And Introducing: The Wedding Cake (and the Cookie it Came From)

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Raspberry-Marsala Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting


It all started, fittingly, with a cookie.

It was early spring in 1998 and I had been hitchhiking along the west coast of Ireland, trying to reach my destination, a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center on the remote and windswept Beara peninsula, before nightfall. The center was home to a friendly hostel, so I’d been told, and a killer view over Bantry Bay. After getting a ride most of the way I’d had to trudge the final mile or so on foot, the weather getting grayer and drizzlier by the step. Luckily I’d thought ahead and called to reserve for a bed, however the man I’d spoken to on the phone had given me a bizarre condition: I was welcome to stay at the hostel as long as I understood that I wouldn’t be able to speak the entire weekend. He explained that the majority of other hostel guests would be attending a silence retreat. I hesitated a moment and then agreed; a weekend of silence and contemplation might not be bad for me either.

By the time I reached the hostel, a converted farmhouse perched precariously on a coastal cliff, it was getting dark and I hadn’t seen a soul on the property. I entered through what looked like the front door and found myself in a large living room, lit by a fire in one corner and completely empty except for a young man with short blond hair and glasses who was drinking a cup of tea and reading a book in front of the fire. Remembering the vow of silence that he may have taken (for I certainly didn’t know who was a retreat participant and who not), I stood there awkwardly, not knowing even where to put my backpack. He looked up and smiled warmly.

“Are you here to stay at the hostel? The warden will be back in a minute. Here, I’ll make you a cup of tea. Want a cookie?”

He jumped up and held out his package of McVitte’s digestive biscuits. Shrugging off my backpack and plopping down on the couch, I gratefully took one and said how glad I was to find someone still talking. He laughed and told me the silence-retreatants were out at a session and would be back in a couple of hours. Not having anything else to do until the warden arrived, I settled in with the cookies and the tea and started to get to know this friendly and generous fellow. He told me he was German, despite his curiously Spanish name and complete lack of accent, and that he had lived in Bulgaria for several years but that Ireland was really his favorite country. It turned out we had both ended up quite by chance at this hostel; he’d had the place recommended to him by some Swiss tourists who’d given him a ride earlier in the week, and I’d recently met someone in Dublin, where I was studying at the time, who had raved about it. It seemed both of us had decided to come out here on a sudden impulse, thinking it had sounded like a relaxing place to spend the current three-day weekend.

It wasn’t too long before the silence-retreatants returned and we had to stop the conversation. Manuel got up and signalled that he was going to cook his dinner in the hostel kitchen; I figured I’d wait until he was done to make mine, and opened a book. A few minutes later there was a whisper in my ear.

“Why don’t you come have some spaghetti with me?”

Before I knew what I was doing I was declining; I’d shopped carefully for the three nights I would be there and had exactly enough food to last me if I ate what I had brought. He looked crestfallen. “But I really made too much. It’ll just go to waste if you don’t help.” Something about his tone must have told me that it wasn’t only about the waste of food, so I accepted and joined him for his meal of spaghetti and reconstituted tomato sauce. We went outside so that we could continue our conversation while we ate; I can’t remember any of what we talked about but somehow it was 4 a.m. before I managed to get into bed. The next night was the same, only I cooked, and again it was nearly morning by the time my head hit the pillow.

Without realizing it the three days we had both been planning to stay became five, and five became eight. My missed classes were the furthest thing from my mind; I nearly even forgot to call my flatmates and let them know I hadn’t fallen off a cliff. Manuel and I were together every minute; we’d been to town and shopped together and spent every night working together to see what we could create from the limited supplies in the tiny Irish supermarket. I found myself amazed at how open-minded he was about food – anything I suggested he would agree with heartily and eat with pleasure, and my then-vegetarianism, a source of consternation for many people, didn’t faze him in the least. Before long it was clear to both of us that something more than a hostelling friendship had been sparked, and night by night it grew stronger as we huddled over the ancient stove together.

