“Mom, I’m getting married…”

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This is a story about a wedding. And a very special wedding cake.

One that took two bakers, working at different sites miles apart, to pull off – to perfection.

Interested? Read on.

We’ll let the mother of the bride, Dani, tell the saga.

Last January I got a call from my daughter, Kate. She was visiting Israel and Jordan, and called with exciting news:

“Mom, I’m getting married.”

A proposal in the romantic setting of ancient Petra led to a plan to have a wedding just 4 months later in New Hampshire, followed by a second wedding in Israel.

The engaged couple carefully planned every aspect of what was a lovely, sincere, and very personal celebration here in Lyme, NH. They considered the feelings and wishes of each family member. One wish – from this mother – was that there be a wedding cake… something they were willing to forgo. Ori, the groom, isn’t fond of sweets; Kate’s gluten-intolerant.

After visiting a few local bakeries, the bridal couple was even more uncertain. No one in this area was offering gluten-free wedding cake.

To help out, I offered to take the cake “off their plate.” I had baked and decorated a wedding cake 20 years earlier for my sister. What I remembered most clearly was a lot of last-minute fussing.

I was worried that while entertaining out-of-town family and helping my daughter get ready for the wedding, there’d be no space on my to-do list for fussing with a cake. I was also worried about baking a gluten-free cake that would be pleasing to the palates and the eyes of 80 guests.

I was worried about making my daughter’s dream wedding come true.

Lucky for me, I live near King Arthur Flour, and count PJ Hamel as a friend. After several consultations she gave me the confidence to take this project on. PJ suggested that I bake the cake, find someone to frost and decorate, then I assemble and do the final fresh flower decorations.

In the end there was a beautiful homemade cake, inspired by the vision of my daughter, and decorated by the hand of a talented caked designer, King Arthur baker Susan Reid.

Several weeks before the wedding, Susan sends me detailed directions, with a shopping list of items I need.  She also kindly lends me large base pans for baking.

I spend a long day baking cake layers. These are just a few of the 15 layers I ended up baking: side cake, base layers, middle layers, two gluten-free top layers, and extra layers in case something went wrong. Each layer is cooled, placed on cake cardboard, and double-bagged. The bags are carefully labeled “gluten-free” or “Yellow Cake,” then put into a zero-degree freezer.

Let me pause and share some of what I learned along the way.

•Take time ahead to try several recipes. Gluten-free baking isn’t that hard, but there’s a learning curve to get things right.

•The flour mix you use makes a huge difference in texture and flavor. I tried my own flour mix, Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free mix, Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix, and King Arthur gluten-free flour mix. In the end I used the King Arthur flour mix, with a recipe that PJ gave me.

•Be sure your baking powder and vanilla are gluten-free. King Arthur carries Sonoma Syrup Company’s Vanilla Bean Crush, which is gluten-free, as is Penzey’s vanilla extract.

•Don’t grease the side of your baking pans – you get better volume in baking without. Do use parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.

•GF baking doesn’t stay fresh for very long. Freeze baked items after they cool; they defrost well and taste fresh. Freezing doesn’t seem to seem to affect texture.

•I tend not to wash my dry measure cups. It’s easy to forget that you stuck a measure into the flour bin,  and then use it later for sugar. If you’re doing regular GF baking, you need to wash everything, every time, after every use. If you’re just an occasional GF baker, open fresh ingredients: sugar, baking soda, etc.

Better yet, use the many new mixes on the market. King Arthur has a new line, and I’ve tried all of them. They’re easy to use and delicious; even non-GF guests smile at the yummy baked goods coming from my kitchen.

•Finally, if you’re using fresh flowers, order a few ahead of time. It would have helped Susan if she had the exact shade of rose while she was decorating the cake.

In the end, it all worked.

A week before the wedding, all the frozen layers are put in coolers and transported to Susan at King Arthur’s test kitchen. Now let’s see how Susan decorates those 15 layers.

