What do Modern Bride magazine and HBO's TV show, The Sopranos, have in common? Wedding cakes by Buddy Valastro of Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, N.J. Valastro's wedding cakes are featured monthly in various bridal magazines, and they even made it into a few scenes on The Sorpranos.
"I always said I wanted to make cakes like in the magazines," fourth-generation baker Valastro says. "I learned from my dad when I was 11 or 12."
Valastro took a sugar flowers class from Betty Van Nordstrom about four years ago when he started seriously working with rolled fondant. Now, fondant accounts for more than half of the bakery's 25 wedding cakes a week. Valastro and his eight decorators also produce 600 birthday cakes a week. Every Saturday, he personally meets with 10 to 15 brides to get a feel for what type of cake they want and their budget. The bakery will deliver as far away as Washington, D.C. "If people want to pay, we'll play," he says. "People come because they want cakes that are novelties. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing a customer say 'wow.' And, we make sure we get our money for doing these cakes," he adds.
When one customer came to Valastro for a unique party cake, he used his mother's designer purse as the basis of the design. The resulting cake serves 50 and sells for $550. To begin the purse cake, Valastro suggests making the clasp or designer logo first, so it has time to dry. Cut four 13/4-in. diameter circles out of fondant, and use a 3/4-in. ring to cut out the centers. Turn two rings into 'c's by cutting 1/4 in. out of the rim. Place the 'c's so they interlock, one 'c' facing forward and one facing backward. Cut off the excess where the 'c's overlap, so they will lay flat when placed on the cake. Paint the 'c's and the two rings with gold luster dust. Mix luster dust with grain alcohol to make it a liquid that will dry quickly with some shine.
Use a 14-in. square cake as the base of the design. Valastro suggests keeping the cake height between 41/2 and 6 ins. to leave enough space for decorating. Ice the cake with a thin layer of buttercream, so the fondant will adhere to it. Cover the cake with white rolled fondant. He recommends rolling the fondant very thin, so it melts into the buttercream on the cake. After the fondant is thin enough and large enough to cover the cake, roll it onto a rolling pin. Roll the fondant off the pin and onto the cake. Smooth the fondant onto the cake. Another layer of fondant will cover the top of the cake, so if the top cracks, it will be covered up.
Roll a 4-in. plastic cake support along the sides of the cake to create a line in the fondant. This line designates the area to be covered by another layer of fondant. Wet the top and sides of the cake down to the line with water, so the additional layer of fondant will adhere.
Roll out a piece of lavender fondant, and place it on top of the cake. Trim off the excess fondant. Valastro uses pre-colored fondant, and simply adds white to create the color of lavender he wants. Roll the 4-in. pillar around the edges of the cake to mark the lavender fondant. Use a knife to trim the lavender fondant at the line, and smooth the sides.
Use a 71/2-in. by 5-in. cake that is 31/2 ins. high for the purse, and cover it with black fondant. Again, Valastro uses pre-colored fondant. "It is impossible to make black fondant," he says. Try not to use too much cornstarch when rolling it out because the cornstarch will discolor the fondant. Place the black fondant on the cake, cut away the excess, and smooth.
Design a quilted purse
To create the quilted stitching on the purse, you need a ruler, a right angle plastic triangle and a punching wheel. On the top of the cake, lay the ruler diagonally from one corner to the opposite one. Run the punching wheel along the ruler, creating dots in the fondant. Move the ruler so it aligns with the line you just created, and run the punching wheel along the ruler again. Repeat this on both sides of the original line until you reach the edge of the cake. This creates lines that are the same width apart. Run the punching wheel along each line again, so the fondant pops up a bit. Then, create lines going the opposite way using the same procedure.
To create the stitching effect on the sides of the cake, line up the triangle's angled edge with the ends of the lines on the top of the cake. Roll the punching wheel along the edge of the triangle to create the stitching on the sides. Place the purse at the bottom of the square cake, and attach it using royal icing. "If your royal icing has some sugar lumps and doesn't look smooth enough, squeeze it through pantyhose," Valastro suggests.
Cut a 61/2- by 61/2-in. square piece of black fondant for the purse flap. Attach the flap to the top of the purse with buttercream. "Don't use water because you might have to move the piece of fondant. Water is permanent." Valastro says. After placing the flap, use the ruler, triangle and punching wheel to create the stitching effect. Then, attach the purse flap permanently with water.
Roll a thin rope of black fondant to trim the purse flap and bottom edges of the purse. On the sides of the purse, use a 3/4-in. round cutter to cut holes for the strap. Place the two gold rings around the holes. Before placing the rings on the cake, make sure that all the excess gold is cleaned off, so it will not fall onto the cake, Valastro says.
Roll out a thick fondant rope, and twist it. Place the ends of the rope in the holes on the sides of the purse, and arrange the rope to look like a purse strap. Place the gold clasp/logo on the flap of the purse using buttercream. "Placing the logo is one of the hardest parts," Valastro says.
Pipe a simple white shell border around the bottom edge of the square cake with tip No. 7. Use a steamer to wet the purse. "Black looks dull, and the steam makes it look like patent leather," Valastro says. He purchased the steamer to use on his sugar flowers to make the color set and the flowers appear waxy. "I just tried the steamer with this cake, and if you're patient with it, it melts away all the imperfections," he adds.
Use several different sizes of round cutters to cut polka dots from bright pink and black fondant. "Any color works, but two colors generally look nice. Don't be afraid of color," he says. Steam the sides of the cake, and place the polka dots. The steam allows the dots to adhere. "This design is great because it can be for an 80th birthday or a Sweet 16," he adds.
Since Valastro first created this baby shower design about a year ago, he has sold 20 to 30 of these cakes for $500.
Offer unique baby shower cake
Another favorite design of Valastro's is the one he created for his wife's baby shower about a year ago. This cake uses a 14-in. square covered with white fondant, four 2-in. blocks covered with pink, lavender, green and yellow fondant, and a 6-in. round covered with white fondant. Place the 6-in. round at the back of the square cake to leave room for the blocks.
Use a rectangular piece of pound cake to carve a bassinet. Anchor the bassinet to the round tier with toothpicks. Ice the bassinet using a ruffle motion and tip No. 104. Place a plastic baby in the bassinet.
With a parchment paper tube, pipe a green 'B' on the sides and top of the pink cube. Attach the cube to the top of the square cake with icing. Then, use the paper tube to pipe a shell border down the corners of the cube and around the top and bottom. On the yellow block, pipe pink 'A's and shell borders, yellow 'B's and borders on the lavender cube and green 'Y's and borders on the lavender block.
Use a fondant mold to create the yellow bubble border around the bases of the square and round tiers. To keep the fondant from sticking to the mold, place a little cornstarch in it, Valastro says. Adhere the border to the cake with water. With parchment paper tubes and several icing colors, pipe five-petal flowers randomly on the bassinet. Add yellow centers to the flowers with a parchment paper tube.
Cut polka dots of varying sizes from green, pink and lavender fondant. Using water, adhere the polka dots to the sides of the cake. Allow some of the polka dots to overlap each other.
When decorating with fondant, Valastro suggests always working in a cool room. After you finish your design, cover the cake with a box or rack cover before you place it in the cooler to prevent condensation on the fondant.
Another must is placing all your cakes on a sturdy board. "I put all my cakes on MDF (medium density fiberboard) because the cake never buckles. You always have to have a good base," Valastro says. Finish the MDF board by covering the exposed areas with fondant. Use a glue gun to attach a ribbon around the edge of the board to give it a finished look.
"When I do something, I do it with heart, and I work on a cake until it is done," Valastro says.