Fall weddings in Vancouver, Part 1: Anna Elizabeth Cakes

While summer is the season of playing it safe with (moderately) predictable weather wrapping newlyweds in a warm embrace fall ushers in breathtaking displays that make for gorgeous wedding inspiration. Brides thinking of braving the chill next year for that magical soft sunlight only found in September and October, should start planning one small detail as soon as possible. The wedding cake.

Award-winning Vancouver pastry chef and artist Anna Wawzonek (pictured, [1]) can create an edible work of art to rival even the most vivid autumn display.

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After opening Anna Elizabeth Cakes in 2011, her hand painted fondant designs won quick praise in Wedding Bells and Wedluxe magazines and were sought after for celebrations such as Oreos 100th anniversary.

How did you discover your talent for cake art?

I started dabbling in cake design when I was in university, studying science, after I realized how much I was missing a creative outlet. I started to look at the job market for pastry chefs and realized that pastry school seemed to be necessary for even the most entry level job. I chose Vancouver Community College because of its fantastic reputation, diversity of the pastry program and the connections all of the instructors have with the industry in Vancouver.

Most of the cake decorating skills I have are things I have learned along the way with a lot of trial and error. I also had the opportunity to work with Cake Opera Co. in Toronto shortly after finishing pastry school, which was an amazing learning experience.

To be completely honest, learning how to make cakes was the easiest part of my journey to becoming a professional pastry chef and cake designer. To me, the cake part came naturally. I have always been artistic and have been in the kitchen since a young age, so it really didn't take me that long to learn the finer details of cake design and to be producing a consistent product. On the pastry side, what has taken the most practice is learning to work efficiently. It takes a ridiculous amount of organization and quick hands to be able to create three or four wedding cakes on the same day.

When I started my business, I never expected things to take off as quickly as they did. I knew what I was making was a quality product and that my style was unique, but I expected it to take time to make the industry connections and get my brand out there. I was lucky enough to have three of my cakes featured in a high end wedding magazine less than six months after opening which was a huge boost for my business. I ended up booking close to 80 weddings that first summer and things have just grown from there.

What are some highlights?

This past March, I was commissioned as one of three bakers across Canada to create a gigantic cake for Oreo Cookies 100th birthday. It was an intensive process involving interviews, reviews and submitting sketches. I was honored to be chosen and had an amazing time creating a cake that was over three feet tall and touring around Vancouver with it!

Why do you think so much importance is placed on the tradition of cake at big events?

A wedding cake serves as a gorgeous centerpiece for your wedding day. In many weddings it is prominently displayed at a reception and is a great way to tie together all elements of your big day and really express your style as a couple.

What are the various techniques a pastry chef and professional decorator must master?

Before mastering any decorating techniques, I think that it is really important to master the basics. From creating the perfect recipes, to icing a cake evenly and smoothly, to the structure involved in having a tiered wedding cake that doesnt sag or fall over, to covering a cake in the perfect layer of fondant. If you can master all of these skills to create the perfect cake base, even the simplest decorations will look stunning.

If an amateur wanted to ratchet it up a notch, what are the must-have tools/equipment?

There are so many fancy tools and gadgets out there on the market, but I like to stick with the basics. If you dont own an electric stand mixer like a Kitchen Aid, go out and buy one now. They will make any and all baking tasks so much easier, from whipping egg whites to creaming butter and sugar. My second favourite tool is an X-acto knife. Using one of these gives me the flexibility to create and cut out my own templates and they are the best tool for cutting straight lines of sugar ribbon or whatever you are creating. Finally, dont be afraid to look for inspiration in the hardware store, which is where a lot of my favourite tools come from. From levels to Lucite light covers that provide beautiful textures, thinking outside of the box will help you create unique work that stands out.

Your Grouse Mountain cake floored me [4]. What is your favourite design you have done?

I think my favourites are the most unique designs, where I spent a long time conceptualizing and sketching before starting to create the final product. Here are a few of my favourites:

This cake [2] was chosen as one of Canadas prettiest cakes by Wedding Bells. I loved being able to bring in berries, blossoms and wheat, all made of sugar, in a way that I think still looks elegant and refined. (Kim Kalyn Photography,Wedding Bells)

The more flowers the better, in my opinion. The watercolour ombre technique I used on this cake [3] has become one of the most popular requested design elements. (Vasia Photography, Wedluxe)

Cakes can be shaped like anything. Making lifelike tomatoes, bacon and lettuce for this cake [5] was so much fun! (Anna Elizabeth Cakes photo)

What are your favourite batter/icing flavour combos?

My favourites change with the season. I am a big fan of incorporating local and seasonal flavours into my cakes. For summer weddings, vanilla cake always seems to win out over a richer chocolate, paired with summer fruits like raspberries, blueberries and even cherries the most popular by far is our vanilla cake with toasted coconut butter cream and fresh raspberries. The sweetness of the butter cream, with the tartness of the raspberries is the perfect combination and is a nice light bite after a big wedding meal. In the late fall and winter, most of my clients end up going with a chocolate dessert. Our chocolate cake with salted caramel butter cream, spiced dark chocolate ganache and candied pecans is always a crowd pleaser.

