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

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