Wedding Cake | A Search for Companionship and the Ultimate Crumbed Commitment
“Yes Alice, I do think things would be a lot easier if you were here. If you were less…ambitious,” comes a stern and slightly frustrated voice from the other side of my Whatsapp call. It’s in response to my almost-weekly breakdown, questioning whether life would be a little easier if I moved back from Italy and Julz and I decided to get married, settle down in the country and pop out a couple kids. Do ‘the thing’, you know?
It’s tough enough to work out the ceaseless uncertainties of any long term relationship as they bubble up in flavours very familiar or brand new, but when distance is thrown into the stand mixer, then an engagement on top of that, it becomes less of an exercise in “working it out” and more of a high intensity interval training in understanding one another; without the interval part. It’s constant talking, mostly across a bad wifi connection. It seems, at times, like a meal without dessert. Or rather, like being in a relationship that’s on a diet. You need to employ restraint in all the ways you never expected and there’s less of the daily ‘sweet stuff’ like his hugs and kisses to make the long-term goals seem accessible. However, we are not the first to be putting our relationship on a long-distance diet and thanks to the internet; we certainly won’t be the last.
It’s an early December evening and I have the apartment cozily to myself. The now chilly streets of Florence have been laced in twinkling festive lights and glowing stars – marking almost a year since I sat up in bed rubbing my eyes on a warm Cape Town morning and was handed a note from Julz that sent me on a treasure hunt around our apartment. Half-yawning I sifted through the fridge, then the coffee pot, then my clothes, then the bed sheets where I ended up with a shiny thing on my finger before many snotty tears and hugs in bed. That morning, after ripping open the old shoebox at the end of the hunt to find the even smaller box and the note that read “Will you marry me?”, before finding the breath to reply, I gasped and let out a: “Now? Really? I am leaving in a couple days? You haven’t forgotten that right?!”
The timing, in my mind, couldn’t be more off. I was literally about to relocate to Italy to pursue an enduring dream of training at a classical art atelier in drawing and Julz was staying in Cape Town. We were entering into our longest and what was sure to be our toughest year apart, and here he was throwing the planning of a wedding onto the to-do’s. When did he expect this to happen? According to him, “Whenever. It doesn’t matter. I just know I want to marry you”, which may sound like a wonderfully romantic idea for anyone who isn’t exactly me. I wanted dates, I wanted venues, I wanted mood boards, I wanted to know the colour and the scent of the Swiss meringue buttercream on the cake. Cake! OMG. Forget everything else; WHAT ABOUT THE CAKE?
Choosing your wedding cake is surely just the same thing as choosing your very favourite cake of all time. And how is a poly-cake-lover like myself expected to say “I do” to just one kind? It is the height of public declaration to one kind of confectionary. That is no frothy teatime matter.
I’ve grown up in a massive family and I don’t use that word flippantly. I have 54 first cousins and have been eating the cakey taste of many, many I do’s since the days of flower girl duty. I can’t recall off-cake-stand how many weddings I have been to but I knew how to push two satin covered chairs together at the quietest corner table to fall asleep on when I was tired of dancing before I knew how to tie my own shoelaces. Over the years I’ve essentially grown up in every role a wedding presents to a woman: from flower girl, to awkward gawky teen looking for her first kiss at the ceremony, to graduating to the adult table at the reception, to bridesmaid and maid of honour. During the years there have been many weddings and even more variations of sponge, Genoise, chiffon and mud wedding cakes that have stood as the edible versions of bonded eternity.
I’ve tried them all – from the decadently rich chocolate layered crowd-pleasers to the traditional dry vanilla slabs enrobed in pristine ice white fondant which people pick at self-consciously before palming off to Gramps. I have eaten carrot cake with the bride with my bare hands and dug out hulks to haul across the dance floor in a champagne-induced delirium. I have been served lemon poppy seed cake in wedges, nibbled fluffy speculoos spice cake cut into tidy squares and been told to the subdued disappointment of my aunties (and myself included) that there “won’t be wedding cake served at this wedding”. I’ve picked at mountains of nutty brownies between garter throwing and the quirky couple’s sultry first disco dance. I have lifted pastel strawberry macrons from their glass cloche encasements whilst swooning over the pair’s perfectly-footed first waltz. I have been gifted small, neatly wrapped boxes labeled “Wedding Cake To Go” for eager beavers ready to get to honeymooning. I remember the cupcake cascade craze of the 2000s that left most feeling like they were at a grown-ups’ kids party.
