Y'all... this cake! It's got quite the story and I think you should hear it. First up, the most important fact is that this picture was taken in Napa Valley. And no that was not the wedding theme it was the wedding location, and I somehow got it in my big head I could take a wedding cake on a plane.
It was my cousins wedding and I was still working as a Pastry Chef at Never Blue. As any chef will understand, I hadn't taken a vacation in nearly two years and I thought doing just one wedding cake while on vacation would be a breeze. I was mostly right until I was very wrong, and it wasn't even my fault.
We had decided to try and ship the cakes to California, they would arrive at my cousins new mother-in-laws house and I would make the buttercream and stack it there. BUT, have you ever tried to ship anything to California that is dry iced in coolers and weighs a gazillion pounds? We hadn't either, and with my work schedule I didn't have the time to check shipping rates. So picture it, it's wedding week and we have all of the layers frozen, we pack them in coolers that we load with dry ice packs and we head to the packing store that shall not be named. Imagine our surprise when the teller told us it would cost four hundred dollars to ship two boxes of cake. I had baked all of the layers thin so I wouldn't have to trim them once I got there (or sneak my serrated knife onto the plane). The boxes were heavy but not large, and I found it utterly shocking they would have the gall to charge me that amount, granted I was also sleep deprived and may have overreacted. So, we get back to the car with frozen cake and me and my dad just stare at each other and he says, "Well, I guess we're gonna have to check it."
We unloaded the cake back into my dads freezer because they had the suitcase we would be packing it in and we started planning for our flight in three days. I was trying to figure out what could go in my carry-on without being confiscated, a turntable, whisks, piping tips, dowels, offsets, cake boards, and scissors? My dad ended up packing the "cake suitcase", we lined the suitcase with cardboard boxes and towels for insulation and then packed the cakes and dry iced them. We also included a nice note stating that it was wedding cake and that if the TSA agents could please let it slide it would really mean a lot to true love everywhere. Miraculously, it worked! None of my tools were taken and the cake suitcase was definitely opened but not confiscated... good thing there weren't still chucks of dry ice at that point of this may be a different story.
We were staying in San Francisco for the first night of our trip and then driving to our hotel in Saint Helena. There were many discussions about unloading cake and if we should put them into our mini fridge at the first hotel before we got to St. Helena. We decided that because it was olive oil cake and it was so thoroughly frozen and insulated that we would wait to open the suitcase but for a small slit to stick in more ice packs. When we did crack the suitcase it was plenty cold which was a great reassurance. So we really didn't see the cake until around midnight when we got to our second hotel, I was losing my mind counting down the minutes until I could unload it and stop worrying. So imagine my surprise when we finally did get to unload it and I counted the wrong number or cakes!
Remember my dad had packed the suitcase? Well he left one of the layers from the top tier and the middle tier at home in the freezer. And I had baked them thin to travel so there was no way to get away with not making more. Suffice to say I had a meltdown and my dad felt terrible, real relaxing so far, huh?
So we re-grouped, had a huddle up if you will. The good thing was that I was going to make the buttercream there and was already going to use their kitchen, and I already needed to do a grocery run. The bad thing was that the kitchen I was going to use had never seen a cake pan, so not only did we have to get more ingredients but also cake pans and supplies. The only real downfall was that we were in Napa Valley and we couldn't find butter for under $5 a pound and had to drive an hour to get to a Walmart that sold not only ingredients but also bakeware. On the way to the store I realized that the recipe would also need to be adjusted for elevation and trust me it took the full hour drive to come up with a conversion rate.
So we got the supplies and had a lot of expensive wine with family! We decided I would have to do all of the baking, stacking, and buttercream the day before the wedding and before the rehearsal dinner. I got there bright any early and had the kitchen to myself and miraculously everything started coming together. Funny what a few minutes alone in a kitchen will do. It was a naked cake, so thankfully the building went rather smoothly. I'm sure any baker will understand though that not every cake pan is the same size, and so the cakes I had baked fresh were a tiny bit bigger than the others. It's normally fine because you trim the layers to be even, however, when doing a naked cake you need the sides of the cakes untouched so it's more stable and has that see-through look. Let's just say the florals are strategically placed for a reason. Half way though my cousin came back to the house with the groomsmen and we had many shots, it was going to be a New Years Eve wedding and seemed unfitting to not get in the spirit.
I stacked the top tier on site, the house we had been using to bake had the mother of all steep treks and I figured the cake had been through enough. I remember feeling the most relieved I've ever been to arrive at a venue!
It turned out beautiful, it was an amazing wedding, and seeing the finished project made it so worth it. I wouldn't say I'd never do it again, maybe do it smarter, maybe pack the cakes myself. I try not to dwell on mistakes only I can see in any of my bakes, I know I'm a perfectionist and it never ends well. I can't help but feel proud of this little cake-that-could and nowadays we find this story absolutely hysterical. And it by far does not make that trip any less special or fun, we met family I didn't know I had and saw my dads childhood homes, I got to play tourist and baker in a city I had never worked in. Despite it being hectic it was wonderful, and now you know how to check a cake onto a plane. So win win really? Happy to do the research for you any time!