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Monday, September 3, 2012

wedding cake practice

One of my strengths is my willingness to take on a challenge.

I'm pretty sure one of my weaknesses is my willingness to take on a challenge.

Last year my friend Melissa generously taught me how to make a real cake.  Ella wanted a fairy house for her birthday and Melissa walked me through making it for Ella. I learned about fondant, shaping cake, having the right cake recipe and all the secrets that go on underneath the pretty colors and decorations to make a polished finished product.

It was such fun I decided at Christmas to try one on my own.

I'm really not sure why I thought that making these two cakes (and only one by myself) made me feel qualified to offer to make Tricia's wedding cake for her at the end of this month.   Honestly, looking back at the bumpy, lumpy Christmas cake, I don't think I had any business making such a grand offer.

Trish and I have spent hours designing and discussing cake- layers, ribbon, shape, flavors, etc.  I have tried to be realistic about my skill level and knowledge. I have also practiced a lot.  I made my birthday cake in part because I wanted to play with the cake recipe, the stacking and freezing of the cake and the fine art of smoothing butter cream. 

New to my house: this bag of flour and 17 pounds of butter in my freezer.

My birthday cake: two pans of pound cake stacked and filled to be wrapped and frozen.

When the cake is frozen you then trim it and carve it into what you want.  This is actually very tricky for me because straight lines aren't my strength.  The key here is to have a very dense cake (read: lots of butter and eggs).  Forget Dunkin Hines and Betty Crocker. You need pound cake. 

For this cake I didn't use fondant but rather smooth butter cream.
I had an issue with one of the rectangular pans overcooking so instead of using it as a layer, I made petit fours instead:

I tried a few different cake recipes and had Trish and Brock decide which they liked best.  I have had an obscene amount of decadent leftover cake at my house.  This round was a reject that I had in my freezer and, in the spirit of practice makes perfect, I frosted it and put some flowers on it to give to some friends. Plus, I have two more stacked and wrapped rounds in my freezer awaiting their destiny.

But the most important practice I have gotten was this weekend when I made Tricia's bridal shower cake.  I made the cake weeks ago and took it out of the freezer to bring to Beals Island. Once there, I froze it again and took it out when I was ready to frost it.  I got set up in the (amazing) church kitchen the night before to get the base layer on the frozen cake.
Here is my nephew and cake tester, Brevan:

I did this step the night before because I wanted to do it on frozen cake but didn't want the cake to be frozen the morning of the shower.  I applied the first base crumb layer to each round and then left them in the fridge overnight.

In the morning I went for a beautiful 8 mile run on the island to get my nerves out, showered, drank some tea and headed over to the quiet church to work.  Because this skill is not entirely established in me, I really needed a quiet head and space to think and work. 

Smooth butter cream is essential to smooth fondant.  My friend Melissa lent me any and all cake decorating supplies I needed including this spinning cake stand and a tool for smoothing that made this much easier.  Plus lots of consulation and moral support and the offer to actually help me decorate the wedding cake. (Thank you Melissa.)
Another secret to smooth frosting?  A wet paper towel.
One thing I definitely realized is that you can hide some discrepancies in the cake with frosting (building it up to hide a gouge for instance) but the more level and even the cake, the better the end result.  I had a lot of unevenness to contend with and at some point had to stop shaving the cake because I was afraid I was doing more harm than good.

Slightly uneven, but ready for fondant.

Rolling the fondant is not so bad.  Picking it up to drape it squarely over the cake is nerve wracking.

I was really excited when I got tier 2 secured onto the bottom.  A cake this size doesn't probably need dowel stabilization but, because I will need to do it on the wedding cake, I wanted to practice.  I measured and cut the dowels to just barely poke out of the bottom layer and then attached them to the bottom of the plastic cake plate that separated the layers.  The top of the plate has spikes onto which you place the next layer (that is already covered in fondant).  Once I got tier 2 plunked onto those spikes, I breathed a big sigh.  I was super scared at messing that up.

Thankfully, Sandi and her eye for symmetry were around and could help pin the ribbon on.  (It's possible she did some muchly needed cheer leading as well.)

All finished!


Oh, yeah. And there was actually a shower associated with all that cake making. 
Tricia, the beautiful bride-to-be:

I think someone took a bucket of nieces and nephews and dumped it on her. (Ella is in the back peering through the balloons.)

Kristi made these beautiful hydrangea centerpieces.

Cake decorating things I need to work on:

1. Having a more consistent hand with piping and etching.
2. How to make the cake underneath even smoother so there are no bumps in the fondant.
3. Finding the right consistency of royal icing so as not to get carpal tunnel while piping.
4. How to make everything more level.
5. How to make finer etching for the wedding cake (I used a #3 tip here and it was still pretty thick) because the design of the wedding cake Trish picked calls for a very delicate, wispy etching.
6. How not to eat so much of the cake scraps. No joke.
A wedding cake.  No pressure, right? 

1 comment:

Raina @ Mamacita Spins The Globe said...

That cake is absolutely beautiful! I'd hire you (you know, if I was looking for a wedding cake :) ). I completely understand feeling nervous, I would too, but I'd say you got this!

With ALL of the stuff that you do, you are awe inspiring, you really are.

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