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
Tags: , , ,

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 . 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 , as well as Wilton cardboard cake rounds.  For assembly, I followed instructions I had read on — 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 .  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!


Illumination October 25, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — girldogtorch @ 8:02 pm
Tags: , , ,


One of our plans for our centerpieces (non-floral) is to make luminaries.  

Currently, the wonderful Jane Winter (at Wildflowers) had amazing ideas for a lush, romantic, old-fashioned floral arrangement for the table at the entry-way of the reception room (upon which might be, for example, the table numbers), and she and I are thinking that we might also use old, antique books in that tablescape.  Perhaps with old pewter containers for the flowers?  But I digress…

Books are a theme for our decorating as well.  I’m imagining tablescapes for each table, with old books, stacked at different levels, and our luminaries.  Plus hundreds of small candles, all over the room.  (My mom and her best girl friend have already begun snatching up unscented white candles at dollar stores and sales.)  

I think candlelight is so, so beautiful and memorable.  

Inspiration images of candle-lit weddings:

(Boards from Style Me Pretty)


And besides the tiny candles, here is our idea for making our own luminaries: 

We will use tin cans of various sizes, from soup cans, to large crushed tomato sized, to coffee can sized, and larger.  My idea is to punch holes into them in either random patterns, or in lace-like patterns.  Matt would like to paint each can with a simple landscape scene (sky, ground, a few quick trees), and then the lighted holes would be like fireflies.  

Lots of people have asked me how I’ll make the luminaries: you fill the clean, empty cans with water, and freeze them.  Then, when you tap a nail with a hammer into the can, you punch a small hole, but the solid ice keeps the can from denting.  Very, very simple.  You can use pre-printed patterns to create a lacy effect, or for a pattern.  And–at the end of the reception, if people would like to take one or two home, of course they may.  Otherwise, we just recycle the cans–they were free and plentiful, and we would have recycled them anyway.

Here are some images of tin can luminaries:

(I don’t like just one image, as opposed to many small pinpricks of light, but this shows the powerful effect one “cantern” can have.)


Finally, I don’t think this knitted candle-cover goes with our general aesthetic, but I just love this idea so much, and think it’s so simple and beautiful, I can’t help but include it:

I can’t wait to see the faces of all our loved ones surrounding our tables and lit by so many beautiful little lanterns.


More location photos September 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — girldogtorch @ 10:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

While last in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to take lots of photos of both Emmanuel and the Tap Room. Now, I can officially begin making decisions about decorations!  Flowers along the aisle?  Emmanuel has a very, very long nave, and is dark, with dark wood and green carpet.  One idea would be to have flowers or greenery with ribbon along some of the pews, but there are so many pews!  The only other place we are allowed to put flowers is up on the altar, in the official altar guild vases.  But maybe with a bride, groom, 16 attendants, a ring bearer and a flower girl, there will be enough human decoration.

I didn’t have time to take interior shots at church, but took one from my friend Jodie’s blog from her wedding (she is an _incredible_ photographer, by the way.)

(So exciting to see Emmanuel during a wedding!)

Exterior of Emmanuel:

The outside of the front door.  To the right is Jones Lawn, which is really quite large and filled with huge shade trees.  We are thinking of having lemonade and sparkling water on the lawn, directly after the ceremony and receiving line.  We could have a clown making balloon animals for the children, and maybe some live music…  While the bridal party and families are being photographed, people can mingle, have something to drink, and relax a bit before the reception.  This could also prevent a long lag at the reception, while people wait for the bridal party to arrive.

This is the memorial garden, to the left of the main entrance.  There is also a side entrance to the Chapel here, and up along the path on the left is the door into the parish hall.

(The church was built by a family from “back East,” and Mrs. Lockwood used memories and sketches of her own home church to influence the architects.  The cross on the steeple is exactly the height of the little Lockwood girl when it was built.)

