fireflies and cottonwood

our wedding blog

How to Make a Wedding Cake: a true story of butter, friendship, and love June 19, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — girldogtorch @ 5:05 pm
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There was a time when I wanted to make my own wedding cake. I was successfully talked out of it by several more knowledgeable friends. (Thanks, Lee.)

But I love baking. And there’s something about a wedding cake.  I love when friends, especially lady friends, come together to create things– baby showers, quilts, trousseaux, wedding petticoats, flowers for prom, casseroles and breads for church homecomings and funerals. When I was in high school, and won a scholarship through the Girl Scouts, some local ladies made a quilt to raffle to help raise money for my additional expenses. The town paper published a story about that, with a photo of me holding the quilt. (A clipping of which is in my hope chest.)

And wedding cake! It seems so Anne of Green Gables to make the wedding cake for one’s dear friend. In the past, I’ve made elaborate themed cakes (for the season premier of LOST, complete with marzipan jungle and Oceanic plane wreckage), birthdays, and baby showers.  But never a wedding cake.

A few months ago, Matt and I went to stay with Jodut and her roommates in Boston, to do a trial run. I first made chocolate and white cakes, and then some fillings, so she could decide what combination she wanted. Then, I did a complete run through. It took fourteen hours, and many pounds of butter. I took notes, and learned a great deal.

Cake Trial 1:

Worshipping at the Altar of the Kitchenaid.

My recipes, covered in vanilla extract.

The cake batter in five of the six pans. Chocolate cupcakes–for sampling–in the background.

After torting the cakes, I filled each layer. Here, I’m filling with chocolate ganache. Note the ring of buttercream to keep the ganache in.

The crumb coat, in buttercream.

The first two tiers.

Frosting the top tier. At this point, the cake was very heavy, and difficult to turn.

Oh, Kitchenaid; you quicken my heart.  Here I’m adding gel food color to royal icing.

Tense!  Jodut looks on as I try to get the orange icing going. At this point, it was close to midnight. I had been attempting to recreate a design we found online.

We discovered that when I “freehanded” the icing (as seen in the light peach tone-on-tone work) it looked better than when I tried to follow another design.

I wasn’t satisfied with the way it looked, but it tasted great. Jodut invited ten friends over, and we ate cake that night and divided it up to take home.  These two slices are from the next morning. You can see the layers– Jodut and Ben chose chocolate ganache for the middle tier, and coconut buttercream for the bottom and top tiers.

For wedding cake recipes that served 120+, I searched Allrecipes.com . I liked their recipes because I could read reviews from others who had cooked and tasted them.  I used my own recipe for buttercream, as well as for the ganache and coconut buttercream fillings.

I used Wilton cake pans that I ordered from Amazon.com , as well as Wilton cardboard cake rounds.  For assembly, I followed instructions I had read on MarthaStewart.com — each layer included four clean wooden dowels, inserted in the center.  Then, I placed the new tier, on its cardboard round, on top of those dowels.  Dowels were cut even with the surface of the cake.

Finally, after the top tier was placed, Matt helped me sharpen one end of a slightly thicker dowel, and then carefully hammered the entire length of dowel through all three tiers, and both cardboard rounds.  This way, the cake would not shift or slide out of place.

What I learned: it took a long time, and by the time I was icing, I was very physically tired from being on my feet and using my arm muscles for so long. I also learned that I needed much more filling that I had originally anticipated, and that my free-hand decorating was much more beautiful.

Also, frankly, I was unsatisfied with the smoothness of the buttercream surface. I experimented using Martha Stewart’s method of smoothing buttercream, and even tried “the paper towel” method, where one uses a smooth paper towel and a fondant smoother to even out the surface.

And yet, fondant isn’t tasty. Cookbooks refer to it as “an acquired taste,” and even though most glossy wedding magazines now feature elaborate, super-smooth fondant cakes, most wedding guests I spoke to described peeling off and discarding the fondant before eating the cake.

Jodut didn’t want anything that wasn’t tasty. I was alarmed by the fact that we could buy pre-made, shelf-stable fondant from the shelves of the local craft store.

I did some researching, and found a recipe for “marshmallow fondant,” again on Allrecipes.com .  Now, marshmallows aren’t halal, but further down the recipe thread, another poster mentioned using marshmallow Fluff.  Fluff!  So I experimented, making a batch of marshmallow Fluff fondant, and covering a normal-sized cake with it.  It tastes like nougat, like the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar. I took it to school, and colleagues and students alike raved about it, ate every bit, and reassured me that it tasted nothing like any fondant they’d ever had.

Cake Trial 2:

Here I’m kneading out the Fluff fondant. At first, it’s really, really sticky, but then it becomes very smooth and fun to work with. Not sticky like marzipan, but more like a sturdy play-doh. I’m working on Crisco on my tabletop.  Later, I soon realized that I needed to work on wax paper, or I wouldn’t be able to lift the fondant off of the table.

I’m covering the cake with the Fluff fondant. It drapes beautifully.

This is the finished surface.

I realized that my tiers were baking unevenly, so I googled “bake even surface.” I found that there’s a tool called baking strips, that insulate the edged so they middle of the cake doesn’t bake so much more slowly than the edges.  I also got myself a real (Wilton) fondant smoother.

The Big Day!

For the wedding, I was ready. I had baking strips, great recipes, a fondant smoother, and much more confidence in my ability to pull this off.

Same Kitchenaid, different kitchen. For the real thing, Ben’s parents graciously welcomed us into their home for two days.

The bottom tier overwhelms the refrigerator. Because our gift to the couple was edible, we also gave them a beautiful silver platter and serving pieces, that they can keep forever-after.

Getting ready to pipe. This is the day of the wedding; my hair is set to hopefully fall out in nice waves later, and my mendhi is covered by blue rubber gloves.

The finished cake!  I copied designs straight from my mendhi, and free-handed it all. I traveled to the reception site with the cake still in three tiers. I did my hair and make-up in the car. Matt helped me assemble the cake (too heavy for me to lift) and I piped icing along each layer, and added the flowers.

Close-up of the bottom tier. We chose fresh flowers to compliment the colors, and tie in the bouquets and centerpieces. Matt prepared the flowers and packed them in fresh water to bring to the reception site.


The happy couple!

I would do it again, for someone I love. I wouldn’t go into it as a business, because I’m not sure I can re-create what each person would want. Jodut wanted a beautiful cake inspired by a color palette, and trusted me to make something beautiful.  I had a really great time the day before the wedding putting it all together. When Jodut and Ben fed a piece to each other, and then to each of their parents, my eyes filled with tears.  Yes, it was much more labor-intensive than choosing something off their registry, but it was–for me–the perfect way for me to show Jodut how much her friendship means to me, and celebrate the love and marriage of two of our dearest friends.

I love you, Jodut!

Special thanks to our original roommates, Tom and Eric, for helping me roll out and place the fondant the day before the wedding. I could not have done it without them– their humor, energy, and hard work buoyed me in those last few hours.

I cross-posted this on our wedding blog because, like, it’s a wedding cake!

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