Tuesday, June 24, 2008

project wedding cake: an introduction

cake testing looks like this

As there is no casual way to say this, ahhhem, let me just blurt it out: I am baking a wedding cake!

Like, a real live honest-to-god wedding cake. I have always wanted to make a wedding cake. Alex and my wedding cake was well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing, the obvious product of all the shortcuts bakeries get themselves into when quantity trumps quality. In the same way that I believe that everyone deserves a cake baked with a symphony of butter, eggs, flour and devotion on their birthday, a wedding cake should be all that and more. No mystery-ingredient toppings, no highly unnatural silver dust, no fake cake for display with a sheet cake in the back for serving.

cake, cake, cake

That said, although I volunteered, no insisted upon making this a few months ago as our friends discussed their upcoming wedding, I am currently freaking out over the magnitude of this project. Typical, right?

With this, I want to kick off a series of mini-entries over the next two weeks–yes, the wedding is in less than two weeks–in which I work out the details and steps, and those of you out there that have ever baked a wedding cake before will come forward and tell me all of your secrets. And share your Xanax with me.

batter up

To begin, here’s what I know or have worked out:

  • There will be 55 guests at the wedding.
  • The reception is eight blocks from our apartment. What this means is that the cake needn’t be particularly big, and although transportation will be scary, it won’t be as melodramatic as, say, a 100-mile drive.
  • The cake will be three tiers, square and stacked.
  • Neither they nor I care for fondant, so the cake will be covered only in frosting.
  • The bride likes vanilla and fruit, the groom likes chocolate. Rather than doing a separate Groom’s Cake, we’re going to instead focus on the important marital concepts of harmony and compromise. The middle tier will be a chocolate cake.
  • I am still testing cake recipes today. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to use, but then that lovely, lovely book arrived in the mail yesterday with finely detailed recipes for chocolate and vanilla wedding cakes and oh, I am so tempted. I am baking tests of them today.
  • Last month, the bride told me that mango was her absolutely favorite fruit and I had to run with it. I am making a mango curd filling for the vanilla layers.
  • I will be baking the actual wedding cake layers this weekend, storing them in the freezer in triple-layers of plastic wrap. I tried this out when I made those birthday cakes two weeks ago, and the cakes tasted great and were easier to manage/move when frozen. I’ll be making the filling in advance as well and freezing it until we need it.
  • This leaves only the icing and assembly for the day before the wedding. The cake will be decorated simply, and we’ll add some colorful flower petals reserved by the florist. There will be no icky-looking bride and groom on top.

[Okay, deep breath.]

batter batter

Here is the much larger list of things that I am still scratching my head over:

  • The size: According to Wilton’s cake-cutting diagrams, you need surprisingly little cake to serve 55 people. (When I asked the bride and groom–he is from South Africa and her family is Thai–about saving the top cake layer for their anniversary one said “ew” and the other said “why would we do that?” In short: the top cake layer can be served.) Nevertheless, I think more is better, so I am thinking of a 12-inch (serves 72), 10-inch (serves 52) and 8-inch (serves 32) squares for each layer. As you can see, this will be more than enough, and even create the possibility of everyone getting a slice of chocolate and vanilla cake. Do you agree or is that cake-cutting diagram a crock of crazy? How do you know how many cake slices are ruined by the dowels?
  • The biggest layer: Because I have been doing my homework, I have learned that baking a cake that large benefits from a heating core. Mine should arrive from Amazon this week. Have you worked with one before and is it as simple as it seems? Is it truly necessary for a 12-inch cake? What do you think of those wet strips to keep the cake layers even?
  • The icing: My plan was to use Swiss buttercream. It’s got the perfect combination of creamy, shiny, white and rich without being too heavy. The problem is that Swiss buttercream and I are no longer on speaking terms. When I made those birthday cakes two weekend ago, I’d hoped to ice one in it, but both times I made the frosting, everything was going great until I added the softened butter and the frosting collapsed into a bowl of liquid. And I cried. And Alex wants me to never make Swiss buttercream again because it hurt my feelings, and use the Seven-Minute Frosting that never fails me instead. But I am hoping there is someone out there that can advise me on what went wrong, and what to avoid when I try again.
  • The filling: I have mangoes ripening on the fridge as we speak, and will attempt my first batch of mango curd tomorrow. I have a recipe that’s supposed to be good, but if you have one that you swear by, by all means, share and share alike!
  • Travel: I am still debating the merits of bringing the cake to the restaurant in pieces and assembling on site (with dowels and a big piping bag of frosting) or bringing it already assembled, which I have to admit sounds ludicrous.When I imagine either option, however, I wake up in a panic. I’ve got 12 days to talk myself down from that ledge.

Got all that down? There will be a quiz!

frosting


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