Friday, August 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Wedding Cakes

 I enjoy baking and over the decades have made a few wedding cakes for family and friends.
Two years ago I baked Lauren and Adam's wedding cake.  Since I knew life would get crazy as the big day approached, I assembled, iced, and froze the entire cake a week before the wedding.  Transporting something that tall (and heavy!) was scary but so worth it.

This year I heard God calling me to offer wedding cakes to two brides.  One is Lauren's dear friend, bridesmaid, and college roommate.  The other began her homeschooling journey when our family did, with a preschool co-op organized by her mom.

Both brides accepted my offer and both were married August 2nd!  The shared date certainly complicated my planning.  I prefer to transport a four-tier cake in two parts, assembling and finishing the decorating at the reception venue.  Knowing I wouldn't be able to manage that for both celebrations, I asked MK if a three-tier cake for display and photo ops with extra cake behind the scenes would be okay.  She graciously consented and my planning continued.

Lauren's friend met her husband while they were both studying in Spain.  M is from Mexico, so his heritage and homeland informed the wedding theme.  A found a cake online with ruffly fans that she wanted in coral, white, and aqua.  I breathed deeply and began researching how to recreate the design.  After spending hours looking for similar designs or tutorials, I emailed to ask some far away bakers what decorating tip they used.  It turns out the ruffles are made with a standard petal tip (#104).  Yay!

A and M had asked for a hazelnut cake (like Lauren and Adam's) so I made a sample.  It gave me a chance to practice the fans and try out an assortment of filling options:  chocolate ganache, ganache with raspberry jam, and homemade nutella.  The bride and groom came over to taste and see.  They chose nutella for the filling and A and I critiqued and tweaked the petal variations.
Note the toothpicks on top--marking the filling locations.  
We decided more ruffles were better and that the bottom beading was a no-go.

I volunteered for these weddings months in advance, but there is only so much that can be done ahead.  One long term project was emptying my upright freezer.  I'm a stocker-upper so we had a lot of food to consume.  My family ate some interesting combinations, especially once July rolled around.  Spinach squares anyone?

For a long time it felt too early to bake.  I didn't want cake layers sitting in my freezer forever, so I waited to start.  April--too early.  May--too early.  June--maybe it was time, but it didn't happen.  (I tried to be that mom who takes her kids to the pool.)  July--at last!  But I piddled away the first week of July.  Then we had a week of Vacation Bible School followed by a family vacation in the Adirondacks.  Suddenly the weddings were two weeks away and no baking had begun.  Yikes!

I started with MK's cakes.  She had asked for both chocolate and lemon tiers.  I tweaked a Cake Bible recipe for yellow cake to create the lemon.  It was reliable, with a solid structure (great for assembly) but also a tender, fine crumb.  The chocolate cake turned out to be trickier.

My sisters had recommended a Smitten Kitchen recipe (originally from Gourmet magazine).  It is intensely chocolatey with a super moist, fragile crumb (dangerous to stack).  I seem to be one of the few people in the world, based on hundreds of comments, this cake doesn't rise properly for.  I was skeptical of the recipe's baking temperature of 300 degrees.  After the disaster you see below--a 6" diameter cake that should have been fine--

--I raised the temperature for future batches to 325 with somewhat better results.
I spent a week or more slowly baking MK's ten layers, then a marathon day baking A's eight hazelnut. 
Here they are, wrapped and waiting.
So, yes, there was a lot of cake happening towards the end of July!  I was planning or cooking or shopping almost every day.  The day after buying a 10# bag of sugar I had to go out for more!  My family was wonderfully patient with my preoccupation.  The toughest day for all of us was probably Thursday, when I took a few hours to clean the kitchen and prepare a nice dinner before getting back to cakeness.  I'm not proud of how grumpy I became once those hours were gone and a long night stretched before me.  Always room for improvement . . .

Eventually it was time to starting putting the tiers together.  I tried to work with cold cake (a sturdier state), especially the fragile chocolate.  Extra batter had been baked and was used to patch the hollows.
A thin layer of ganache was spread between the cake layers before adding the icing--a flavor boosting idea I borrowed from my sister.
Do you use a crumb coat?  It's a thin layer of icing that, when chilled, keeps the crumbs contained so the rest of the icing can later be applied easily and neatly.  The delicate and dark chocolate cakes needed their crumb coats more than anything I've ever baked!
Below are MK's cakes.  The biggest round tier is lemon, as is one of the double layer rectangles.  The other rounds and rectangle are chocolate.  One of the things I enjoy most about this picture is seeing how well we emptied that big freezer.  As I said, it took months, but there was plenty of room for cake!