The Tap Room–I love, love, love the hardwood floors, exposed bricks, tall windows, views of the city–I can’t wait to dance the night away with my love and everyone we love.

The first thing to consider: head tables.  Do we have our spouses and dates of our attendants at the head tables with them?  My first instinct is to say yes, because it seems odd to have people separated just because that’s the way it’s usually done.  I would never do that at a dinner party.  But we have 16 people. Maybe two head tables, at opposite ends or something?

Matt and I are thinking doing a writer as a theme for each table.  So instead of “Table 5,” you might have “the Whitman table.”  I’m thinking of doing tablescapes of old books and many, many candles as centerpieces at each table.

The bar.  They also have tiny white lights strung all around the wooden pillars and windows.

The outside patio for the upper room where our reception will be held.  I suppose people can mingle out here as well.  Candles out here, as well.


Wedding hits and flops September 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — girldogtorch @ 9:31 am
Tags: , ,

The fabulous Indiebride has a message board called Kvetch, where women and some men can share ideas and give advice on countless topics.  In the thread “Suggestion Box,” one popular thread is called, “What was a hit? What was a flop?”  Genius.

After their weddings, brides will come back to the forum and report what went well at their wedding, and what (often surprisingly) did not.  For example, often brides will report that no one had heard their vows, and they wished they had used microphones.  Or they will be surprised that no one used the guestbook.  Obviously, for anyone planning a wedding, this is a goldmine of ideas, things to consider, and advice.  Here’s an example:

“I’ve been to about a million weddings and here are some memorable hits and flops from those I’ve been to:

–Assigned seating. Especially when I don’t know many people, I hate the awkward hunt for seats. This is especially true if they haven’t given me a plus one and I’m there alone. 

–Something to drink as guests were coming in before the ceremony. I’ve had lemonade and cocktails and both were nice. 

–Doing something unexpected. Favorites: groom’s cake in shape of beer stein (he was of German heritage); bagpipes; homemade strawberry jam from bride’s dad as favors; unusual readings.

–A heartfelt thank-you toast by the couple. More meaningful than any favor.

–Couples who memorize or at least write on cards the main part of their vows so the officiant’s prompting isn’t breaking up the flow every three words.

–Failures of coordination on timing issues. A) last of guests still standing in line at buffet when cake cutting started; B) caterers still setting up when guests began arriving; C) long lag times between ceremony and reception at a location where many guests had driven and had nothing to do in between; D) waiting around forever (going on two hours) at cocktails waiting for pictures to be done.

–Not enough quantity of passed appetizers, so guests are stalking waiters coming out near the kitchen doors.

–Bride and groom not making it around to speak with everyone personally. At one wedding, I left without ever meeting the groom. I get he was busy, but how about a two minute, “Oh, I’ve heard so much about you, thanks for coming”?

–Bride and groom leaving too early. Why leave at 9:30 when your band keeps playing til 11? The party is over when the couple leaves, so it feels kind of lame after they’re gone. After I got all dressed up and traveled for these events, I was disappointed that things ended so soon.

–Music too loud during dinner.”

I think the best thing about the thread is that while I personally might get caught up in the things _I’m_ most interested in (readings, colors, food, ceremony) it might not naturally occur to me to think about things like timing, sound, flow of food…  It’s so helpful!  So, on that note: what are some hits and flops you’ve seen at weddings, including your own?  Or, things you wish a bride and groom would consider for guests?  Please advise.


Location, location, location August 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — girldogtorch @ 8:52 pm
Tags: , , ,

After much thought and discussion, we’ve decided on having the ceremony at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, in Webster Groves.  This is my church, and has been for nearly ten years.  Matt also loves his church–right up the street–and we first struggled to visualize our wedding in both spaces, and to try to articulate what they meant to us.




