Friday, June 21, 2013

Johanna & Lee's Wedding Cake, and a Wedding Cake How-To

My dear friends, Johanna and Lee, were married last month, and I had the honor of making their wedding cake!  It was a beautiful wedding, and the reception was LOTS of fun.

One of their other friends made these figurines that went on top of the cake - aren't they ADORABLE? They look like the bride & groom!

The groom figurine was a little top-heavy, though, and after the 3rd hour standing on the cake, decided to take a header - he slid all the way to the bottom! I put him back up, with extra toothpicks, but he wasn't having it. He slid a couple more times, and then the catering manager decided to take steps to ensure the "groom's" cooperation:

He got tied up there with ribbon!  We all - the bride and groom especially - thought this was HILARIOUS.

The cake turned out so well, and I managed my time better than I ever have for a wedding cake - I had time to paint my nails the day of the wedding, and I got changed and to the ceremony on time. Miraculous!  It was a white cake with raspberry curd and marzipan filling, and the whole thing was frosted with a vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. I haven't made this type of frosting very often, because it is a bit of a process, but it makes the loveliest frosting.  I'll have to use it more frequently, especially for wedding cakes, because it gets so nice and smooth.

Below are detailed notes on how to make a cake like this one, including recipes, notes, and tools you'll need. 

Process notes on making this cake:
  • Don't plan to do this all the day of the wedding! I bought the marzipan on Wednesday, made the raspberry curd on Thursday, and baked the cakes and made half the frosting on Friday. Saturday I made the other half of the frosting, assembled and frosted the cakes, cut the dowels, took them to the reception site, set them up there, and then changed and went to the 4:30pm wedding.
  • You can make the cake layers ahead of time and freeze them, unfilled and unfrosted, if you want. My freezer is way too full for this!
  • I used simple syrup (which I already had on hand; you'll want to make it no later than the day before you assemble the cakes) to make sure the cakes were moist. It might not have been necessary, but I like to hedge my bets with wedding cake.
  • This cake, with its 6-inch, 9-inch, and 12-inch tiers, will serve about 100 people, if cut according to these plans. This INCLUDES serving the top tier; if the couple wants to save it, the cake will serve about 88 people.
  • Conveniently, making three tiers of these sizes (6-inch, 9-inch, and 12-inch) uses three batches of cake batter:  batch one fills both 9-inch pans; batch two fills one 6-inch pan and one 12-inch pan, and batch three fills the 6- and 12-inch pans again.

  • Start with the smallest tier; it's easiest.
  • Put the bottom cake layer on its cardboard round on cake decorating turntable. 
  • Brush the top of the cake layer with simple syrup. Unwrap the second layer and brush one side of it with simple syrup, too, then set it aside. 
  • Pipe a dam of frosting around the edge with a 1/2-inch round decorating tip. 
  • Using a small offset spatula, spread a thin layer of raspberry curd inside the dam. 
  • Roll out the marzipan between two layers of waxed paper, until it's a little bigger than your tier in all directions. Cut a circle that is 1 inch smaller in diameter than your pan out of the marzipan and hold it over your cake. Trim more away if necessary; it's better that it's a little too small than too big.  Place the marzipan on top of the cake, inside the dam. 
  • Spread a very thin layer of curd on top of the marzipan - the dam should still be taller than the rest of the filling.  (See photo below) 
  • Place the second layer on top of the filling, simple syrup facing down, making sure it's lined up evenly.  
  • Spread a verrrrry thin layer of frosting all over the cake - this is the crumb coating, which will help keep the crumbs from marring your beautiful frosting.  
  • Place the cake in the fridge or freezer for 10-20 minutes, until the frosting is firm enough that touching it won't leave a fingerprint (I worked on the next tier during this time).  
  • When it's firm, remove the cake from the fridge/freezer and frost the cake. Repeat with remaining tiers. Don't pipe the pearls on at this point; save that for when you stack them at the site.
  • When done frosting, put each cake tier into its box.
  • For support, you'll need a total of 7 dowel pieces: 4 go in the bottom tier, 3 go in the middle tier. Making sure they're all covered by the tier that will go above, mark out where the dowels will go (you'll make a square of them for the bottom tier, and a triangle for the middle - doesn't need to be perfect).  Push one long dowel into the bottom tier, and mark where the frosting ends. Pull it out, and cut the dowel about a millimeter below that mark. Cut three more of the same length.  Repeat the process for the middle tier.
  • Take the cakes wherever they need to go. Stack them once you get there, and pipe the pearls on to hide the seams.
  • Decorate with flowers, toppers, etc. 
  • Voilà, you have a wedding cake!

Cake layer with frosting dam, raspberry curd, and marzipan
(the marzipan is hard to see here, but it's there!).

Special tools you'll need to do this:
  • Cake pans: you'll need 2 9-inch cake pans, and at least 1 6-inch and 1 12-inch pans, with 2-inch sides. Professional-style is best: they'll have tall, straight sides. The ones you get at Target, Fred Meyer, Macy's, etc., usually have 1- or 1.5-inch tall sides, and they slant outward slightly. It's hard to get lovely straight cake layers with those pans!
  • At least 3 cake cardboards for each tier, the same size as your pans (so 3 6-inch rounds, 3 9-inch rounds, and 3 12-inch rounds).
  • A cake box for each round: one 7-inch cake box, one 10-inch cake box, and one 14-inch cake box.
  • Doweling for support. I like these or these, both of which are pretty easy to cut with kitchen tools.
  • Piping bags and tips. I used an Ateco #805 for piping the dam, and a #8 for the little pearls around the outside of each tier.
  • I used a "cake plate" from the cake decorating store - it was cardboard, covered with pretty food-safe, greaseproof silver paper. If you go this route, get one that's at least 16 inches in diameter.
  • Small offset spatula (about 3.5").
  • Small straight spatula (like offset, just not actually offset - about 4")
  • Medium straight or offset spatula, mostly for helping to move cake tiers to and from the fridge (about 6")
  • Large straight spatula, for frosting the cake (about 8")
  • Cake turntable


The Cake
Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake, adapted slightly from

The recipe here is for ONE batch; you'll need three batches to make this into a wedding cake.  I suppose you could make all three in one big batch, if you had a commercial mixer, but I did them one at a time.