I could have assembled, iced, decorated, and frozen MK's cakes a few weeks before her wedding, but as it turned out they weren't all done until the night before.  They were fresher than Lauren and Adam's!
Friday night I also finished icing the four tiers of A's cake.  Her wedding was late enough that I decided to decorate it on Saturday.
When I began trying to figure out how to make petal arches that were a consistent size and would meet without overlapping, I called my local cake supply store to see if there was a tool available to make it happen.  The generous woman on the other end of the phone knew exactly what I needed--her advice.

She told me to get some adding machine tape, wrap a strip around each tier, and cut it to fit.  Then fold the tape in half and half and maybe half or thirds until it looked right.  Draw or trace a curve that looked nice, cut it out, wrap the tape back around the cake, and trace the curve with a toothpick.  Guidelines done!

Len and I worked together for a while and then I "allowed" him to finish that technical, vital task.  I think I was coloring icing or something . . .

The next day, MK's brothers came to pick up her cakes.  It was quite a sight--one not large car, three tall young men, and a cake on a seat, a lap, and a floor.  I'm told they all made it safe and sound.

Meanwhile it was time to start piping petals.  It had been about six weeks since my sample attempt, so I wanted to practice a bit (ya think?) before committing coral to the actual cake.

First I traced the design onto waxed paper
then attached it
to a faux cake.
and got to work with some extra icing.
Time for the real deal . . .
My photography skills are not the greatest; this kitchen shot gives the best approximation of the coral icing.
It looks too dark and too orange in all the other photos.
Cake in the back of the van on our way to the wedding.
I put a "wedding cake on board" sign in the window to explain our careful turns to other drivers.
  The bottom tiers (12" and 16" diameter) were so heavy!  
I think Adam made some sort of remark about Olympic lifting . . . 
When he wasn't commenting on how many pounds consisted of butter (he's a healthy guy) . . .
I thought I was fairly calm that day, but once the top two tiers were in place, a knot in my stomach uncurled.  Even though there was still work to finish, there was no more chance of a transportation disaster.  Alleluia!  I finally relaxed.

I brought a few bags of goodies with me to the wedding venue:

  • spatulas for setting the cake in place
  • a bag of white icing
  • extra icing and a spatula
  • toothpicks and a scraper
  • a pitcher of ice water to keep my decorating hand cool
  • scissors for the flowers
  • my good shoes (I started out in sneakers.)
  • paper towels
  • wipes
  • etc.

That last layer of white petals had to be piped on site.  If those fans had been put on in advance they would have been smushed when we put the cake together at the wedding.  (Needing time for final assembly and decoration of a huge cake is why MK's needed to be a more manageable three tiers.)
When you look at individual petals and fans it's obvious that there is a lot of variation. You could also call it inconsistency.  This is the type of thing that usually really bugs me, but the joy of this design is that the overall look and ruffly feel is so much more important than the up close details.  It's exuberant!
When the florist told me that the bride had chosen roses for her cake, I was surprised.  I assumed they'd be too formal for the lively fans, but no.  She chose "free spirit" roses, and they were GORGEOUS!  Big, blousy, warmly coral.  The picture below does not do them justice.
Len, Lauren, and Adam also helped with transportation, assembly, and flower arranging.  Thanks, guys!  Seriously--no one enjoys helping move or put together such an important package.  The consequences of a mistake are too nerve-wracking.

This was an exciting summer project.  I spent plenty of time and energy (much of it mental!), but it was gratifying to offer something special to two beautiful brides (and their grooms).  I also enjoyed the chance to stretch my baking and decorating skills.  Apparently I'm not too old to learn something new.  ;-)


Mary Lenaburg said...

absolutely stunning work Barbara!! Now we need a photo of MK's cake. Pretty please??

Barbara said...

Mary, since I didn't deliver the cake myself or attend the wedding, the only photo I have is the one with it in my freezer! MK wanted only the simple borders from me and added a cake topper her husband's brother had used at his recent wedding. Starting those family traditions right away . . .

Kristin Nelson said...

You are AMAZING!!!!

Colleen said...

Barb, They are beautiful. What a wonderful gift to give to a newly married couple. I love seeing your work.