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unveiled

Rise & Shine

A younger baker channels her nana’s passion for cakes and life.
By Jen Cooper | Photograph by Dave Cooper - 2017
   

Elise Smith fell in love with baking at an early age thanks to her grandmother, Winnie, who worked as a baker, floral designer, and event planner. “I remember being about 4 or 5 with my nana in the kitchen,” Smith says. “I said I wanted to decorate a cake, so we baked one and she let me decorate it as crazy as I wanted. We had to keep putting it in the fridge because I piled up so much buttercream frosting that it kept falling over.” That moment started something special.

At age 8, Smith shared her first recipe with her nana. By age 11, she had convinced her grandmother she needed to hire her. Winnie put her to work on flowers and cake-cutting. She soon became the talk of the reception. People loved the adorable girl who brought their cake.

Smith’s passion for baking and floral design remained a constant even as she studied to become a sign-language interpreter at Gallaudet University. “I’ve always kept a recipe journal. I have four or five now.”

One night in college, Smith found herself pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam. It was a stressful time, so she turned to something that gave her comfort—baking.

A recipe came to her for brownies. The next thing she knew, it was 4:30 a.m. and she was in the middle of a Harris Teeter buying espresso. “I had this idea for an espresso drizzle,” she says. “She went home, baked the brownies, and drizzled on the syrup she’d created. Then she put the brownies in the fridge while she napped.

When Smith woke up 40 minutes later, she checked on her creation and loved the result. She wrapped up the brownies and took them to class. She handed them out to her professor and classmates, thinking they could use a sweet treat.

After the exam was over, she found that she cared more about what her peers thought of the brownies than whether she passed the test. She ended up passing, but her ambitions for the future changed. “It was the espresso drizzle that was the turning point,” she remembers.

Since then, her business, WinniE’s Bakery, has become her focus and her livelihood. She puts the same love and care into it as she does her baked goods.

While she bakes cookies, pies, and, yes, brownies, it’s her cakes that really show off her artistry. Smith has a talent for pairing smooth buttercream with rustic details and fresh floral. Each cake is a unique creation.

For a wedding cake, during a consultation she gets a sense of the couple themselves and tries to create a cake that represents them. “I love having time with the couples and really learning what they want,” she says. “I put everything into the cake. Then when I deliver the cake, step back, and see it, it feels separate from me, like it was always their cake. It’s a great feeling.”

Q: How much should I budget for a cake?
A: I tell couples to just budget realistically. For instance, if you know that you are having a larger reception, say 300 people, it would be unrealistic to budget $500 for cake or desserts. Also, keep in mind there are some things that can impact the cost of your cake and/or desserts. Detail elements like edible gold-leaf appliqué, fresh floral, or choosing a flavor that has more expensive ingredients (like champagne or rum) can all drive up costs. Take time to really discuss the details that are important to you—it’ll help both you and your wedding-cake designer. Bottom line: Make sure it’s delicious and what you, as a couple, want for your wedding.

Q: How far in advance should I schedule my tasting?
A: My advice to couples would be broken into two groups: definitive/highly decisive clients versus slightly less sure clients. If you are a highly definitive/decisive client, I would suggest scheduling your tasting as soon as possible. That way, it’s one less thing to worry about on your to-do list when planning for your big day. Now, if you happen to fall into the “less sure” category, that’s okay. Planning a wedding can be quite a task for a lot of couples. So for couples who are a little reticent, I would suggest scheduling your tasting somewhere between three and six months out, though some may require a greater amount of prior planning. But just like all things that you’re going to invest time, money, and trust in, be sure to do your research. Take the time to contact the bakeries that you have an interest in.

Q: What about food allergies?
A: WinniE’s Bakery is a full-adoptive bakery. If one of our couples has a gluten allergy, that’s no problem. My mother has celiac disease, so ensuring the quality and safe-care of our baked goods is paramount. It’s important for couples to take the time to vet the bakeries they’re considering hiring for their wedding. Find a bakery that will cater to both your needs and your guests’ needs. That way, you can rest easy knowing the cake or desserts for your big day are just what you wanted and, even more important, safe for all to enjoy.

Q: What are some resources you would recommend for cake inspiration?
A: Personally, I recommend all mediums. Whether it came in a dream, was created in a childhood drawing, was from a magazine, or was a picture from Instagram or Pinterest. I often find that my couples—especially the brides—have imagined most details of their wedding for a long time.

Q: Are there certain trends when it comes to cakes? If so, what trends are you seeing?
A: As of this wedding season, cake designers are seeing three particular styles, the first being the drip cake—whether it’s over a seminaked cake with a caramel drizzle or on a fully dressed cake with white chocolate drizzle painted with an ever-so-light pearl dust. Second, couples love fresh floral, which I do, too. Floral is a beautiful, simplistic, and natural accent to add to any cake—not to mention, it’s timeless. Finally, the third trend that we are seeing with couples is completely going against tradition. Couples are having fun, and they’re not stressing themselves out by binding themselves to the same expectations of weddings from previous generations (like their parents’). They’re striking out and making their wedding day fully their own. We recently had a bride who asked specifically for pies. They had a pie bar at their wedding. You can’t tell me that’s not cool.

Q: What if the reception is outdoors? Will the cake be okay?
A: Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. The best answer is, yes, for a short period of time. Couples have to remember that it’s cake and consistently cool temperatures often rule its stability. WinniE’s Bakery is an all-buttercream bakery. That means that we use design techniques that manipulate the look of buttercream. So when a couple tells me that they’re having an outdoor wedding or reception, my first question is, “Where can I put the cake?” We don’t want our couples to have had the best day of their life only to arrive at the reception to a pile of melted cake because it was 84 degrees out and the cake sat in the heat for too long.

Q: Do you need a special location to prep the cake?
A: No, not generally. Now, if your reception is on a sailboat, that’s a different story. I make a point to discuss the venue with the couple so I have a full understanding of where, and specifically what time, things are taking place. Winnie’s can assemble on-site, depending on the size, quantity, or unique needs of the order. But usually, the cake or desserts arrive fully prepared and ready for the reception. Just make sure your baker has your venue’s contact information and the number for the go-to person that day.

Q: What happens if you can’t decide between two cakes? Can you combine flavors or is that a no-no?
A: The short answer is, yes, you can combine flavors. The long answer is slightly more involved. If your cake is multi-tiered, having more than one flavor is incredibly doable. For instance, if a couple has a three-tier cake and wants red velvet, strawberry champagne, and brown sugar and rum, it’s no problem to separate each flavor into a tier of the cake. However, if a couple wants a one-tier “cutting cake,” then I would not advise mixing flavors. Each flavor has the potential to become lost in the other, meaning it might taste absolutely disgusting.

Q: What is the best way to store cake to eat on the first anniversary of your wedding?
A: There are two different methods I recommend. The first involves cling wrap and an airtight container. First, tightly wrap the cake in a couple of layers of cling wrap, making sure not to allow any air bubbles. Next, find an airtight container that is similar in size to your cake and place it inside. The less air, the less likely your cake will go stale. With the second method, also begin by tightly wrapping the cake in cling wrap. But then you will wrap the cake in foil, making sure it’s airtight to prevent freezer burn. No matter which method you choose, you and your new spouse will be able to celebrate in delicious fashion on your one-year anniversary.