Saturday, August 13, 2011

mission improbable

One of my very dearest friends got married earlier this week. She asked if Michelle would be willing to make one of two wedding cakes for the reception. (There were going to be lots of people and she happened to be friends with two trained pâtissières.) Michelle was all too happy to put her talents to work. After all, she's made quite a number of wedding cakes over the years. No big deal, right?

Well, there was one catch, maybe two. The wedding was in New York City.

mission improbable fig. a: no problem, right? fig. a: destination New York

And there'd be no Laloux-style professional kitchen on the New York end.

This was definitely a new challenge for the AEB Mobile Unit, but one that we were happy to take up. There'd be an international border to cross, countless potholes to dodge, extreme heat and humidity, and the very real possibility of severe thunderstorms. The cake would have to be cut, filled, and iced in a Bed-Stuy kitchen. It would then have to be assembled, piped, and finalized in a crowded Atlantic Avenue bar. Prayers would be prayed, curses would be cursed. There would be moments of inspiration, and a fair share of perspiration.

This is roughly how things elapsed:

1. We pulled up outside of Restaurant Laloux to pick up Michelle's meticulous prep: cakes, blackberry compote, vanilla icing, butter cream, and a set of tools. The gear was loaded into the trunk of the car and Team AEB devised some makeshift harnesses to keep things from sliding around.

packing the car fig. b: packing

Like I said, prayers were prayed.

prayers fig. c: praying

2. Team AEB managed to avoid a wait of roughly two hours at the border by deftly taking an exit and slipping to a smaller neighboring crossing. Total wait time: 15 minutes.

Apparently, wedding cakes don't appear in the training manuals of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. When we were asked if we had anything to declare and we responded, "No, just a wedding cake," the border guard was incredulous. "You have a wedding cake, in your car," he said as he turned his penetrating gaze on our miniscule VW Golf. It took a bit of explaining, but he eventually allowed us to cross without incident.

3. When we arrived in New York, all the ingredients were promptly dispatched to the refrigerator.

The next day, Michelle continued with her prep.

Cakes were cut.

assembly 2

assembly 1 figs. d & e: first assembly

Cakes were slathered with layers of blackberry compote and butter cream. And cakes were iced.

Then they were put right back in the refrigerator for safe keeping.

4. The next day was slated to be hot (92º) and humid, with the risk of a thunderstorm, but, in the end, Day 2 turned out to be the scorcher with the thunderstorm, and the day of the wedding was actually really pleasant: hot, but with lower humidity than expected.

We still had to transport the cakes their final destination: Hot Bird. Just getting into the car while balancing those cakes was tricky enough. Narrowly avoiding getting swallowed up by the Mother of All Potholes sent a shiver down our spines. But we made it. And within minutes we were inside Hot Bird, where curiosity over the cake created a mad crush, but at least the A.C. was in full effect.

I set up a pick, and Michelle got to work, building the cake into its final form, then piping it.

final construction fig. f: final assembly

Michelle had claimed that the final assembly would take "seven minutes." In the end, she wasn't far off. Before I knew what was happening, she was already putting the finishing touches on the cake: blackberries, sugar plums, flowers, flower petals.

finishing touches fig. g: finishing touches

And, with the cake now fully decorated, it was time to usher it outside to its final resting place, on the ceremonial picnic table/cake cutting stage.

final look fig. h: show time

It was still hot out, but the cake held up like a champ. About an hour later, the cake still looking divine, and, purely coincidentally, matching the bride's dress, it was time for the cake-cutting ceremony.

cake-cutting fig. i: cake-cutting ceremony

We felt pretty good from the time we got the cake into the air-conditioned environment of Hot Bird. We felt a little bit better when we had our first micro-brewed draft beer from Hot Bird's amazing selection. But, let me tell you, we felt best of all when the first round of cake slices had been served, and we sat down with our very own slices of Michelle's Blackberry Bramble and a couple of cold pints.

my slice fig. j: cake & beer

That's when we really relaxed, for the first time in three days.

Congratulations to H. & I.! And special thanks to L. for the hospitality and the use of her incredibly accommodating Bed-Stuy kitchen.



Anonymous said...

WOW beautiful, beautiful work michelle. and i thought *i* had it rough when i was asked to contribute one measly pie to a pie table for an upstate ny wedding. :) the cake is truly stunning!

well done!

Leigh said...

A great effort - especially like the prayer! much needed, I'm sure. What beer you drinking?

aj kinik said...

hi, PS,
it was TASTY too!

hi, Leigh,
now I'm not sure which one turned up in the photo, but, like I said, Hot Bird has a wicked selection and Greenport Harbor's (NY) Summer Ale, Victory Brewing's (PA) Headwaters Pale Ale, and Dogfish Head's (DE) 60-Minute IPA were among our choices that evening. Also had a fantastic ultra-Pilsner, but can't quite remember who the brewer was now. I wish, I wish, I wish we had just one bar like that here in Montreal.