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"This really is the ULTIMATE cookie book. Whimsical, elegant, colorful, and creative!! What more could you ask for? You will not be disappointed.”

Colette Peters

Celebrity Cake Decorator; Owner, Colette's Cakes


Apr 01, 2019 2:48pm

Julia Usher baking in her home kitchen
Blog Recipes and Tips From Julia Usher

Good as Gold

Once upon a time, long before I ever wrote about cookies, I owned and operated a bakery. There in my humble South St. Louis shop, I happily crafted all manner of fancy wedding cakes, from modern mosaics and sculptural suspensions to more romantic chocolate-wrapped and sugar-draped numbers, like this party’s vintage beauty. This was also the time when I dreamed of writing an elaborate dessert party book with a chapter centered around each of my signature wedding cakes.

In the early days of the bakery, it was easy to overlook its shortcomings: the refrigerator that too often took naps; the melting hot cake hauls through steam tunnels and elevator shafts; the staff that changed faster than I could spin a cake turntable…I could go on and on. But back then, each day brought a new creative challenge, and I was blinded by love of my work.

And so, with wedding season upon us, I offer you this excerpt from that magical wedding chapter of my life (and cake book) - a golden anniversary party with a nostalgic twist. This marriage of high style and low budget is living proof that fairy tales can come true with just a little bit of ingenuity and planning!

1 | Vow to Wow.

Such a commitment is easier to make than you might think. The key to creating this party’s “wow” factor was setting its mood. Yes, its mood. Most party designers choose a person, place, or occasion as a theme, but I often prefer to establish a prevailing tone or feeling. Odd? Not at all! Whenever you stir emotions with an event, you’re more likely to leave a lasting impression on guests. Plain and simple.

Here, the mood – best characterized as nostalgia or romance - was underscored by details made beautiful with the passage of time, just like the marriage we had gathered to celebrate. Unusual antiques and salvaged items were the focal points, along with details lovingly crafted by hand, all tied together with the soft sepia tones you’d find in a vintage photograph. (Take a gander at the menus, party favors, and dessert plates, below, for examples of what I mean.)

2 | Borrow Something(s).

Just as “something borrowed” is a tradition at weddings, it’s de rigueur when I go about party planning. After all, there’s no better way to keep a budget in check. To start, I got the venue, the lovely apartment of designer Elizabeth Maxson, on loan. You’ll also see her fine Belgian lace curtains turned into a table runner (top photo), and her antique timepiece collection worked into sidetable vignettes, reminding party-goers of the timelessness of the event. I made old wedding portraits into menus (second and third photos from top) by gluing the food lineup to their inside flaps and adding simple button-and-ribbon ties. And in lieu of the expected silver cake plateau, an over-sized tin tile, all patina and no polish, was used to show off the anniversary cake (fourth photo).

3 | Marry the Food to the Mood.

Memories stick with guests even longer when all of the party details, including the food, fit the chosen mood. That said, each recipe on this menu had to pass the time test (aka the love test), meaning it had to have a longstanding relationship with either the bride or the groom! Likewise, each item, from the sauce on the cake to the poached pears served alongside (fifth photo), had to meet the gold standard by expressing itself in a rich antique-y tone, such as gold (naturally), caramel, or amber. Touches of nostalgia appeared in the dessert styling, too. You’ll see crackled finishes on cookie and cake tops, sugar drapery that looks like vintage cutwork cloth (sixth photo), chocolate lace doilies piped under dessert plates (seventh photo), and even cast sugar “perfume bottles” with ornate fondant filigree stoppers (second photo from bottom).

4 | Leave a “Happily Ever After.”

By this, I mean a favor that can be enjoyed both immediately after the party and for some time to come as a reminder of the good times shared! Here, the cast sugar perfume bottles were the favors, fulfilling both requirements perfectly. If stored in a cool, dry place, cast sugar pieces can be admired for a near-eternity. (Remember the panorama Easter eggs you got as a kid? They were made of the same thing, basically a mixture of granulated sugar and a small amount of water.) As for the immediate enjoyment factor, these particular pieces were hollowed out and each was filled with a chocolate truffle (bottom photo) rendered irresistible by pairing the best chocolate and cream with a glittery fragment of edible gold leaf! Now that’s what I call wedded bliss!

Epilogue: The honeymoon with my wedding cake business eventually ended, some seven years after it started. And my dream cake book has yet to be published. But don’t worry. I’m still happily married to sweets; I’m just expressing my love for them in other ways. If you missed my new book Ultimate Cookies on my home page, click here to see my latest venture.

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