One evening 28 years ago, David Mess sat around a table with six of his friends eating delicious food and drinking wine. The conversation at the dinner party consisted of wild fantasies about what each of them would do with their lives if they left their full-time jobs. “We talked about how there was an absence of delicious wedding cakes and desserts in the market,” Mess recalls. So they discussed how they should start a business. “When we all woke up the next morning, I was the only one that still wanted to do it.”
Emerging from a marketing career in hotels and then catering companies, Mess opened Buttercream Collection in a small bakery in Bandana Square in St. Paul where he produced high-end desserts for coffee shops, corporate events, and weddings. As the company developed their signature light and creamy cakes, Mess hit the streets to get the word out. “I put all of my little cakes in the back of my van and met with bridal planners and catering directors,” Mess says. “I showed them the product, and flavors, and finishes that we were offering at that time. Back then every wedding cake looked like Liberace’s house in Palm Springs-dated, ornate, Victorian cakes that people had seen a million times at weddings.” Buttercream Collection quickly became known for the delectable taste of its cakes. “We came out with 45 flavors from pistachio to mango to papaya and we decided we would only use Belgian chocolate,” Mess says. “We really looked at what the bride, the parents, the groom were looking for. They are looking for something not made with lard, with shortening. They want something delicious to the palate.”
Today, couples can choose from a large collection of cakes or work with a custom designer to create their own confection of choice. Over the years, Mess helped build the wedding cake industry in Minnesota. His peers have extended their thanks and congratulations for his contributions.
Minnesota Bride / Tigeroak Publication -J.F.
The Sweetest Thing
Weddings may always begin in dreams and culminate in roses, but they tend to go through a middle period of shopping and organizing marked by the racking of nerves, the biting of nails, and, in the worst cases, the chewing off of limbs at their base.
Though maybe not as much as this does: When I visited the Minnetonka Buttercream to taste wedding treats and interview David Mess, one of the problems on deck was the quandary of the woman who was insisting that she be provided with a seven-tier cake that served more than 370 people, for a birthday party where fewer than 30 guests were expected. Mess was busy working out the logistics of getting the likely remaining 300-plus slices to a willing shelter. Who orders that much dessert for so few people? Really, really rich and important people. Mess wouldn’t tell me who–unsurprising, because he is the only baker I know of who regularly has to sign non-disclosures about menus and events, because of the VIPs he bakes for. Which Buttercream concoction is Bill Clinton’s favorite? Mess wouldn’t tell–though he let slip that Prince and Mayte’s reception showpiece was festooned with various sizes of Belgian-white-chocolate dolphins, and that Al Gore once had three slices of Buttercream’s raspberry chocolate truffle cake. I think a lot more is going on in Minnetonka than I realized. But it’s not just about bigwigs, because Mess says what’s good for the goose is good for Waconia, and so has devised a special packing system that has allowed his cakes to be transported and easily assembled anywhere, which has led Buttercream to be the frosted-tier favorite for some of the most important weddings of Fargo, Waconia, and Lake of the Woods. By the way, Mess says you haven’t been to a wedding till you’ve been to a Minnesota farm-town wedding, where a 650-person guest list is not uncommon.
How is it that Al Gore, Prince, Savage lesbians, and Waconia farmers have found something to agree on? It’s butter and durability, mostly. Mess prides himself on using only the highest-quality ingredients–real butter, real cream, real berries, fresh grated carrots, whole just-toasted walnuts, and real cream cheese. Which might not seem like a big deal to you, but in the current climate of wedding cakes it’s usual for bakers to use horrifying products like Bettercreme, an icing that, unlike actual food, is unaffected by sun and time. Buttercream Collection cakes are lush and plain in the mouth. They taste homemade in the most old-fashioned way: The white cakes are as light as morning mist, the carrot cake is as dense and dewy as could be. And the cakes cut well, and keep well–an incredibly important factor, because it’s normal for a cake to have to stand out in the open air for hours between cutting and serving. These high-performance issues of durability are unique to wedding cakes; it’s nothing your mom’s cake or a fancy restaurant dessert ever has to endure. Mess worked for 20-some years in both front- and back-of-the-house restaurant and catering positions, which is what led him to dream the impossible dream of wedding cakes, and then perfect it: The durable cake that tastes great.
Good ingredients creating durability? That seems like the lead-in to a wedding toast, but I’ll leave it to you to fill in the details. You’ve probably got a year, at least for the new suite of weddings that will be seeded this weekend. That’s the timetable, you know: proposals this weekend, cake tastings five weeks later, and then, eventually, whether you’re gay, straight, farmer, Prince, or president, a big cake on the big day.
Tiers Of Joy
Story by LEE SVITAK DEAN
STARTRIBUNE JUNE 22, 2006
Huyen Tranberg sat at the small table, plastic fork poised over the tableaux of thinly sliced cake layers. Her sister, Stephanie Waite, and niece, Amanda Waite, quietly nibbled away. This was the moment of decision for Tranberg’s July wedding reception. Not the raspberry filling; allergies were an issue. Nor the carrot cake; too sweet their taste. But the chocolate … now that was a winner. ? “We’re looking for something simple, but nice,” explained Stephanie Waite as they pointed out their choice on a display wall: an elegant three-tiered square cake with a smooth frosting finish. ? David Mess knows the scenario. Since 1989, when he opened Buttercream Collection in St. Paul, he’s offered advice to nervous brides, excited mothers and the occasional (“What’s wrong with plain white cake?”) grandmother. These days, husbands-to-be are likely to be among the taste testers. ? Twenty years ago, a wedding cake was a wedding cake … was a wedding cake. If you tasted one, you didn’t need to taste another. (Which was exactly the point those grandmothers were making.) Unfortunately, you probably didn’t want to taste one.
That’s all changed. Fashion and flavor have hit the wedding cake circuit. (Type in “wedding cake and trends” in Google and you’ll get more than 1.5 million citations. Grandma would be shocked at such foolishness over a cake.) Buttercream makes the case that the cake comes in second only to the dress as the most important wedding decision for the bride. Purists may think there are a few other important decisions going on, but Mess has a point, especially given that, at the height of the wedding season, he has several thousand servings around town on a Saturday night.
From dresses to bouquets, favors and menus, brides are looking for something unique, something that says “This is my special wedding, not, yours.” Each year, Buttercream looks to the works of fashion designers such as Vera Wang, Reem Acra and others to inspire their 20 new cake designs that augment its collection of more traditional cakes.
So how do you choose the cake? Consider the location and style of the wedding. “Brides initially come here with some idea of a theme for their wedding: princess, outdoors, contemporary setting, cutting edge,” Mess said. “We go with whatever cake fits in.”
He recommends choosing the dress before the cake is chosen. “The bride will be standing next to the cake, so you don’t want a dress with the same pattern,” he said.
Consider how it would look in photographs. You don’t want there to be confusion about where the cake ends and the bride begins, he said with a chuckle. Ditto for height. two tiers or five? A tall cake and a short bride won’t look good in photographs.
As for Buttercream’s cakes, they are genoise, with mousse fillings and a whipped cream frosting (not buttercream, despite the bakery’s name). He doesn’t, use fondant (too hard to cut and he doesn’t like the taste; Buttercream gets the same look of smoothness with his whipped cream).
“Our mandate is for cakes to be as good inside as outside,” he said.
Lee Svitak Dean ? 612-673-1749