Wedding Cake 101

Wedding cake

Wedding cakeSo anyone who’s been anywhere near me over the past three months will probably know that I’ve been preparing to make a wedding cake (and will most likely have been force fed tester cakes in the process). Well the wedding arrived last weekend, as did the wedding cake, and frankly, I would judge it a ‘great success’!

Now as you may imagine, a wedding cake is a fairly large undertaking and I absorbed an incredible amount of information while researching and preparing. Although I’ll obviously be posting the recipes, I’ve also included a bunch about wedding cakes more generally below – this is for the benefit of anyone who’s crazy enough to tackle this beast for the first time (though may not hold that much interest for the rest of you).

So… If you were to sit down and tell me you’d somehow been convinced to make a wedding cake and wondered if I had any tips, after ensuring you were in a lucid state of mind, this is what I’d recommend:

YOU TUBE: Oh YouTube… What would we do without you? Honestly, there are so many amazing videos out there that you can probably stop reading now… These were some of my faves:

  • Amanda Oakleaf taught me what a crumb coat was and how to ice with buttercream
  • Cookies, Cupcakes and Cardio has a three part series on the process, and though I wasn’t a fan of the icing job, Jen was pretty helpful
  • Epicurious has a handy video on stacking cakes (which I mention below as well)

TIMINGS: For your first cake, I would clear your schedule for the two days before the wedding (for example, if the wedding’s on a Saturday, I’d make sure you’re free on Thursday and Friday). You can use the first day to bake the cakes and the second day to make the fillings and ice them.

HOW BIG?: If you’re baking a wedding cake, you’ve probably been told how many people are attending the wedding (and if you haven’t, you’ll need to find out). This handy chart led me to decide on tiers that were 6″, 9″ and 12″ in diameter. There were 85 people at the wedding but I figured I’d definitely be safe with a cake that fed 100.

BatterHOW MUCH BATTER?: I’d tested my recipes a few times already so knew roughly how big the cakes were that they produced. Erring on the side of caution, I used a bit of simple arithmetic (good ol’ pi r squared) to figure out what I’d need to multiply each recipe by, and then added a bit extra on. After the cakes are baked, you cut them to size anyway, so if they’re a bit larger than necessary, it’s no big deal.

TRANSPORTATION AND SETUP: Find out what time the cake needs to be set up at the venue. I had my three tiers ready to go and in the fridge the night before, then took a cab down with them on the morning of. I left myself and hour and a half to get them sorted at the venue (bear in mind you’ll need to figure out where the cake is going, measure and cut your dowels, stack the cakes and then tidy up the icing). I probably only needed an hour and fifteen minutes, but then I really didn’t run into any obstacles.

StephenI’d also like to give a shout out to Stephen, my awesome Uber driver. He was super lovely, the smoothest driver ever, and more to the point, wore a three piece suit and a fedora. What a ledge.

BAKING THE CAKES: After speaking to a few of the bakers at work (insert plug for how awesome Bread Ahead is here) it was confirmed that baking each layer of each tier separately was the way forward (if you can imagine baking a single cake that’s six inches thick, you can probably imagine how it might not be the lightest or fluffiest). I had three tiers with three layers in each tier, so baked nine cakes in total.

INGREDIENTS: It turns out you need a lot of ingredients to make a cake this size. Sounds obvious, but don’t underestimate… It took me four trips to the supermarket on Violet (my bicycle) to get everything home, so make sure you factor this in. Even better, do an online shop and get everything delivered (or if you’re in a part of the world where everyone has a car, forget about this – you can just drive!).

SPECIAL WEDDING CAKE KIT: Along with ingredients, there is a lot of random stuff you need to make a wedding cake. You’ll be able to pick up some at your local supermarket, but for the more specialist baking kit, it’s far easier to order online (I used Windsor Craft). Bear in mind you’ll need to allow enough time to have your order processed and delivered, so best not to leave this to the last minute. Here’s a (definitely non-inclusive) list of stuff you’ll need to consider getting:

  • CAKE TINS: Make sure these have completely vertical sides. When it comes to icing, that’s definitely essential.
  • CAKE DRUMS/BOARDS: Something you may or may not be aware of is that each cake sits on a board before it’s placed on top of the next. For my bottom cake, which was of fairly epic proportions, I opted for a cake drum (these are usually about 12mm thick). For the medium and small tiers I went with double thick card which seemed to do the trick.
  • Cake with dowelsDOWELS: Wedding cakes are pretty darn substantial, not to mention heavy (my to-ing and fro-ing from the cab to the venue definitely doubled as my upper body workout for the day). As a result, most employ a few dowels (thin sticks of wood) stuck in the bottom layers of the cake to provide some extra architectural support for the upper layers. There are countless videos on YouTube, but this one gives you the gist. A lot will recommend sticking a dowel from the top of the middle tier, down through the base of the middle tier to the base of the bottom tier. My cake boards were just too sturdy to be punctured, so my dowels only ever went through one layer (however this worked fine).
  • PIPING BAGS AND NOZZLES: Piping bags come in these awesome rolls, which means if you buy a single roll, you’ll have more than enough. As for nozzles, buy whichever ones you’ll need for decorating (that is if you’re using buttercream like me).
  • POSY PICKS: If you’re planning on adorning your finished cake with flowers, you may be wondering how people stick the stems in without getting flower juice in the cake (yuck). Enter posy picks! I didn’t end up using flowers, but these would be a good shout if I did.
  • TURNTABLE: Sadly, not of the DJ-ing variety… I actually picked up one of these for a fiver from ASDA. They make life a load easier when you’re icing (essentially it means you can spin your cake round while keeping your tools in roughly the same place which is tres handy).
  • PALETTE KNIFE: I had a large unlevel one and a small one which I actually ended up using more. These are definitely necessary when it comes to getting straight sides on your tiers and a smooth finish on your icing (I also used one of these to put the texture on my icing).
  • CAKE LIFTER: Not essential but useful for sure. Your cakes will be on boards for most of the process, but it can at times be tricky to shift them.
  • Cake boardCAKE STAND: Cakes look better when they’re on an awesome stand, but it turns out the vast majority of these are horrendously overpriced, not actually all that nice, and I’m pretty sure you’d never use them again. I was quite proud of myself when I discovered that you could get a large slate ‘pizza board’ for a fraction of the price (mine was under £13 off ebay). Winner winner chicken dinner.
If you have questions about anything else, just leave a reply on my About page and I’ll get back to you (if not with an answer, at least with an amusing anecdote or a joke instead. Please note that ‘amusing’ is a subjective term).

Mary Berry’s American Chocolate Wedding Cake (GF)

Our friends Kate and Iain had their 10th wedding anniversary last month and to celebrate the occasion, Kate and I tackled Mary Berry’s American Chocolate Wedding Cake. Unaware that a standard American wedding cake existed, we took on this project of rather epic proportions, and after tasting the finished product, I’m sure any American would be proud of the association. We found the recipe in Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book, and while the recipe below is perfect for making one 8 inch and one 10-inch cake, you can refer to the back of the book if you’d rather a 6-, 9- or 12-inch construction.

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/170º fan/375ºF.

What you’ll need:

For the cake:
1050g dark chocolate
24 eggs (20 separated and 4 whole)
850g caster sugar
550g ground almonds
5 tsp black coffee
150g apricot jam

For the icing:
700g dark chocolate
300g unsalted butter

What to do:
If you haven’t already, preheat the oven to 190ºC/170º fan/375ºF. Lightly grease one 8-inch and one 10-inch round pan (at least 3 inches deep) and line with greased greaseproof paper.

Next, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (it’s best if your bowl does not touch the water). Once melted, remove from the heat and set aside.

Separate the eggs and combine the 20 yolks and 4 whole eggs in a bowl. Add the sugar and beat with an electric whisk until ‘thick and light’ (this will take slightly longer than you expect). Add the chocolate, ground almonds and coffee and continue mixing until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the chocolate batter (you will quickly discover you need a very large bowl for this). Once combined, pour into the two tins and bake. Mary recommends a baking time of 1 hour, but I found ours took a bit longer. As with any cake, bake until an inserted knife comes out clean.

Once you’ve removed your cakes from the oven, let them cool in the tin for about five minutes, then turn onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Once cooled, warm and sieve the apricot jam and spread or brush over the tops (originally the bottoms) and sides of the two overturned cakes.

For the icing, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, stirring occasionally. Keeping each cake on its cooling rack (with a tray underneath to catch any
dripping chocolate), pour the icing over top, covering both the top and sides. Even the surface with a knife as you go, then leave to set.

Once cool, stack the smaller cake on top of the larger and decorate as you see fit. We ate the cake as is, and it was entirely delicious, however Mary recommends complimenting it with a raspberry coulis, which I imagine would be even more decadent.

The cake we made was indeed massive and would have comfortably fed fifty, so adjust your recipe to suit your guest list.

Otherwise, enjoy!

For more Mary Berry inspiration, visit the facebook page and her website.