First up: lemon curd filling, made from scratch.

Here’s the gluten-free cake, which was the top two layers.

Susan carefully keeps it away from any gluten, using specially washed tools.

Next, the regular layers. Here’s the cake’s second tier, getting its coat of buttercream icing.

And here’s the bottom tier. It takes a LOT of icing to make a gorgeous cake!

In the fridge: gluten-free cake (carefully segregated, bottom left); the other round tiers, and the rectangular “side” cake, which won’t be part of the “presentation” cake, but will be plated and served to guests separately.

Next: a ribbon of white chocolate will encircle each of the tiers.

“Chocolate plastic” – a combination of white chocolate and corn syrup – is used for both ribbons, and hand-shaped flowers. Here Susan is marbleizing it with pale peach and yellow coloring.

Fold…

…roll…

…then flatten into a ribbon. Here it is, being temporarily held on with toothpicks.

Susan painstakingly pipes Swiss dots all around the chocolate ribbon, top and bottom, on all three tiers.

It helps to draw a circle right where you want the second tier to rest.

It also helps to add some wooden supports. Nothing like the top-heavy tiers of a wedding cake sliiiiiding sideways as you’re driving it to the wedding!

Here’s the “chocolate plastic” for the flowers.

Hand-shaped…

…and carefully applied one by one.

Here they are, waiting to be placed.

You begin to see the final effect.

Notice the gap between layers. Cake decorator’s secret – you need to leave room for the stems of the fresh flowers that’ll be added as final decorations.

Each flower has its own stem hand-piped.

Lovely!

Even the “side” cake gets its edges Swiss-dotted.

Susan VERY carefully puts the decorated layers into large plastic containers, each with a non-skid silicone base inside.

She boxes everything up, and even puts together an emergency kit of extra frosting, flowers, and tools – just in case.

The day before the wedding, the groom’s parents and I drive to King Arthur. With some fanfare from the office staff, we load the decorated and boxed layers onto a cart, and transport them to my car. It’s 95°F, so the AC is running full-tilt.

We put blankets around the cake, and a big WEDDING CAKE IN CAR sign in the back window, and have a slow, 20mph drive up Vermont Route 5. The speed limit is 50mph. Drivers behind us tailgate, until they see the sign – then they smile and back off.

The staff at Dowds’ Country Inn, where the ceremony and reception will take place, take the cake from the car to their cooler.

As an extra touch, Susan had carefully labeled the boxes with unpacking directions, including a critical step – EXHALE!

We assemble the cake just a couple of hours before the wedding. That’s the groom’s mom, Reli, on the left; me on the right.

A little repair work makes it absolutely perfect.

BIG sigh of relief. Ready for its flowers. I’d picked up roses, ordered weeks earlier, from our local coop. I worry and wonder if theyll match the cake.

But, the wedding’s about to begin. Onward and upward!

The ceremony’s held beside a small pond and stream.

Here comes the bride! Kate is radiant, wearing the dress I was married in.

My mother recites a sonnet. I had it typed for her, but she never looks at the paper – she says it all from memory.

“You may kiss the bride” – Kate and Ori.

The roses had been placed on top of and around each layer. Phew, they match! I’d forgotten to put some of the roses on the bottom layer – too much going on.

But I think I’m the only one who notices.

In the end, it’s the glowing and happy couple who take the spotlight.

The first cut.

So far, so good – the gluten-free tier looks like it held up just fine.

Now, for the taste-test –

Not sure how much they’re actually tasting, but they’re certainly enjoying it!

Good to the last crumb.

The staff at Dowds’ does a great job helping us store and assemble the cake. They’re careful to cut and serve the GF cake before cutting the non-GF cake. They even set the plated slices on separate tables, so our GF guests are comfortable. For some GF folks the slightest cross-contamination, like a knife used on both cakes, can create a major digestive upset.

Guests dance across the lawn…

…and later enjoy cake.

