Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Make a Wedding Cake Part II: Baking and Decorating

After Phase I of the wedding cake planning process is complete, it's time to get into the kitchen and get my hands dirty. Because I typically only do one cake per weekend, I get to spend so much individual time making it perfect. I also never freeze my cakes and always bake them fresh the day before I decorate them - a luxury for a small volume operation! In my opinion, using fresh cake preserves the flavor, texture and moisture, but of course if you freeze cake the right way and for short periods of time it could do the same thing for a busy bakery. In any case, on to step four in the wedding cake process:

Step 4: Baking the cake
On the morning of a wedding cake day, my kitchen usually looks something like this:

Here you can see my brand new baby - that indigo kitchen aid - and my old faithful - the silver one. Although the silver one technically belongs to the owners of the kitchen (otherwise known as my parents) I have been known to steal it for long periods of time and it is never missed. I've claimed it as mine. On the counter with my mixers I line up my mise en place of bowls, measuring cups, my scale and ingredients. Sitting on top of the blue canister is my recipe book, that has been with me for years and is full of notes, scribbles and smudges. It's my wedding cake life line.

After I'm all set up it's mixin' time. I get my pans ready, the oven pre-heated and I'm ready to roll. With a little help from an awesome playlist,  pretty soon the kitchen looks like this:

Greased and floured pans ready to go,

Lavender cake going into the oven for Molly's cake

and lots of cakes cooling on the counter tops for Susanne's cake

I let them cool for a while and in the meantime make all of the fillings and the Italian buttercream to frost it. If you've never had Italian buttercream've never lived. It's super smooth, not super sweet, and it is fluffy and delicious. It's made from an Italian meringue base of cooked sugar and egg whites, and then whipped with butter to give it flavor and substance. I add vanilla to mine to make it extra yummy.

Step 5: Filling and Frosting
This is actually one of the quickest parts of the whole process for me - provided that I set myself up. I keep a mixing bowl full of Italian Buttercream nearby, as well as a pastry bag of it to pipe a ring around the filling to keep it inside the cake. The filling also goes into a pastry bag for easy access and to keep my station clean. I have my turn table, serrated knife, at least two different spatulas and a cloth to clean up runaway crumbs:

I slice all of the cake layers first, then fill each tier individually and frost it with a crumb layer. My cakes are all three thick layers of cake sandwiched between two layers of filling. The crumb layer of icing is a paper thin coating on the cake that picks up all of the crumbs and create a smooth, even final coating later on. Sort of like the primer coat when you're painting a wall.

Into the fridge with their crumb coats, and once they're nice and chilled they get a final coating to smooth. I don't like to skimp when it comes to fact the most frequent reprimand I get here at school is that I  "over-frost", "over-fill", and "over-stuff". That's a 'sorry-I'm-not-sorry' kind of situation...

Step 6: Decorating
If I was covering a tier in fondant, like I did for the middle tier of Molly's lace wedding cake "dress", I would do a much thicker crumb coating, skip the second coating of frosting and en-robe the tier in fondant. What is important here is to make sure that the frosting is super smooth before adding the fondant. Fondant is a sugar dough and it will pick up on every little imperfection you have on the cake underneath and highlight it. Also for Molly's cake, I covered the middle tier with fondant and then did a second layer to make this ruched band detail from her dress: 

And finished it with tiny buttons that hide the seam and add to the 'dress effect'.
The other two tiers for this cake had fondant details as well. They were finished in an ivory colored buttercream and I attached white fondant lace to the sides to mimic the two layers in her wedding dress.

When I'm doing fondant or gumpaste decorating this is what my happy place usually looks like:

These decorations were made for the Bali rehearsal dinner cake I made last summer. Most gumpaste decorations can be made in advance because they need to dry completely before being added to the cake anyway. With a detail like fondant lace, I did that the day of because it needed to dry with the curved shape of the cake. If a cake has no fondant or gumpaste decorations but other detailing like piping or dragees, this is when I would add those as well.

Chocolate ganache drizzle and sprinkles from my tuxedo twenty-first birthday cake.

Pearl dragees from a winter wedding cake.

Piping filigree from Mark and Cassie's wedding cake.

Or a stucco texture like Erin and Jonathon's wedding cake.

Step 7: Support and Packaging
The final step I take to make a gorgeous tiered wedding cake is taking the proper precautions so that it stays just as gorgeous in transit and standing on a table for hours on end. If I have a long way to deliver it (i.e. anywhere longer than 10 feet) then I'll package it all up in separate boxes and put it together on site at the venue. I use plastic dowel rods in between each layer to make sure there's no chance of a leaning tower of Pisa, and measure them carefully so that the tiers will  fit seamlessly together. The end result looks like something like this: 

From here, these babies get boxed up and labeled, and spend the night chilling in the fridge. I will deliver and set up the cake the very next day to ensure freshness, and then that's a wrap! So far (knock on some serious wood) I haven't had any huge delivery disasters or lost a cake completely in transit. There you have it, my seven step process to creating your wedding cake from scratch, from start to finish.

