10 Minutes With: Cheryl Kleinman

Pastry Chef

Meet Cheryl Kleinman, New York’s aficionado of fondant and connoisseur of butter cream.

This Brooklyn-based pastry chef has been in the high-end wedding cake business for over 20 years. The secret to her success is, well, two-tiered.

The exteriors of her cakes, sculpted from smooth fondant, marzipan or buttercream icing are world-renowned for their flawless design. The interiors are confections in to-die-for flavors from apricot pound to banana to buttery yellow and filled with white or chocolate ganache, jams or a bevy of buttercreams from praline to key lime.

This combination has made Cheryl one of the world’s most sought after wedding bakers. We recently had the chance to catch Cheryl between whisks to ask about her secrets to sublime sweets—and how to trim the cost without sacrificing on style.

How long does it take you to complete a cake?
It is not so much how many guests I’m feeding or how big the cake is. It has to do with the amount of detail put into the design. I try not to over-book based on that. Generally speaking the average amount it takes is between 25 to 40 hours per cake. Of course, sometimes I do over-book and I know it is a late night ahead and so the coffee drinking begins.

What are some of the harder factors about cakes that brides are oblivious to?
Cake making is a lot like the world of weddings. Every cake, even if it is the same one I’ve done before, has a twist or turn that makes it complicated. It might be the height or how soft the inside is or if there are too many tiers.

Or, it could be related to factors of the season—the humidity in the summer makes cake behave different than the dryness of the winter. They are always unpredictable so my job is to make sure each step along the way is sound so that architecturally we can finish with a beautiful cake.

Take us through how a bride and groom could hire you.
Not always, but usually I work with a couple’s event planner because the bride isn’t interested or because she lives across the country or abroad. If a couple is doing this themselves, they make an appointment at my bakery. Then I work with them the same way I would with an event planner. I work with the concept they have in mind to make sure the details and design elements of the cake have a thread of continuity

What are your feelings about some of the more unique flavor combinations?
I try to steer a bride and groom away from too odd flavor selections because they need to ultimately satisfy all their guests and strange flavors will put them off. However, with that said, the flavors should reflect the bride and groom’s personal taste and the season the wedding is in. For example, for a fall wedding, I may suggest autumnal flavors like mocha or something with nuts or pumpkin. But in summer, a lighter cake with lemon buttercream or a fruity flavor like mango is better.

Your cakes cost upwards of $10 a slice. Any tips on keeping cake cost down?
Definitely! Take into consideration what time of year you’re getting married. If it’s the summer, for example, people tend to eat less so you can cut smaller portions. Also, change how you’ll present the cake to guests. If it is staged in the room closer to guests, then it can be smaller. It doesn’t need to be so grand when it is not shown so far away.

Once I did a cake for 200 at a grand location with high-ceilings. But the way it was presented on a table, with gorgeous linens on a vintage stand with framed photos of the couple’s parents cutting their cakes on their wedding day, I really only designed a beautiful three-tiered cake that could feed 35! The rest of the portions were on backup cakes in the kitchen and no one was the wiser once it was plated.

Also, generally, choosing a modern or clean design is cheaper than a more ornate one. A cake with two very big sugar flowers on it with a little beading is going to be a lot cheaper than a cake with something grand like cascading sugar flowers down the side. That’s where the time and price go.

Thank you Cheryl.

--Erinn Bucklan

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