Amidst all the cookies, trifles and fun frolics in the kitchen, every now and then you face a challenge that takes you outside your comfort zone and you turn on the oven with a flutter of trepidation.
Dear reader, this week was one of those times. Last year my friend Joelle got engaged. Over an elated brunch I nervously offered to bake her wedding cake, something that would commemorate our friendship of eight years; a tangible, and edible, cornerstone for her next stage in life. Luckily she happily accepted and, all of a sudden, here we are and I have a cake to bake. It suddenly became real.
Baking a wedding cake happens in stages – the planning, the tasting, the baking, the icing, the transporting, the decorating – and I am now halfway, the sponges are baked and safely tucked away in the freezer so I can conveniently forget about them for a few weeks. As the beautiful cakes you see on Instagram have an air of mystique clouding them, long evenings have been spent searching Google for a simple guide that would transform a normal cake into one of these masterpieces. Unfortunately, I have no secret tips or methods to unveil but I thought it would be useful for any other first-time wedding cake baker to know what to do at each stage, learn from my mistakes, and have some advice when it’s late at night, the kitchen is a mess and your cake has sunk in the centre.
First of all, Joelle and I discussed flavours (chocolate and only chocolate so that was easy) and numbers so we could have an idea of how much cake we would need. Guides across the internet do not take into account the height of the cakes, and as tall wedding cakes are fashionable, it is a fool proof method to feed big crowds without requiring endless tiers to stack. By baking two cakes for each tier the cakes are tall and each portion can be sliced in half feeding two in one. Thus this cake serves up to two hundred people with only three tiers.
Next – cake tin hire. Most people don’t own cake tins of every size but some cake or cook shops do. Luckily, I live with a professional baker so the basement is crowded with handy baking detritus including tins in various sizes. She recommended a 10 inch tin for my largest tier – any larger would take hours to bake and probably wouldn’t be eaten. So the tiers are 6 inch, 8 inch and 10 inch; smaller than I first anticipated but, now having baked, I am grateful they are no larger, and so is the oven.
Chocolate cake usually demands chocolate icing however a big brown cake doesn’t conjure a wedding to mind. No amount of gypsophila can conceal brown icing. We decided to cover the chocolate sponges with white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, velvety smooth and moussey, and, incidentally, stable and less sweet than classic buttercream. After the guests have guzzled champagne and eaten a three course meal including dessert, the last thing they want is cloyingly sweet wedding cake.
My limitation to one flavour wasn’t satisfactory (sorry Joelle) so I suggested we complement the chocolate sponges with different flavours in each tier. I brainstormed and planned, concocting eight or so combinations that she and her fiancé would enjoy. Therefore, a few months ago I held a tasting session – eight dinky chocolate muffins adorned with various nuts, fruit and ganache sitting on a chopping board. Within half an hour the two of them had demolished every cake, and all that remained were a few dribbles of icing and crumbs. Together we agreed upon the three sponges – drum roll please – chocolate and vanilla marble with dark chocolate ganache on the bottom, chocolate and coconut sponge with passion fruit curd in the middle, and on top, chocolate sponge with salted caramel buttercream.
Deciding these flavours early in the process made the following weeks easier. I was able to choose perfect recipes, multiply and calculate quantities (they don’t tell you how much maths is involved in cake baking) and source ingredients with plenty of time at my disposal.
Last week, after trudging back from the shops with three bulging bags full of flour, sugar and other baking essentials, I ensconced myself in the kitchen and set to work. I needed to bake two hefty cakes for each tier and time was ticking.
To ease myself in I started smallest first which was also, helpfully, plain chocolate. I poured the mixture into two 6 inch tins and nestled them next to each other on the middle shelf in the oven. Excess mixture was slopped into a muffin tray and sneakily grabbed after twenty minutes, no doubt causing the noticeable dip in the centre of the cakes.
Later that night – if this isn’t the time for late night baking then what is – it was time for the second tier – chocolate sponge flecked with desiccated coconut. Substituting the recipe’s rapeseed oil for coconut seemed an opportune way to enhance the coconutty flavour, however, to little avail – once baked the cake emerged with pure chocolate flavour. Hopefully the coconut will develop after a rest in freezer.
Baking the final tier demanded a whole day and I only baked one sponge at a time due to their sheer size. I swirled together chocolate and vanilla batter and slid the tin into the oven. Keeping the temperature low allowed the cakes to bake without overcooking the surface, yet halfway through each sponge needed a little foil cap to prevent them from turning conker brown.
All six sponges were left to cool and wrapped tightly in cling film. In two weeks time I plan to take them out of their freezer hibernation, defrost and slice in half. Each tier will be filled with three layers of filling and then coated in white chocolate. I won’t pretend I’m not daunted by the prospect, but I have time to mentally prepare, to buy the artisan white chocolate, equipment and watch tutorials on YouTube.
Stay tuned for Part Two!