In fact, the guests go back for seconds and thirds. A guest I don’t know tells me later that she’s a pastry chef in New York City. She carefully compares the GF/non-GF cakes, and declare both to be of great texture and flavor.

OK, it really is all about the bride and groom, but I have to say, that comment made me smile almost as much as my daughter’s happiness.

In the end, having a daughter get married is a happy occasion. Having a gluten-free wedding cake is entirely possible – even easy – with some planning.

And having the help of good friends and loving family makes the whole thing a joy.

Thank you, Susan. Thank you, PJ.

Ed. note: And thank you, Dani, for writing this blog!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Kate

    First, this is a beautiful post, and not just because of the cake (though it is gorgeous in its own right). Very emotional.

    Second, the Baking Gods must have known I needed this today. I’m making my husband’s birthday cake for the party we’re throwing him on Saturday – a two-layer cake in the shape of a belt buckle. Never having done anything more complicated than a Hershey’s cake with SMBC glopped on, I’m a little nervous about what I should be doing. Thanks to this post, I’m much more confident. THANK YOU.

    You can do it, Kate – confidence! Glad we’re here to help – give us a call, 802-649-3717, if you run into any confusion. Cheers! PJH

    Reply
  2. Lee

    Firstly, congratulations on the wedding! Must have been a really proud day for you as a mother :)

    Secondly, congratulations on the cake, it looks awesome. The texture of the cake, and the beautiful design! I have eaten a few GF-free cake (being mildly gluten-intolerant myself) and none looks as good as this.

    I’ll pass this along to Dani, Lee – she’s flown off to Israel for wedding #2! Thanks for your kind wishes – PJH

    Reply
  3. Maggie

    About halfway through reading this post, I started getting this funny feeling. I stopped myself and thought, “What is that? Why am I feeling weird.” Well, when I pinpointed it, I realized that I was getting that funny little feeling when it’s your wedding day and you know you’re about to cry from all the love pouring around you from all the people who do special things to make it special for you. All the people who traveled from afar who watched you grow up. All the special friends you’ve made along the pathway of your life. What a special think you did in making this cake. And thank you for taking me back to that special feeling on my wedding day.

    I agree, Maggie – there’s nothing like experiencing those sweet, sweet emotions once again… PJH

    Reply
  4. cindy leigh

    awww…. I love a good wedding story! And i appreciate this one. I made my own wedding cake from my grandmother’s boiled raisin cake recipe 25 years ago. I paid someone to decorate it. It was about 6 feet tall after the pillars and fountains and blown glass swans went it. It had a cascading trail of the same alstromeria that was in my bouquet. And I baked forever. The cake was enough to serve 300. Wow, it was so much fun! I still have the pans. Maybe I should make a small version for our 25th anniv coming up this summer.

    Cindy, you HAVE to share that boiled raisin cake recipe sometime. Actually, I have one somewhere… I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours! ;) Thanks for the lovely mental picture- PJH

    Reply
  5. Mags

    Wow, what an emotional post and I’m just so impressed with the way everyone helped each other out and the final cake is absolutely gorgeous. What a sweet, sweet story and lovely wedding couple.

    Mags, they were indeed a lovely couple. And it was a beautiful day. I was so happy that everything went perfectly – including the weather! PJH

    Reply
  6. Marion

    Lovely, thanks for sharing. The cake is beautiful and when you add the GF aspect – what a wonderful labor of love. Dani – good thing you live near King Arthur! BTW, I loved the dress :-)

    Marion, Dani will be glad to read this – shopping for the dress was one of the more prolonged “to-do’s” on her long list… :) PJH

    Reply
  7. Han Lam Chau

    Wow! Congratulation on your daughter’s wedding! What a beautiful cake! This is a very interesting post. Now, I’ve learned something about making a wedding cake even though I don’t think I’ll ever make one. :P
    It definitely takes lots of love to handle these heavy labors throughout this long, stressful process of making a wedding cake. And in those times like this, friendship is certainly a wonderful thing! ^_^

    Reply
  8. Han Lam Chau

    lol, on the side note, I’m kinda curious of what happened to the square cake after seeing the picture of Susan decorating it. :P

    It was cut up and served – it was just extra, as the round, tiered cake wouldn’t feed all 80 guests (plus the staff at Dowds’ enjoyed it, too). Same yummy cake, just not part of the “presentation.” PJH

    Reply
  9. Beth

    Very sweet, very touching, and yes, very emotional post. And what a gorgeous cake to go with the gorgeous bride and groom. This is what life’s all about.

