Cake Expectations

This article was published in the December 2014 issue of the Irish American News under the “Guilty Pleasures” column.

My wedding cake was a traditional Irish Christmas cake, all three white-fondant-covered tiers of it.

When I was 18, I had a very different idea of what my wedding cake would look and taste like. I imagined something elegant and refined, with artfully crafted frosting flowers cartwheeling up and down five epic tiers.

As a wedding server during my last summer before university, I sampled upwards of 20 different cakes. After the nuptial celebrations had come to an end, there were always leftovers, and we servers would sneak slices in the kitchen prep room between dirty dish drop-offs. (Busing was the worst and stickiest part of the job, but cake was our reward.)

My favorites included marble with rich vanilla frosting; vanilla sponge cake filled with layers of fresh berries and topped with chocolate frosting; and chocolate-on-chocolate-on-chocolate cake (a rare but fantastic combination for the bravest of chocolaphile brides).

As you can see, Irish Christmas cake was not on the list. When my fiancée and I decided to get married in Belfast, however, I quickly realized that my cake expectations needed to change.

For one thing, wedding cakes in Ireland are not all the rage like they are in America, where love-struck couples pay upwards of $1,000 or more for the fanciest of cakes.

So in an effort to make a potentially expensive and complicated process much simpler, I walked into the local Marks & Spencer’s two days before we tied the knot and retrieved three round and differently sized Christmas cakes, which my future mother-in-law had pre-ordered.

These round white discs would later be organized on a silver dessert tray, each wrapped at the base with aubergine ribbon, the very top tier adorned with an assortment of autumn-colored flowers.

My cake set me back 100 pounds, less than $200. I got a deal.

What I wasn’t expecting was that I‘d like it. I loved it actually, all the dark, crumbly, dense, Christmas-fruity mess that is firmly held together with fondant (edible, of course, although sometimes, it seems like it shouldn’t be). It looked simple, but beautiful. And even though it wasn’t what I’d imaged at 18, it was perfect.

The funniest moment came when it was time to cut the cake. In my mind, the beautiful silver knife would slide right through the cake as Michael and I gripped the handle, hand over hand. Just before the actual event, we paused for a moment while everyone took pictures of our glowing faces, then we pressed down—it was like cutting concrete. I quickly let go of the knife and Michael pressed into the white rock with all of his strength, and finally, the cake gave way. I sighed with relief.

To this day, on Christmas trips back to the home country, I bring back that delightful cake from Marksy’s (as Marks & Spencer’s is fondly called in Ireland). I then proceed to eat every last bit of that Christmas cake during the first and bleakest weeks of January in Chicago.

For those of you who are wondering, we did not save the top tier for our first-born’s Christening. It was devoured only a few days after the wedding.

I have my cake and eat it too.

Christmas cake.

A traditional Christmas cake.


Carol’s Fruit Cake

This is a family recipe and an American version of fruitcake.

¾ cup brown sugar

1 cup butter

4 well beaten eggs

2 tbsp. sour cream

6 tbsp. cold water

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. nutmeg (freshly ground if possible)

2 ¾ cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tbsp. whisky

1 oz. orange extract

1 oz. lemon extract

¾ cup maple syrup

1-2 tsp. vanilla

½ lb. pineapple

¼ lb. cherries

½ lb. citron or cherries

1 lb. dates

1 lb. seeded raisins or mixed dried fruits

1 cup nuts (walnuts recommended)

Cut up fruit and soak in liquid* overnight; make cake as usual** and fold in fruit; grease fruit cake pans and line with wax paper; fill pans around 2/3 full; bake in the oven at 275 F for 1 ½ – 2 hours with a pan of water in the oven.

*Soak fruit in water, just enough to cover fruit; cover with plastic wrap and set in refrigerator.

**‘Usual’ refers to mixing the wet ingredients together and the dry ingredients together and then slowly combining the two.

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