To Have, To Hold, and To Bite Your Head Off

Lauren, a colleague and bride-to-be, had a non-work-related request: would I be willing to create edible bride-and-groom figures to top her wedding cake? She had heard that I had made cake toppers before, albeit out of clay, for friends of mine. While I appreciate the win-win nature of a wedding registry, I also love giving a handmade gift to dear friends to make them laugh and honor their individuality amongst all the wedding day traditions.

clay cake toppers

Lauren and her fiancé Adam were trying to strike a balance between tradition and their own personalities. In honor of Adam’s faith and family, they would have a traditional Jewish ceremony. Lauren’s Italian background would shine in the wedding cake, made with cannoli cream from her favorite Brooklyn bakery.

I was hesitant about agreeing to the job at first (let’s face it, brides can be scary), until Lauren explained the sardonic twist: instead of doing the whole traditional cutting of the cake, Lauren and Adam would bite the heads off their mini-selves in a cheeky display of their attitude toward the traditional roles of husbands and wives.

How could I say no?!?

The first order of business was figuring out what to use, and the answer was marzipan. Made from ground almonds and sugar, it sculpts like soft clay and would also serve as a good flavor partner to the cannoli cake, a derivative of Sicilian cassata. Working with marzipan was harder than I thought. Adam’s head had to be secured internally with a Christmas tree ornament hook. Next up was playing with food coloring, which proved easy until I started work on the bride’s white gown.

sculpting marzipan
White food coloring was nearly impossible to find, and when I did locate some, it must have been sitting on the shelf for a million years because it made the marzipan dry and crumbly. Just two days before the cake toppers needed to be done, I decided to call the professionals and buy a piece of fondant—sheets of white icing—from a good bakery. I’d roll it out, drape it around mini-Lauren, and we’d all live happily ever after.

After calling all the best French bakeries in town, I found one, (the best!), willing to sell me just one piece of fondant. When I arrived at this wonderful, well-reputed, famous patisserie, there was some confusion about the order until one of the bakers emerged perfectly dusted with sugar and flour. I explained to her what I had in mind and she shook her head disapprovingly and told me in her exacting French accent that fondant is not easy to work with, and even an experienced baker needs to be trained to use it.

“Well, what can I do to turn the marzipan white? This needs to be done tomorrow!” I was now seriously nervous.

Un moment,” she told me, pointing her index finger north and then disappearing into the kitchen. Quickly, she returned and said, “Our baker said to use oxycontin. Then you will have a perfectly white surface.”

“Pardon?” I said, convinced that I had misheard her telling me to use a powerful narcotic painkiller to lighten marzipan.

“Oxycontin. Ze drug. Ze painkiller. Just crush it and you will have perfectly white color.”

“But, I, uh—” I stammered, wondering only briefly if that ten-year-old bottle of Vicodin I still had from wisdom teeth surgery could work.

“You are welcome!” she replied, raising her eyebrows and dismissing me as she vanished for the last time.

Desperate, I tried rolling the marzipan in a paste made out of baking soda and flour. No dice. I tried layers of white sugar, but that didn’t work either. Sometime around 9:00 pm, I wandered out into the neighborhood, despairing and fearful that I was about to commit one of the worst offenses in the known universe: disappointing a bride.

Fortunately, I found my last-minute solution at the dollar store in the form of shimmery white eye shadow. With a makeup brush and a couple of Q-tips, I painted her dress disco white.

marzipan cake toppers
But the humid air of my apartment had added one more complication to the project. Lauren’s frame started to sink, making her seem unfortunately portly. I stabilized the toppers’ forms in an airtight Tupperware in the freezer, and quickly dashed off an email to Lauren to keep the marzipan lovers in a cooler on the drive up to their wedding, and to allow Adam to only eat mini-Lauren’s head lest he ingest too much eye shadow—oh, and don’t forget that there’s a Christmas tree hook keeping mini-Adam capitated.


Lauren and Adam went wild with joy when they saw their mini-selves, and the newly married couple proudly bit each other’s heads off just as they had always dreamed. And I’m now left to speculate if the euphoria I have felt eating pastries from the aforementioned, famous, wonderful, well-reputed bakery was merely sugar-induced, or due to… some other substance.

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