….But hopefully not my last!
I know, I know, I know, Amy’s wedding was two whole weeks ago – what have I been doing with my life? Why am I slacking on posting about the wedding cake? Honestly? I’ve been sleeping, and watching a lot of TV, and taking Miss Daisy to the park many, many times. Yes, I’ve been relaxing, and with Christian being in NH last week, I was busy being a single puppy parent, which – let me tell YOU – isn’t easy. I cannot even imagine what being a single human baby parent must be like. At least a puppy I can leave home alone and lock up when I need to get things done. I think putting a baby human in a cage is frowned upon…And I’m pretty sure leaving one home alone is neglect and/or abandonment…either way, puppy = way easier than baby. I get it mother. No worries. (That statement was legitimately for my mother.) And then this week, between entertaining my little monster and entertaining Daisy (I so funny), it has taken me all week to complete this post! But I digress…Back to the point: THE WEDDING CAKE!
The Final Journey to Amy’s Wedding Cake started on the Monday before Amy’s wedding. This was the moment(s) of truth, the cake-life-or-death critical instances that would make or break me as a wedding cake baker, and best friend. (Failure would most likely mean the end of both of those careers, ha, I kid, I kid, of course…Amy loves me too much.) I was ready. And totally terrified.
Well, I guess the journey really started on that Sunday when I made the trip to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients…(That was an obscene-looking shopping cart! The filling-making was originally set to start over the weekend as well, but said baker was le tired and wanted to enjoy the sunshine and time with Daisy before a baking-packed week.) Actually, I guess the journey really, really started the week before when I made the sugar sunflowers…Let’s call that Week 0.5…
The sunflowers were a Tuesday-Thursday endeavor, because I was being very ADD and couldn’t seem to sit still long enough to make as many as I wanted in one evening, so I did it over 3 evenings a little at a time. I made the sunflowers with royal icing, so they harden up, making them fragile, but you can keep them forever if they survive! A magic little bundle of joy I discovered during one of my cake-decorating classes earlier this year is this powder pouch thingy. (That is a very technical name for it.) It is basically a mesh pouch that you fill with powdered sugar and corn starch (or you could fill it with flour in some cases, such as dough). It can be used to coat a surface with a thin dusting to prevent fondant, dough, etc. from sticking to the surface, or, in this particular case, I used it to coat my finger tips so I could pinch the ends of the royal icing flower petals without the wet icing sticking to my fingers. See the bottom right image below…Doesn’t that little pouch just radiate “joy”?
As for the actual flower-making, I found a few designs online and modeled mine after them to come up with a pretty good looking sunflower. It basically just consisted of making little yellow ribbons crisscrossing over and over until there were enough petals. I used a tip 79, which looks like a smile, as one of the many members of my audience on cake day (I’ll get to that later) pointed out. I had to buy that tip online because it is a specialty tip and I couldn’t find it in the store. That was a little annoying, because tips are cheap, but I paid more in shipping and handling than I did on the tip itself. Womp womp. I guess it still only set me back like $3…but it’s a principle thing.
Back to flower-making: After making the ribbons, I pinched the ends of each ribbon to make the petals look like petals. Lastly, I set the flowers in a flower mold plate so they had a curve to them, which made them harden at the perfect angle to fit on the cake. Once the petals dried, I used a tip 234 (same as to make grass or spaghetti) to make the brown center and basically just squeezed and dabbed until it looked right. This was a lot of just trying tips and seeing what looked best and was most effective. The best part about making flowers is that nature isn’t perfect, and neither are flowers, so you don’t have to worry about imperfections looking funny. Imperfections make it more real.
I made many sunflowers of various sizes to be sure I would have plenty come assembly-time. I was skeptical of how they looked, because I am always overcritical of everything I bake, but in the end, they turned out nicely and looked beautiful on the cake. With the flowers done, I was ready to tackle the cake the next week…Let’s get to it…
Monday, after a grueling day at work full of (non-baking-related) spreadsheets, meetings, and twiddling of thumbs as I anxiously awaited go-time, I raced home to begin the baking. Upon arriving, I took Daisy for a nice long walk and explored some of my neighborhood (why I thought I had time for this is beyond me), and THEN I got to baking. I poured and mixed and sifted my little brains out. With 2 full batches of batter, I made one 14” layer and 1 6” layer on day one.
