Project Baking my own Wedding Cake – part I: the Introduction

Photo 21-02-16 12 04 19I might have casually dropped this on you before, but for real, I am baking our wedding cake (!). We will be getting married in May and I’ve embraced this cake project in the fullest way possible.
My not so hidden agenda is to have as much anticipating fun as possible, especially when this involves me pottering around the kitchen and feeding my friends (test audience sounds even much better!). But honestly I think that if there’s one day that I would like the cake to taste amazing, it will be this day, and I am happy to contribute to that. 

After reading Deb Perelman’s wedding cake series, I was convinced that this project would be a good idea. Because yes, it all makes sense. There is no way that a professional bakery can put as much effort into every little detail as you would yourself, due to the fact that they are restricted to their time-efficient processes and profit margins.

Now, there is no way to really avoid saying that I went into this project head-on without any clue about crumb-coating (what?), trimming a cake or building up a layer cake in general. My previous attempts on buttercream have looked somehow fit for a low-key birthday party but have lacked the oomph I generally drool over on Instagram. In case you are worried, please consider yourself in good company (read: possibly everyone around me in a good state of mind). 

By no means am I considering myself an expert, but what I would like to share with you is what I learned over the last couple of months. As there are actually many steps to baking and building up a layered cake, I will discuss in a couple of blog posts.

And in case you are not on the market (ha!) for a wedding cake, just consider that the same principles apply to baking any layered cake with a bit of festive ba-boom.
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Principles of this Wedding Cake:

  • Happy couple plus happy guests equals awesome wedding. I would love this cake to look absolutely stunning, but it is not the most important thing. Non-perfection is perfectly acceptable and I would choose taste over looks one million times (which I think is also the perfect thought for any wedding;)).
  • There will be around 80-100 guests that are hopefully all hungry for cake! The cake will be served after dinner, which – according to the venue – means that not everyone will eat a huge piece. If it would be up to me we would solely eat cake but I don’t want to spoil appetites before the ‘real food’ is served (not my words;)). Altogether I decided to play it safe and I’m holding on to the Cake Bible’s portion guides.
  • Our wedding venue is 200 meters away from our home and this means that I will be able transport the cake by walking to the venue, holding the cake (stand) in my hands. I’m therefore lucky enough to not have to worry about packaging, the cake getting warm or a bumpy road.
  • The cake will be having a simple, round shape as I didn’t want to buy extra springforms. I’ve decided upon a rather large 26 cm diameter springform and have bought three of those to be able to bake different layers in one go.  
  • The cakes themselves need to be simple, not too sweet and sturdy enough to hold up. The choice is to make one cake a classic yellow cake, and the other one a classic chocolate cake. Requirement is that the cakes need to be prepared in advance, wrapped and frozen without a loss of taste or texture.
  • I love cakes with intriguing fillings and have chosen accordingly, preferring those that can be prepared far in advance. The choice is a Homemade Simple Lemon Curd filling in the yellow cake, combined with slivered strawberries (how I love spring!). The chocolate cake will be filled with alternating salted Dulce de Leche (!) and raspberry marmelade. These fillings can be made at least one month upfront, and it is only the strawberries that need to be cleaned and sliced last minute.
  • Upon starting this project, I gave myself a budget to invest in some kitchen tools. Having said that, I have been careful not to procure anything that will not serve use in the future. Hereby a short summary of the materials I already had or have bought: three large spring forms, two large mixing bowls, multiple spatulas to mix with, a buttercream plastic comb (from the Ikea), food coloring (I’d highly recommend you buying good quality gels), a hand mixer, a little brush, dowels, a cake board to support the cake, a strong piping bag (worth the investment as many have failed on me), a pasta machine (not necessary, but utterly brilliant to ‘roll out’ fondant with), a cake turning table and this mind-blowing tool to make roses.
  • Tips for buying tools: think thoroughly about what you’re really going to need. Then, think outside the box. Have a look at your local DIY store, as similar tools tend to be available, but for much better prices. Examples are a turning element to put your cake on (instead of a cake-turning table), paint spatulas (to apply buttercream), small paint brushes (to sprinkle any sparkling dust on your cake) and floor levellers (to make the top of your cake even).
  • What I didn’t buy: cake strips (I found I didn’t need those when I baked my cakes at a low temperature and in thin layers), a cake leveler (instead of slicing cakes horizontally, I chose to bake thinner layers, to avoid the mess), complicated piping tips or molding tools.

Still under consideration:

  • I am still debating how many tiers the cake will have. Initially I considered to make two large round 1-tier cakes, but I start to realise that there is quite some visual appeal in having a stacked cake. My main worry here is that the cake will need to be disassembled (right?) before slicing into it and that a stacked cake needs a strong foundation, to prevent the top cake from sinking or collapsing into the bottom tier.
    To achieve this, the top tier cake is placed on a cake board and dowels (wooden or plastic sticks) are stuck in the bottom tier cake. I am planning to practice using these tools the upcoming weeks and will let time decide whether I am comfortable with all of it.  
  • Buttercream will be the only thing to cover the cakes. Reason for this is that I really do not like the sweetness (and general blandness) of fondant, even though it tends to look beautiful. At the moment I am trying out different buttercream recipes that are not using a majority of sugar, but are rather less-sweet tasting, such as Swiss Buttercream or Buttercream on a basis of roux (cooked milk with flour).
  • The decoration of the cakes and the looks of it in general is the thing that worries me most, as it is completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve watched several youtube videos (you are warned, this couple is amazing and the rabbit hole is luring!) to get accustomed to the different steps and the apparent needed precision (so much patience!). I hope to make a cake with white buttercream, a dotted boarder, and a stream of fondant roses on the side. 
  • The timing is still a debacle, as the cake needs to be ready two days in advance, including the buttercream frosting and decoration, due to the fact that the day prior to our wedding is a banking holiday and the venue will be closed the day prior to our wedding. Alternatively we could do the last bits of assembling on the day of our wedding (there will be a three hour break), but I can imagine that the chances of me collapsing with cake into dress or into handsome suit are increasing.

Sources that I have found useful:
The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (a very old-fashioned cooking book in a way that it doesn’t have many pictures, but really in depth with its technical descriptions, warning is that you do need to take a bit of time to dig into all of the information);
Smitten Kitchen, the wedding cake series;
Smitten Kitchen with tips on making layered cakes;
Food52 on baking a wedding cake;
Cake Style on Youtube (in case you find yourself unable to stop watching, consider yourself warned :)). 

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