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Project Wedding Cake: The BEAUTIFUL Day!

16 Sep

There’s something about weddings which alwaysssssssssss makes me emotional. What a beautiful afternoon it was. I’ve never seen the bride and groom so happy, they brought new meaning to ‘glowing’. I won’t go into immense detail about the cake making unless I get requests for specifics (I think everyone is very bored of hearing me talk about cake), but here’s the low down:

  • Every handbag I own contains sketches of wedding cakes. On tissues, gym passes, receipts, train tickets…..you name it.
  • Friday night was spent cutting out grease proof paper to line tins (doubled it up for the larger cakes to prevent the sides scorching).
  • Saturday/Sunday was spent making sure I had everything, and doing last minute calculations and cleaning cake boards.
  • Monday was spent freaking out about whether or not I should make the big cake on that day, or just wait. I waited.
  • Tuesday was spent making 12″, 10″ and 8″ cakes, and icing the 15″ cake board (for those that are interested – rub the board in shortening before applying the fondant, it helps it to stick).
  • Wednesday was spent making the 6″ cake and the most frosting I have ever seen in my life (unfortunately the sheer amount also resulted in the death of my trusty electric hand whisk. It was a tearful moment.), cutting the cakes with my lovely cake leveler, frosting a crumb layer, freaking out because I had slightly misplaced the middle tier of the largest cake resulting in an unsightly bulge, refrigerating, doing the final frosting layer, getting a little OCD with my ruler and set square to make sure that the sides were equal, then refrigerating again. Wednesday was pretty much an upper body work out. Who needs the gym?
  • Thursday was spent doing the royal icing…attempt one resulted in failure. The fondant cracked (I used silverspoon) both times I tried to work with it, and despite very accurate calculations (think rulers and string), when lifting to apply to the cake the weight of it just ended in disaster. Cue tearing all icing off the cake, retouching the frosting, re-refrigerating and rushing to the supermarket to buy a different brand [Tesco’s own fondant is actually FAB. Next time (next time??!!) I will use this one for every layer; I had thought that the silverspoon would be best (fantastic example of how marketing can sway you), but turns out own brand wins hands down (it is marginally more expensive)], rushing back home, re-icing the 12″, tearing it all off and re-icing again because it wasn’t perfect, then icing the 10″, 9″ and 8″. Cake smoothers are your best friend here.

By now as I’m sure you can imagine, I was pretty tired, and it was dark outside. Due to a slight problem with our plumbing leaking through the ceiling, only half of our kitchen lights are functional, so PD set up his light-as-the-sun-desk-lamp (which is also nearly as tall as I am) to allow me to actually see what I was doing. Definitely a lesson to share – make sure you have GOOD light for this stage.

Anyway, no rest for the wicked – the ready mix royal icing was next. I’d practised making this up a couple of days before and it was much too runny to do what I wanted to do with it. Definitely practise first. I also practised with some different designs on grease proof paper and stuck them to the fridge to see whether they would run down the side of the cake. They did. Definitely, definitely practise. By half midnight I was pretty flippin’ tired and grumpy and so-exhausted-I-was-ready-to-cry-tired and adamant I would never, ever, EVER make a cake of this size again. Especially when PD and my housemate wandered in joking that they were going to stick their fingers in the top layer (which was slowly developing little air bubbles around it’s sides – panic) and eat it while I wasn’t looking (they realised pretty quickly that this was not the time for joking, and there followed lots of swooning and compliments about cake. Ha.).

Finally the icing was done and I painted over it with lustre dust mixed in with rejuvenator spirit (at this point I was so tired I was nearly delirious and I was wondering whether rejuvenator spirit might actually cause rejuvenation if I were to drink some of it. Clearly cake brain had taken over at this point.). Despite the tiredness, the painting part was actually pretty therapeutic.