My calculations worked out perfectly and I had the ideal amount of batter! I was sure to coat the pan and heating core with plenty of baking spray (flour + oil in 1 = magical!) so I would have no cake trying to stick to my pan. Once the first layer (the 6”) was in the oven, I went to work making a delicious salmon dinner for my man and me. Not gonna lie, all the multitasking I had going on here made me truly feel like I was reaching pro status. So, we ate diiiiner and then I put the second layer (the 14″) in the oven.
While the massive 14″ layer baked (50 mins to be exact), I made not one, but TWO fillings! I decided to tackle the lime curd and the vanilla custard filling, since I had just made them the previous week, knew they didn’t take very long to concoct, and knew I could handle it that evening. Now, somehow I didn’t get too many pictures of the curd, and none of the final custard. I think I took one at step 1 of the custard (sugar and egg yolks) and then must have gotten seriously distracted and forgot to take any more. Oh well…
…That’s all I got. If you look at my previous post on my brothers’ College Send-Off cake, the fillings looked just like they did there. I did add the extra little gelatin to make sure the curd held up better in the cake, and it worked pretty well, but that will come later as well…To finish up, I let the cakes cool open-air overnight, before wrapping them in Glad press-n-seal the next morning so they would still be fresh on Saturday. At around 11:30 at night, this whole process was complete and I was able to go to bed, pretty content with myself and a successful day 1 of wedding cake baking.
The second day consisted of making the remaining 14″ layer and 6″ layer. Same 2 batches of batter required, and same process followed. Once the first layer was in the oven this time, I went on to tackle the raspberry mousse. Now, this time, the mousse got modified to give it a stronger raspberry flavor. This was accomplished in 2 ways: I added 12oz of raspberries, instead of the original approximately 8oz I added the first time around. I also found this raspberry oil in Michael’s Arts and Crafts store, and added just a few drops to my mousse (this oil is very concentrated and has a very strong, artificial raspberry taste, so I only wanted to add a little bit to preserve the freshness of the raspberries, but enhance it a little.) The result was a delicious raspberry mousse.
There was not much excitement to report on from day two. The cakes baked smoothly and evenly and I didn’t even take pictures of the cakes OR the finished mousse. So onto day 3…
Wednesday, the final day of baking, was upon me. I had to tackle FOUR layers, double of any other day, and the final filling – chocolate ganache! This required 3 batches of cake batter for the 4 layers! Well, all went well. I baked all the layers, and by the following morning, I had all layers wrapped and ready to make the trek to Connecticut that night!
It doesn’t look like much cake here, but it WAS! And once the filling is in it, it like doubles in size (that’s what she said! …sorry, I couldn’t resist…)
Thursday didn’t involve any cake making, baking, assembly, or filling concocting. It was dedicated solely to getting through the work day, packing up, not forgetting anything, and getting the cake up to Connecticut in one piece…or 8 pieces, to be more accurate; but you know what I mean. And I was a super-stressed Crazy trying to pack up and remember everything. Daisy totally knew we were leaving her, and she was barking and whining as we walked away. It was so hard to leave my baby!
…But she was in good hands.
As for remembering to pack everything; of course, I didn’t. I forgot my cake-decorating turntable. This was a brutal blow and very saddening. We were about 30 minutes from home when I realized this. Christian said, “You didn’t mark it off your check list?!?!” (Mockingly, I might add.) My response, “Why didn’t I make a check list!?!?!” I’m all about planning and lists; how could I NOT do that?!?! EPIC FAIL! Honestly though, all in all I did pretty well considering the turn-table was all I forgot. Anyway, since we left so late in the evening, it was smooth sailing the whole way. We rocked out to Tay Swift, and I even let Christian play some rap music. We arrived at Amy’s parents’ house around 2am, and after a brief excited “I missed you OMG you’re getting married in two days OMG I’m so excited OMG yay”, hugs, and storage of perishable cake materials, we crashed hard. Sike – THEY crashed hard. I stayed up reading for what seemed like hours, tossed and turned all night, and am not sure if I got more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep in total. I don’t know if it was my migraine medicine (which has caffeine) that kept me up, or nerves from the prospect of assembling my best friend’s wedding cake in the morning, or the air mattress, which I can never find comfortable enough; but either way, I got very little sleep that night. (Luckily I had gotten an hour or 2 in the car while Christian drove).