Be sure to click back to the previous post and check out How to Make a Wedding Cake Part I

Monday, June 17, 2013

How to make a Wedding Cake Part I: The Planning

A lot goes into making a wedding cake. When I say a lot, I mean mostly butter, but there are a few other ingredients too. As I've gotten more experienced, I've found that the hardest part is the preparation and if I do a lot of that then the actual production day is a breeze. To give an inside look into how I create a wedding cake from design to delivery, I'm using a few of my favorites to break it down step by step. But before I even step foot in the kitchen, I've already been working for months on the planning process:

Step 1: The contact
Usually I get cake inquiries via email through a friend or someone who's seen my blog or eaten my cake at a wedding. I still get really excited every time. I'll exchange a few emails with the bride and groom or their wedding planner asking questions like when, where, and how many guests. My goal with this initial exchange is always just to get to know their wedding and their expectations. I believe that the cake is a focus point of a reception. I know that everyone is going to take pictures and the cake will most likely serve as a backdrop, so I want to make sure that it fits in with the wedding and looks good doing it. Generally this means matching the theme, season and formality of the event. By the time I've sent a few emails back and forth, I probably already have about ten different sketches in the works and have already started a pinterest board in your honor.

Michele and Dustin had their beach wedding last May, and Alia and John ordered a Bali inspired rehearsal dinner cake to match the location where they honeymooned last August.

Step 2: The Tasting
If I were a bride, I know the cake tasting would be my favorite part of planning the entire wedding (am I right?) so I like to do this up right. I let the couple select up to three cake and filling combinations that can be from my tasting menu or anything they can think up. If I think I have a really good idea for a flavor that they don't pick, I might also bring some additional cupcakes as a surprise! I make mini 4" cakes out of the flavors they chose and frost them with fluffy, Italian buttercream so they can get an idea of what the finished product will taste like. And then, I will personally deliver a box full 'o cake wherever you'd like so we can chat more about your cake:

Recently celebrated their first year anniversary of eating my lemon and lime inspired cake for their June wedding

Tasted five flavors in total: Vanilla on vanilla, gingerbread spice with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, dark chocolate cake with both bourbon caramel mousse filling and espresso buttercream filling, and confetti cake with champagne buttercream filling. 

Are brand newlyweds, and tasted three Spring inspired flavors with me last fall: Raspberry lemonade cake with citrus cream cheese filling, lemon lavender cake with raspberry mousse filling, and dark chocolate cake with raspberry mousse filling.

The best part of a tasting with me is that I don't charge a cent for it, provided that you end up booking your cake. It's a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Step 3: The Grocery List

I operate out of a home kitchen and don't have a high enough volume to quite reap all the benefits of buying in bulk on a regular basis. There aren't many ingredients I can save from one cake to the next because of shelf life, so usually I buy almost everything fresh for every cake the week of - even flour and sugar. Part of my prep tasks is sitting down with all of the recipes I"ll need, writing a grocery list and estimating how much of everything I'll need. The bigger the cake, the longer the list, and the more crazy looks I get hauling butter and eggs into my grocery cart. Here's a peek of what my list looked like for Molly's cake:

I don't mean to scare anyone but I ended up getting 13 pounds of butter...and used all but four sticks...However this cake fed over 200 people, minus the top tier that bride and groom kept for their first anniversary. Inevitably, I'll need more of something or have to re-do something and have to make an emergency grocery run on the day of production. With Molly's cake I paid special attention to the grocery list and planning ahead, and didn't need a single thing the day of. I also stayed within budget and didn't have much left over = winning all around for a small business like mine. 

Stay tuned for part II in the kitchen, plus a whole lotta cake coming down the pipeline soon. I start in Basic and Classical Cakes class at the CIA this week!

Here'a a link to Part II of this post for easy access: Baking and Decorating

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Some Exciting News!

About a month ago I was approached by the social media coordinator of the Culinary Institute of America to start writing for the school's student blog after she stumbled on my site here. It's a blog written by a few different students at various points in both the Baking and Pastry and Culinary programs about our experiences at the CIA. As opposed to this blog, it will be more of an insight into my life as a CIA student and chronicle my classes and daily activities. If you're interested or know someone trying to decide about culinary school,  read the Our Life of Food blog here, and watch out for my weekly posts!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lace Wedding Cake "Dress"

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to watch one of my oldest friends tie the knot with her high school sweetheart. I was even more fortunate to be able to create her wedding cake and be a small part of her big day! A lot of preparation and heart went into this one- from the tasting we did last fall, to the making the playlist I jammed out to while baking it. The bride Molly had a specific vision for her wedding that she wanted the cake to compliment, and we ended up designing it around the beautiful lace details on her dress. The result was a very elegant and traditional tiered cake with a little twist. You can check out my pinterest page for Molly and Michael to see what I used for inspiration. Here was the original sketch:

The venue for Molly's wedding was the gorgeous Oak Ridge Estates in Arrington, Va. The event coordinators along with the catering staff were wonderful to work with and a big help to me when setting up the cake on the day of the wedding. The room it was sitting in was so beautiful it made the cake look that much better. Molly had provided a vintage style mirror for the cake to sit on, and the flowers were given to me for the table by the venue manager.

The topper was also provided by the bride and groom, and has been in Michael's family for over 65 years of happy marriages.

The first and third tiers are dark chocolate cake with raspberry mousse filling. They're covered with an ivory tinted Italian buttercream frosting and detailed with delicate fondant lace. 

The middle tier is lemon lavender cake also filled with raspberry mousse. This one is covered in fondant, and ruched to look like the sash on Molly's wedding dress. 

A close up of the lace details.

 Me with the bride and groom after I had changed into guest-mode.

Nothing but the best wishes for these two, and couldn't have been happier to be included in their big day.