About six and a half years later, and exactly one year ago today, I married that friendly guy who welcomed me into the hostel with a cookie. It was a small and intimate affair with our closest family and friends at the beautiful Molly Ward Gardens in Poulsbo, Washington, and to make life easier on ourselves we let the wonderful owners of the venue take care of everything from the flowers to the food. Something in me just couldn’t let them do everything, however, and in spite of the numerous warnings from well-meaning friends, relatives and magazines that making a cake is the last thing a bride needs to worry about, I insisted I would do it. After all, it just didn’t seem right that we should celebrate our relationship without celebrating the act of creating, preparing and sharing something delicious that had brought us together so many years ago.

Happy Anniversary, my darling. Here’s to many, many more decades of sharing and preparing delicious things together.

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Cutting the cupcake: “If you cut any deeper, my dear, you will have a one-handed husband!”

The Wedding Cake(s)
Raspberry Marsala Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

The inspiration for this cake came from the June 2004 issue of Bon Appétit, which had as its cover recipe a beautiful tower of rose-decorated cupcakes. I discovered this is definitely the easiest option for a homemade wedding cake, as there is no stress with balancing layers and supports and they can easily be made ahead of time and frozen until needed. Most of the things you need to make the tower (waxed cardboard rounds, plastic support legs and ribbon) you can find in any baking or craft shop; I stumbled across a site on the internet that sold the entire thing as a kit, including the tiny gold-etched mini pannettone wrappers that elevate these to far beyond normal cupcakes. In any case, give yourself a good two days for making the stand and multiple batches of the cake and frosting – if you’re doing it as a wedding cake, that is. If not, give yourself about an hour!

Serves: about 10, multiply recipe as needed (I multiplied by four for my needs)
Cake source: based on this recipe from Bon Appétit (see their directions if you want to make it as a single cake)
Frosting source: based on this recipe from Bon Appétit

For raspberry marsala cake:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sweet Marsala
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 cups fresh raspberries

For white chocolate cream cheese frosting:
4 ounces high quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), finely chopped 
1 1/2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (packed) powdered sugar (about one-third of a pound or 150 grams) 
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Edible organic flowers, for decoration

Special equipment: mini pannettone cake molds, available from many cookware stores or online

To make cake: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Place ten pannettone molds on a baking tray and spray nonstick cooking spray (or grease lightly). Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine Marsala and orange juice in small bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and lemon peel. Beat in Marsala mixture in 2 additions alternately with flour mixture in 3 additions. Transfer batter to prepared cups. Sprinkle evenly with 2 cups raspberries.

Bake cake until top of cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and cool on rack. Cool to room temperature (can be made one day ahead and kept at room temperature or frozen for up to a month).

To make frosting: place chocolate in top of double boiler set over barely simmering water. Stir just until chocolate is melted, smooth, and just warm (do not overheat); remove from over water. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in half of sugar, then the warm chocolate. Beat cream and remaining sugar in medium bowl until medium-firm peaks form. Fold into cream cheese mixture in 3 additions. Cover; chill. Refrigerate frosting at least 6 hours and up to 4 days.

On day of serving, spread cakes with frosting and decorate with edible organic flowers, if desired.

Photos © 2004 Isabel Gates. See her wonderful work at www.imagesbyisabel.com (clicking on ‘gallery’ and ‘weddings’ will show you a couple more from our wedding).

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32 thoughts on “And Introducing: The Wedding Cake (and the Cookie it Came From)

  1. A good love story is so rare to find these days. And you tell it so beautifully. You caught my eye with the first sentence. Congratulations!

  2. Melissa, you were holding out on me! I had no idea that you and Manuel met through such unusual–and romantic–circumstances! What a wonderful, wonderful story. Happy anniversary.

  3. *sigh* What a wonderfully romantic story… United by a love of food, in a hostel in Ireland… *dabs at tears welling in eye* And that’s such a gorgeous photo too!ps. Wow. Well done on making the cake too!