    You know it, Beth- P.S. I owe you an email- PJH

    Reply
  10. Tia @ ButtercreamBarbie

    that is so touching! a mom’s love and a gorgeous cake. Awesome job, I’m so impressed.

    Congrats kate @ ori!!!

    I’ll pass it along, Tia – I’m sure they’ll enjoy reading all of these comments. :) PJH

    Reply
  11. Wei-Wei

    Congratulations to Kate and Ori – and of course Susan, PJ and Dani, for making such a gorgeous cake! It looks absolutely wonderful, and I think that having such consideration to make GF layers is great. You guys never cease to amaze me! :) Magnificent work. :D

    Wei-Wei

    Reply
  12. SMJ

    Beautiful cake, beautiful bride, beautiful wedding! What a nice story. Tomorow is my 11th wedding anniversary so this is a very timely post. Maybe I will sursprise my hubby with a wedding cake!

    Happy anniversary! Best get the butter for the buttercream out of the fridge now! :) PJH

    Reply
  13. Bridget C

    First, ahhh…this totally made me get all teary here at work. Second, it’s funny how much emotion a gluten free special cake evokes in those who must face this. My sister got married last June, and my son (who was then 7 years old) has Celiac. We had a local GF baker make a special cake, just for him. It was two layers and decorated beautifully. Complete with a Matchbox 4-wheeler as the topper! :-) I dare say I have never seen him smile so big as when he saw that cake and realized it was for him…and he wore a circle around the table it sat on bc he couldn’t stop checking it out. And the best part? It turned out that two of my now brother in law’s relatives also have Celiac, although they never said a thing to my sister until they heard about my son at the rehearsal dinner, so my son was VERY happy to bring them both a piece of HIS special cake so they could have cake at the wedding too.

    Bridget, that’s a lovely story – and I can just see your son ZOOMING around the table! GF is becoming such a significant part of more and more people’s lives; I’m glad we here at KA can help. Cheers- PJH

    Reply
  14. shannon abdollmohammadi

    what an amazing post!
    1. I love the cake and lemon curd is my fav.
    2. the bride’s wedding dress is beautiful ( I love vintage).
    3. I covet your kitchen….
    4. the pictures are amazing and beautiful!!

    Glad this speaks to you, Shannon – thanks for connecting here. PJH

    Reply
  15. cindy leigh

    PJ, I will post the recipe in a few minutes.
    BTW I loved that mom’s wedding dress was chosen. How beautiful.
    I had to MAKE my matron of honor dress for my sister’s wedding. I was quite pregnant and couldn’t find anything. Good thing I can sew.

    Sew, cook, bake – you’re a woman of many classic talents, Cindy- :) PJH

    Reply
  16. cindy leigh

    Nana’s Boiled Raisin Cake

    1 box raisins (regular or sultanas)
    1 cup crisco
    1 1/2 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    3 cups AP flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    1 tsp cloves
    2 tsp baking soda
    1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts usually)
    chopped dates and/or currants if desired

    Now, my grandmother’s directions simply say bake at 350 for about 1 hour!

    So here’s what I do:
    boil raisins by placing in a pan with water to cover, bring to a boil, and as soon as water boils turn off, remove from heat and let sit a few minutes. Drain and let cool. This is so the raisins will be tender, not dry. If using currants you can add in but don’t boil dates!

    cream crisco and sugar.
    add eggs.
    add flour, salt and soda.
    mix in completely cooled raisins nuts and optional ingredients.

