Project Wedding Cake (i)

5 Aug

One of my friends is getting married in September, and when I cheekily joked that I would do her wedding cake for her I didn’t quite expect that I would find myself here, my black sparkly dress covered in icing sugar (because I’m trying to get ready to go out at the same time), little splodges of red all over the kitchen floor where I have unknowingly dropped a small puddle of red food colouring and stepped in it, and feeling ridiculously unwell from numerous ‘samples’ of cake mix, cream cheese frosting and cake. A lot of cake. A lot of cream cheese.

What have I got myself into?

Most people I’ve told have called me crazy, stupid, over-ambitious or that our friendship is destined to ruin if/when it all goes wrong and I spoil their big day, or the cake collapses on the newly married pair, or I give everyone food poisoning, or the cake never becomes cake at all. So, the first tip I’ll give you is this: get a thick skin, or don’t tell anyone at all. I’m starting to feel the pressure.

Red velvet cake seems to have become very popular over the last couple of years, with red velvet cupcakes always seeming to fly off the shelves first in cupcake cafes. I entered into the craze and my red velvet cupcakes quickly became a hit amongst my friends, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise when their wedding cake flavour of choice was to be red velvet. Obviously fruit cake would have been a much easier option – it can be made months in advance, is heavy enough to support the tiers, doesn’t need to be layered, and decorating can take as long as you like. Red velvet on the other hand is a sponge, is best fresh, and to top it off has a cream cheese frosting – should it go in the fridge? will the temperature affect the cake? how long can the frosting last before it is guaranteed all the guests will wake up with a dicky tummy?

It’s all a bit nerve-racking.

I’m going for a four tiered red velvet cake (12″, 10″, 8″ and 6″); the aim is to have three layers for every tier, iced with cream cheese frosting, covered in royal icing, simple and elegant decorations……made in my kitchen and then driven over 100 miles in a hire car, and assembled at the venue. All without having a nervous breakdown. Please God, let it be possible without the nervous breakdown. Or just let it be possible, I’d go for that too.

I’m going to write about my experiences for any budding bakers out there who need a bit of encouragement and a step by step guide to taking the plunge into big cake projects. Let me start by letting you into a little secret: I haven’t actually had a lot of experience in making cakes. I’ve made countless cupcakes, but not big cakes. Big cakes are a whole different ballgame. There is a reason that the majority of cake recipes call for a standard 7-8inch tin, and that’s because when you start messing about with sizes and volumes, the cooking times, temperatures and methods seriously begin to change. I’ve made one red velvet cake in my time, and it didn’t really go to plan (although saying that, everyone who ate it loved it, so perhaps I’m just too much of a perfectionist). To add to the pressure, I don’t even have a recipe for the 8″ and 10″, so I’m having to figure out quantities, cooking times and temperatures myself. And yes, when it’s 2.30am and I’m lying  awake in bed because my brain won’t stop thinking about ‘cake, cake boards, cake boxes, dowelling, frosting, royal icing…4 kilos of royal icing…the fact I will be back at University…was this really the wisest idea? Decorations, I need to get in touch with the florist’, etc. etc. I do seriously begin to think that I have bitten off far more than I can chew. In fact, far more than one person could ever chew. And yes, there have already been tears. Once. In a moment of cake-induced panic. Best to get it out of the way early on, I say.

Emotional turmoil aside, here are some initial practical considerations to think about:

  1. Sizes – cake tins: springform tins are my personal choice as it’s so much easier to get the cake out without the worry of anything sticking. It’s best to go for at least 2″ differences between the cakes if you’re tiering.
  2. Shapes: square? round? hexagonal? From what I’ve read, round is actually the easiest to ice with fondant icing.
  3. Cake boards: you’ll need cake boards to separate the layers. These need to be waterproofed so as not to go soggy, and can be found in thick or thin sizes. A note on this in the next post.
  4. Cake base: what is the final thing going to be stood on? We’re going for a 14-15″ round thick cake board, which I will cover in fondant icing. This will go directly onto the table which will be set up by the venue.
  5. Flavours: this is an important consideration. Fruit cake is best for a base cake as it is heavy and sturdy. If you’re mixing up flavours, make sure a fruit cake is the bottom tier or you run the risk of sponge cakes sinking under the weight.
  6. Icing: what type? colour? Fondant icing ideally requires at least 1-2 days to dry out before stacking, this might be a factor in your cake choice.
  7. Stacking cakes: are you going to stack them immediately on top of each other? If so, you’ll need dowelling to support each tiers, and possibly a large dowel to go through the entire cake if you want a bit more support. Alternatives are some of the pretty cake stands which are available, which support each individual tier separately.
  8. Decorations: are you using ribbons? how will you stick it on? Edible glue, double sided tape or simple royal icing are all suitable ideas. Do you need piping bags, nozzles, etc.? There are some great youtube tutorials about different ways to decorate cakes.
  9. Transportation: how are you going to transport the cake? Big cake boxes are available at most cake decorating shops. It’s best to assemble the cake at the venue.
  10. Other considerations which I have recently learned of: cake levellers appear to be a fantastic way to make sure that each cake is perfectly straight; palette knives are your best friend for frosting; a good electric handwhisk is essential if you’ve not got a fancy mixer (I live in hope that one day I will own a kitchenaid…); a bunch of willing taste-testers are always important unless you want to feel constantly ill and go up seven dress sizes; finally, PRACTISE. It is nice to think that playing through the day in one’s head will ensure that everything will go smoothly on the day, but unfortunately I need to burst that bubble right now. Making occasion cakes, especially tiered cakes, is entirely different to making a homey victoria sponge for when the neighbours pop round. If you’re like me and you want everything to be as perfect as possible, you must find a way to practise beforehand. Things which you never even thought of before might crop up, and better that it happens before the big day, than on it.
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