  • The part I was ratttttttttther worried about was stacking, and I had put off placing the big cake on the cake board for as long as I could, so I just had to get on with it. Luckily I had done the cake board long enough in advance that the icing was rather rock-solid and a little more forgiving. I stared at the cake and the cake board next to each other for a good five minutes. I lifted the big cake up, hovered above the cake board, and then chickened out and put the cake back down again. Then I looked at the clock and realised that I really needed to go to bed, so I picked up the cake and actually managed to get it onto the cake board without any damage. Yes, there was a little smug happy dance in my head.
  • Then came the dowelling process. After my slight mishap with different length dowels previously, I was pretty anal about this. Cue ruler again. If it wasn’t so late I was even going to get the nail file out, but by this point I was pretty sure there was going to be no cake at the wedding if I didn’t get to bed. The knife would have to do.
  • The cakes were boxed up and put somewhere away from prying eyes and fingers, and I finally went to bed. And slept straight through. For the first night of the whole week (yes, I had been that worried about the cake that I couldn’t sleep).
  • Next morning and off to Uni I went, a little too over excited and utterly spent from so much cake making and stressing. I managed to pay attention for as long as necessary, headed home, checked my baking box and check list of emergency cake things (royal icing in a piping bag x 2, cream cheese frosting in a piping bag, palette knife, string, nozzles, massive spatula, ribbon etc. etc. etc.), packed my bag (plus a LOT of make up to cover the large dark shadows) and packed up the car. Luckily PD was driving as I think I would have fallen asleep at the wheel.
  • The drive was good (thank you for going at snail pace over the speed bumps darling -xox-), luckily it wasn’t ‘too’ hot that day as our aircon doesn’t work particularly well. I was going to have to buy a few bags of ice and hope that the cake would survive the journey if it had been. We did however take a couple of wrong turnings and yes, I did become a little bit of a stress head, and I did force PD to pull over so I could jump out and check on the cakes at least once, but we arrived an hour and a half before starting time which was perfect timing all round.
  • A table had been set up in the room, and after checking that it was for me I brought the cakes in. At this point it would have been a good idea to check that the table had been finished with the table cloths and such required….as it happened, I didn’t. And it resulted in a slightly nervous moving of the already stacked cake onto a different table. Eek.
  • Soooooo……….stacking. Terrifying. Big cake out first, cream cheese frosting over the dowels, trembling hands and the 10″ was somehow on top of the 12″. You really can’t think about it too much at this stage, or you’ll freak yourself out. Sadly I did get one little fingerprint dent in the 12″, but I was able to fill this with the emergency royal icing and smooth it out with a palette knife, and it was very difficult to tell. Then the whole process was repeated for the 8″ and 6″.
  • Ribbons were attached using some little pins around the back of the cake, and a splodge of royal icing. A note here – we had chosen a sheer, transparent-ish ribbon. In hindsight, it should probably have been a block colour as the transparency really hid no mistakes! A block colour would hide any small gaps between cakes, and it would be nice to tie the colour in with the flowers.
  • The flowers had been left with the hotel and arranged specially by the florist. They came in a little black container with a little pokey-thing which sat atop the large cake. They were gorgeous!
  • Finally……….IT WAS DONE. I did a little happy dance and some jumps for joy, much to the amusement of the staff who were putting the finishing touches to the room, tidied up all of my things, and went to get myself a much-needed-icing-sugar-cleansing-shower, put my party dress on and get ready to enjoy the arvo.

Whadda-ya-know, seems like I pulled it off. In fact, two people actually asked me if I did it professionally. Ha. *smug face*. Despite my 1am so-tired-I-almost-cried-adamant-I’ll-never-do-it-again-moment……I would (but don’t tell anyone). Just because it made them happy. And I like making people happy. And I like cake.

Top Tips

  • Plan, plan, plan
  • Practise, practise, practise
  • Get an idea of how many people you’ll be serving – four tiers was probably too much this time round! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before, but you can make a ‘fake’ cake out of styrofoam and ice it like a proper cake. Not only will this mean your cake still looks awesome if you like the big and beautiful look, but it also seriously reduces the stress of needing to make and ice so many tiers quickly (as you can do the ‘fake’ cake weeks in advance!).
  • If you’re doing a sponge, make sure the caterers don’t put it in the fridge before serving. I know that I had a few hissy fits about the cream cheese frosting, but I found a ‘shelf-stable’ recipe which is safe out of the fridge for around 24-48 hours. It’s something to do with the ratio of cream cheese : sugar : shortening. It also might be an idea to see if they would be able to wrap each piece in a napkin to prevent the sponge from drying out if it’s going to be left out for a while.
  • If you find a brand which works, use it (aka fondant disaster).
  • Block colours for ribbon.
  • If you don’t want the fridge-cream cheese frosting freak outs, do a butter cream, or flavour with cream cheese frosting oils, or use a ganache for the ‘frosting’ layer, it will give you sharper edges for applying the fondant icing.
  • Run a piping bag with royal icing around the bottom of the sides of the cake before putting the fondant icing on – it will help it to stick.
  • Figure out your timings, especially if you’re really busy. It does take a long time – I think it took me around 21-24 hours, which meant that there were many late nights after Uni trying to get everything done and keep up with work. If you plan your time well, you can make it work.
  • Figure out pricing – cakes work out surprisingly more than one may expect, especially if you need to buy all of the standard cake-making materials in addition to the ingredients. However it still works out one heck of a lot cheaper than it would to buy a cake from a baker.
  • Be nice to your friends. They will be putting up with nothing but cake chat for weeks, along with the cake-related-freak-outs.
  • Don’t eat too much cake. You will feel sick. Especially if you insist on licking every frosting spoon available, and eating left over royal icing.  *groooooooannn…………….*

