By Marcia Pilgeram
June brides have been a-blooming, and this month I was fortunate enough to witness the unions of two of them. More than 2,000 miles apart, a couple of my favorite 7B ladies (best friends and classmates of Casey) tied the knot with their long-time loves. Both sets of nuptials took place in storybook outdoor settings, and Mother Nature deserves all the credit for the incredibly stunning lighting, backdrops and photo ops.
Finally, live events are happening again, and we’re all dressing up with somewhere to go! Love brings us together, then good food, great music and raucous merriment carry us into the wee hours.
Neither wedding reception I recently attended had a traditional tiered wedding cake. Instead, a few close friends of each bride whipped up favorite cakes, cookies and bars. The assortments were tasty and beautiful and baked with a whole lot of love.
Over the past three decades, I’ve made dozens and dozens of wedding desserts, but it’s been nearly five years since I assembled my last tiered cake (for another favorite 7B lass). Mostly I used to bake cakes for income, but I also made many as gifts for girls who were “like daughters” or girls who were best friends of my daughters. For love or money, every creation was a unique labor of love.
I no longer have a commercial kitchen or a walk-in cooler (or the stamina of younger Marcia), so these days it would be a daunting task for me to whip up a multi-level masterpiece. So with swelling pride, I’ve been passing the torch (and whisks and ladles) to my 14-year-old granddaughter Miley, who’s nearly ready to take over the tradition. She’s already an ace baker and has a much steadier hand than me.
In my day, I made some pretty dramatic wedding cakes and was always up for the challenge of pleasing a bride. But, without all the solid young crew who once worked for me, I never could have met the wedding cake challenge. More than once, we transported the separate, crumb-coated cake layers on a sturdy wooden door (which makes an excellent hauling platform) On either end were two strong helpers, toting the yet-to-be-assembled cake across meadows, down coulees and even over swinging bridges. My job was to take deep breaths, not look down and get to the other side with dowels, pastry bags of chilled buttercream, fresh flowers and other embellishments as quickly as possible.
Some of my favorite wedding cakes were not even cakes, though I can’t take credit for the inspiration. I collaborated with many creative minded brides and their big-budget parents, and I never said no to a challenge. I still remember an all-time favorite, served at an outdoor, French-themed garden wedding. Six beautifully stacked wheels of ripe French cheeses, embellished simply with apricot roses, champagne grapes and leaves, and served with vintage magnums of Champagne, supplied by the bride’s French grandfather.
A showstopper dessert I once prepared (served at the Sons of Norway Lodge in Lolo, Mont.), was a kransekake. It’s a signature Norwegian wedding dessert — a tower made of 18 delicate cookie rings. It was my first attempt and I was terrified, but this super-sweet stunner was surprisingly easy to make and even gluten-free.
The dough is made from pulsing almonds until finely ground, adding sifted confectioners’ sugar, and finally egg whites are added as a binding agent. After an overnight rest, the dough is gently rolled into ropes and fitted into ring molds. Once baked, the ring cookies are stacked sky-high and held in place with royal icing piping.
Another popular non-cake tradition comes from several Catholic-dominated regions in Europe. The “Cookie Table” is steeped in ethnic culture and arrived in the U.S. with immigrants who primarily settled in the Northeast, where the tradition is still as popular as ever. It’s considered a great honor to be asked by the bride’s mother to bake up a big batch of love in the form of a favorite cookie (and it’s a great source of humiliation and embarrassment to be overlooked).
Ubiquitous on any Cookie Table is the butter cookie, rolled in powdered sugar and dusted with the same. It comes with many aliases: Greek cookie, Mexican wedding cookie, Russian tea cake and Italian wedding cookie. It’s a personal family favorite (I made dozens for Casey’s wedding), and I’ve been honored with more than one request to supply them for others’ Cookie Tables. For sure it will be featured in my long-rumored cookbook, but I’m still deciding what to call them.
Another cookbook-worthy, Pilgeram family favorite is tart lemon bars with a delicate shortbread crust. It’s the perfect finale on a warm summer evening. Wedding or not, it’s about time to whip up a batch!
Tart lemon bars recipe • These lemon bars are rich and tart and perfect! Makes one 9”x13” pan (about 24 servings).
• 1 cup butter, softened
• ½ cup white sugar
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 4 eggs
• 1 ½ cups white sugar
• ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• 2 lemons, juiced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium bowl, blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and ½ cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased, parchment paper-lined, 9”x13” inch pan.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm and golden.
Using the same bowl, wipe clean, then whisk together the remaining 1 ½ cups sugar and ¼ cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the preheated oven. The bars will firm up as they cool. Chill several hours before serving. Cut into uniform squares (or triangles) and dust with powdered sugar or miniature candied lemon slices.
For a fancier garnish, top with meringue piping:
Reserve the egg white from one of the four eggs in the recipe. Whip with ¼ cup of white sugar until stiff peaks form. Pipe a decorative meringue design on each chilled square, and brown tops of meringue just before serving.
While we have you ...
... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.
You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal