One of the most fun and exciting parts of any wedding is the cutting of the cake. And if you're anything like us (i.e., can eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting like it's NBD, and then ask for more), it's also the part that you've been waiting for all night, because it means dessert will be served very soon. And, dear future brides, we assure you, we're not the only wedding guests obsessed with wedding dessert. So whether you're considering a gluten-free or vegan wedding cake for health reasons or because you'd like to treat your guests to something different, alternative desserts deserve your attention.
We spoke to New York-based wellness expert, Abigail Cannon, and Lael Cakes owner and pastry chef extraordinaire Emily Aumiller, who is responsible for Penn Badgley and Domino Kirke's gorgeous vegan wedding cake, about alternative desserts, and busted a few myths along the way.
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But let's start with the basics, first.
Gluten-Sensitivity vs. Celiac Disease
If you're among the three million Americans suffering from celiac disease, you probably already know the difference. "If someone’s gluten-intolerant and they eat it [gluten], they’ll have some kind of gastrointestinal symptoms or digestive issues," explains Cannon. "Celiac disease is an actual autoimmune disease. It damages your small intestines. People with celiac disease can no longer absorb nutrients properly. If you have something with gluten in it, you will be running for the bathroom pretty soon. If you are intolerant you may have the same reaction but it’s not as damaging long term for your overall health."
And the same goes for offering non-vegan food to people who cannot tolerate animal products.
"A lot of people don’t react well when they have animal products: they may be lactose-intolerant, or they may be allergic to dairy," she says.
Needless to say, if you'd like all of your guests to enjoy your wedding, you'd probably want to accommodate any food allergies or medical conditions they may have.
Are gluten-free and vegan desserts healthier?
If you'd like to offer healthy food at your wedding and that's why you're considering alternative desserts, then we have some news for you: just because something has a gluten-free or vegan label, it doesn't mean it's necessarily healthier.
"Gluten, the protein, naturally occurs in wheat, barley, and rye, and it contributes to the strength, elasticity, flavor, and moistness of products," explains Cannon. "So when you have to remove the gluten from a product, something has to go on its place to give those properties, and oftentimes, it’s a lot of additives and a lot of sugar to make the food taste good. So that’s how some companies compensate for the lack of gluten—they add a lot of sugar, and all those different gums that are processed, like xanthan gum and guar gum."
The key word here, she adds, is ingredients. Basically, to be able to offer a healthy vegan or gluten-free dessert at your wedding, you need to find a good and reputable baker who favors natural ingredients and uses them as much as possible in his or her baked goods.
What about taste?
We're sure you've heard at least once in your life someone say that gluten-free and vegan desserts lack taste. Generalizing is never a good thing and that applies especially to alternative desserts. The secret, again, is in the ingredients.
"Instead of artificial extracts or [food] dye, I use all natural ingredients that I make from scratch so instead of having that really sweet flavor [from added sugar], you are actually tasting all of the unusual, beautiful, flavor combinations that make a profile that’s kind of incomparable to regular desserts," says Aumiller who also authored a book on gluten-free and vegan desserts.
Even if you're the kind of person who'd like to stick to the classics like vanilla or red velvet cake, going for a vegan option doesn't mean you'll end up with a tasteless dessert. In fact, you may end up with something even more delicious than the original.
"A lot of times, when you got into a bakery to get red velvet cake, you end up disappointed because they use a lot of red dye in vanilla cake. So it’s funny what people are used to sometimes," says Aumiller.
While she admits that vegan cakes are a little bit more fragile than regular cakes, for Aumiller, it's all about handling everything with extra care and taking her time with each cake.
"I have clients who would come to me a year out or so and do a tasting, and going through the samples, and picking out the design," she explains. "And I would usually create a sketch and a proposal and we’ll usually go from there. Sometimes the sugar decorations can be sculpted months out. That way they have enough time to dry. The week of the event, I usually bake everything two to three days before, depending on how much decoration it needs to get. So it’s a really a full week that I am spending on making the cake itself. It’s a pretty intricate process."
Food for Thought
We already mentioned that making a vegan or gluten-free version of a classic cake is not a problem, but for adventurous brides, Aumiller offers the most unusual flavors that have already become client-favorites.
"I have a lemon cake with lavender rosemary icing that is delicious. I have an orange blossom carrot cake with ginger icing, and my strawberry basil icing is popular as well," she says. And one more: an orange blossom carrot cake with ginger icing.
We don't know about you, but after all this we're not going anywhere near conventional desserts anytime soon.