In the Any Other Reader Survey that you all so kindly filled in waaaay back in November, some of you mentioned that you’d like more posts by menfolk. Well lovely readers, your wish is our command.
There’s not much more I can say about this post, except that, it’s Tom (yes, THAT Tom, of Tom and Esme fame). Writing about cake. What more could you want?
(And if you haven’t already, you need to go back and read the post that inspired this post - Tom’s post on being a groom…and still wanting to be involved in his wedding)
I previously (and rather foolishly) promised that I’d write a bit about making the cake for our wedding. So, here it is. I hope you’re happy.
So. Cake. I love cake. Cakey, cakey, cake, cake, cake. Delicious cake. In my belly. Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, cake. Cake.
As you can probably appreciate, I get easily distracted when it comes to cake. Focusing on the task in hand is pretty difficult when all you want to do is eat said task. And there are so many questions: What type of cake? Which flavours? What colour? How big? Which type of icing? What kind of decorations? Normally, answering these is not a problem (although I don’t usually get as far as decorations because that requires the cake to be sitting around for too long), but when it comes to a wedding cake things change, because it is, you know, your WEDDING CAKE. For some reason this means it is no longer a simple piece of delicious confectionery but a Big Thing.
I know that making your own wedding cake is hardly unusual, and I’ve not exactly got years of experience behind me, so I’m not going to get all ‘do this, do that’ on you. I’m just going to write about a few things I noticed along the way that might come in useful should you decide to give it a go yourself. And for the rest of you, well, you can just enjoy reading about cake and looking at the pretty pictures! Mmmm, cake… No! Focus!
So let’s go with bullet points, because they always make it look like you know what you’re talking about:
* A bad workman never blames his springform cake tin
I really wish that, before I’d started, I had sat down with pen and paper and done a rough calculation of how much cake batter I was about to create. Had I done this I would have gone and bought an industrial-sized mixing bowl rather than using EVERY SINGLE concave object that we own. I had not quite appreciated that I was cooking on a very different scale from what I was used to – this was an oversight. Another problem was that the sheer depth of battery goodness was almost too much for my rather puny electric hand beater to deal with. Ironically, we got a KitchenAid mixer as a wedding present; I already resent it slightly for not being there for me in my greatest hour of need.* Anyway, despite a sizeable proportion of the mixture ending up on me, the kitchen and anyone who happened to be passing within 20 feet, I did eventually manage to combine everything and get it in the tin, and thence to the oven.
This, you understand, was JUST FOR THE BOTTOM LAYER. Had I been making enough for three tiers I think I would still be in counselling. Moral of story: when making a large amount of cake get out all your equipment – if you don’t feel like you’re a Borrower who’s about to use the Big Person kitchen then go to the shop and buy bigger stuff, or borrow it from someone, which would be apt.**
* Sponge or fruit?
I like fruit cake. Esme does not. How to get round this problem? Three tiers = 3 different cakes (in our case: fruit, date & walnut, and chocolate fudge). I understand now why fruit cake has proved so popular, and it has nothing to do with taste and everything to do with structural integrity – it is the reinforced concrete of cake-making. It also keeps for ages so you don’t have to worry about making it on the week of your wedding. The most
important thing to me about the cakes was that they should all be really tasty, so I used recipes that I knew would work because I’d made them many times before. Even so, because I was changing quantities and tins I did a ‘dry run’ to see how cooking times would change and if temperatures needed to be adjusted. This turned out to be a good idea because the fruit one took about a month to cook through once you’d scaled everything up by four.
* What lies beneath
Like an ageing burlesque dancer, wedding cakes need plenty of support to look their best. I think it would have been OK if I’d stacked them up one on top of the other, but I was not about to play ‘Will it sag?’ with my wedding cake so went for a bit of underwiring to be on the safe side. Each tier was put on a base made by covering an appropriately-sized piece of cardboard with tin foil. Vertical support was provided by some 5mm wooden dowelling that I just poked through the layer beneath. I’m a geek so I drew you a picture…
I had never really considered that one reason for separating the tiers is that it makes it a lot easier to cut (I am perhaps slightly dumb for not realising this before), although you cannot then have what my brother termed the ‘omnislice’, with all three flavours of cake. A further consideration is that pressure from above could cause some serious oozing if you haven’t provided any support – since my middle cake (the date and walnut) had lots of lovely toffee icing in the middle I wanted to avoid this.
* Of Ice(ing) and Men
I decided pretty early on that I wasn’t having any of this Royal Icing malarkey and would go for buttercream all the way. The dry run helped again here because I was a bit worried that buttercream with fruitcake would be a bit, um, odd, but it turned out to be fine! My reasoning was that I wasn’t going to get a very smooth finish with Royal Icing because I am a) impatient, and b) not very good at it, so at least if I went with buttercream and it was a bit untidy I could just say it was ‘rustic’. I think if I had to do it again I would still go with buttercream, but that’s only because I REALLY love butter. Again, I had not really figured on having to make and colour 3 kilos of icing with tiny implements. A lot ended up on the floor. And the table. Actually pretty much everywhere. Pretty. Sticky. I also got a bit bored when adding the colouring so the cake ended up green (or ‘Cambridge Blue’ as I insisted at the time) rather than blue. Buttercream is quite easy to spread but you’ve got to be careful about getting crumbs in it, which is why it took me, perfectionist as I am, about an hour and half to cover the whole thing. It also has to be done last minute so I wouldn’t advise anyone to use it unless they’ve really got the time (although I suspect you could get away with doing it two days before if you had somewhere sufficiently large and cool enough to keep it). To give you and idea of how long the assembly and icing processes took, I’ll just say this: on the morning of the wedding I had a list of about 15 things I had to get done before the guests arrived, and I only did one of them, which was ‘ice cake’. Luckily I had lots of lovely people around me who were able to tick off the rest while I faffed. Thinking about it, it was actually quite an enjoyable way to spend the morning!***
Once the cake was covered, it was time to do the proper decorating. I decided against piping because I don’t have that much experience and it probably would have looked like a Jackson Pollock. Not quite the look I was going for so I opted to make the decorations out of ready-roll icing. These were a bit fiddly but I was pretty chuffed with the result. Distinct advantage: they keep for ages so you can make them weeks in advance and then pop them on the cake at the last minute – simples! I really like this because for relatively little time-input you get a great result. One useful tip I picked up is that it is not necessary to buy fancy modelling paste to make icing flowers – it is more expensive and apparently doesn’t taste very nice. Provided you knead the ready rolled stuff to get it pliable you can work with it quite easily – just be careful with your creations once they’ve dried as they’re pretty fragile! I experimented with adding colour to the roses, and you can knead in food colouring pretty easily, although I’d say that if you want really bright colours it’s better to buy it ready made or to use edible paint.
* The End!
So that was our wedding cake. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t stress-free. But it was ours, and it was beautiful (if you like green).
I now understand why people pay other people to make their wedding cake for them (although I still baulk at the prices), but I am so glad that I made ours. Even though it was only appreciated by our guests for maybe 5 minutes before being destroyed, it was totally and utterly worth it – it tasted and looked great and, despite the tribulations, it was amazing fun to make. In the end, you’re always going to get something that’s utterly personal and will most likely never be recreated! If you’re planning on doing it yourself go for it, just make sure you’ve got giant utensils.****
P.S. If anyone wants any of my recipes I’ll be more than happy to provide them!
*Complete lie – I love it like a child. Albeit one that is small, purple and comes with three handy attachments. His name is Nigel.
**Although don’t do what the Borrowers actually did, which was stealing.
***My friends and family probably have a different take on the situation.
****That’s not a euphemism.