Chelsea's wedding cake, a gluten-free masterpiece

Like so many aspects of Chelsea Clinton's spectacular wedding Saturday, the cake was remarkable.

The nine-tier vanilla cake, filled with dark chocolate mousse, frosted in white fondant, and decorated with 1,000 edible sugar flowers, was also gluten-free.

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That's because the former first daughter is allergic to the gluten found in most cakes and breads.

The creation was a triumph for Frances and Maarten Steenman of La Tulipe Desserts in New York's Westchester County. The Steenmans, who have owned and run their business for nearly 12 years, specialize in all kinds of exquisite tarts, pies, cookies, and of course cakes, not just those that are gluten-free.

Some media outlets speculated that the wedding cake was also dairy-free because the bride is a vegetarian of long standing. But Frances Steenman said that was not the case.

"Instead of flour, we used a special brown rice blend that contains no barley, rye, oats, or wheat," she said. "But no, it was not a vegan cake."

Gluten-free baking is not easy, said Monica Glass, pastry chef at 10Arts on the Avenue of the Arts here in Philadelphia. Glass also has a gluten allergy, so she knows the difficulties firsthand.

"A lot of gluten-free recipes are more dense, but you need a recipe that's moist enough to be tasty," Glass said.

At a wedding ceremony, all eyes are on the bride, but at a reception, the cake takes center stage. So it has to look good.

"But taste," Glass says, "is foremost."

The popular bridal website TheKnot.com estimated the cost of the Clinton cake at over $11,000. But Steenman said that too was incorrect.

"I can't speak to the price directly, but what the media speculated was not true."

"We work with all budgets and all kinds of dietary requests due to allergies or religion," Steenman said, "so we were definitely qualified to do this."

And how did they transport their 500-pound masterpiece from the bakery in Mount Kisco to Astor Courts, the beaux-arts mansion built for John Jacob Astor IV, about 50 miles away?

"There was a lot of engineering behind it, and a lot of practice," said Steenman, whose husband Maarten does the designing and baking.

"Throughout the years," she said, transporting cakes "has always been the most stress for pastry chefs."

"You can't possibly travel with a cake that big stacked up," said Steenman, so she assembled it on-site and left.

She said she did not know whether her cake was the only dessert option, or whether some of the 400 guests took pieces home. But she did say with certainty that there was no sheet cake in the kitchen that was served to guests instead of the real thing, a fairly common custom at some weddings.

And, she said, the couple definitely did not want a cake topper.

Steenman said she was hoping the bride and groom saved the top layer of the cake to eat on their first anniversary. That's a tradition that Steenman said she finds especially delightful.

Knockoffs of the bridal gowns (yes, Clinton wore one Vera Wang gown for the ceremony and another for the reception) are probably already in the works. Would Steenman do a knockoff of Chelsea's cake if a bride requested it?

"No, I would not duplicate the cake," she said. "Every bride deserves a special cake of her own."

 


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder.