In a slightly abrupt change of programming, I’m going to share the results of Project Wedding Cake! It was a big project for me, an amateur baker, so I’m going to break the information up over the next few posts, starting today with equipment and then progressing through recipes, shopping lists, techniques, and other fun stuff.
Here’s the deal: if you’ve ever made a cake from scratch, then you can totally make a wedding cake. There is no magical cake wizardry that is outside the scope of your abilities, certainly not as long as you have good instructions to follow. That being said, there is some stuff that I bought that I’d never needed before, but lo, it was good stuff, because wedding cakes? They are big. They are big, and they are heavy, and they are not exactly a low-stress situation. I’ve totally served cakes that fell apart into a blob of cake and frosting, and we didn’t care, because they tasted good. This was not one of those times. A little investment and a little direction-following will yield major rewards.
Stuff I Bought That Was Good Stuff:
A Martha Stewart Book: I’ve moaned about Martha Stewart recipes in the past, and how they’re not really my cup of tea. The thing is, there is really good information about making wedding cakes online. Lots of recipes, lots of how-tos, lots of inspirational images. It’s a bit overwhelming, and I wanted to find one master reference resource that had everything all in one place. A lot of the wedding cake books I found tended to be more about photographing really impressive design feats rather than providing actual information. This book is a little of both, with plenty of magazine-ready cakes, but also with loads of master recipes, instructions, and most importantly, conversions. As in, Martha tells you about how many cups of batter a cake pan will hold, while also telling you how many cups each recipe makes. This is crucial for when you’re trying to figure out if you need to make 1 batch or 2.5 batches of cake and 3.5 batches of frosting to fit the particular dimensions of your project. It also means you’re not beholden to one recipe– I wound up pulling my cake, frosting, lemon curd, and filling recipes from three or four different sources. There would have been lots of wailing and frustration without Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes.
Citrus Juicer—there are A LOT of lemons going on here. Wait, let me repeat that: A LOT OF LEMONS. So many lemons. I had this adorable pottery namby pamby prissy juicer from Anthropologie that is sooo cute and sooo gives you carpal tunnel after two and a half lemons. Citrus juicer was a life saver.
Extra bowl for my KitchenAid—There would have been so many tears without this. Not only do both cake and frosting require beating/whipping/mixing multiple different components separately before combining them, but the volumes of batter get so large that they would have spilled out of just one bowl. If you’ve got some kind of enormous pro mixer and extra regular bowls you might be okay, but oh MAN I was glad to have this.
Rotating Cake Stand—okay, so Project Wedding Cake was what tipped me into finally buying a cake stand with a rotating top, after wanting one for a long time. I found it crucial for smooth frosting applications, plus mine came with a handy-dandy gripper mat thing so your cake layers don’t slide off it, even if they’re on cake circles.
Offset spatulas of varying sizes—helpful for different sized tiers, multiple cooks in the kitchen, different textures of filling and frostings, you name it. The offset-ness of them keeps you from dipping your hand/sleeve/watch in the frosting you just worked so hard to make smooth, and the different sizes tackle different sizes of jobs, from crumb-coating to touching up smaller details. I had no idea how helpful my mini one would be; thanks little guy!
Cake slicer/leveler—I wasn’t sure about this one before ordering, was less sure when it arrived, and was then pleasantly astonished after the first use. Not to buy into Big Wedding Industrial Complex completely, but it IS kind of a big deal, a wedding is, you know? Your cake MIGHT be photographed. A lot. By lots of different people. Wouldn’t it be nice if your layers were all staggeringly, breathtakingly smooth? Mine did fine on the 7 and 10-inch cake layers, but was a bit too small for the 14-inch. I just used it to get the slices started on the big layer, and then finished up (carefully) with a serrated bread knife.
Oven Thermometer—My oven is appallingly insulated. It’s terrible. My father bought me an air conditioner for a 6-months-in-advance birthday present so I could move the old, sounds-like-a-helicopter-taking-off air conditioner into the kitchen to keep my frostings from melting in the heat. My kitchen is hot, and my oven is not what you might call “reliable”. An oven thermometer helps me keep an eye on the (occasionally vast) discrepancies between the temperature I THINK it’s set on and the actual internal temperature. This is your friend’s wedding cake. The oven temperature counts.
3-inch high cake pans— You can probably make gorgeous wedding cakes using cake pans you already have. I, however, cleverly chose slightly unusual sizes for my three tiers (7″, 10″ and 14″), and my recipes specified using pans that were 3″ deep, not 2″. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so I ordered new pans, and that was a GOOD CALL. The recipe makes a lot of batter. Use deeper pans.
Pre-cut parchment paper—I’m lazy.
Cake boxes—Hey, remember that time I briefly considered trying to transport wedding cake nonsense on the subway? HAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Cake boxes, yo. Get em or make em. Cake will go from Point A to Point B and arrive intact. Particularly awesome for the bottom layer in its giganticness/heaviness. As Amazon really only carried bulk cake boxes (I don’t need 100, thanks), and since I wanted to see the things in person before buying them, I turned to what I call Cake & Bake, but what is apparently actually called N.Y. Cake & Baking Dist., or just NY Cake. They have everything you could ever want for major baking projects, and I found cake boxes in almost every size imaginable. I got standard white bakery boxes for the top and middle tier and a sturdier cardboard box with a lid, large enough (this is important) to fit the bottom tier AND the cake base. I was very proud of myself for remembering to include the base in my calculations.
Cake circles—cardboard circles the tiers rest on. I think technically I used these “incorrectly”; however I liked what I did, so I’m gonna share it here and accept the criticisms/corrections that come my way.
Dowels—you need these, although apparently you can also use non-bendy drinking straws, which I will totally use next time. They help stabilize the tiers and evenly distribute the weight so the thing doesn’t collapse in the middle.
Cake base/board: crucial. Bottom tier? Really heavy. Fully-assembled cake? Definitely really heavy. Get a sturdy cake base (mine was some kind of super foam board wrapped in white paper, but of course there are fancier/nicer/more permanent options available) cut bigger than your cake that you feel happy about serving it on.
Vanilla Beans—bless you, Amazon. Vanilla beans are expensive. Amazon sells them in bulk.
Stuff I Was Told To Buy And Totally Didn’t Need After All, Thank Goodness:
Cake strips—maybe my recipe is the greatest recipe ever, maybe my cake pans were magical cake pans of wonder, but my cakes baked up perfectly level. Perfectly. Cake strips are these things that you wrap around the outside of a cake pan that allegedly prevent the cake from doming (rising much higher in the center than at the edges), as well as from drying out or burning around the edges. I was in great shape without them, so I don’t think they’re necessary for this project.
Stuff I Bought That Was Not Good Stuff:
THIS was a waste of money: a cake … lifter? I dunno, it seduced me? I was buying so many other things I’d never needed before, I thought I might need this? I did not. The bottom cake layer got super heavy, but I just slid a cookie sheet under the cake circle so it didn’t collapse and kept on going. This is silly and so far useless, but maybe it’ll surprise me one day.
Pastry bags, special pastry tips—I just wound up not needing them. I’ve never taken a frosting skills class (I will one day!) and I’m not much of an artist, so I knew I wasn’t going to go too crazy with swirls and rosettes and curlicues. I was in the middle of crazy time at work as well as getting my homework done for the Fab Fit Academy; setting aside the hours required to get really, really good at frosting skills wasn’t on my to do list. When it came down to it, I wound up using a gallon-size ziplock bag with the corner snipped off for all my frosting/filling needs. Worked like a charm.
Next up: So much butter, and also so many lemons.