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For Beverly Hills' centennial, a 15,000-slice cake — of course

CookingLos Angeles International Airport

The chocolate dome, topped with edible paper printed to look like Moorish tiles, arrived a little battered Monday night at LAX. During the flight from Washington state, the cupola fell off and some of the "tiles" were scuffed.

It was but a minor setback in Beverly Hills' quest to secure an epic 15,000-slice chocolate cake for a Sunday bash to mark the city's centennial.

That Beverly Hills would want a designer cake for its Rodeo Drive birthday extravaganza is no surprise. But this sugary opus, with an estimated price tag of $200,000, is a true exercise in excess.

Organizers say that is the point — celebrating Beverly Hills' lavish lifestyle with something truly over the top.

"We're about marketing this three-block-long street, Rodeo Drive, to the world," said Efrem Harkham, owner of the Luxe Hotel, where the assembled cake will be on display. He said the dessert is also meant as a tribute to people who have served the city, including police officers and firefighters.

"We shouldn't be thinking about the Marie Antoinette equivalent," he said.

Since last summer, celebrity pastry chef Donald Wressell has been designing and masterminding the colossal sweet.

To pull it off, he has enlisted the help of dozens of top hands who have flown in from Chicago and Florida to spin sugar into ribbons and fantasy flowers. He has built plywood platforms, calculated the amount of needed flour, sugar, butter and chocolate, and planned for contingencies including weather and traffic.

"The logistics are the No. 1 thing," Wressell said in his Culver City-adjacent Chocolate Studio earlier this week, as he applied molded chocolate arches and window trim to a City Hall wall. "How are we going to get this cake baked, assembled, decorated and on the street?"

The ingredient list is impressive: 262 pounds of flour, 460 pounds of sugar, 900 eggs, 210 pounds of butter, a mammoth mountain of chocolate — and healthy rations of patience, time and talent.

The city for months has been marking its 100th anniversary with a series of events. On Sunday afternoon, officials will close off Rodeo for a nearly five-hour party featuring Ferris wheels, a 20-piece dance band, fireworks and a performance by Martha Reeves of her and the Vandellas' Motown hit "Dancing in the Street."

Likely to steal many of the selfie moments will be the unfathomably caloric cake. It is intended to evoke Rodeo, if that street of splendor and spenders were adorned with sugary palm trees, spray-painted chocolate flowers dusted with "disco sparkle" and sumptuously decorated "boutiques" made to look like shopping bags, complete with edible "tissue paper" crinkled between the handles.

Once assembled and stationed under a white canopy in front of the Luxe, the cake will be part of a 9-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide and 24-foot-long sweet feat anchored by a miniature of the Spanish Renaissance-style 1932 City Hall, totally clad in theoretically edible substances.

Mike McCarey of Mike's Amazing Cakes crafted the landmark building's 30-pound miniature tower with dome in Redmond, Wash.

Last weekend, he packed it into a cardboard box with acrylic glass windows and scribbled a hand-written note: "Hey! This is a cake." Alas, at 37 inches, the box was too tall by an inch to fit through the cargo doors of the jets that fly nonstop between Seattle and Los Angeles. So McCarey had to book a connecting flight through San Francisco to accommodate the crowning glory. Along the way, the gilded cupola toppled and became lodged between the tower and one of the windows. No big deal. McCarey figured he was in for a mere "10 minutes of cleanup" once he arrived in Los Angeles on Friday night.

Commissioned by the Luxe and designed and engineered by Wressell, the 4,000-pound creation will feature moist cake, with a creamy ganache filling and buttercream frosting.

Guittard Chocolate Co., a family-owned company in Burlingame, is donating most of the ingredients and the time of Wressell, its corporate executive pastry chef. A master whose low-key mien masks a competitor's zeal, Wressell is a past winner of the Coupe du Monde (World Pastry Cup) and makes frequent TV and trade-show appearances.

"I have been thinking about this since August," Wressell said.

That's when Wressell and his wife, Lorri, had dinner with Marcus Mueller, the Luxe's general manager, and Mueller's wife, Sally Camacho Mueller, the Jonathan Club's pastry chef. Mueller related that Harkham wanted the hotel to put its stamp on the centennial celebration.

Wressell mentioned that he had prepared a cake for Beverly Hills' 75th anniversary and could envision a more extravagant version for the centennial.

The project called on Wressell's woodworking talents. He built 10 structures that would be assembled into City Hall and a platform to support the cake.

He and his helpers have spent weeks covering the building sections and base with pastillage (a sugar-based dough that is allowed to harden) and fondant (a smooth icing that can be spread in a sheet not only on wedding cakes but also over wood or polystyrene foam). Local sugar man James Rosselle made camellias of white chocolate that look good enough to sniff.

A couple of weeks ago, Rosselle and Marina Sousa, a Capitola, Calif., custom baker, spent days decorating the boutique/shopping bags, hand-painting them lilac, teal, butter yellow and soft pink and embellishing them with dragées (bite-size confectioneries) sprinkled with luster dust (a.k.a. disco sparkle). Sousa will be back this weekend to finish attaching handles and inserting the edible "wafer paper."

After two months of working 11-hour days on the project (along with performing his regular duties), Wressell late this week was gearing up for the actual baking of 16 oversize sheet cakes. That was to be done overnight Friday and Saturday morning at a commercial bakery in Jefferson Park with a 140-quart Hobart mixer, giant ovens and a blast chiller.

Wressell and his seven helpers planned to slice the cakes into layers with a pastry saw and spread the ganache, then apply white chocolate buttercream frosting to the top layer. After spending Saturday night in a refrigerated truck, the cakes will be driven before dawn Sunday to Beverly Hills, where Wressell and colleagues from far and wide will put the whole shebang together outside the Luxe.

About 6 p.m. Sunday, 15 chefs will begin carving the mouth-watering concoction, and the slices will be served by young culinarians-in-the-making.

It remains to be seen whether anyone will actually say "Let them eat cake."

martha.groves@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarthaGroves

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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