AKRON, Ohio – You may not know Wendy Kromer-Schell’s name, but if you’ve ever glanced through Martha Stewart’s Weddings magazine, chances are you’ve seen her work.
Kromer’s cakes routinely grace the pages of the magazine, known for its high-end designs that many brides try to copy.
What may come as a surprise is that Kromer does it all from Ohio.
The Sandusky native, after years of living abroad and in New York City, in 2004 moved back to her hometown and brought her cake business with her, opening Wendy Kromer Confections in downtown Sandusky.
Kromer, 52, was in Hudson, Ohio, recently teaching a class at the Western Reserve School of Cooking on how to make colorful French macarons, which have become popular in high-end bakeries. Kromer said the confections were all the rage in New York when she left 10 years ago, but took some time to catch on elsewhere. They have become popular for weddings because they can be made in so many flavors and colors and are a special dessert to serve.
While Kromer solidified her reputation as one of the county’s premier wedding cake designers in New York, her intention was always to move back home to Ohio.
In fact, she warned her husband, Scott Schell, about her plan to leave New York before they even had their first date. He was willing to relocate and the pair are active in the revitalization of Sandusky’s downtown.
Kromer’s desire to move back to Ohio was motivated, in large part, by her family home, an 1890s Queen Anne Victorian. Her parents had turned the home into a bed-and-breakfast, but after her mother’s death, her father was talking about selling the house. Kromer could not bear to see it leave the family.
She returned to find that downtown Sandusky, for all of its attributes, was “just not alive.” Even though the city sits on Lake Erie and is home to Cedar Point amusement park, the downtown had languished. Kromer was dismayed to see developers building shopping centers to look like old-fashioned downtowns, but Sandusky had the real deal.
“I said, well, if I want this, then I want to have my business downtown and get local people to start looking again at the downtown and to see what a gem we have here,” she said.
Kromer is a downtown booster, noting that it now has five fine dining restaurants and a casual family eatery with hot dogs and craft beers.
“It’s growing from the inside out,” she said.
It also is home to Wendy Kromer Confections, where Kromer has steadily built a thriving wedding cake business.
She remains a contributing editor to Martha Stewart’s magazine, and still regularly heads to New York for photo shoots, but often does a lot of the work in advance at her Sandusky bakery and studio.
Kromer said her biggest challenge has been educating customers that her style of wedding cake comes with a higher price tag than a typical bakery. Brides love the cakes they see on magazine pages, but often have little idea about the hours of work that go into making them.
“That kind of work takes a while to do and these ingredients are more expensive. I’m not using cake mixes, I’m working with quality ingredients and that costs more as well,” she said.
Kromer teaches cake decorating and other confections at her bakery, on www.craftsy.com, and at schools throughout the country, and has been a repeat guest teacher at Western Reserve in Hudson.
Her recipe for a Chocolate and Raspberry Heart Cake will take some skill and patience, but the result is worth it.
There are three components to the cake – two heart shells made of almond macaron batter, dark chocolate mousse for filling the shells, and espresso buttercream for decorating, as well as fresh raspberries. Kromer adapted her macaron batter recipe from one by Pierre Herme.
It is important to note that for the shells, Kromer’s measurements are by weight, even for the water and egg whites, and should be measured using a digital scale.
She said a key to success with the macaron is getting the batter to a nice molten lava stage.
Home bakers should not be intimidated by the length of the recipes, she said. “It looks like a lot to read, but it really is not hard,” she said.
Making this heart will take some time as well as experience with a pastry bag, so if you are up for a challenge, give it a try. Just remember to read all four parts of the recipe completely before beginning.
Chocolate and Raspberry Heart Cake
From Wendy Kromer-Schell of Wendy Kromer Confections.
2 heart-shaped almond macaron shells, tinted red (used a 6-inch wide by 6-inch long heart shape as a template; recipe follows)
12 ounces fresh raspberries, rinsed and dried
Dark chocolate mousse (recipe follows)
Espresso buttercream (recipe follows)
To assemble the cake:
Fit a 12-inch pastry bag with a coupler and a No. 104 rose petal pastry tip, and spoon in some of the espresso buttercream.
On the underside of one of the red heart macaron shells, pipe a few dots of buttercream, then place the shell onto your cake stand. This will secure your cake to the stand.
Outline the top edge of the shell with a buttercream frill, then position a line of raspberries onto the buttercream, being sure to not disturb the frilled edge. Spoon in enough dark chocolate mousse to come to just above the tops of the raspberries. Set the second red heart shell atop the mousse, and gently press to secure.
Pipe another buttercream frill around the border of the top heart. In a separate pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch diameter tip, pipe some of the remaining mousse inside the buttercream frill, then stud the entire center of the heart with more raspberries. Chill until ready to serve.