    Batter will be very stiff. Will give you great biceps!

    TO make a killer fruitcake, soak raisins in warmed rum instead of boiling.
    Add halved maraschino cherries, diced dried apricots, a can of crushed well drained pineapple, some orange zest, and pecans instead of walnuts. Use rum or brandy extract if you want. Bake as usual (can you tell I hate that citron- the hard candied stuff??) When cool, brush with rum or brandy and wrap in cheesecloth and do what you normally would for boozing up a fruitcake)

    We usually had this in a bundt or tube pan, unfrosted. I had white butter cream for my wedding, but a nice fluffy cream cheese frosting is good, or just a plop of real whipped cream. The texture is not as hard as a fruitcake- it’s very moist and tender.

    It can also be made in loaf pans and sliced like a tea cake.

    I painted some of those with alcohol and shipped to my husband when he was deployed somewhere on a ship in the mid-east once. It was just fine.

    THANK YOU, Cindy! :) PJH

    Reply
  17. juliane t

    Congratulations and thank you for the helpful post!
    What a lovely wedding and a scrumptious cake!

    I am bookmarking this as DD is getting married in March and I volunteered to do her cake.
    The “How-to” assembly pictures are so helpful!
    You answered my dilemma about how to create that space between the layers in which to place the flower stems…

    Future S.I.L. is lactose intolerant, but I don’t think that will be an issue as long as any cream fillings are made with lactaid milk.
    How many people did your cake feed?

    Thanks again!

    Glad you liked it, Juliane. The cake fed 80+ guests. PJH

    Check out Dede Wilson’s Book, Wedding Cakes You can Make”; it’s a gold mine of helpful info. Susan

    Reply
  18. DianneB

    What a stunningly beautiful cake that YOU made look very doable for an average cake baker like me. Thank you for the descriptive photos.

    The bride looks radiant, the groom happy, and everyone appears to be having a wonderful time! Congratulations to all.

    Reply
  19. stacey

    What a touching story. With several friends with gluten allergy, and my own corn allergy, I know all too well the challenge of desserts at special occassions. Brava for finding the way around it.

    Reply
  20. charlene gates

    Wow Dani–great story and pictures. Congratulations on a beautiful wedding and your beautiful cake. I’ve forwarded this story to someone I know with gluten allergy. Thank you. C

    And thanks for checking in here, Charlene- :) PJ

    Reply
  21. Greg

    Let me start by saying the cake and the wedding look wonderful! But let me also say that things seem to happen for a reason, and the timing on this couldn’t be better. My daughter is getting married 3 weeks from today (July 9th)and she and several of the guests are gluten intolerant. We tried gluten-free cakes from several local bakeries but we weren’t impressed with any of them (most were dry and gritty). So this weekend was going to be spent in the kitchen making gluten-free cakes, trying to find a good recipe we can serve at her wedding! In the blog you say that you tried several recipes/mixes and in the end used the King Arthur gluten-free flour mix and “a recipe PJ gave me”. Was this the “Gluten-Free Yellow Cake” recipe posted on the King Arthur Flour website, or was it some sort of “PJ’s secret recipe”?

    It’s the gluten-free yellow cake, Greg, the recipe on our site. Very best of luck! PJH

    Reply
  22. Shelley Orenstein

    Mazal Tov on your daughter’s wedding. What a beautiful story. It gives me hope that when (and if) my two youngest marry, i will be able to pull off the same thing. The dress is beautiful. would you care to share the lemon filling recipe?

