Project Cake: Runway-inspired desserts take their cues from fashionable wedding-dress designs

Maybe a swirl of organza or an overlay of Alencon lace would look best; possibly a bit of crystal beading. Style considerations for the bridal salon, right? Yes, and now the cake shop, too.

With wedding cake design increasingly taking its cue from the fashion catwalk, bakers are realizing they now need to sound like regulars on Project Runway if they want to keep up with client requests. Across the country discussions of replicating a bridal gown’s fabric or style have become as much a part of the cake planning process as weighing the pros and cons of ganache and custard fillings. “Each season more I see more brides bringing pictures or fabric samples of their dress as inspiration for cake embellishment,” says Deborah Wright of White Lace Cakes, which provides cakes for weddings and special events in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area.

Ron Ben-Israel, a celeb favorite dubbed the Manolo Blahnik of cakes by The New York Times, helped pioneer the fashion-inspired wedding cake. Tired of the standard basket-weave patterns and heavy festooning once typical for icing decor, he cast his eye toward New York’s Fashion District, where bridal designers were “bringing fantastic effects to their gown designs.” He decided to interpret their innovations in cake form. Interpret he did – with magnificent results – starting first with a ribbon and lace icing design inspired by a Carolina Herrera gown. He proceeded to recreate lavish lace and bead treatments, where his wizardry earned him another moniker, “The King of Edible Bling.” Brocade, damask and embroidery treatments followed, his exquisite artistry documented frequently in the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings.

While the fashion wedding cake blossomed in New York, where Ben-Israel has a shop, the demand for these artful creations has reached far beyond Manhattan ZIP codes.

Kim Payne of Wedding Cakes by Kim Payne, based in Cheyenne, Okla., finds inspiration on New York’s Seventh Avenue. When she devised an ethereal, frothy design with pearl-strewn buds based on an Oscar de la Renta gown and Sondra Roberts clutch, the cake was cited by Brides magazine as one of The Best Wedding Cakes of 2011.

“The fashion industry is always coming up with new and interesting fabric textures and this continues to provide the lead for cake designers,” says Lisette Vergara, founder and owner of Austin Sweet Treats in the Texas capital. Recent client requests have included cake décor that mimics a bridal gown’s ruching, airy chiffon swirls, ribbon embellishments, and floral trim. Lauri Ditunno of New York’s Cake Alchemy cites embossed lace, ruffles, and jewel treatments as popular among her bridal clients.

Cake designers say that most any fabric can be reproduced. “Tools are more specialized than ever before,” Vergara points out. When a client brings a particularly detailed or intricate piece of lace or fabric, many designers create custom molds for the most effective replication.

Fabric-style icings are usually interpreted in fondant, or a combination of fondant and sugar paste, the ratio determined by the desired fabric effect. (Ron Ben-Israel works with Swiss meringue butter cream.) To create the look of thinner fabrics, like chiffon or silk organza, isomalt, a sugar substitute, is often used. For embellishment, edible “pearls,” “diamonds,” and “colored stones” also are made from isomalt, then worked in various shades of luster dust, which helps mimic the look of real gems.

Fashion cakes are works of art, and, needless to say, labor intensive. Fifteen hours (and more) for just the decoration is not uncommon. And labor intensive means higher cost, anywhere from 30- to 300-percent more than a traditionally trimmed cake.

For brides on a limited budget who want a custom fashion effect, Lauri Ditunno recommends opting for pleated and ruffle treatments, which take less time for a cake designer to do. Lisette Vergara says to focus on recreating a single gown detail, “a bit of ruching, a bow, maybe a brooch, something that will provide an exquisite focal point and be less expensive to interpret.”

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