellow chiffon, white chocolate mousse and sliced strawberries filling. Based on the cake we tasted, we’re are not inclined to order our Groom’s Cake from Amphora.
Value: 3 out of 5 stars (The discount on the wedding cake is nice, but the quality of the cakes are not up to my cake snob standards.)

I’m planning on giving Jade our honest feedback, and hopefully, she’ll be able to work with us to iron out some of these wrinkles.  Also, I may request duck proscuitto served over melon with microgreens as an additional cocktail hour platter, or maybe a shitake mushroom appetizer of some kind.

Tomorrow, D. and I are going to our first tasting at Amphora Catering. Not only will we be tasting our potential reception dinner, we will also be tasting cake as well. I’m really excited! (D. believes that I’m more excited about the cake tasting than I am about the rest of the meal.) The wedding ball is starting to roll.

The proposed menu Jade at Amphora put together for us consists of:

Cocktails Hour:
Fruit and Cheese Platters

Entrees:
Char Grilled Spanish Style Skewers featuring marinated and grilled chicken, turkey sausage, and shrimp
OR
Pineapple Chicken Skewers (At the tasting, we’ll figure out which one we’re going to go with.)
AND
Herb Marinated Flank Steak

Sides:
Roasted Seasonal Vegetables
Wild Rice & Currant Salad
Bow Tie Pasta Salad with asparagus, fresh mozzarella and basil
Assorted Country Dinner Rolls

We won’t be tasting the fruit and cheese platter, but we will be trying everything else (and taking pictures along the way). I’m a little bit nervous about the cake. I’m a serious cake snob. For my birthday cake last year, we scouted out and tasted cake at 3 different bakeries before I found the right cake. It’s not about appearance; I’m all about the taste and texture. I’m also not a real big fan of fondant. I promise to report back with all of our findings.

Yesterday, D. and I popped into Cakes Plus in Laurel, MD to check out the bakery and their portfolio. The place was absolutely packed. Every Saturday, they hold a free tasting of their standard cake flavors: yellow, chocolate, marble, spice, and lemon cake. We really likes their yellow cake. It was moist and not too sweet. The chocolate cake was a close second. I’m thinking a Red Raspberry filling… maybe. We didn’t have an opportunity to taste the fillings though. As for the cake design, we’re only having 35 – 45 guests, so our cake canvas is small. Also, we both aren’t fans of rolled fondant. D. has been leaning toward a more traditional white cake design with white swirl and heart piping. I want something more unusual like a Battlestar Galactica themed space cake.
Our compromise: we’re toying with the idea of a two-tier light blue cake with clouds airbrushed on it and a cake topper of a couple waving (if we can find one). The cake would represent our song, “Such Great Heights.” (My only fear is that the blue will be too vibrant, too primary.)
D. said we could also have a single-tiered Battlestar Galactica “groom’s” cake with Apollo and Starbuck figurines on top. Yay!

Starbuck Apollo