    This is a beautiful story and it was fun to see Susan put the cake together. Here is a link to a lemon curd recipe: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/very-vanilla-cupcakes-with-lemon-filling-recipe. JMD@KAF

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Shelley: If you ever decide to go down that road, I highly recommend Dede Wilson’s book, Wedding Cakes You Can Make. It has a huge amount of practical advice in a slim, reasonably priced volume. Susan

  23. Sharon Kreps

    I can’t really add anything as it has all been said, but this was a lovely post, enjoyable to read, and the wedding, the cake, the setting, the dress, the bride and groom and family all looked fabulous! What a wonderful story! Yes, I felt those emotional stirrings too! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  24. Jenn B

    So much love and care went into that cake! I’m reminded of my own wedding. My mother made my wedding cake from a traditional English boiled fruitcake recipe. It was decorated with royal icing and sugar flowers that my godmother made and mailed from Wales to Ohio.

    Reply
  25. Jessica

    I was entranced by your descriptions of what was a wonderful (and I’m sure pleasantly exhausting) day!

    Thanks for sharing, and the photographs look just beautiful.

    Reply
  26. Sandy

    What a great story!! The cakes looks fabulous. I am using the g-free flour for the first time today to make a peach pie (fresh picked peaches plentiful now here in NC) today. Also made the g-free pancake mix this morning before church for my granddaughter who is visiting (she is Celiac and must eat gluten free). They were outstanding. My husband did not believe they were gluten free! I do have a question about the pancake mix…can I use buttermilk instead of milk? I do this for my homemade gluten pancakes but have to decrease the baking powder and add a little baking soda. Since your pancakes are a mix, not sure if substituting buttermilk would work.
    We have not tested buttermilk in this mix so if you choose to try it will be an experiment. Buttermilk will change the Ph so the taste will be a bit different and you may see more bubbles in the bowl but slightly heavier pancakes on the griddle. If you do decide to try please let us know how this turns out. Have fun with it! JMD@KAF

    Reply
  27. linda

    this was such a wonderful story…congratulations to the bride & groom…
    dani, pjh & susan you ROCK!!

    Reply
  28. SoupAddict Karen

    Bravo, to everyone! Beautiful performance (and it practically is, you know!). (And lovely bride and groom :) )

    My niece’s wedding was this past weekend, and even though a well-reputed local bakery handled the cake, it was very meh (both in looks and flavor). There’s nothing like a homemade cake!

    I loved the “wedding cake” sign in the car window – I’m totally going to steal that. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than transporting a cake!

    Reply
  29. Aaron Frank

    WOW… Great story. Congrats to the bride, groom, and bakers.

    This story was just what I needed today.

    I’ve made two wedding cakes once (for one wedding), one of which was an Australian fruitcake that took me a month to get right (and numerous taste tests of miserable cake by a good, Aussie friend).

    Thank you for this. You made my day!

    Thanks, Aaron – :) PJH

    Reply
  30. Dani

    Thank you for all your lovely stories and comments. I’m sitting on a mountain top in a small village in northern Israel; enjoying the shade of olive and fig trees, and thick grape vines. This afternoon Kate and Ori will exchange vows for a second time, with two happy families and a large group of friends. After a celebration meal made from local vegetables, honey, and cheese, we will gather around a campfire to sing and dance. No cake this time, but we’ll enjoy baklava, with a GF cheesecake for Kate and Reli.

    Picture and post when we find an Internet connection.

    PS Reli, mother of Ori, Is the woman helping me set up the cake. Tami, owner of Dowds, is poising with the cake and kids
    PPS In Metula, northern most settlement in Israel. pictures later

    Thanks, Dani – I’ll fix the words under Reli’s picture. Thinking of you and I know we’re all enjoying this second wedding from afar- PJH

    Reply
  31. juliane t

    I’ve been practicing for the wedding making different flavors of cake, and yes, Susan, I love DeDe Wilson’s book- I call it the Wedding Cake Bible…lol
    Anyway, the website (FB) has a picture of my most recent practice cake, for future Son-I.L.’s birthday- Strawberries and Cream cake… they liked it well enough to choose it for at least one of their tiers…

    Anybody know of any other interesting flavor combinations?
    I don’t think our bride and groom are into lemon…
    Thanks again for the great info!

    Reply

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