Monthly Archives: February 2009

wedding cake, part 2

About 8 hours. That’s how long it took me to make the wedding cake, from beginning to mix through placing the final flower. It was a wonderful adventure that has left me immensely happy and satisfied.

Yesterday around lunchtime I started baking the layers. Two great tips that I got online proved helpful:

  • To prevent the cake from sticking to the pan, cut a parchment paper or waxed paper circle to fit the bottom. Spray the entire pan with nonstick cooking spray, place the paper circle in the bottom of the pan, and then spray the paper. I used parchment paper, and all the layers dropped out of the pans like a dream.
  • To help keep the cake layers flat (which is what you want for a wedding cake, as opposed to a dome shape), bake them at a lower temperature for a longer time. I baked the cakes at 325 degrees F rather than 350 and had to do very little trimming to flatten them.

I started with a 14″ chocolate layer. The recipe is one of my favorites: it yields a dark, moist cake that isn’t overly sweet. I made a double batch for each layer, which was the perfect amount. I wasn’t sure about baking time; it turned out that 52 minutes at 325 was just right to bake the cake through without drying the edges.

While that was baking, I made the lemon curd filling for the vanilla cakes. It’s a nice custard: easy to make, and plenty thick so I knew the layers wouldn’t slide while I was frosting the outsides.

Next, I figured out how much batter I needed for the 10″ and 6″ layers. My recipe for vanilla buttermilk cake was enough to make three 9″ layers, but I needed to make two 10″ layers and two 6″ layers. I’d done some math based on surface area, but it didn’t seem to me that I’d end up with enough batter. After filling each pan halfway with water and measuring the volumes,  determined that I needed to make a total of 1-1/2 batches. But because the batter contained baking powder and wouldn’t hold, I actually needed to make two 3/4 batches. Thank goodness for a calculator and for the fact that I measure things on a scale that has weight/volume equivalencies built in.

The 3/4 batch worked perfectly for the 10″and 6″ layers. They baked about 35 minutes at 325. When they were finished I removed the chocolate layer from its pan (hurray parchment paper!), mixed up the second round of chocolate batter, and put the other 14″ layer in the oven. When it was finished I made the other two yellow layers.

Finally, I made some extra-thick chocolate buttercream frosting to go between the chocolate layers, covered it with a damp paper towel, wrapped all the layers in plastic wrap, performed geometric manipulations to make them all fit in the crowded refrigerator, and got ready to go to dinner.

This morning I put the vanilla layers together with lemon curd and the chocolate layers together with frosting. Then it was time to generate 2 cups of egg whites — which, if you’re curious, took 13 eggs. The Swedish Buttercream came off like clockwork, transforming itself from runny goo to perfectly satin frosting so quickly that I didn’t have time to worry. We packed everything in car (including my mixer and extra ingredients in case I needed to make more frosting) and headed for church.

There, I applied a first thin layer of frosting to each of the three tiers, to seal in crumbs; Chloe turned the tiers for me as I worked. We put each tier in the refrigerator while I worked on the others, so the frosting had time to set. Next, out came the bottom and middle tiers. We cut 6 straws just a little longer than the cake was thick, pushed them down into the center, and then snipped off the extra length (which sent tiny bits of plastic flying everywhere); they would serve to support the upper layer, making them easy to separate when it was time to serve. Will, by virtue of being tallest, stood on a chair and looked down from above to ensure that I was placing the 10″ tier in the exact center of the one below it. On it went, and I covered the join with frosting. More straws, more snipping, and the top tier went into place.

Time to pipe. We decided on little round beads of frosting around the top edge of each tier, and little flowers of frosting all around the bottom joins. By the time I was finished, my right hand was cramping — that’s a lot of linear inches of piping!

I sprinkled silvery edible glitter over all the top surfaces (we decided the effect was rather like Tinkerbell applying fairy dust), and the result was highly satisfactory.

While I went away to practice some music for the church service, Chloe cut the tops of the flowers so they’d be ready to place. When I got back, it was time for the only nerve-wracking part of the day: transporting the cake from the kitchen counter to the serving table. That much cake is heavy, and we didn’t want it to tip. Our friend Malcolm lifted the cake carefully onto a rolling cart, while Chloe and I hovered around it, ready to make a grab if any layers tried to slip. We rolled the cart to the table, and he lifted it into place. Perfect.