Just before serving, lightly dust the top of the heart with confectioners’ sugar, using a fine mesh sifter.
Serves: 4 to 6
Note: With the exception of the food coloring, all ingredients in the following recipe are listed by weight to ensure accuracy. The use of a digital scale is required.
10.60 ounces almond flour (finely ground almonds)
10.60 ounces confectioners’ sugar
3.90 ounces aged egg whites (see note)
1 1/2 teaspoon red gel paste food coloring
1/2 teaspoon pink gel paste food coloring
For the meringue
10.60 ounces granulated sugar
2.65 ounces water
3.90 ounces aged egg whites
In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour and confectioners’ sugar until well blended.
Using a fork, stir the food coloring into the aged egg whites. Pour the tinted egg whites over the almond/confectioners’ sugar. Do not stir. Set bowl aside.
To make the meringue, place the second container of aged egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer, and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.
Into a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid, pour the water, then gently pour in the granulated sugar. Set saucepan over medium heat and gently stir until the sugar is nearly melted. Set the lid atop the pan, and let mixture come to a boil; check the sides of the pan to make sure there are no sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan. If there are, you will need to brush them away using a clean pastry brush dipped in water. Once the syrup is boiling, and the sides of the pan are free of crystals, insert a candy thermometer.
When the syrup reaches 240 degrees, begin whipping the egg whites to a soft peak. When the syrup reaches 244 degrees (just slightly over the soft ball stage, but less than the firm ball stage), remove the syrup from the heat. As the whites are still whipping, carefully pour the hot syrup into the whites, as close to the side of the bowl as possible, avoiding the whisk attachment. Let meringue whip for another minute, then let the meringue cool down to about 130 degrees.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the warm meringue into the almond/confectioners’ sugar mixture until they are well combined, and the batter looks like molten lava.
Trace two heart shapes onto parchment paper, positioning them about 2 inches apart. Turn parchment upside down and place onto baking sheet.
Fit an 18-inch pastry bag with a large, plain round pastry tip (approximately 3/8- to 1/2-inch diameter), then fill it with about 1 1/2 cups of the macaron batter.
Over the hearts outlined on the parchment, first pipe the outline of the heart, then continue piping from the outline inward, until the heart is completely filled in with batter. Pipe the second heart the same way.
After piping the tray, bang tray onto a towel-covered countertop to help the batter settle and remove any points that may have occurred during piping; then let hearts stand at room temperature until their tops are dry to the touch, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place pan in the oven and bake for 4 minutes; then open oven doors briefly, and turn tray a quarter turn. Bake another 4 minutes and give the tray another quarter turn. Bake another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shell tops feel firm and dry to the touch. (If you’ve chosen a heart shape that measures larger or smaller than 6-by-6-inches, baking time will need to be adjusted.)
Immediately remove pans from the oven and slide the parchment sheets from their trays onto cooling racks. Let cool completely.
Shells may be filled once cooled, or packed into plastic bins and frozen for up to 2 months.
Note: Aging the egg whites creates a more relaxed, liquid white, resulting in a meringue that is less likely to turn grainy during the mixing process. To age the whites, measure the amounts needed per recipe into 2 individual containers. Cover each container with plastic wrap, slice into the plastic wrap with a sharp knife. Refrigerate the containers for at least 2, up to 4 days.
Note: To use up remaining batter, pipe onto parchment-lined sheets in small rounds, following same baking instructions for hearts. You will get about 60 rounds, to make 30 filled French macaron cookies. Fill with remaining espresso buttercream.
Yield: two 6-inch-by-6-inch heart-shaped shells, with enough remaining batter to make about 30 filled French macaron cookies.
3 egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coffee extract, or 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons warm water
Place egg whites and sugar in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture is hot to the touch.
Transfer bowl to mixer; fit mixer with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 4 to 5 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter in 4 batches, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla, then add coffee extract.
If after adding the butter, the buttercream takes on a curdled appearance, it is because the meringue and the butter were not near the same temperature before combining. To correct this problem, simply dampen a kitchen towel with warm tap water, and hold the underside of the mixing bowl with the warm towel. Turn the mixer on to medium speed and mix until the buttercream comes together.
Buttercream may be used immediately or placed into a clean plastic container and refrigerated for 3 days. It may also be frozen for up to 2 months.
Yield: approximately 3 cups.
Dark Chocolate Mousse
5 oz. dark chocolate, best quality
2 egg whites
3/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler, or in the microwave. Set aside.
In a clean bowl of a mixer, whip the egg whites to a firm peak.
In a clean bowl, whisk the cream to firm peak.
Fold the cream into the melted chocolate, then fold in the egg whites.
Yield: about 2 cups.