How to welcome more chaos into your life...by baking a wedding cake
Posted Sep 06 2010 3:30am
A couple months ago, my stepdad’s niece called to tell me that she and her longtime boyfriend had finally decided to tie the knot. In the tradition of keeping things simple, they were going to get married at the courthouse and then have a reception over Labor Day weekend at my mom and stepdad’s house.
As we were discussing the details of the reception, she mentioned that they’d be serving store-bought cupcakes instead of wedding cake to help keep costs down.
"Oh no,” I said. “Let me make you a wedding cake. I’d be happy to do it! After waiting this long to get married, you and Mark deserve to have that moment where you get to smash cake into each other’s faces!”
She graciously accepted my offer and we discussed flavors and colors.
Now, I should probably clue you all in to the fact that I had no business offering to make anyone a wedding cake, let alone a family member. I mean, I’ve made birthday cakes for my kids and had a blast doing it but a wedding cake is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.
A wedding cake needs to be perfect…it needs to be beautiful…most importantly, it needs to be impressive.
Shit. I guess a Toy Story cake wouldn’t fly.
I spent a couple weeks looking at various wedding cake pictures, trying to decide on a design. Julie’s only request was that it be a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. Simple enough. Thankfully, she wasn’t expecting something out of Ace of Cakes. The bar had been lowered, much to my relief.
Everything seemed to be falling into place except for one minor detail, which I had forgotten would need tending to. My kids….the 4 little spawn who suck the lifeblood out of me.
I sat them down and explained, “Mommy did something super crazy. I’m gonna need you guys to really work with me here and cooperate, k?”
They sat extremely still and stared at me with scared, wide eyes. “Mommy, what did you do? Is Daddy gonna be mad at you?”
“Well,” I answered. “I offered to bake a wedding cake for Julie and Mark, which is going to require a lot of attention. I’ll do most of it while you’re all at school and after you’re in bed at night but some of it will have to get done during the day when you’re home.”
The thought of competing for my attention with a shitload of buttercream frosting suddenly didn’t sound like a big deal to them. They clapped their little hands fiercely and squealed, “Can we lick the bowls?”
Nice to know my kids can be bought off with the slightest temptation of sugar.
Okay, so let’s get down to details…you know, in case any of you are thinking about offering to make a wedding cake for a friend or family member because, like me, you don’t have enough chaos in your life.
First and foremost, don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to make a cake from scratch. Betty Crocker is famous for a reason, people. Trust her. Love her. She won’t let you down.
Oh, wait…you’re worried that the cake won’t taste good…concerned that it’ll be dry? No worries. Let me share a couple tips.
Immediately upon removing your cake from the oven, cover it with a clean dish towel. All that steam coming off of the cake will be forced back in, making it the moistest cake ever! Wait...is moistest even a word?
After leveling and torting your cake, dab a small amount of simple sugar syrup on the top of each layer with a small brush. The syrup is easy to make…it’s equal parts sugar and water. Just bring it to a boil on the stove and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour it into a cup and let it cool off. Then dab away.
Not only will it add a bit of sweetness to your cake, it will keep it super moist. You can even add flavoring to the syrup if you want to give your cake an extra unique taste.
Meet my 2 new BFF’s…”cake lifter” and “cake torter”.
Both of these tools will simplify cake baking for you. The cake torter will help you tort your cake in a perfectly even manner. The cake lifter will help you take your layers on and off without the risk of damaging the cake.
I learned the hard way, after rushing to flip a layer back on the cake while hurrying to get the kids out the door to meet up with some friends. I practically cried like a baby as it fell to the floor in crumbles, resulting in me having to bake another 14-inch cake.
Bella hugged me tightly and said, “Mommy, I’m sorry. I mean, not that it’s my fault or anything. It’s your fault the cake fell. But I’m just sorry because you’re so sad.” Isn’t that sweet….sort of?
The best way to make sure all your layers are even is to use a level. Yes, it’s a carpenter’s tool but it comes in handy for cake baking too. Who knew, right?
Your heart will be filled with joy when you see that little bubble line up right there in the middle of your level. Kind of like when you witnessed your baby smile for the first time. Or when your toddler finally figured out that the toilet will not swallow him whole if he sits on it.
This would also be a good time to call your husband at work and warn him, “Uh, honey…I have to run out and take the kids to the park. But I’m just calling to let you know that you’ll probably get home before I will and the kitchen looks like a tornado blew through it. I will clean it when I get home. If, for some reason, you should get the urge to clean it up for me, you will be rewarded greatly for your efforts.”
He’ll assume you’re talking about sex but you can just buy him a milkshake from Jack in the Box on your way home. He’ll forgive you eventually for the misunderstanding. Or not. I apologize in advance if he holds a grudge for the next 20 years.
Moving on…the key to avoiding all the crumby mess while frosting is to do a crumb-coat first, especially when icing a chocolate cake with light-colored frosting. It’s totally a bitch but it can be done.
Simply cover your cake in a thin layer of frosting and then put it in the fridge to harden up. Don’t worry about crumbs getting all mixed in with the frosting…that’s the whole point.
But when you put it in the fridge, all those nasty little crumbs will become immobilized in the frosting, not unlike the annoying fly that the kids found tangled up in a spider’s web on the window sill, which kept them preoccupied for whole 10.25 seconds.
If you have time to kill, you can also leave your cake out on the countertop overnight…just be sure to cover it with saran wrap so it’s protected from wild animals running freely throughout your home. Or your kids. Whomever.
While you're waiting, take a minute to relax. I chose to watch Paula Deen on The Food Network, as she and her grown sons demonstrated how to make popcorn balls. I laughed my ass off every time she told her sons, "Be careful...you don't want your balls sticking together". Oh Paula...how ever did you get your sons to keep a straight face while filming that episode?
Once your crumb coat has hardened, you can go ahead and frost your cake. Even though the crumbs should be held in place by the thin layer of frosting, some may become loosened if you touch it with a spatula.
I prefer to fill a piping bag with frosting and just squirt it directly onto the cake. No coupler needed…just snip a hole in the bottom of the bag (you can even use a large ziploc bag if you don’t have a piping bag) and fill it with your frosting. Then you can use your spatula to smooth the frosting over the crumb coat. Your spatula never has to come into contact with any crumbs this way.
So now you have the final layer of frosting covering your cake and you want it to be smooth like a baby’s bottom, right? Okay, bad analogy, I know.
Here’s a little tip I’ve learned along the way….it’s called the Viva paper towel method. After frosting your cake, put it in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes to crust up. Test it by touching it with your fingers. If no frosting comes off, you’re ready to smooth it down.
Grab a Viva paper towel (or any other paper towel that doesn’t have a design on it) and place the smooth side of the towel on your cake. Use your hand like an iron to smooth the frosting out (you can also use a fondant smoother if you have one). Just use very light pressure as you move your hand in a circular motion.
Do this to the top of the cake and the sides…you’ll be amazed at how flawless your frosting will look once you perfect this method.
From there, you can move on to decorating your cake. I wanted to do a fancy scrolling design but quickly figured out that I totally suck at piping so I decided to stick with something relatively easy and go with dots and ribbon.
I used a #3 tip for the dots and the ribbon is simply polyester ribbon that I bought at Joann’s. I was worried about the ribbon soaking up grease from the buttercream but I used double-sided tape on the back of the ribbon, thus protecting it.
I thought my biggest challenge would be getting the buttercream the perfect shade of aqua to match the ribbon but a friend of mine came over and made it her sole purpose to create magic with a couple bottles of gel food coloring.
She also brought her 5-year old son over to babysit Garrett and Landon. He works for cheap too…all it cost me was a couple glasses of juice and a nutrigrain bar. He has some openings in October if anyone needs a good sitter.
My friend suggested placing fresh flowers on the cake and was kind enough to run to the store and pick up a beautiful bouquet of alstroemeria. All was good until I was researching later that evening how to keep them at their freshest after placing them on the cake when I learned that the sap in the stems could be dangerous if ingested.
I’m pretty sure I heard God laughing at me right then.
So at 8:45 that night, I ran out to Joann’s and got some artificial flowers. Whew…major catastrophe averted.
At 11:30 pm on Friday night….after 4 days of preparing this cake….it was finally done.
The cake topper was something Julie had wanted…and after waiting several years to get married, it was completely appropriate.
The cake did have some imperfections here and there. When I asked Tim what he thought, he said, “Well, sweetie, it looks amazing…especially if you’re standing 10 feet away.” Geez, thanks, honey…I think.
And I do realize that the grout on my kitchen counter needs to be cleaned. I’ll add that to my list of the other 432 things I need to get done around here.
The next day, we drove 45 minutes to my mom and stepdad’s house…with Tim driving 15 mph while I held the cake on my lap. And the kids yapping in the background, “When are we gonna get there?” and “Why are you driving so slow?” The spawn may be adorable but, damn, they’re impatient little boogers.
Julie and Mark loved the cake and I received many compliments on it throughout the day from other guests at the reception. The best part….everyone said it tasted amazing. I was over the moon!!
Here’s Landon, my little sugar junkie, enjoying a piece of cake…
That smile says it all, doesn't it? It melted my heart when he said, "Mommy, you make my wedding cake too".
Uh, no....I don't think so. But at least the thought was nice.