the Wedding issue (which, for all practical purposes, is supposed to serve as the sugary sidekick to the main, multi-tiered attraction) completely stole the show, whether shaped like a gigantic golf ball or a bust ofThe Dude from The Big Lebowski . (Yes, really.) And while Knight hasn’t made an armadillo-shaped, red velvet cake a la Steel Magnolias (yet), she’s run into some pretty wacky requests over the years. Knight noted that they’ve created plenty of fleur-de-lis groom’s cakes and one highly involved version shaped like a deer’s head. And even more elaborate concoctions: “We did a groom’s cake once that was a pirogue ,” she recalled. “The boat was made of cake, but a lot of it was made of fondant, like the frogs and the fish. It was beautiful, but it took us quite a long time to do it: about five days, with three or four of us working together to finish.” A growing number of soon-to-be-hitched couples are also bucking tradition by opting out of a wedding cake completely, and instead serving their guests a smorgasbord of other saccharine delights. “We’ve done a lot of wedding cupcakes and petit fours. The petit fours are dangerous, because you can’t eat just one!” Knight laughs. “They just melt in your mouth.” Different communities throughout the Gulf South have long been faithful to unique bakery items as part of their wedding traditions, with key lime pie a frequent must-have item in the Gulf Shores area of Alabama. This year, though, there was a surprise: The key lime pie has been selling out across the region — not just in its typical beachfront home.
“It would definitely be the white almond cake with buttercream,” she says, noting that it’s also the cake her family loves to see her carrying home after work. “I mean, if I bring anything else home they look at me like I have two heads!” Almond cake has been a cross-cultural staple for centuries, but none are quite like what’s whipped up at Rouses today. In Spain, the Tarta de Santiago is a dense, lightly spiced and citrus-tinged almond cake baked in honor of St. James, the country’s patron saint. The Scandinavian version of almond cake is almost always topped with a smattering of fresh berries and slivers of sugar-glossed almonds. A white almond cake was even said to be the favorite sweet of Abraham Lincoln,whose wife Mary Todd baked it for him both during their courting days and well into their marriage. (He is said to have proclaimed, “This is the best cake I ever ate!” upon his first time tasting it.) But baking powder—critical for ensuring cakes are fluffed to perfection —wasn’t invented until well after the CivilWar,which means the white almond cake enjoyed by Old Abe likely had more in common with a pound cake than the airy creation found across the Gulf South today. “I was born and raised in New Orleans. I never thought the white almond cake was unusual until I became an adult and realized no one else had it,” said Knight. “I was shocked! You know, it’s like when I went up to New York for the first time, and they tried to feed me Cream of Wheat. I was like, ‘What is this? Where are the grits?’” And though the hyper-local white almond cake has been a beloved favorite of the Rouses cake canon for decades, its origin story remains shrouded in mystery. Maybe a band of magical, talking almonds convinced the head baker at the time to create a sweet homage to the nut. Maybe a starry-eyed cake decorator fell in love with an almond vendor, and the white almond cake is a secret tribute to their illicit love affair.Who knows — your guess is as good as mine. But outside of fantastical speculation, whoever (or whatever) first created that cake in the hallowed halls of flour and sugar at Rouses surely will go down in the history books as a kind of sugarcoated fairy godmother. (Michelle Knight even suggested that if I were to have a June wedding, my cake should be a white almond cake with praline filling and caramel icing.) “It’s a hard cake to bake. It truly is. It’s not something that you could just bake up without understanding it and have it turn out well,” explains Knight. “We go through lengthy processes to have such a good white cake. I mean, if you looked in the grocery store on the shelf in the baking section, you never see almond mix — ever — on the shelf. That’s because once you start adding almond extracts, and emulsions, and all that, you just can’t get the height on a cake. It’s a very difficult process. So that’s why they don’t even make mixes with white almond. And when I tell people that, they’re like, ‘You’re right, there is no white almond cake mix.’” And for all home bakers and Pinterest-loving DIYers out there looking to recreate the cake at home — sans boxed mix — Knight cautions against falling into the almond extract trap. “The almond cake is a white cake because it doesn’t have the yellow [yolk] of the egg in it. But it’s not a flavored almond cake. It’s not
Bourgeois-Kennedy wedding, photo by Melissa Friloux Photography
“People have gotten into pies, which has been a little shocking — even for me! This year, it’s been a key lime pie that’s popular, which has never been in the past,” Knight explained, noting that in previous years, the apple pie has been a wedding season favorite. “They’re ordering a lot more for weddings and showers. I went through so many the first two weeks they came out. I’m like, ‘This must be a fluke.’ It was amazing what we sold.” And if Knight had the chance to rebuild her dream wedding cake now that she’s a bakery whiz? She’dmake a white almond cake—no question.
MY ROUSES EVERYDAY
JULY | AUGUST 2018
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