You’ve heard of 50 first dates. Laura Santos-Bishop baked 50 cakes and shared them with her Upper West Side neighbors. It was all a dress rehearsal for her wedding day last weekend.
The road to marriage started with a cake. In June 2020, Laura made her own 30th birthday cake to bring to a rooftop get-together. She didn’t realize that it was also going to be her engagement party.
Since it was the beginning of the pandemic, her dream plans of a day at Coney Island were canceled. Instead, she settled for an intimate wine-tasting. And a homemade lavender cake that she made and transported on the subway from Manhattan.
After the singing of happy birthday by a handful of in-person friends, and her family and future in-laws via Zoom, her boyfriend Daniel Caballero, 28, got down on one knee and proposed.
Then they ate cake. It also gave her food for thought.
The couple met in 2018 at a party in Washington, D.C. where they both lived. They moved to the Upper West Side in September 2019 for Laura’s job as a corporate litigation attorney. Then Daniel started law school.
Due to the COVID outbreak, they were soon sheltering inside their 700-square-foot apartment.
Even though Laura, 31, was working 60-80 hours a week from home, like many, she decided to take up pandemic baking. Her end goal, however, was to make her own wedding cake.
She began trying out various flavor combinations. After the couple gobbled up four cakes, Laura knew she couldn’t make dozens more without turning into a giant cupcake herself. She decided to find a community of taste-testers to practice on as she honed her baking and decorating skills.
In February 2021, she posted a “skill share” on the Facebook page of her local Buy Nothing Group (an international network of hyperlocal communities that encourages neighbors to give and receive free items and share skills as a way to interact).
“For anyone who wants a cake for an occasion, or just because, I am offering to bake, decorate, and transport a cake to you. Why this share you ask? Because I have this insane idea that I am going to make my own wedding cake and would like general cake practice (but without needing to eat a ton of cake).”
Not surprisingly, she had scores of volunteers and the orders flew in. (Recipients only paid for the ingredients.)
“It turned into a weird but wonderful way to meet my neighbors and spread a bit of joy after a rough year,” she says. “Who doesn’t deserve cake?”
Tastebuds all over the Upper West Side did a happy dance.
In her 3.5’ X 6’ kitchen in the West 60s, with virtually no counterspace and a half-size stove and junior refrigerator, she created delectable masterpieces that would make Martha Stewart proud.
These weren’t ordinary cakes. An almond cake filled with sour cherry filling had rum chocolate ganache with vanilla Swiss meringue. A cardamon cake had layers of apricot jam and honey. A Mexican hot chocolate cake came with a hint of heat in the chili chocolate ganache.
An amateur baker, Laura watched YouTube videos and got creative, learning to hand-paint frosting and create intricate sugared flowers.
Even her basic chocolate cakes boasted layers of salted caramel, ginger jam and lemon curd. Frostings were made of mascarpone or tahini buttercream. And decorations ran the gamut from candied lemons to hand-dipped chocolate-covered pretzels and meringue snowmen. One “goth and glitzy” cake was covered in peanut butter buttercream turned black with food coloring and embellished with gold leaf.
With demand so high, she decided to take requests for truly special occasions.
She made a cake for a 76-year-old excited to get her first COVID vaccine and one for a 4-year-old who got cochlear implants. One cake celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Roma People’s Project at Columbia University. And there was a rainbow cake coated with colorful sprinkles for a toddler who successfully potty-trained.
She also recreated the blueberry cheesecake that made a Buy Nothing member’s late grandfather lick his fingers on his 90th birthday. The family ate it in his honor on what would have been his 100th birthday.
For those with dietary restrictions, she made a dairy-free lemon curd cake with strawberry buttercream, a sugar-free first birthday cake with whipped coconut frosting and freeze-dried strawberries, and a gluten-free chocolate cake with raspberry curd for a neighbor with celiac disease.
After a year and a half of baking for others, the final wedding cake debuted at a ceremony on Saturday at the Prospect Park Boathouse. The three-tiered lemon cake was covered with elderflower butter cream and layered with a filling made with fresh blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Adorned with handmade sugar flowers, it was a delicious surprise for the 75 guests, most of whom had no idea of Laura’s hidden culinary talents.
Afterwards, she decided to forgo the traditional freezing of a piece of wedding cake to be eaten on the first anniversary. There’s no room in their tiny freezer, she noted. Besides, “If I want cake then, I’ll just bake a new one!”
“It turned into a weird but wonderful way to meet my neighbors and spread a bit of joy after a rough year. Who doesn’t deserve cake?” Laura Santos-Bishop