Icing on the Cake

By Helen Mitternight

There is nothing worse than a sweaty wedding cake.

Lauren Mitterer, owner of WildFlour Pastry, says sarcastically that creating a wedding cake in Charleston’s heat and humidity is “fun,” but she’s learned that making the cake as close to the wedding day as possible helps.

“I don’t do cream cheese frosting on the outside of anything tiered because of the humidity,” she says. “It’s just a matter of timing it. We are a bakery that’s constantly in motion, so we’re always baking. Some places have a baking time and then the baking shuts down and it’s decorating time. They’ll freeze the cakes. But I think freezing cakes complicates the humidity issue. I’ve been to places where the cake is just dripping sweat.”

Her shops – one on Spring Street downtown and one in West Ashley – do about a third of their business with weddings. The other thirds are retail and wholesale to restaurants like Mount Pleasant’s Red Drum, Fat Hen on Johns Island, and 167 Raw, as well as coffee shops like Kudu, Muddy Waters and the airport’s Harvest & Grounds.

Lauren says she has seen the definition of what a wedding cake is expand.

“Now, it’s like any cake is a wedding cake, so we do red velvet, or carrot, or hummingbird, or if they’re wanting to stick to something traditional, an almond cake with raspberry filling.”

A big trend she’s noticed is “skimmed cake.” Unlike a “naked cake,” which is free of frosting on the sides, a skimmed cake has frosting as sheer as a crumb coat, the cake clearly visible through the scrapes of frosting.

“People tell me they don’t like frosting, or they don’t want something too sweet, and this is what they’re ordering,” she says.

The fact that Lauren is on top of wedding cake trends is nothing she could have envisioned growing up.

Lauren was supposed to be cutting through the water with her crew, not working with a crew to cut dough.

But whatever force is shaping her life has a sense of humor.

As Lauren tells it, she was supposed to be following her passion for rowing, not in Charleston. She’d never been farther south than Virginia, where she was on the University of Virginia’s rowing team and had plans to coach when her body could no longer take the punishment of rowing herself. When a college friend who knew she’d gone to the Culinary Institute of America – it pays to have a backup to rowing – called to urge her to come to Charleston to be Red Drum’s pastry chef, she refused. Red Drum owner Ben Berryhill called her right back.

“He told me there was lots of rowing in Charleston,” she says. “It wasn’t rowing. It was kayaking. Big difference.”

Still, she stayed. Four years later, she was opening WildFlour on Spring Street at a time when neighbors stumbled into the bakery in their pajamas, mugs in hand for some fresh coffee. Redevelopment has changed the neighborhood and now the Airbnb crowds looking for some genuine Southern sweets mingle with the regulars.

“I swore I’d never put key lime pie on my menu, but it’s become the most popular item there now,” she says, citing tourists who insist on this Southern treat whether or not it’s native to Charleston.

In 2016, Lauren opened the West Ashley WildFlour and went into labor there a couple of months later when fate showed its humor again and her daughter, Keira, chose to make her debut. Four days later, Lauren was back at work, her daughter a constant presence in the bakery.

Keira, now almost 3, takes Lauren’s pastries for granted, demanding a croissant (“’sant”) at school pickup and considering fruit snacks as “treats.”

Lauren thinks she’s found a balance with Keira.

“If we give her a little bit, it satisfies (the craving), versus if you hold it back she only wants it more,” she says.

Next up is finding that kind of balance as owner of two thriving bakeries. Lauren says she wants to add more savory items to the menu and start providing grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches.

Now that she’s supervised the openings and Keira is a little older, Lauren may even dip her oar back into the kitchen.

“I am really enjoying getting back into getting my hands dirty and getting back into touching the ingredients,” she says.