Project Wedding Cake (iv)

13 Aug

I think I’ve cracked it. *happy dance*

After a good chat with my grandma and a lot of reading, I made the 12″. I doubled up the greaseproof paper within the tin and also tied a layer of greaseproof paper around the entire tin, to ensure that the cake didn’t cook too quickly on the outside (I decided on the greaseproof paper instead of the ripped up tea towels as I figured the prospect of setting my kitchen on fire was really just an additional stress I could do without). The cake turned out perfectly (160C fan for 1hr35min), and with my new exciting cake decorating tools it was just a matter of taking a bit of time to decorate it properly. I left the cake to cool overnight and then sliced it into three with the cake leveler. Never, ever will I try to cut a cake with a knife again! The cake leveler was excellent and the layers were pretty much identical in height. It was definitely worth the money.

In terms of frosting, I tried a new cream cheese frosting recipe which substituted some of the butter for shortening, and I’m pleased to say it firmed up fantastically. I wasn’t as impressed with the flavour as the previous frosting, but with the fondant and red velvet cake it tasted wonderful (my housemates can attest to this also: I waltzed up to them, shoved a spoonful of frosting into their mouths and then peered at them/interrogated them for a good ten minutes. They assured me that yes, it did indeed taste of cream cheese frosting). I did an initial crumb layer and refrigerated the cake for a couple of hours, and then did the top layer. I tried to get the frosting as smooth as possible, and it really did make a difference when applying the fondant. Even my friend ACW said that it looked professional *gleeful clap*!

Then for the huge test…….fondant refrigeration. Eek! The cake board I had made (DIY job again!) was too big to fit in the biggest box I had, so I ended up putting the top of the cake box over the top of the cake, on the cake board (hope that makes sense). Then I wrapped the whole lot in clingfilm, placed a little pot of bicarbonate of soda inside, and tried my best to forget about it. This was pretty difficult because every time I opened the fridge a massive white box taking up the entire centre shelf of my fridge stared back at me. But I resisted…like those little impatient kids at 5am on Christmas morning when they KNOW that Santa’s practically comatose after drinking the sherry left out for him (plus a bit more from the alcohol cabinet), and the presents are just sat there, staring at them from under the tree looking so sparkly and perfectly wrapped. It’s NOT easy to hold back from ripping all of the paper off to find out what’s inside.  So I went out with my parents. The box was safer without me in the house. On cake day I took the whole lot out and let it come to room temperature for around six hours before touching ANYTHING! This was even more difficult than leaving it in the fridge. I can only liken it to those cruel psychological tests that people do to children, where they put a plate of marshmallows in front of them and tell them not to eat them, then leave the room. If all this effort wasn’t going to pay off, I think I’d scream. Drum roll please……..annnnnnnnnnnnndddddddddddddd……………..

………..IT WORKED!

Words cannot describe my happiness. There was a tiny bit of condensation on the cake but it wasn’t noticeable unless you were looking for it. Interestingly, the fondant bow which I had made was more affected than the rest of the cake, but as I’m not making any decorations out of fondant icing for the wedding cake I’m going to relax. Actually, it added a little bit of a nice shine to the bow, so I could even go so far as to say it was tactfully planned. Every cloud, and all that.

So I’m feeling a lot more confident about the whole thing now. I still need to figure out a way to get the stacking perfectly level as this cake was a lone tier, but I’m confident that with a good ruler and a sharp set of cable cutters (I never for one minute ever thought I’d be sourcing these things for baking) I might be able to get it just right. I’m also considering buying a spirit level, but I’m wondering whether that would just be taking perfectionism a little too far?

