“Be Prepared” Part II: When a Cake Delivery Goes Awry

Last month I had a 4-tiered wedding cake due on a beautiful fall day–sunny and warm–but all was not sunny in my mind.  I am always a wreck on cake delivery/pick-up days.  I dither over what could I have done better, what I did brillantly (there’s much less of this on the docket) and most importantly, whether the client will love or hate the cake.  This last one usually has me in complete ribbons until I see the client.  Unfortunately with wedding cake clients, you rarely get to see in person their pleasure (or displeasure, but so far I have not experienced any of that from my clients, thankfully).  I really do want my clients to be deliriously happy with the look of the cake and I also wish for it to be one of the best things they have ever tasted too, which all adds up to a lot of pressure on my shoulders, mostly put there by me!  On this day, I had an extra Spidey sense of foreboding on my shoulders as well…..

This particular cake was designed mostly by my client who sent me cute little graphics of variations of the cake that she wanted until we were both happy with the final sketch.  It was interesting for me since many brides and most non-wedding clients leave most of the artistic part up to me once they have told me what they would like, in a general sort of way.  What both of us failed to notice was a design flaw in the cute sketches of alternating square and round tiers.  It just never occurred to me.  (Now you’re looking back at the above photo to see the flaw, huh?)

The tier sizes were worked out very carefully to serve as the dessert course at the reception, as well as to stay within her budget.  Therefore, I quoted her for 8, 10, 12 and 14 inch tiers, and depending on how the caterer portioned the cake, they just may well have needed every piece of it.  (Keep that in mind when designing cakes and quoting prices–caterers/venues cut the cakes in different ways and different sizes, so be generous with portions when the cake is being served for dessert.)  Tiered cakes are often assembled on-site, especially when one is not driving a bakery truck, and to avoid damage that would be incurred by taking it apart, the cake is only assembled the one time, on-site.  This means preparedness is very key.  It would be awful, for example, to realize on-site that the 10″ square tier is bigger than the 12″ round tier when it is far too late to do anything about it and besides, shaving the tier might mean that there wouldn’t be enough cake.  This would be reason enough for smacking one’s forehead, but unfortunately, there was more reason to meltdown.

On the drive to the venue, I had my minion–I mean my nephew–holding the top tier on his lap to protect it.  The next smallest tier was attached to a cake board, sitting in the perfect-sized box, and the bottom two tiers, which were assembled ahead of time, were tightly nestled into my favourite transportation crate, both box and crate allowed to float freely about my trunk.  Not my best decision ever.  Transportation is tough without more minions to help one carry it out and/or fancy devices to lock the cake into place.  Even within his protective lap, I was constantly giving my nephew the squint eye to make sure that no part of him touched the tier in any way.  My nephew would have served better holding the bottom two tiers, which unfortunately, despite my painstakingly slow driving, slid forward in the too-small crate, the sides of which gashed two sideways triangles out of the bottom tier, on opposite sides.  Just because it looks too tight to move, doesn’t mean that it won’t find a disastrous way to do so.

At the last meeting of the Canadian Cake Decorator’s Guild, my fellow decorator, Kat, told me that she uses that non-slip matting under her cakes.  I felt like I must have had “Don’t I Wish I Had Thought of That,” written on my forehead.  Well, every cake is a lesson; some are just harder to learn than others.

That last minute dash out of the house was reminiscent of a chicken with her head cut off–my body was functioning, but without a brain.  Desperate, I grabbed just about every tool in my kit, a very few pieces of fondant and lastly, despite my dubiousness at it’s usefulness, a tub of white Royal icing.

When I saw the gashes in the cake, a few tears actually welled up; I had never had damage during the delivery anywhere near to this extent before.  However, I shoved back my shoulders and dove in.  Unfortunately under that white fondant was chocolate buttercream and the mess coming through those gashes wasn’t pretty.  I patched the gashes first with the white Royal icing.  With my mini rolling pin, I then made fondant patches roughly the size of the gashes and covered the Royal icing once it had dried slightly.  Using an Exacto knife, I trimmed the excess, then I re-quilted the design into the cake, very thankful that I had grabbed the quilting wheel as I ran out of the house.  In the dim light of the venue, it was very hard to see, although I would have been happier if the gashes would have occurred on the same corner, which once patched, would have faced the wall! 

When all was said and done, I breathed a sigh of somewhat-relief.  Would the bride notice our design flaw?  How could I not realize?  Had I even thought to stack my cake pans together, I would have seen that the 10″ tier would be too large.  I was mortified at the damage to the cake, but since I know that all decorators have gone through this at one time or another (some on national tv) and that I had fixed the damage well, there was nothing more that I could do on that day.

On the Monday after the wedding, I emailed the bride to apologize and offer a gesture–free cupcakes.  To my intense relief, she was thrilled with the cake, hadn’t noticed the damage and most importantly–she said it was delicious!  She also partook in the design flaw blame, which was so sweet of her.

Take my advice:  get some non-slip matting and a tool box to cover every contingency, don’t forget the Royal icing and buttercream, bring more fondant than you think you will need, and gather your minions for the next cake delivery.