Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Making Wedding Cake is not for Sissies...

I used to make wedding cakes.  I say that like people say "I used to be a ballerina" or "I used to be third baseman for the Yankees", meaning that's something I'll never be able to do again. The conversation always started "Back when I..." and finished with some pleasant memory of their exploits and accomplishments. So, back when I made wedding cakes, it was just one of the many things that I did to put food on the table.  In the 60's - 80's I designed hippie dresses and sold them in a little boutique on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, I sold oil paintings at street fairs, I wallpapered rolls and rolls of ugly grass cloth and I designed and made wedding gowns. I batiked, I potted, I catered and I helped people with their interior design.

By far the most challenging of these exploits was making wedding cakes.  A gown is one thing - all those beads and satin - but you have lots of time, lots of fittings to perfect it.  A wedding cake is a three day marathon where there can only be one outcome - it must be beautiful, taste scrumptious, hold together and it must be delivered.  No do-overs. Therein lies the evil behind making a wedding cake - you have to get it to the venue on time and in tact.

I stopped making wedding cakes after what I will call the "pink cake disaster".  I lived in a tiny apartment with my two young children, baking in an oven barely big enough to fit my biggest cake pan. The bride wanted pale pink frosting with white "pearl" dots and pink frosting flowers. Okay, I said confidently, thinking in the back of my mind that I would make pink fondant to cover the butter cream.  This was in the days before you could buy Wilson's rolled fondant in a bag in Michael's and I had never tried it before. But I was arrogant about my talents back then, so no problem.

I always put the final layer of butter cream on my cakes on the morning of the wedding so that it was fresh - no five day old shortening frosting for my cakes. Real butter, real vanilla. Somehow on this particular wedding morning, I ran out of time. Poor planning on my part, because I forgot that fondant is BOILED to get the sugar just right, and DUH, it has to be COOLED before you can work with it. Needless to say, it was not cooling fast enough, the clock was ticking, and I was officially in panic mode. I finally watered down the warm pink sticky mixture and literally poured it over the butter cream layers.  And you guessed it, the warm fondant melted the butter cream and it all started falling off the cake.  I'm madly frosting and crying hysterically and Amy comes in to report that Jon just threw up in the bathroom. In my worst Mommy moment I get mad at her, she starts crying, Jon's crying "cause he's sick" and the cake looks like ^()@*&^%!  By some grace of God, I get the thing presentable, throw the layers into the trunk of my car and with my two kids in tow, I pray the whole way that the tiny little pearls don't slide off.  I make it to the reception venue and walk in before anyone is there but the staff, and in another show of God's grace, I see that the room is very poorly lit.  Thank you Jesus!  I set up the cake and get out as fast as I can.

Even though the bride called several days later to tell me how beautiful the cake was, the whole experience was so traumatic that I vowed it was my last wedding cake. I have made one or two for special friends over the years, but as a rule, I'm done.  So it was a big surprise to me that when my old friend's son announced he was getting married sometime in the next year, I heard my one-too-many-glasses-of-wine mouth say "OH, I'LL MAKE YOUR WEDDING CAKE!" And though I may not have remembered that incident, they did. Imagine my surprise to learn a year later that I was making their cake for 125 people. Okie Dokie, then.  Let's do it! The cake would be our gift to the bride and groom.

Preparation for the cake layers begins on T-Minus 3 days. The bride wanted real lavender roses on her cake, so I made some butter cream accent roses just in case I needed a tiny pop of color. Lavender roses are hard to find and a little pricey.
(the Seagram's was on standby in case of a repeat "pink disaster":)

I started with a Pillsbury white cake mix, but I used sour cream instead of the water, added more vanilla, and used the whole eggs.  The bottom layers are 16".  The sour cream makes the cake a little more dense for ease of cutting ans has a richer taste.

T-Minus 2 days
I filled the layers with strawberries and cream cheese.  You have to be careful when you add the fresh chopped berries to the frosting for the filling, as it can get runny.  I divided each of the layers into halves, making a four layer cake.  I made a frosting "rim" around each layer to hold in the filling, then assembled the four layers and crumb coated each of the cakes - the 16", the 12" and a 6" layer for the top.  I put several bowls of baking soda in my cleaned garage refrigerator to make sure the cake stays fresh.

T Minus 1 Day
I made the butter cream frosting and slapped it on the cake.  I use two cubes of butter, 1/4 cup shortening, two boxes of XXX sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla and enough milk ( about 1/2 cup) to get the proper consistency.  You need lots of tips and pastry bags, dowels for reinforcement and a steady hand. Finished layers go back in the fridge overnight.  I wanted the cake to be very cold for the drive up to the wedding - the couple live in the country and the mile and a half dirt road was filled with potholes.  A wedding cake maker's worst nightmare. I assembled the cake at the venue.

T Minus 0 - Wedding Day!!

A work of Love for a dear couple. And it was yummy.

Laurel - Happy Baking!!


  1. Hmm. So does this mean you're not going to make Evan's wedding cake? ;)

  2. You never cease to amaze me with your hidden talents.

  3. This post captures very well why I generally won't put my sugarcraft skills to use in the wedding cake industry... too much pressure! I've made exceptions, but only for friends.

  4. That looks beautiful! I wish you had a photo of the pink cake. Anything involved with weddings would be too much pressure for me.


Thanks for visiting my blog. I appreciate all those who share and leave their comments very much. Laurel

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