See notes above for how to divide the batches between your wedding cake pans.

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk*
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick (4oz, 8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Butter two 8- or 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, and butter and flour the lined pans (you can use Baker's Joy or other flour-infused baking spray instead of the butter and flour, if you wish). Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour baking powder, and salt (note: for most recipes, I'll whisk rather than sift, but cake flour can be clumpy - so I recommend that you actually sift them this time.).  In a separate bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, vanilla, and egg whites.  In the bowl of your mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the mixer. Add 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture, mixing until well combined. Scrape down sides, and continue adding the flour and buttermilk alternately, ending with the flour.

Divide batter between prepared pans, smoothing the tops.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few dry crumbs on it, rotating and switching pan position in the oven halfway through.

Cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. Frost as desired.

*I've learned the hard way: don't use powdered buttermilk for cakes. It just isn't the same, and the cake ends up dry. If you don't have buttermilk, it's better to substitute milk that's been soured with lemon juice or vinegar.

The Filling

Simple Syrup
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup water
1 cup sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine the water and the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring constantly, until sugar has completely dissolved, then remove from the heat. Let cool. Store in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Raspberry Curd, adapted slightly from Tea and Cookies
Makes about 3 1/2 cups

12oz. raspberries (or any combination of raspberries, blackberries, tayberries, etc. You can use fresh berries or berries that have been frozen and thawed. For this I used 10oz raspberries and 2oz blackberries, both from frozen.)
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
4 Tbsp lemon juice (I usually use the bottled stuff, but feel free to use fresh.)
1/2 stick (2oz, 4 Tbsp) unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt

In a medium saucepan, cook the berries, sugar, lemon juice, butter, and salt over medium heat. Stir occasionally, and cook until the fruit is soft, the butter is melted, and the sugar is dissolved.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs together in a separate bowl.

When the fruit is cooked, slowly stir ladlefuls of the fruit mixture into the eggs, whisking continuously, until about half of the fruit is in the eggs.

Slowly stir this egg-and-fruit mixture back into the saucepan, whisking continuously. Cook it over low or medium heat, stirring the whole time, until the mixture thickens slightly. Don't let it come to a boil!

Place a mesh strainer* over a large bowl (not the same one the raw eggs were in!). Pour about half of the mixture into the strainer and use a spatula or wooden spoon to stir it around and press it through the mesh, so the seeds are left behind. Discard the seeds and repeat with the rest of the curd.  Pour it into jars or other small containers and refrigerate or freeze. It will stay good in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for a few months. (I love this on toast or English muffins or waffles, or on ice cream, especially vanilla ice cream over a brownie. YUM.)

*So, strainers. If your strainer is REALLY fine mesh, it'll take forever to push the curd through it and you will never make this again. If your mesh isn't fine enough, some of the seeds will get through. Just know that this makes a difference.

The Frosting
Swiss Meringue Buttercream, adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen
with information and advice from Beyond Buttercream (read the comments, there's lots of info there!)

Makes enough to frost a 6-inch tier, a 9-inch tier, and a 12-inch tier (all round tiers, not square), pipe the pearls you see, and have about 2 cups left over. I'm not sure this would have been enough to also do the filling for these cakes, or to have frosted them if they'd been 3 layers each instead of 2. It's nice to have some left over, anyway, for fixing problems that happen in transportation, etc.

I divided this in half and made it in two batches, because there's no way this whole batch would have fit in my 5-quart mixer - a half-batch filled it up almost entirely!  Because the vanilla beans were really different sizes, and because I am crazy and wanted to make sure the frosting all looked the same, I stirred the two half-batches together once they were made, to even out the specks of vanilla bean.

2 cups egg whites (this was 16 large egg whites, for me)
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 pounds (5 cups, 10 sticks) butter, softened - take this out of the fridge the night before!
2 vanilla beans
1 scant Tbsp vanilla extract

Put the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of your mixer. Set the bowl over a saucepan that has about an inch of simmering water in it. Whisk until the egg whites reach 140° and you can't feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

Remove the mixer bowl from the saucepan, and put it in your mixer, which has been fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until stiff peaks form AND until the mixture is no longer warm - you want it to be body temperature or cooler. Keep whipping until both of these conditions are met.

Once the mixture is stiff and cool, switch to your mixer's paddle attachment.  Add the vanilla beans and the vanilla extract and stir on low for a couple of seconds.

Add the butter, one stick at a time, stirring on LOW for a couple of seconds (or, if you're me, as long as it takes you to unwrap the next stick of butter) after each. Here's where it gets a little scary: you've made this beautiful, fluffy meringue, and it's going to look awful - like you've ruined it! - when you add the butter.  But keep beating it, on low, and it will come together. First it will look soupy, and then curdled, and you'll start freaking out - but then it will turn creamy, and you'll breathe again: you've done it!  Depending on the temperature and the size of the batch, you may have to keep beating for 15 minutes, but don't worry: it will come together. And it will be the smoothest, loveliest frosting ever.

You can keep this at room temperature for about 24 hours, or in the fridge for a few days (bring it thoroughly up to room temperature before whipping again). I'm told this freezes well, too, but I haven't had occasion to try it.


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