They’re three of the happiest words you will ever hear from a friend or loved one:
“I’m getting married!”
It wasn’t long ago that I was blessed to hear these joyful words from my dear sister, Kara. She spent many years searching for her prince, and when he finally came along, it was truly a match made in heaven.
So in December of 2008 when I received that fateful call, we laughed, and squealed, and exchanged virtual hugs (as my sister would say, “Darn you 2,000 miles!” Living on opposite coasts can be downright inconvenient sometimes). Truly, it was a beautiful moment.
Actual ring…a gorgeous antique sapphire center stone
But let me back up. Before those magical words were uttered, my sister started the conversation with a question:
“How do you feel about making a wedding cake?”
Beloved reader, I am sure you know the delight this question instilled in me. What better way to show my love and support for my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law than with baked goods?
The wedding was set for June 2009. I plotted, and planned, and eagerly envisioned the three-tiered, multi-flavored tribute to Kara and Ryan’s love. It was not long after that initial call, however, that the happy couple decided on a destination wedding set in the picturesque hills of Tuscany. What could be more romantic? *Sigh*
Actual view from the villa
Ryan and Kara were flying out both families, in our entirety, for a week at a glorious villa and we were all giddy with excitement. So I abandoned the cake making idea, and threw myself into purchasing the perfect wardrobe to complement the glorious Italian countryside. I bought shoes, and packing cubes, and tiny tubes of toothpaste (don’t you just love travel size toiletries? No? Just me?).
And then one day, my sister brought up the cake. “You do still think you can do it, don’t you?”
*Blinking on the other end of the line* Eh? “Well…heck yeah!” Making a wedding cake in Italy? It was on!
So, along with my sister, I decided to scale back my original plans and make a nice little two tier gem for the family to share. We came up with a sweet, simple design which only required one icing tip, and Kara found a darling little topper on the internet. I was set. I mean, how hard could it be? We each had our own full apartment at the villa, and really, cakes are made in Italy everyday, right? What could possibly go wrong?
Fast forward to late May, 2009
“Dear God, what was I thinking?!?”
It was mere days before we were set to leave, and reality had landed on my head like a ten-pound sack of flour. I was sitting bleary-eyed in front of the computer, hair sticking out in fourteen distinct directions, a half-eaten bowl of Cherry Garcia congealing on the desk beside me while I Googled the Celsius equivalent of 350 degrees F. “I am single-handedly going to RUIN my sister’s wedding!”
Dog #1 lifted her head with mild curiosity, while dog #2 ignored me completely. My husband, who looked like he wanted to follow dog #2’s example, sighed and said, “You’re not going to ruin your sister's wedding. It will be great, and the cake will be fine.”
Fine? FINE?? I was right—the wedding was doomed.
The problem was, I had innocently pulled at a single thread, and somehow managed to unravel the entire cake plan. “What if the flour is different there? A different weight, texture, or type of wheat can drastically change the properties of a cake. If I couldn’t find self-rising flour, then I would need to find baking powder and fine-grained salt. Wait a second, was the butter unsalted or salted? Did they even have powdered sugar or shortening?? What if all they had was IMITATION vanilla???
I couldn’t risk it. I had to bring everything.
By the end of the day, I surveyed my haul from a frantic trip to the grocery store. Before me lay everything I could need… including *cringing* two boxes of Duncan Hines French Vanilla cake mix. I had come to grips with the fact that making a cake from scratch may be akin to attempting to find love on a ex-con dating website. The possibility of disaster far outweighed the hope of a happy ending… unless your name was Martha Stewart, in which case you would probably do fine in both scenarios.
The challenge that lay before me was this: fitting a week's worth of clothes, shoes, toiletries, primping paraphernalia, reading material, snacks for the plane, my computer, two cameras, power cords and converters, four cake pans, two cake mixes, one bottle of vanilla, one stick of shortening, two pounds of powdered sugar, a ten-inch long frosting knife, my hand mixer with two beaters, yellow food coloring, and a handful of toothpicks into my luggage.
Oh, and did I mention that I NEVER check luggage? That is correct, beloved reader, all of this needed to fit into two carry-ons. Piece of cake.
Four hours, three hissy fits, two Tylenol, and a whole boatload of curses later, I had actually succeeded. Before me sat two quivering, groaning, bulging green carry-ons, ready and waiting for the 6,000 mile journey to Italy.
My hubby and I managed to arrive at the airport with nary a hiccup, and, once we had printed our boarding passes, headed for security. Expert traveler that I am, I had my shoes off, computer out, and tidy plastic bag full of adorable toiletries ready and waiting when it was finally my turn.
Hefting the bags on the conveyor belt, I strutted through the metal detector and waited for my bags to emerge on the other side of the x-ray machine. Alas, they were nowhere to me seen. I looked to the TSA worker, whose head was tilted like a cocker spaniel who had just been asked to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity. I watched as the conveyor belt ground to a halt, reversed, paused again, then came forward. The process was repeated several times before the woman’s face cleared and she let out a whoop of laughter. She turned to me, shaking her head. “Lord, child, you’s bakin’ a cake!”
I couldn’t help but grin at her amusement. “Indeed I am! And in Italy, no less.”
Unfortunately, I was distracted by her big smile and my own preening pride, so I didn’t notice the other agent grab my bags until he gave me a curt “Follow me, ma’am.”
He and a second agent led me to a cordoned off area and carelessly dropped my two exquisitely packed bags on the steel table. I took a discreet step back, fearing the tentative cease-fire between my bags and the basic laws of osmotic principles was about to be breached.
“Ma’am, we need to take a look inside of your bag. If you would just stand here.”
Biting my lip, I did as I was directed, watching as TSA #1 reached for the zipper of the rolling bag. The zipper groaned in relief like a pair of skinny jeans let loose after Thanksgiving dinner. The top flap popped open and the two agents just stared for a moment. One of them gave a low whistle, and I decided to take it as a compliment to my packing prowess.
TSA #2 got to work peeling back the layers. First came the perfectly flat, vacuum sealed Ziplocs full of fruit snacks, Teddy Grahams, and Rice Crispy Treats. Then out came the packing cubes, followed by the shoes (packed with socks, of course), and the layer for makeup, brushes, and my curling iron. At last, TSA #1 lifted out my precision packed, vacuum sealed wedding cake assembly kit.
After a moment of silence, they looked at each other, then down at the vast array of stuff scattered on the table, in the seat of the chair, and down on the floor. Finally, they looked back at me.
“My God,” TSA #1 said. “Is this Mary Poppins’ bag?”
I couldn’t help the satisfied grin that came to my lips. I nodded to the second bag, which was now leaning against the table behind them. “Are you going to have to check that one, too?”
“No, no, I think you’re good.”
I swear to you reader, this is absolutely a true story :) I’ll end here, and pick up Part 2 of the Italian Wedding Cake Saga next Tuesday. I hope you’ll join me then!
ANNNDDDDD…as a reward for those of you who stayed with this loonnngg story to the end, as well as a thank you for joining me here each week, this week I am going to send one lucky commenter a four pack of cupcakes made by yours truly! All you need to do to be eligible is tell me where your wedding was, where you want it to be, or where you would have had it if you could choose anyplace on earth. On Monday I will put the commenters’ names in a hat and draw one for the prize. Winner’s choice for both cupcake and icing flavor!
Perfectly Perfect Buttercream Icing
1 pound powdered sugar (1 box or 4 cups)
½ cup butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla extract (use clear for wedding cakes)
¼ tsp salt
1 - 3 Tbsp whole milk (as needed for consistency)