Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wedding Cake 101

I have had several people ask me at different times if they could come watch while I put together a wedding cake. I generally don't like to have observers because I feel too distracted and don't focus well on what I'm doing. I tend to visit when I should be focusing. Then I get all stressed because I'm so discombobulated and I end up with icing in my hair and a leaning tower of cake.

I had a wedding this last weekend and I thought it might be fun to make a post out of the creation of the wedding cake so the curious could observe without distraction for me. There's your warning. If it sounds like a big yawn to you then feel free to visit those much more interesting and entertaining blogs like The Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. I won't be offended.

This cake was extra large and had some special circumstances attached. The wedding was Saturday morning and it was in the city, an hour's drive away. So, I had to start the cake Friday and finish at the crack of dawn Saturday. I don't do the crack of dawn very well. Ask anyone who knows me. But I had lots of practice with the morning lark routine last year when I baked for a cafe in town and had to leave for work before my husband left for his job. You may have noticed then how the universe was all psychedelic and wobbly and the earth was tilted and drifting off coarse. Well, things got back to normal when I quit the job and started sleeping until 8am again.

I began by baking the cake earlier in the week, wrapping each layer in plastic and freezing them. There is no possible way to bake all the cake fresh the day before assembly. I don't have that many ovens. Or bowls. Or functioning adrenal glands.

This cake for 200 guests required five baking sessions. Six if you count the one that turned out badly.

Friday afternoon, after I had finished schoolwork with the little boys and Alyssa was off to town for Western Civilization class (chauffeured by her grandma) I started the assembly of the cake.

This is chocolate fudge cake and it is torted with a coffee cream filling.

This is banana cake (the only cake necessary as far as I'm concerned. My kids know what to bake me for my birthday. Every year. Forever.) with the same coffee cream filling. After the cakes are filled they are "crumb coated" with a thin layer of the icing. This cake is iced with my own "Light Cream Icing" which I think sets my cakes apart from the pack. 90% of the cakes I do are iced with this because it is so well loved. It is light and creamy (yeah- thus the name) and not too sweet or greasy.

I almost got to go on the Martha Stewart Show with the recipe for my icing. It didn't work out. Maybe someday I'll tell you about my conversations with Martha's producer and all that. Or show you the audition video. Maybe.

Here the cake has been crumb coated. At this point it goes into the frig for a good chill.

Early on with this project I figured out that Houston, we have a problem.

See, I am very picky about stuff. (Yeah kids, I hear you snorting.) Some have called me a perfectionist. -Not- But yes, I'm picky, choosy, self-critical. One thing I have become very picky about is my cream. Light Cream Icing is my thing, my brand, my signature. I've developed it and tweaked it from a recipe given to me years ago by a friend. I've made it my own. The quality of the cream has become essential to it's success. I've searched high and low for the best brands. Every store in the valley has had their stock sampled and I know which brands I like and which I hate.

In an effort to support the local country store close to my house, I have been ordering my cream through them. The new owners were inconsistent with the brands but seemed to finally settle on a good one. So I ordered again this time but when I went to pick up the cream the day before the cake assembly I found out they had switched back to the brand I hate the most! But I was stuck, so I bought it (premium price and all) and figured I'd make it work.

Why do I hate this brand of dairy products?
They claim to be "natural" and "hormone free!" What's not to like?

Um? Which is the "natural" part?? The organic Polysorbate 80? The sustainably farmed Mono and Diglycerides? The Eco-friendly Carrageenan?

Mostly what these ingredients do is make the cream very UN-naturally white and bitter. But as I said I was going to go with it because I dropped a wad of money on it already and it was the eleventh hour. But the real problem came when I was trying to whip the stuff to the consistency that I needed it for my signature Light Cream Icing. This *#@crap&@%* would not whip past a soft, bodiless Cool-whip like fluff.

I then had a flash-back to my early days of cake making when I had problems with consistency in the icing. I realized that the problem wasn't caused by the temperature of the kitchen or my mishandling of the cream or its freshness, but by the fact that I was using this doped-up dairy product that simply cannot act like natural cream acts.

