Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ann Arbor Pastry Chef

A dessert-tasting menu where you eat 5 or more pastries and no entree at all ... a culinary school dedicated to sweets ... a "naked" wedding cake decorated with berries but not a bit of frosting ... and many more experiences and ideas that were entirely new to me were topics of a conversation I had with Marybeth King, head pastry chef at Weber's Restaurant and catering in Ann Arbor.


Marybeth makes sure to find out what people want, sometimes by long conversations, sometimes when they bring in a picture. One popular trend this summer and fall, she told me, is to have a wedding cake that's traditional on one side, but when you check the other side, it has a surprise theme. The Batman cake in the photo above is a recent example of this type of cake. I don't know much about cakes and cake decorating, so I was totally fascinated to learn about all the different cakes made by Marybeth and her assistants in Weber's pastry kitchen.


"Chalkboard" cakes, iced black with white "chalk" writing on them, are also currently popular. The cake above is one of several demo cakes she baked during the summer to help customers at Weber's figure out just what type of cake they'd like to order. She gets ideas from visiting pastry shops in various cities, looking at ads, and exploring Pinterest, as well as from the photos and descriptions that her customers bring in. And when she can, she learns by ordering the dessert-and-pastry tasting menus I mentioned earlier, which she has found at restaurants in Chicago, Las Vegas, and elsewhere.


Marybeth has a life-long dedication to her profession. Before working at Weber's she worked briefly at the Gandy Dancer, worked at Moveable Feast, and other restaurant jobs. Even in high school she managed to get jobs in the school cafeteria and at a local pastry shop. She constantly improves her skills -- at a class at a specialized culinary school in Chicago this spring, she made the cake in the photo above. These were her first figurines made from fondant and gum paste, two ingredients in the tool box of professional cake bakers.


A couple planning a wedding recently asked her for a "naked cake" -- another current trend. "I had never heard the term," says Marybeth, "but I knew what they meant immediately, and the cake in the picture turned out to be exactly what they wanted." 

Marybeth's cakes come in a wide variety of flavors, as well as being decorated to satisfy her customers. She has a huge number of recipes, many of which she knows by heart, she says. She makes her own fondant from marshmallows, which makes it taste better than ready-made fondant. 

Customers can order Marybeth's cakes for events at Weber's, for events that Weber's caters, or just for their own event independent of Weber's. She's proud of Weber's anniversary program, which offers a six-inch "top layer" to any couple having dinner to celebrate the anniversary of their Weber's wedding. She usually bakes a duplicate of their original wedding-cake top for their first anniversary, but says that some couples who come back year after year sample many of her newer creations too. In addition, she's happy that the cakes she bakes are available at a wide price range, offering good choices to the customers, whatever their celebration is about.


Owls are very popular currently, says Marybeth. The cake on the left was for a baby shower, and the cake on the right was the product of a professional class she took in Chicago. The interior structure of this cake is particularly intricate, and the class included instructions on how to do it right. For simpler cakes, like the "naked" cake, layers are held together with straws, Marybeth explained to me. "Black straws," she says, "so they aren't accidentally served in a piece of cake."

"Retro Barbie" -- a wedding shower cake.
"Alice" for a customer who asked for red-white-and-black.
"My pride and joy" says Marybeth -- another cake from a Chicago class, taught by Marina Sousa,
a pastry chef who has been on TV. "I don't watch much food TV,"
says Mary Beth. "Too much of a busman's holiday."
Baking and cooking are Marybeth's lifelong passions, but recently she discovered an activity she loves almost as much: writing fiction. Participating in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) she's written six novels, and also completed some children's stories and short stories. I met Marybeth in a writers' Meetup Group, and loved finding out about her delicious profession! And I'm grateful to her for sharing all these cake photos!


3 comments:

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Mae,
WOW wedding cakes sure have come a long way! Marybeth sounds like a very creative and gifted artist. You were fortunate to visit with her.

Thanks so much for sharing Mae and thank YOU for your kind notes and comments. We really do appreciate them.

P.S. I couldn't say on my blog but my vacation will be in Disneyland!!! The grandkids don't know about it so I couldn't reveal it on my blog. As you can imagine, I'm thrilled for more than one or two reasons, lol...

Geraldine Saucier said...

Very nice pictures of some beautiful cakes.

Debra Eliotseats said...

My favorite has to be that chalkboard cake. I hope to make it to the Sugar Arts Show this year at the Tulsa State Fair (hosted by Kerri Vincent) and share pics, too.