Project Wedding Cake (iii)

7 Aug

I have spent the last two days on the sofa reading about cake, and watching that many youtube videos that I think I could quite easily become a cake icing commentator now. If such a person doesn’t exist, they should. When I  haven’t been reading about cake or watching videos about cake, I have been thinking about cake – and when I’m not thinking about cake I’m talking about cake. I’ve become a bit like Alex the lion from Madagascar, where he’s so obsessed with hunger that his friend Marty starts to look like a walking, talking roast dinner – everything looks like cake. And I’ve made some new discoveries.

  1. Cream cheese is apparently a ‘hazardous’ food. This means that it shouldn’t be left in the ‘danger zone’ (between 41-135 degrees F) for over four hours, or my nightmares of poisoning friends and guests may come to fruition. However, the food code I was looking at doesn’t take the sugar content of the frosting into account, and bacteria hates really high sugar. So I might give myself a couple of hours lee-way. If you want to get around this, a buttercream or ganache would be a much better option as these don’t require refrigeration.
  2. Fondant icing doesn’t like refrigeration, which creates a slightly awkward dilemma. Do I refrigerate the cake to avoid poisoned guests from bacteria ridden cream cheese frosting, and risk all of the fondant icing slipping round to high heavens, ruining potential decorations and in some cases appearing to pool water from Lord knows where, or do I leave the cake out to ensure the most beautiful cake I can create, but most certainly end up with around one hundred very sick people. Hmm…decisions decisions. The problem arises because when fondant comes out of the fridge and straight into the warmth, it begins to ‘sweat’. From what I’ve read, one way to get around this is to put the cake in a paper box (apparently helps to absorb some of the moisture), wrap the box tightly in clingfilm, refrigerate, and don’t unwrap the clingfilm until everything is at room temperature. I’ve also read that it only really becomes a big issue if you have used intricate coloured detail on the cake, as the ‘sweating’ causes the colours to bleed. I’ve currently got one cake on the side having been in the fridge for two days, and I’m leaving it to come to room temperature until I look at it properly, so fingers crossed. Again, to avoid these anxieties, a buttercream or ganache would be a more sensible option.
  3. Cream cheese frosting and fondant aren’t the best of friends (it was at this point that I started to think maybe I should just go with a buttercream, so that points 1, 2 and 3 would no longer be a problem – but in my mind red velvet just isn’t the same without cream cheese frosting. *bashes head against wall*. Typical.). Apparently the cream cheese can somehow cause the fondant to begin to break down, creating a big mushy mess (I think that this has something to do with the water content of the cream cheese). I’ve been doing a ridiculous amount of reading about cream cheese frosting, and have come across some different recipes. By adding vegetable shortening to the recipe it helps the frosting to ‘crust’ and harden, which reduces the risk of aforementioned mushy fondant mess. I’m going to try out a new recipe this week. I’m hoping that this might also give me a cleaner edge (I’m also considering substituting half of the icing sugar for royal icing all in one mix, but from what I’ve read you can lose the royal icing consistency due to a reaction between the butter and the egg whites. Might leave this idea alone for the time being).
  4. After a bit of umming and ahhing, I bit the bullet and decided to buy some new tools. I’m trying not to think about this too much because I wasn’t supposed to be spending any money as I don’t really have any to spend, but I managed to pick up some bits and bobs on amazon quite cheaply and I had a bit of a voucher left over from a present from the wonderful PD ♥. 
    I also hope they remain part of my baking kitchen for a long time. I love my old wooden rolling pin dearly, but as he has handles he didn’t give me quite the smoothness of icing I was hoping for when rolling out the fondant. I’ve gone for a non-stick polyethylene one as apparently they are the best for working with fondant. I’ve also bought two cake smoothers; after watching ‘Michelle Cake Designs‘ get some stunning edges on her cake, I thought I’d give it a go with the two smoothers (bear in mind that she has used chocolate ganache underneath though). I’ve also got myself a cake leveller to try and reduce the wonk, a palette knife for easier frosting and lifting of cakes, and a set square. A set square? Yes, a set square. This is a little tip I also picked up from Michelle – she uses a set square to get a very straight, very vertical line on her cakes, by resting the base of the set square on the table and using the longer arm of the set square to sweep off any unwanted frosting. It’s all starting to sound quite technical, isn’t it?!
  5. I’m still in two minds about the thickness of the separator boards. I’m thinking that instead of using the thickest cake board, I might just use two thin cake boards and stick them together with some royal icing.
  6. There are different ways to cover the main cake board. I’ve decided that I’ll more than likely go for a ‘cover-the-entire-board’ approach. This will mean I can do it before I’ve even started any of the baking,  and it should be well and truly hardened up enough to support the weight of the cake when it comes to assembly.