Are you still with me? I'll get back to the wedding cake in a sec.
This is my party and I'll rant if I want to.

So, I packed up the kids and we drove up to the little mountain grocery store that has new owners and I cleaned them out of all their pints of one of my favorite brands of cream-
And look! It claims to be "all natural" too.

And it only lists ONE ingredient! How about that?

Now we're back in business.

(And by the way, I have a gallon of "natural" cream in the fridge if anyone needs it.)

Back to the wedding cake-

Once I made up a new batch of perfect Vanilla Light Cream Icing, I gave each tier its top coat.

In an effort to get as many time-consuming things done ahead, I next carefully measured and cut my support dowels for each tier. These are essential for holding the (considerable) weight of the cake so that we don't have any bulging or unsightly sagging.

I also gave the bottom tier it's edging.

At this point I covered each tier in plastic, put them in my spare refrigerator, cranked up the dial to keep them COLD and went to bed and got, oh...five or so hours of sleep.

Bright and bushy-tailed 6am next morning....

I started stacking the tiers on their dowel supports.

Since I was very concerned about the amount of travel and transport this cake was going to go through (kitchen to van, van to bride's apartment refrigerator, refrigerator to van, van to reception venue) I decided to be seriously safe than potentially sorry by giving this cake extra structural support.

I put three long dowels down through the entire stack of cake tiers to keep the cake from slip-sliding around or tilting in transit.

Next, I filled the gaps with icing...

...and gave each tier its embellishment. The bridal couple wanted the cake to be very simple and elegant with little decoration except the flowers.

Now comes the fun part-
The flowers were procured from the florist who was doing the bouquets. The cake would have a white arrangement on the top of the cake and blue delphinium blossoms sprinkled around the tiers.

I start arranging the flowers with the main elements and filling in the gaps.


Each blossom needs to be perfect and ready for its closeup. Can you see how this rose has some brown edges on the petals? Not acceptable. I only had six white roses to utilize so to make this one "perfect" for the wedding cake arrangement...

...I carefully trimmed the petals with a sharp scissors and the rose became wedding perfect!

I managed to get the cake done and into the cold van in time to eat breakfast and dress for the wedding. I had to make a stop to get some umbrellas from a neighbor. The forecast in Portland was the usual- pouring rain. I tried not to fret about that fact that I had to carry a cake in and out multiple times.

Turns out the apartment refrigerator was too small for the cake and I ended up keeping it in the van until time for presentation at the luncheon. The rain receded in time for the cake to be taken in. I recruited my son, Seth, and his friend to do the honors of carrying all, uh, 800 or so pounds of it into the reception venue.

These two young men worked as wait staff at some very high end weddings last year. They knew what to do.

I regret that I didn't have the mind to take some pictures of the cake being destroyed with knives. It's always a very messy affair and I should have shown you its demise. I could have also taken pictures of people stuffing it in their faces with gusto, more than a few going back for seconds and thirds. Or photos of all the empty plates. Maybe next time.

Class dismissed.


  1. You're a talented lady! The wedding cake is fabulous. My daughter is getting married in May, so I've looked at my share of wedding cakes lately. Yours looks and sounds delicious.

    I found you through your comments on CDW and April's sites. I had a few minutes and looked at a few posts. I love your post with all the old pictures of you and your hubby. I WISH I had a scanner to show you the same thing. the difference is I've only had three babies...the last one at 38.

    I'm going to subscribe. I have to read about all your kids when I have some time!

  2. Great post, ma. Even for one of your kids who has seen it all in varying stages in the past.
    So whenever I get back for a bit of vacation, I hope you have a wedding cake on the books. I'd like to tripod my camera and do a time lapse of the build and assembly process. That might be cool.

  3. Thank you Southern Gal!

    I always enjoy your comments on the other blogs and I'm honored you visited my new baby.

    Kristin- it would be great to have you do some photographs with a good camera. My little pointer-shooter made pictures with some serious white balances issues. But, that's all I got.

  4. beautiful and amazing, I can't even imagine doing something like that.


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