Now, flowers, flowers everywhere, around the tiers and gathered at the bottom. And, of course, the lovely ladies on top. It was beautiful.

When it came time to serve, the layers separated easily, thanks to the straws. Doug’s suggested cake-cutting pattern worked perfectly: I cut a ring of cake about 2″ wide and then sliced off rectangular pieces. The quantity turned out to be just right. Everyone had plenty, the brides had lots of cake to take home, and we have some too.

All in all, a successful adventure that I just may undertake again one of these days.

wedding cake, part 1

Topper for the cake

Topper for the cake

At Christmas time, our good friends Carol and Jo Ann celebrated 30 years together by travelling to Massachusetts to get married. Friends and family will celebrate their legal union on Sunday with a reception at church. I’m asked fairly often to make cakes for church events, but this time the request was for a wedding cake.

I’ve had people ask me about wedding cakes a few times in the past, but I’ve declined. Yes, I make good cakes — but a wedding cake is so special, and it should be so beautiful … and I’ve always felt that my cake-decoration skills aren’t up to it. (I’ve tried making frosting flowers, and let’s just say that they haven’t looked good enough to eat.)

But I really, really want to make this cake for Jo Ann and Carol. And thanks to the wide world of advice and encouragement available online, I’m going to.

Here’s the plan:

  • Three tiers: 14″, 10″, and 6″
  • Bottom tier: 2 layers of chocolate cake with chocolate ganache filling
  • Top two tiers: 2 layers of vanilla cake with lemon-curd filling
  • Frosting: Swedish buttercream
  • Decoration: white piping and real flowers (which are infinitely more lovely than their icing counterparts), plus a beautiful and appropriate cake topper
Wedding cake pans

Wedding cake pans

My web searching provided several things I needed: a recipe for a really good vanilla cake (I’ve never found a yellow cake recipe that satisfies me), a recipe for frosting suitable for a wedding cake, and lots of advice about how to frost and construct the the finished product. A local shop provided the other things I needed: high-quality, heavy-duty cake pans; and clear vanilla extract (yes, it’s clear like water, so it doesn’t color the frosting).

The search for a frosting recipe was eye-opening. Sure, I have a buttercream recipe that I use all the time: butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, milk; beat until fluffy. It’s great for a standard sort of cake, but it isn’t satiny, smooth, and easy to pipe through a pastry bag — all the features that are important for frosting a wedding cake. A Google search for “wedding cake frosting” came up with some … interesting ideas of what people consider “ideal” for this purpose: several recipes included cups and cups of pure shortening and promised to taste “just like the frosting on a cake from the store.” And the reviews for those recipes happily concurred: “My family loved it. They said it tasted like it came from Kroger!” Ummm. No, that’s not quite what I’m going for.

Fortunately, I came across SmittenKitchen.com, and the site’s series of entries entitled “Project Wedding Cake.” When it came to frosting, she had already found the answer for me: Swedish buttercream. I’d never heard of it, but her description and the many comments on the original post clearly indicated that it was worth a try. And, bless her forever, Ms. Smitten Kitchen provided the quantities necessary to make a tiny test batch. I did so last night. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever made: heat egg whites and sugar until the sugar dissolves, beat until double in size, add vanilla, add soft butter, and whip until — well, until it’s ready. Again, thank goodness for detailed directions and encouragement. The stuff in the bowl is initially runny, soft, and nothing like frosting. But I kept the mixer going, because Ms. Smitten Kitchen promised me that I must believe and that it would come together. And suddenly, miraculously, the runny mixture gained structure and substance and became perfect. I tasted it, and all I could say was “Wow!” When my son tried it, his eyes grew wide. It’s infinitely smooth, satiny, buttery, and delicately sweet, and I can tell that it will be a dream to spread and pipe.

Tonight I’m planning to make some of the cakes. I’ll make the rest tomorrow, along with the frosting and fillings. After all the components have had some refrigeration time (to make them easier to work with), I’ll fill the layers and apply the outer layers of frosting. Sunday morning I’ll transport the pieces to church, where Doug will help me construct the tower and I’ll do the decorating. It promises to be a happy adventure.

Harry investigating my new pans

Harry investigating my new pans