Tell me about your first foray into baking:

Some of my earliest baking memories are heading over to my grandmas house when she was making her traditional English Christmas fruitcake. She would get everything put together and then all of the grandkids would take a turn stirring the mix before it was baked, wrapped and put away until Christmas. I never liked the taste of it as a child, but I remember the satisfaction of seeing the finished product and knowing that I had helped to make something that all of the adults were excited to eat. Even now, people always ask me if it is upsetting to give up the cakes I have put so many hours into making just so that they can be eaten, but that is my favourite part of the whole process. I love the look on peoples faces when they see the finished product and it blows them away!

What is your favourite indulgence, foodwise?

The perfect Cannelés Bordelais. These are a small cake made from a rum flavoured crepe batter that is poured into copper tins lined with beeswax. The result is a dark, almost burnt looking pastry with a crunch on the outside and perfectly soft, melt in your mouth inside. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Where do you like to go for dinner in Vancouver?

I am a huge foodie and find it just about impossible to pick just one favourite restaurant. If I am looking for a fancy night out, Hawksworth is consistently amazing and for something a little more casual, I am always up for baba ghanooj and mezze from Nuba or Neapolitan style pizza from Nicli Antica. The best new restaurant I have tried would have to be The Acorn on Main fantastic cocktails and to die for vegetarian dishes.

What are your top 5 tips for the perfect wedding cake?

1. Start your search for your wedding cake at least six months in advance. If you have found a cake designer that you love, chances are other couples love them too and popular summer dates may book up early. There is no harm in emailing to ask for a quote even a year in advance. When contacting potential cake designers, make sure to give them as much information as possible so that they can provide you with the most accurate quote: wedding date, the number of guests expected, wedding location and even examples of other cakes you have seen and liked. Wedding cake prices are based on the number of guests you are looking to serve, the size of the cake, and intricacy of the design.

2. When you go in to meet with a potential cake designer, remember that they are the professional. While it is our job to bring your vision to life, we also have the experience of countless wedding cakes to know what will work and what wont. For example, a butter cream-covered cake at an outdoor wedding during the summer is not a good idea.

3. Dont be afraid to be original. I have many requests for a cake to be recreated exactly from a picture. That cake has already been the centerpiece at someone elses wedding. Let the designer work with that style and even some of the design elements to create a cake that is unique to you.

4. Make sure you have a realistic budget. Not everyone has endless amounts of money to spend, but no one is going to be able to make a wedding cake for 100 people for $100. Do some research, figure out what most people are charging and then decide on a price range you are comfortable with. No matter what your budget, dont be afraid to ask bakers what they can do for you.

5. Sign a contract. When you have decided to book your cake with a certain vendor, make sure that they provide you with a contract outlining all of the details of your order for you to sign. You wouldnt believe the number of emails I get for last minute cakes during the summer because someones baker backed out on them at the last minute.

Is the cake industry in Vancouver fairly competitive or very supportive?

Compared to other major cities, the cake industry in Vancouver is fairly small. Although the number of hobbyists and home bakers has grown in recent years (especially with the rise in popularity of cake decorating shows) I really feel that there is more than enough work to go around between the professional pastry chefs and cake designers in this industry. I love talking with other industry professionals and think that there is no reason to feel competitive and shy away from sharing experiences and knowledge.

Are there competitions?

Within Vancouver, I am not aware of any formal cake decorating competitions, but there are certainly many well known ones across Canada and the US. Although not a competition, there is a cake conference happening in Vancouver this October called CakeLove which involves demonstrations, classes from internationally renowned instructors and cake showcases. If you are into cakes, even just as a hobby, this is definitely an event to check out!

Its hard to please everyone, especially family! What do you advise for choosing cake flavours?

Your wedding day is all about you, so choose a flavour that you love. I sometimes have couples that have more than one flavour to try and have an option for everyone. The only problem I see with this is that you often need to order more cake. If there are two flavours available, some people will inevitably want to try both. Ultimately, I think that most people love cake and will gladly eat whatever is served to them; whether you choose chocolate, vanilla, lemon or even red velvet.

What are the trends for the upcoming season?

This year has been a year of muted tones, ivories, champagne and vintage inspired hues. While there is something classic about these colour palettes, I think that couples are going to start mixing lighter tones with brighter colours next year. I already have quite a few weddings booked for the 2013 season, all of which are incorporating white or cream with colours such as sea foam green, coral and even orange. I think these colours will work well with bold, geometric patterns and oversized sugar floral as well. I also think that the ombre trend will continue well into next summer.

Are you married? If so, what was your cake like? If not, do you have a dream wedding cake for yourself?

No, I'm not married and I have no idea what my cake will be like! My style is constantly evolving and sometimes I feel like I dont know what I will be into next week, let alone a few years from now. It would definitely be unique, colourful and would have to include at least a little of my signature sugar floral.


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