I have watched top tiers topple, be munched up and stored for one year to be eaten on the first anniversary of the happy couple. I have, sadly, tasted the sweetness of cakes that have lasted longer than the unions they were baked to symbolise. I have watched the umpteenth groom feed the umpteenth bride an arm-tangled piece of cake, asked to hold the contorted pose for pictures longer than is deemed appropriate for any piece of cake to be held so close to a mouth without being gobbled up.
I. Have. Seen. It. All.
I have tasted cake at every wedding I have been to. I will always go for one helping, and probably return for seconds and later pick in micro amounts a definite third and fourth until the seams on my figure-hugging bridesmaid dress truss my body like a Christmas turducken. When my (very much not Greek) cousin Altin invariably decides to bless us at family weddings with his rendition of that very Greek whiskey-glass-on-top-of-your-head dance – with compromised co-ordination – I thank my lucky sprinkles that everyone is looking on the dance floor for smashed bits of glass so I can dart to the cake table to grab one more chunk of whatever is going. I have lingered too long at the dessert tables with sticks of marshmallow lollies and piles of cake pops looking for the traditional vestige of tiered pride to pretend like I go to weddings for much else, so important to me is the institution of the wedding…. cake!
But which one?
Sweet potato cake with cream cheese frosting saw me through some decent high school heartaches. Changing schools and being the “new kid” always seemed better when my aunty Maria would pick me up and take me for a slice with my cousin at Roxy’s Café in East London. But then again, cheesecake was a loyal teenage crony. She was the silky smooth comforter every post-movie Friday night at Mugg&Bean at Brooklyn in Pretoria. And how could I forget the classic dark chocolate cake slab slathered in tinned caramel and topped with chopped peppermint crisp bar that brought the sweet note to every birthday spent at the seaside? So many cakes have made me who I am today, how can I monogamously declare just one on such an important day?
With so many options I feel doomed to pick the wrong one. If I have faithfully loved so many kinds of cake in a very much open relationship agreement (don’t ask/don’t mention other slices) choosing only one will conclusively lead to disappointment. And so, like with most matters of the heart (and belly) I turned to Mom. My mom, who just celebrated her 36th wedding anniversary, can barely even remember her wedding day. When I ask her gushingly about all the details of the cake toppers and 80s ribboned edges of her cake she waves me off with, “I really don’t remember, Alice. It went by so fast and there were so many people there that we were meeting for the first time.” She was 17 years old. If I wanted some contextually modern day advice I’d have to search a little closer to 2018. So I quizzed my Brazilian friend, Thiago, who is married and studies at the art academy with me. But when I asked him about his wedding cake he laughed.
“We didn’t have a wedding. We bought each other rings when we were in Japan…sort of on a whim and I think we did shots later at the bar. Does that count as wedding cake?” He laughs and flashes me a million Rand smile as my heart warms. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was perfect.”
And just then it hits me! There isn’t one perfect kind of wedding cake to choose because there isn’t one perfect way to be a companion to someone. There are a multitude of different styles for companionship and for that matter evidently a multitude of ways to celebrate that with cake or cake pops or shots or whatever! What works perfectly for one person might be the opposite for someone else. Allowing me a year away to focus on my career is the exact thing that makes me realise Julz is the companion I want by my side, even if that means from afar for now. For someone else, it might be as mortifying as marzipan knowing their partner wants to sail across the seas away from them for so long. But not for Julz. He is equal parts supportive and frustrated with my ceaseless ambitions. And anyway, it lifts the load a little bit on the cakey conundrum. Choosing a wedding cake isn’t about me choosing my favourite kind anyway (Thank God). It’s about us, choosing our favourite kind.
I guess in the end, after all the saccharine seduction; the perfect cake for you is the one that makes you happy. It is that simple. And if you find one kind, a secret recipe of your own perhaps, learn to make it well, pack a little padkos of it and take it wherever you go – even if it is all the way to Italy. And with every mouthful on a wintery morning halfway across the world, allow it to sweetly remind you how much you just bloody love that cake, despite and especially so, if you are on a diet.
Visual artist, tartist and BAEK zine-maker, Alice Toich, likes to keep her hands full of paint, dough or paper cuts in a mutually exclusive manner.