Friday morning started out with pancakes, coffee, and good conversations. It was actually an extremely awesome morning, despite the butterflies in my stomach thinking about the cake I would be starting to construct in a mere hour. Over breakfast I brought up that I forget my turntable and was considering to go to Micheal’s and buy another, despite the fact that I really don’t need 2 of those. It makes getting the frosting smooth sooo much easier, and, moreover, it’s one of those things that once you get used to using it, it’s difficult to go without. We tried to scrounge up a lazy-Susan from the neighbors, but failed. This is where the blushing bride-to-be’s engineering ingenuity came in. When I had just about resigned to making the 20 minute drive to Michael’s, Amy came up with the ingenious idea of using the microwave plate. We weren’t sure if it would work, but we took it out of the microwave with the little ring with wheels on it and, EUREKA! It worked! “Amy is a genius!” I exclaimed! “Your engineering degree put to good use! It wasn’t a waste after all!” I shout, prancing around the room like a little kid on Christmas morning (sike – that’s still like me on Christmas morning to this day…). It spun beautifully and would work perfectly for my cake decorating endeavor.
So, with Christian still sound asleep in bed, Amy and I got dressed, gathered all my baking supplies, and headed next door to the neighbors’ to assemble the cake. (I decorated at the neighbors’ because (1) they have AC, and (2) there was far less commotion and people over there so I could focus on the cake, and be sure no harm came to it overnight.)
The total decorating process took about 6 hours. I started around 11am, and decorated non-stop until 5:15pm, just 15 minutes before leaving for the rehearsal dinner. (Needless to say, I had no time to take the shower I had wanted in between cake decorating and the rehearsal dinner.) I took a couple bathroom breaks, and remembered to stay hydrated, but ate nothing the entire time. I get in the zone when baking and decorating, and somehow hunger only creeps up on me once I am done. Strike that – it doesn’t creep; hunger bombards me like a ton of bricks on my stomach and cheerful disposition as soon as the baking is done. Let’s just say my stomach was pretty displeased with me during the rehearsal at the church, but I am jumping ahead of myself…
At the beginning of the cake decorating process, and throughout the day, I had quite the audience. Everyone wanted to take a peak at the makings of Amy’s wedding cake. From the bride and groom’s parents, to their family, friends, and the entire bridal party, everyone that passed through Amy’s parents’ house that day also made the trek over to the neighbors’ to watch the cake come to fruition. And fruitify it did (yes, I just invented a new word). 😛
With all the fillings already made (very good decision on my part not to decide to make them day of), all I had to do was make the buttercream. THAT was exciting! The neighbor had a KitchenAid stand mixer which she very graciously allowed me to use! It was AWESOME! (Though, I have to admit, not as easy as I thought.) I made a huge mess of her kitchen…Powdered sugar everywhere. I mean everywhere…
Maybe I just need to get the hang of it, and over time I will become better at using the KitchenAid (you know, if I ever actually get one). Either way, it was the first time I had used a KitchenAid for baking (I have used them many a time at work to make various mixes), and it was oh so exciting!
So, with my first 2 batches of buttercream made, I got straight to assembling the bottom (14″) tier.
I first had to level both layers of the bottom tier with my nifty cake leveler…
Sidenote: This cake-leveler is not the easiest tool to use because it is like a saw that is not firm, so it can bend with contours of your cake, which is exactly what you don’t want. You have to hold it tight and pay close attention to make sure you are sawing on a straight horizontal line, and not a curve.
Once my first layer was flat, I put a 14″ cake board on top of it, flipped it, and put is on my makeshift turntable. Then, I loaded my decorating bag with buttercream and built myself an icing dam around the cake. This dam does not need to be pretty; it just needs to be thick enough and tall enough to hold your filling in the cake. I just put a coupler in the piping bag and go from there – no tip required.
Next, I took out the delicioussss chocolate ganache, whipped it into submission, let eeeeveryone taste it (making sure to take a few samples myself – just to make sure it was still good :P), and filled the first layer right up to the dam.