The Episcopal service goes by the Book of Common prayer.  I have been worshiping with this liturgy since I was seventeen.  One of the wonderful things about it is its constancy: I can go to an Episcopal or Anglican church anywhere in the world, and immediately fall into the familiar liturgy and cadences of the prayers and patterns I recognize.  Once, I was in a church in Prague–I knew none of the words, but followed along in my own way.  Suddenly, during Communion, the liturgy was sung in the exact same tune as the tune used for Communion when I was a freshman at University of Illinois.  I hadn’t heard it in years, but it suddenly came rushing back to me–a flood of familiarity in the most of foreign of places.


Emmanuel in particular is a huge part of my life.  My college is across the street, and I walked across the church lawn countless times, on my way to class.  I sang in the choir, and rehearsed every Wednesday night with years.  I taught Sunday school, and then was head of Parish Family Life–planning parish-wide events throughout the year.  In the year before I left for New York, I trained new acolytes.  It gives me joy and pride to imagine that some of the kids I trained will get to by acolytes at my own wedding.  Finally, some of my most dearly beloved friends are there.  That church community has supported me in so many ways, and I grew as a person and came into myself there.  I still miss it, many a Sunday.


When we were just beginning to date, Matt came to Emmanuel to hear me sing.  I was the cantor for a small, formal evening service: Evensong.  I was the cantor, accompanied by the organ.  I was very nervous: all of my roommates, as well as my dad and another colleague, had come to see the service and hear me, but I was most nervous because it was the first time Matt would hear me sing.  In fact, afterwards, I wouldn’t let him say anything at all about the service, and could barely look at him.


As for the reception, it was relatively simple to choose the Tap Room, or Schlafly Brewery.  Again, we have many, many good memories there.  I often went there with my family, including my Grammy and my late Grandpa Hughes, and my dad loved to go there with me.  I remember at least one Thanksgiving there with my dad and sister.  Matt and all our community of friends went there often, and we have one hilarious story from our courtship that took place there (again, I was deeply embarrassed, and pacing outside with my roommates trying to discern whether Matt could tell if I liked him…while Matt cooly played pool and controlled the jukebox…)

Also, the food is great.  So is the bar.  And the upstairs room is lovely, and very St. Louis.  I was tempted to have an outdoor reception, but once we moved it to summer, we wanted it inside, so people could dance and make merry comfortably.






We’ll post menu options from the Tap Room later, but hopefully, we’ll get to share some meals there with family friends before the end of the year…and decide in person which options are most delicious.


the contenders May 7, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — girldogtorch @ 1:27 am

Miss Aimee B’s


the Club Room at the Schlafly Brewery


the Main Dining Room at the Bevo Mill

 (photos all from respective websites)


July 11th, 2009?

Filed under: Uncategorized — girldogtorch @ 1:19 am
Tags: ,

Well.  April 11th, 2009, was looking like the perfect date.  It falls before Matt’s Spring Break, and he has the Thursday and Friday immediately preceding the 11th off, too.  But as I was figuring dates and fees with venues this afternoon, something in my mind said, “Hmm.  When is Easter 2009?”  Turns out, it’s that weekend. 

Matt doesn’t get out of school until the last week in June (this year and next), and the first week in July is July 4th weekend.  Which I wouldn’t necessarily mind (sparklers!), but travel would be so much more expensive.  So we’re considering the next week, which is July 11th.  Any thoughts? 

Also, we’re starting to get the reception venue ironed out.  It’s still between the Tea House, the Tap Room, and the Bevo Mill; I have precise price quotes from all three, and we’ve compared menus.  It may still come down to affordability, but all three are nice in various ways.  I have to say, though, that the Tea House ladies are the sweetest ever.  The snail mailed me actual photographs of the rose arbor and the tent, so I could see if for myself and “carry the photos around in my purse,” to share with my girlfriends.  How sweet is that?  And everyone is very accommodating about helping us figure out the veggie entree option, so it’s been fun, and the only stress was last week when I suddenly felt pressured to commit. 

So all is going well.  If this date becomes us, as it were, then I think we can settle on a venue.  And then a photographer.  And pretty soon, we should have engagement photos to share.