Food almost always plays an important role in celebrations, but cake is the headliner. Birthdays fall flat without a delivery system for the candles. Weddings would be far messier and brides more angry if grooms mashed ravioli into their faces. Bachelorette parties might be as bawdy, but not nearly as energetic without the sugar rush of a gooey gâteau.
Cakes can be as uncomplicated as a standard grocery store purchase that can be customized by adding the recipient’s name under “Good Luck” or “Happy Birthday,” or as complex as a custom sculpted and iced, multi-layered confection. Most Island pastry chefs take custom orders and, because the Vineyard nourishes creativity, only the pocketbook limits what can be accomplished.
For example, Liz Kane of Cakes by Liz once concocted a groom’s cake shaped like a cutting board, topped with petal paste vegetables. The groom was a chef and had recently graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She’s made a devil and angel cake for a wedding — a reference to a conversation between the bride and groom when they met. And she’s done a groom’s cake that replicates a dart board.
Valerie Stoyer of Val Cakes has produced a whole album full of specialty cakes, including a bass clef, acoustic guitar, a shirt with a Vineyard Vines tie, a cigar box, a bushel of crabs, and a drum set. While they were cleverly designed and beautifully executed, she’s had a much more unconventional commission. A turning-30 birthday boy’s favorite restaurant was one where the eyes of a certain bird represent a body part (two, actually) usually found on a human female’s upper torso. Valerie was asked to reproduce the logo of said restaurant, with the two O’s in the name duplicating what we called “first base” in junior high.
“It was a sheet cake,” Val relates. “The frosting was white with the letters outlined in orange, the owl eyes flesh-toned.”
Was she embarrassed, delivering such a risqué confection? “It was more humorous than anything,” she insists. “I think it was more embarrassing for the birthday boy.”
Laura Beckman, Executive Pastry Chef for the Black Dog Bakery, was once asked by students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to create a cake to go along with their prom theme, “Starry, Starry Night.” Using a sheet cake, a spatula, and icings tinted numerous colors, she reproduced Van Gogh’s classic painting of the same name. “I probably had close to 40 different shades of frosting,” she recalls. Although she admits that this was probably the largest undertaking she’s accepted, it wasn’t the most outrageous. Laura unabashedly admits to creating cakes that feature what some refer to as “our swimsuit parts.”
A favorite for guys’ birthday parties is the silhouette of the naked lady you often see on the mudflaps of trucks, but she takes a certain pride in the detailed, anatomically correct male parts she forms out of tinted white chocolate for bachelorette parties. “I’ve made small, round cakes that have a six-inch (appendage) in the middle of it. That leaves room so I can write something around it if someone wants to include a special message. I make it as graphic as possible.
“I can copy almost anything in two dimensional chocolate,” she adds.
She’s also sculpted a sheet cake into the shape of said organ, “But that,” she demurs, “is more expensive and takes more time to make. I can pop a (white chocolate you-know) onto anything.”
Leslie Hewson, who bakes for Offshore Ale and Café Moxie, speaks a little shyly about her beyond-the-pale creations. “I always feel a little naughty when I drop off my cake,” she admits. Yet, she seems to take a certain joy out of pushing the envelope. She recently carved a cake into the shape of a woman’s torso from the neck to the top of her thighs. While piping on fishnet stockings, she accidentally pulled a bit off the cake, creating a hole in the design. “I looked at it and thought, that’s not such a bad thing. So I wrecked the other side, too.”
But it hasn’t always been sweetness and light for Leslie. On one occasion, she was putting the finishing touches on an X-rated cake for a bachelorette party when her four-year-old daughter wandered into the room. “She was escorted out,” Leslie recalls. “We were already on speed-dial at the nursery school. I couldn’t have her going in and telling them that Mommy was making a p*nis cake.”
Leslie’s cabinets boast a collection of pans in what she coyly calls “certain shapes,” that she purchases from a supplier in Boston, aptly named “Sweet & Nasty.” They’re positioned as Boston’s Home for Erotic Cakes, Sweets & Novelties. Located on Mass Ave., they advertise, “Complete confidentiality – discreet packaging.”
Leslie admits she doesn’t shout this aspect of her career from the rooftops. “I enjoy the art,” she says. “I enjoy the whimsy of it. But I would be sad if I offended anyone. I ask a lot of questions before I commit, especially if I don’t know the person. I try hard to make sure (the cake) goes to the right person, the right event.”