Yum. Next came the first and trickiest cake flip because it was the biggest layer. Everyone held their breath and turned away from me as I did it, so they wouldn’t stress me out, haha. Everything was silent as I did the flip. Luckily, I remembered to keep MY eyes open, and I successfully flipped the second layer on top of the first without any problems.
From here, I brushed off excess crumbs, and started plopping large globs of buttercream on the cake and smoothed it out, creating a thin crumb coat. Once this solidified a little and (kinda) locked in the crumbs, I put the thicker layer of buttercream on.
Important Tip: When icing a cake, NEVER put a spatula with “dirty” icing back into your fresh icing. Dirty icing just means icing that may now have cake crumbs in it. When you ice the cake, the ideal technique will have your spatula never touching the crumbs, so your top icing layer is crumb-free. This is difficult to achieve, especially when you are starting out, and takes a lot of practice, as I am still learning. When icing, have a separate smaller bowl for any excess “dirty” icing you remove from the cake during the crumb coat step or final coat step when smoothing out icing.
To make the buttercream look as smooth as possible, you first try your best to smooth it out with a spatula or other long flat object. Since we are human and not perfect (at least, I am not perfect), you then let it sit for maybe ten minutes to dry, and then gently rub it with wax paper, evening out any non-smooth parts. I’m still working on my technique, but this is a very good method to get a smooth, almost fondant-like finish.
Now, I had to put the dowels in before I could move on to tier 2. I measured the dowels by first inserting one long uncut dowel into the cake, marking where I wanted to cut it, and then cut several dowels of the same length. I used gardening pruners to cut the dowels (thank you, Christian), but in the future I would use some kind of mini saw or blade so I could get a more precise, even cut. Using pruners squished the rod, often making an unlevel cut and causing me to have to repeatedly put the dowels in the cake and remove them to cut down the dowels slightly. I think I used 7 dowels on the bottom tier to ensure it was good and sturdy. I used 5 in the second tier and just 4 in the third, though 3 would have sufficed to support the tiny 6″ tier. The purpose of the dowels – in case you don’t spend all your free time watching cake shows and YouTube videos – is to bare all the weight of the higher tiers so the actual cake is not supporting any weight and will not get squished down. (Each tier is also on a cardboard cake board, so the weight of the tiers is supported by the dowels and cake boards.)
Tip: My tip to you is to use a tool that can cleanly cut through dowels. Now, I used plastic hollow dowels, but they also make wooden dowel rods which accomplish the same thing. I’m not sure if they would be easier or harder to cut level. I will investigate this…
Once the dowels were cut, I jumped right into the second tier. This was the 12″ raspberry mousse filling tier. I followed the same process with this tier as the last.
Flipping the second layer of this tier was a bit easier since it was a little smaller, but my audience still turned away out of fear. All went well.
I lathered on the crumb coat, and I am not sure if you can tell in the pictures, but I did not worry about making the tops nice and even and pretty, except for the outer inch or two, since I was putting a tier on top of it to hide any imperfections.
Sidenote: While I was icing each tier, and since I was using a microwave tray instead of a stationary turntable, my tray would start creeping away from me as I spun it. Every so often Amy would come up and push the tray back into the center of the island. I was so focused I never realized I was leaning more and more over the table as the tray creeped away. Luckily, Amy was always there to recenter it before it made its way off the other side of the island. Tehehe…
The 8″ tier 3 had vanilla custard filling. I followed the same process, and by this point, flipping the cake was a breeeeze!
(Notice the cookie sheet under the cake- I brought these with me to help me flip the big layers safely and it worked splendidly…as I knew it would…because I had practiced…several times…because I was leaving nothing to chance.
Each layer got put on the turntable to be iced and have dowels inserted into it, and then I moved them off the turntable and onto their final resting place on the cake. I also tested out the flatness of the dowels before placing any cake on top by putting a cake board on top and removing and adjusting dowel heights when necessary. Getting the dowels right in the third tier was vital, and very difficult. I must have taken them out and adjusted heights half a dozen times…maybe a dozen. The tier is so small and any offset would have been so noticeable. Through much tweaking and adjusting, I finally got it about right. Phew!
