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
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.