Serving up wedding cakes that are creative and kosher

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Will chocolate ganache leave you with a rash? Will an egg-filled French custard or lactose-laden buttercream frosting leave you feeling less than festive?

South San Francisco wedding cake specialist Maralyn Tabatsky has been serving up custom sweets for discriminating stomachs for eight years. Not only can she blend ingredients for anyone from a vegan to a diabetic, she also makes cake her own edible canvas — recreating anything from Victorian houses to ski slopes to musical instruments in calorie-rich detail.

As of September, all of Tabatsky's cakes will also be strictly kosher.

"There aren't a lot of choices for kosher cakes. I felt since I do a lot of custom work, and more unusual things, that I might fill a need for specialty kosher wedding cakes," says Tabatsky, whose new kosher kitchen in South San Francisco is under the supervision of Rabbi Abraham Sultan.

For dairy cakes, all ingredients are certified kosher. For pareve cakes, which follow a meat meal, the butter in the frosting is replaced with non-dairy margarine and blended with a high-quality chocolate or other flavoring to compensate for the lack of real butter taste.

As for the cake filling, a non-dairy whipped cream is often blended with fruit to take the place of custard or lemon curd.

"Using quality ingredients makes a big difference," says Tabatsky, a cantor's daughter who grew up in a kosher home.

Her company, Have Your Cake, has often been called on to cook up exotic confections, a challenge she relishes. So far, she has created replicas of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a Nepal temple, a Santa Clara bank and an Arizona mesa. She is currently planning a cake canyon complete with flowing river — for a couple who finds camping delicious.

Other whimsical cakes in Tabatsky's portfolio include a dancing bear and rose homage to the Grateful Dead, a frosted sailboat and a re-creation of the board game "San Franciscoopoly."

Still, of about 150 wedding cakes Tabatsky bakes each year, the majority are somewhat subdued.

"For weddings, people often surprise themselves at how traditional they want to be. The majority of people do something wedding cakey, but they still want something that's really theirs," she says.

Giving a traditional cake personal touches is Tabatsky's most common order. Sometimes, she'll garnish a simple white-tiered cake with edible beading or lace matching the brides dress, or a design from the couple's wedding invitation.

And, while most couples opt for light-colored cakes, Tabatsky says today's wedding cakes take more flavor risks than the white-on-white vanilla cakes of yesteryear. Have Your Cake offers such cake flavors as tropical banana, spice, hazelnut and zesty orange. Fillings range from framboise (raspberry) to white chocolate to mocha.

With all the decisions that go into choosing a wedding cake, Tabatsky jokes that her background as a special-education teacher comes in handy.

"Sometimes I need to use my counseling skills," says Tabatsky, who left teaching at age 37 to pursue baking full time. "There are times when I need to defuse an argument. People get intense around weddings."

To help the couple avoid a cake crisis, she invites them for a cake-tasting and counseling session before making their cake.

For the most part, however, she says she's lucky. She usually sees couples at their happiest.

"This is one part of wedding planning people look forward to. You just eat cake and look at pretty pictures. Mostly it's, `Whatever you want, honey,' and `Anything you want, sweetheart.' It's delightful. People are really in a good mood when they come to me."

To couples who get sour over their wedding sweets, Tabatsky says, "Yes, it's the last thing people eat, it's on display, it's important. On the other hand, it's just cake."