  4. Just what I like to read — a good love story and food story — all wrapped up in one!Congratulations on your wedding anniversary! What a wonderful story of how “the act of creating, preparing and sharing something delicious” brought you and Manuel together. I wish you both many more years of “creating, preparing and sharing.” Oh, what fun!What a lovely idea to make the wedding cake out of the cupcakes. I only know one person who made her wedding cake — a friend of mine. Turned out very nicely and I think that the personal act made the cake even more special. I’m glad I’ve read this before going to bed. Your story and pictures fills my mind with all good things and images before my head hits the pillow. ;-)Thanks for sharing your story with us!Best,PazP.S. The recipe calls for sweet Marsala. I wasn’t aware there was a “sweet” one. When I’ve bought Marsala, they’ve only given me one kind (that I’m aware of). Does it make a difference if it’s sweet or not?Also Isabel is a talented photgrapher. She has a very nice site. What a lovely bride and groom you and Manuel made.

  5. Melissathat story is so lovely, (cases mum read it too) thanks so much for sharing it!I hope you have/had a fabulous anniversay and so many more to comexx

  6. Congratulations to you both! What a romantic, heartwarming, and all-around wonderful story. A gorgeous looking wedding, too!

  7. What a beautiful story and a very unusual cake. Congratulations to both yourself and Manuel and many more happy years together.

  8. Hi Melissa, thank you for sharing your wonderful story -Happy Anniversary ! And never stop celebrating and savouring life together… kind regards angelika

  9. How mystical… 2 people from different countries meeting in another and falling in love and getting married… How more serendipitious can it be!! Congratulations and such a wonderful love story ! We will wish you both more good happy years ahead.!

  10. hi melissa, congratulations on your anniversary! what a beautifully romantic story…and making your own wedding cake! that really takes the cake…cheers,j

  11. hi Melissa, what a lovely and romantic story! And a gorgeous picture too.. How nice it is to find out more about you through such posts. I wish you and Manuel a most extraordinary anniversary! Cheers!

  12. Hi everyone! Many, many heartfelt thanks from both of us for your well-wishes and kind words. We’re touched that so many strangers have been interested in our story, and I am once again amazed by how supportive and enthusiastic everyone in the food community is. It truly made our anniversary that much more special!Paz, to answer your question: there are different types of Marsala, just like there are different types of sherry. Dry marsala (or marsala fine) is a fragrant fortified wine that is best used in savory things – it often shows up in porcini mushroom dishes and rich sauces for meat. Sweet marsala is as sweet as a liqueur – it can often be found under the name marsala cremovo, which references the fact that it is marsala wine that has been flavored with egg yolks. The aroma is very complex and has hints of vanilla and toffee. I prefer the latter for desserts, but in a pinch either will do.

  13. What a beautiful story…my eyes are welling up! I am to get married in a few years, and would have loved a sweet small meaningful wedding with some personal touches. But I have to give in to family pressure and have a huge impersonal traditional Indian wedding. Thanks for sharing your story and wish you a lifetime of happiness!

  14. It’s nice to read about your wedding cake finally, after you wrote so nicely about Guro&Nash’s wedding cake(s)! And indeed, the way you describe how you & Manuel met is very romantic. Thanks for sharing!

  15. So glad to see that the old art of romance is still alive and well in our day and age! A belated congratulations on your first wedding anniversary, Melissa and Manuel. May you eat well and be merry, always.

  16. Melissa, you have my eyes gleaming with happiness, and excitement. It gives hope that love is still around and just waiting to pop into our lives at random. In my love-life status these days, even a small thing like this gives comfort.By the way, you make a beautiful couple. May you know 50 more anniversaries (at least)…

  17. MelissaCan you let me know where the website is for the panettone wrappers? I have trawled through and can find nothing! Thank youAnne

  18. Hello! Is it possible to substitute the Marsala wine with something non-alcoholic?Thanks!

  19. You really don’t know what will take place until it does. What a sweet love story. Congrats on the 10 years you 2 have been together sharing and preparing delicious things together! Congratulations!

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