In the meantime I can confirm that my fondant is indeed sweating. Oh deary, deary me. I am going to sit here and watch the triathlon in hope that in the next 90 minutes my cake will have miraculously dried out…otherwise it might be back to the drawing board to try and get my hands on a different type of fondant. Sigh.

Note: the fondant did dry out around 3-4 hours later. I also sprinkled a little cornflour (cornflour is finer than icing sugar) onto the top to try and soak up some of the moisture. I’ve read this afternoon that bicarbonate of soda is a good humidity controller, so I’ll pop a little bottle-top full of it into the box with the cake when I put it in the fridge. I can’t stop eating the cake…..I swear I’m going to be unrecognisable by the end of this project. *Groan*.

Project Wedding Cake (ii)

5 Aug

Happy birthday to my absolutely BEAUTIFUL sister. We had an amazing time celebrating last night with a bit of comedy, a good old boogie and …cake. Red velvet cake. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

I woke up late yesterday, and for some reason instead of having a nice relaxing brunch with PD and then spending some time getting ready for a lovely night out with my sis, I decided that instead I would make tiers 10″ and 8″. I had 5 hours to buy the ingredients, figure out the recipe for two tiers I didn’t have recipes for, experiment with cooking times, cool, make frosting, frost, ice, stack and decorate a two tier cake. I do sometimes wonder whether I am a sucker for punishment, or whether God perhaps momentarily lost his screwdriver when He was putting my final screws together.

Anyway, I have done a lot of reading about this whole wedding cake business, I’ve watched countless videos, been to numerous shops and spoken to a lot of people. Ultimately however, it was me, the flour, and the kitchen. One of the recipes which comes closest to what I’m looking for is Lorraine Pascale’s three-tier red velvet cake. I decided to double the recipe for the 9″ and then fill the 8″/10″ tins to equal heights. The quantities all went okay really, although I added more red food colouring to get the colour I wanted (I used 3x38ml Dr Oetker).

Temperatures and cooking times were a bit more tricky, and this is when the explanations temporarily become a bit more complicated. I cooked the 10″ at 180C (fan) for 1hr 18 minutes, reducing the temperature to 170C at 43 minutes. My concern was that the edges were cooking faster than the centre was. The 8″ also went in at 180C, reducing to 170C at the same time. The 8″ was in for around 1hr 5 minutes. Unfortunately, I think that the temperature was too high for the 8″ as the outside was overdone (this may have had something to do with the oven of course – I’m using two different ovens), so I’m going to try cooking the 8″ at around 160C next time. Although I’ve not eaten the 8″ yet, despite the outside being slightly overdone, the middle appeared absolutely fine when I was levelling the top off. Fingers crossed, at a lower temperature it might cook a bit more evenly. Still figuring out the best temperatures and timings, but I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve got it to as near perfect as I can.

Timing and temperatures aside, I let both cool slightly in the tins for about ten minutes and then turned them out onto a cooling rack. I was in quite a hurry to get everything done, so I popped them both into the fridge to try and get them to cool quicker. I have heard often that refrigerating cakes for a couple of hours makes them a lot easier to cut, and also less crumbly for applying frosting. Regardless of whether you’re waiting for it to cool, or it’s been cool for a few hours, it might be worth sticking it in the fridge anyway to make frosting and decorating easier.

In the meantime I made the cream cheese frosting. Not necessarily a disaster, but I made the rookie error of substituting margarine for butter and it was much too runny to work as a proper frosting. I used the recipe from ‘Hummingbird Bakery: Cake Days’ which I’ve used many times before for cupcakes, so it must have been a hurried brief lapse of concentration. Next time I’ll definitely use the butter, and also add the cream cheese a lot more slowly to make sure that I get the consistency I want.

