NORWAY — There was the year many brides and grooms wanted their cakes to look tilted. The year gray and yellow wedding cakes ruled. The year it seemed like everyone wanted not a single cake but lots of cupcakes.

In her 30 years of making wedding cakes, Dorene Vail has seen it all.

And she loves making it all happen.

“Nobody’s ever wanted a steampunk (theme),” Vail said. “I wish they would, because I think they’re the coolest cake. I have all these ideas in my head that if they ever ordered one, I would be so excited.”

Vail, 62, started making cakes three decades ago while stationed in Hawaii with her husband, who was serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time. Her very first cake was for a neighbor’s child — a sheet cake decorated with a red-nosed clown face in the center and sour candy balls dotting the edge. Her first wedding cake came soon after.

“It was a three-tiered cake, my first time ever,” she remembered with a laugh. “Scary.”

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Soon, she was hooked. Not so much on the baking — but on the decorating and designing.

“If I could hire someone else to do the baking, I would,” she said. 

Today, Vail owns Dorene’s Creative Cakes and does everything from her home in Norway. Her dining room doubles as her showroom, filled with cake models, flower samples, handmade fondant figurines and cake toppers.    

Vail travels around the world to take classes on cake design. Her favorite things to make: figurines sculpted from fondant icing and flowers molded petal by petal from a gum paste that feels like Play-Doh. 

And it’s all edible.

“I had kids eat tulips once,” she said. “I made a bunch of these around a cake and the children ate them.”

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It can take days for Vail to complete a cake. She’s happy to do any design a couple wants, but she’s particularly fond of the unique ones: the groom who wanted a tiny fondant Sasquatch peeking around the corner of his wedding cake; the couple who wanted their cake stacked in three shapes and sporting different colors; the outdoorsy couple who wanted each tier to represent a different season, with kayaks, rock-climbing ropes, flowers and mountains at the top and skis, autumn leaves and snow-covered mountains at the bottom.

“It was unique to them because those were their hobbies,” she said. “That was their cake.”

Vail averages 16 wedding cakes a year, many of them done between May and October, with a wedding lull during the heat of mid-summer. At the beginning of June, she spent almost a week designing, baking and decorating two cakes and 120 cupcakes for a pair of Western Maine weddings. Two of those days, she focused solely on rolling and molding flowers by hand, creating lifelike hydrangeas and peonies to cluster on the cakes.

“I look a lot (at real flowers),” she said. “I buy flowers. I pull them apart to see how they’re made inside.”

But one thing can be even more challenging than building the perfect wedding cake — delivering it in the family Volvo.

“I don’t pick them up,” she said. “My husband makes the deliveries.”

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Mishaps have been few, but Vail got some added insurance last year when she bought a cake safe — a big plastic box with a steadying rod that drops down the center — to help keep cakes upright during hilly drives. 

That’s good, because wedding trends have veered from the tilting cakes that were so popular a few years ago. This year’s trends include the colors coral and navy blue, richer flavors and more grooms voicing their cake opinions or designing the cake entirely.   

For anyone with an upcoming wedding, Vail has some advice.

“Be creative. Be unique. Be your own,” she said. “Don’t cookie-cut.”

Have an idea for Tying the Knot? Contact Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or [email protected].

Dorene Vail isn’t the only local baker to transform fondant into flowers. Other bakers recall some of their most unique wedding cakes:

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Just did one two weeks ago that we delivered to Edgecomb. It had a seashell theme, done up with various-sized candy beads to make it look like bubbles floating to the top. Nontraditional yet elegant … one of my favorites of recent memory.

— Donald R. Grant, Grant’s Bakery, Lewiston

I had a super-fun couple request that I design a 3-D “Highway to Heaven” cake. They were major motorcycle enthusiasts, each having their own motorcycle which they rode on their adventures together. I constructed a sturdy ramp platform on which the curvy “highway” cake climbed up a forested hillside, crossed a bridge suspended over rippled water and continued on into a cloud. The groom prepared little models of their motorcycles, which were placed on the highway at the venue.

— Melissa Estes, Bear Brook Bakery, New Gloucester

A bride and groom were looking for a show-stopper wedding cake: a Viking long boat. Used for the boat were strawberry and French vanilla sheets with butter cream filling and the base covered in dark chocolate fondant. The dragon head and tail were shaped in Krispies and covered with dark chocolate fondant. The shields/family crests and oars are also made of fondant. Adding the sail with their emblem brought it all together. This cake was 5 feet long, 2 feet in width. I really can’t say how much it weighed, but it took three men to lift it.

— Carol Cusson, A Beautiful Wedding Cake/All Occasion Cakes, Lisbon

One of my high school friends got married and her husband loves hockey, so she decided to do an all-hockey-themed wedding, just for him. I did a replica Stanley Cup cake in all butter cream. They absolutely loved it! 

— Heather Keach, Heather’s Bakery, Poland


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