History of Life Wedding Cake

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This is the third wedding cake that I have ever made. Which means that, amazingly, there are three couples in the world with that level of trust in me.

The bride is in law school and the groom is a paleontologist. The wedding was on September 3, which is the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which, as everyone knows, if the treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War and in which Britain recognized the United States as an independent nation. Just kidding, I had no idea what the Treaty of Paris was; I had to google it.

This is the design we came up with.

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Each tier represents an era of the evolution of life on Earth – Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. The tiers get progressively shorter as you move up the cake, to suggest the shorter duration of each era. The overall shape is meant to evoke this kind of spiral shape that is often used in images describing the history of life.

Each tier has a “couple” on it, as well as other iconic forms of life from that era. The Paleozoic tier has a couple of trilobites.

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The Mesozoic era features a Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing a fleeing pair of pterosaurs. Note the T-Rex’s feathers.

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And the Cenozoic era tier has a megatherium (which is kind of giant prehistoric ground sloth) and a couple of hyaenodont skeletons (the groom’s PhD dissertation centered on hyaenodonts).

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On top of that tier walks a couple of Australopithecus, which I’m told is something that the groom has been imagining on his wedding cake since he was a little boy. It’s inspired by these fossilized footprints that suggest that an Australopithecus might have walked next to each other, hand in hand.

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The cake is covered with a mix of fondant and modeling chocolate and all of the figures are sculpted out of modeling chocolate colored with powdered food coloring. I made all the large figures in advance, over forms made to mimic the curvature of the cake tiers. That way I could make them well in advance and bring them in my carryon, since I had to fly cross-country for the wedding. (I didn’t fly with the whole cake. I arrived three days early and rented an Air BNB with a full kitchen to do the actually baking and assembly.

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For the smaller fossils and bones at the base of each tier, I made molds out of food-safe silicon, so that when I assembled the cake I could just push some fondant into the mold and stick it on the cake.

Of course, Australopithecus would have been nude and the couple understandably didn’t want exposed genitalia on their wedding cake. They also wanted to incorporate the Treaty of Paris, so I was delighted to discover that the Treaty of Paris has a nice blue ribbon at the bottom, running underneath the signatories’ seals. So I made a replica of the Treaty of Paris for the top of the cake with a long ribbon on the bottom to wrap around the couple’s inappropriate bits. Although if you look closely at the above photo before I put the ribbon in place, you’ll see that I couldn’t resist making the Australopithecus couple anatomically correct.

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It’s made of edible wafer paper with the actual text of the Treaty of Paris hand painted with food coloring. Of course it’s not the entire text, as the treaty is far too long for that. Using images I downloaded of the actual document, I photoshopped the signatures onto the bottom of the first paragraph. Then I printed it out at the actual size I needed for the cake. I turned this into basically edible transfer paper by coating the back of the paper with powdered food coloring. I put this on top of the wafer paper and transferred the text onto the wafer paper by tracing the printed image with a toothpick. Then I went back over the traced text with paste color and a detail brush. To get the graceful curve, I lightly sprayed the back of the wafer paper with water and then set it over and under a couple of rolling pins to dry.

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The lowest tier and the dividers between the evolutionary era tiers are encircled with books, which are meant to bring in the bride’s studiousness. They also offered a great opportunity for personalization as the bride and groom sent me a list of all their most influential books. The dividers between the tiers are quite small and made so that they can be popped into place to conceal the cake’s internal support. Those books are just gum paste with the titles painted on.

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The books on the bottom tier are much larger and can be seen from the top as well as the sides, so they required more detail to be convincing. So I made pages out of wafer paper and stuck them together with piping gel. Once that was dry, I wrapped each book in a gum paste cover and then painted the title onto the spine. In most cases, I was able to find real cover art from the book to base it on.

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Inside, the cake flavors are vanilla, orange, ginger, and chocolate in alternating layers to suggest different strata of dirt. We wanted people to be able to have an archeological experience while eating the cake, so I buried chocolate fossils inside each layer. I made custom molds for the fossils, based on sculptures that I did representing various fossils that would have been common in each of the cake’s eras. With these molds, I cast the fossils in white, milk, and dark chocolate and then embedded them in the cake layers as I was stacking this cake. Then as the guests ate the cake, they got to excavate their chocolate fossils.

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The drive from the Air BNB was about half an hour and not over the greatest roads. I enlisted the bride’s brother to help me deliver the cake, since he has an SUV with enough space. He is a former Army Ranger, yet apparently still found the pressure of the drive terrifying. I don’t blame him. I hate driving with cakes. We arrived at the venue without incident, though.

One of the groom’s paleontology friends created a museum card to accompany the cake, explaining all the different fossils, inside and out. He even gave a little introductory speech before they cut the cake. And apparently some of the groom’s paleontology colleagues even said my T-Rex was one of the best reconstructions they have ever seen in any medium. But, really, this photo is the best part.

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