The cakes came out of the fridge and I cut the 10″ in half (next time I’ll do three layers instead) and the 8″ into three a layers. They were still warm in the middle so I stuck them in the freezer briefly to get them down to the right temperature. Icing was a piece of cake (sorry), apart from the fact that it was that little bit too runny for my liking. A couple of tips – put some frosting on the cake board and stick it onto the top of the cake, then turn the cake upside down. By using the bottom of the cake as the top, in theory it gives you a smoother and cleaner edge to work with on the top of your cake. Another learning for me was to make sure there’s some time to put the frosted cakes into the fridge for a few hours before covering in the fondant icing. This helps firm up the frosting, giving the icing a bit more support. There are some fantastic videos on youtube about covering cakes with fondant icing (this one is great) Whenever I’ve iced round cakes in the past I’ve never quite worked out how to get rid of any stray corners and folds. It turns out it’s really quite easy! A massive learning from this practise round of icing was that I think I really need a thick cake board under every cake, not a thin one. By using a thick cake board I’m hoping to ensure that the fondant drapes down vertically instead of sloping slightly inwards where it looks like it’s being tucked under the cake, and I can also use royal icing to stick the fondant to the sides of the cake board to create a better seal and a much cleaner edge. Although ribbons can cover a multitude of sins here, the ribbon which the bride-to-be has chosen is sheer and won’t hide any faults, so this is something I really need to get right. I’m going to do some more research on that one.

On to stacking the tiers, and this is when it all started to go a little bit pear shaped. I’d made myself a DIY cake board from an old box, a lot of masking tape and some silver foil (blue peter eat your heart out), and put the big cake on the board. I put four dowels in and cut them to size. Unfortunately in my haste, I hadn’t cut the dowel rods to exactly the same length. Never, ever, ever do this. It’s setting yourself up for the same outcome as serving soup in a sieve – it’s never in a million years going to work and it’s all going to end up on the floor. 

Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, but it was still a bit wonky. When there are four tiers to be stacked on top of each other, the tiniest bit of ‘wonk’ is going to set the whole thing off-kilter (cue nightmares about cake falling on newly married couple). They say baking is all about precision – well, decorating is when it really counts! I’m actually in two minds as to whether or not to actually include the picture because it looks so amateur-ish, but I have promised to document start to finish of my journey, so I’ve included it. Please, please don’t be too harsh, it was my first ever attempt, and I’m a sensitive soul. You might be able to see what I mean about the ‘tucked-in’ look of the icing, which is what I am going to focus on getting rid of next time.

I’ve left the 8″ for a few days to see how the cake keeps, as I’ll have to do this for the actual wedding cake. I’ve put this one in the fridge, as I’m not entirely happy about leaving cream cheese frosting out (despite being covered in fondant) – I’ll do some more reading up about just how long a frosted cake can be left unrefrigerated without the risk of poisoning my friends. Hopefully the cake will cope okay with the refrigeration, fingers crossed.

All things considered, I’m pleased to report that the twenty odd people at my sister’s party seemed to be pretty happy with the flavour. There were many compliments, many second helpings (thirds in my case – when will I learn?), and absolutely nothing left on the cake board. Even the nice lady who brought the cake out with the candles had some and said I ought to consider professional baking after she had tried some. She was either trying to butter me up to spend lots of money on drinks, or she genuinely liked my cake. For the sake of my nerves and confidence, today I’m going to convince myself its the latter.

Major learnings from round 1:

  • Thick cake boards to be used as separator boards instead of the thin ones, to ensure smoother, cleaner fondant edge;
  • Thicker cream cheese frosting needed;
  • Identical lengths of dowel rods essential;
  • The fridge is my cake friend, not my cake foe;
  • Refrigerate the frosted cakes before icing with the fondant;
  • Timings and temperatures really need to be worked out – I’ve been looking at the use of ‘cake strips’ to put around the edges of the pan. This supposedly slows the cooking on the outside to prevent overcooked edges/undercooked middle, and apparently can make the cake top more level too. They’re expensive though, so I’m trying to work out whether I can get away with using an old tea towel without setting the kitchen on fire;
  • A leveller is a good investment to make sure of even, level edges;
  • Must find a dedicated tea-maker/moral-support-giver/washer-upper/hand-holder to get me through the next few weeks.

If anyone stumbles across these posts and has any experience, please leave some comments and advice, it would be much appreciated. Not only will you be contributing to a really special day, you’ll also help to keep me sane. You’d be doing the world a favour!

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.