Notice below you can clearly see our makeshift turntable/microwave plate. Thank you Amy for being you. 🙂
With only one tiny tier left, I was in the home stretch – or so I thought. Who knew one tiny tier could cause so much trouble…
I leveled the layers without incident, but when I went to put in my filling, I ran into a problema. My lime curd filling, which had been a solid jello consistency the night before, was now a normal, much more viscous, curd consistency. While this is great for curd, it is not so great for a cake filling. I lathered it on my cake, flipped the other layer on top of it, and hoped for the best as I straightened it out and began icing. And it tried to ooze. It tried sooo hard to sneak its way through the buttercream and out of the cake, but I would not let it. Doing some minor touching up as I went, I managed to ice this little guy without too much ooze. After letting it sit for a little, I braced myself as I put it on top of my cake, praying I had sufficiently leveled the dowels. I put it on top of my cake and it was built! I was shocked to find it was not crooked and looked pretty darn good! Now, to decorate!
The decorations were fairly simple. I bought 1 roll of blue ribbon to wrap the base of all the tiers and I had JUST enough. I remember standing in the store thinking, “What am I going to do with all this extra ribbon when I’m done?” It never occurred to me that I might not have enough! I definitely lucked out on that one. Go me!…
Anyway, I wrapped each tier with ribbon and “glued” the ribbon to the cake using a little dollop of buttercream.
Amy really wanted to keep the decorations simple, so I used the blue ribbon, and added a pearl border around each layer.
The original plan was to then add a simple white design of some sort (dots, swirls, etc.) on the tiers, but when I finished with the pearls, Amy liked the simplicity and cleanness of it, so we just decided to add the sunflowers and call it done. (This is a perk of having your friend make your wedding cake! Ultimate control!)
Once this decision was made and the cake was iced, Amy got to give me a hand in placing the sunflowers wherever she wanted! (It was her cake, after all!)
With a few placement adjustments, a little re-squeezing of the top tier to make sure no oozing occurred (and to make sure it was not strangely-shaped), and a few more dollops of buttercream, the cake was complete!
Day 6 – Wedding Day
We left it at the neighbors’ overnight, and, the next morning, Amy’s mom and I delivered it to the venue. We borrowed the neighbors’ van and I sat in the back holding the cake the whole time. The neighbors had put down some strips of that material you put under a rug to hold it in place, so the cake wasn’t going anywhere; but I sat right next to it just to make sure it didn’t topple over (though I’m not sure what I would have done if it had…probably cry). And, while I had made what I thought was plenty of extra flowers, we ended up putting almost all of them on the cake; so it was a very good thing we had no problems en route and my emergency cake repair kit was not needed (icing, tips, extra flowers)!
Time: 30 hours
My love, time, and devotion: Priceless
When all was said and done, I used 7 batches of batter and 6 batches of buttercream. The supplies cost me roughly $100 and the ingredients cost me roughly $130, for a grand total of $230. Granted, many of the supplies were things like pans and reusable items, but still. If you are starting with close to nothing (amateur status) and going to make a wedding cake, you can probably count on it costing you at least $250. And that doesn’t include the time. If I sum up everything from flower making, to baking, and decorating, the whole process took me approximately 30 hours. I can totally understand why wedding cakes are so expensive! That’s a lot of dough (pun intended)! This was without a doubt the best wedding gift I have ever given and it couldn’t have gone to a cooler couple. Congrats Ben and Amy!
I know I still have a lot of growing and learning to do as far as cake decorating and baking in general go, but this journey gave me the confidence I needed to prove to myself that if I really set my mind to something, I can achieve it. Baking has added a whole new level of excitement, entertainment, accomplishment, and fullfillment to my life. This sounds cheesy, I know, but since I discovered my passion for baking, I am a happier person overall. Especially considering I do not exactly have my dream job (lithium ion batteries don’t do it for me), baking has given me a creative outlet where I can express myself, grow, and learn more about something I really do love. Discovering baking has taught me that, while work and money are important and a necessary evil, being happy and finding those things that get you there are more important. I preach this all the time, but only recently have I truly started feeling like this and believing that we only have this one life and it is up to us to make it beautiful.
I want to thank the entire Mickiewicz-Southwood clan, as well as the bridal party and wonderful neighbors, for having faith in me and cheering me on the whole way. And most of all, thank you Amy for being such a great friend, and for trusting me to take on this task. If you hadn’t had faith in me, I never would have taken on this challenge, I never would have pushed myself to do this, and I never would have felt as proud of something as I do about your cake!