Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wedding Cake Chronicles: The Cake Tasting

Hello! It's been while since my overly excited announcement that I'm baking my friend's wedding cake. Since then, I've baked over a dozen cakes, tested fillings, practiced my Italian buttercream skills over and over, watched endless cake decorating youtube videos, researched the toxicity of some flowers, coordinated with moms and planners, and stocked up on almost all the equipment needed to make sure this cake goes off without a hitch.  We are four days out until Emma and Bobby's (E+B) big day!

In my first post of this little Love Party Cake series, I gave a list of initial questions to ask when one decides to make a DIY wedding cake. I recommend talking these over with the bride at the very beginning and then referring back to them throughout the planning process. The guest count will help you determine the size of cake you'll need. There's a lot of conflicting information out there so stay cool. Rose Levy's Cake Bible says that a classic 3-tiered cake (12", 9", 6") is enough to feed 150 guests. The Wilton Cake Cutting Guide says that the same cake serves 100 people. Since I'd rather have too much cake than too little, and since E+B won't be cutting into the top tier (many couples like to reserve for their one year anniversary), I will be making a 3-tiered cake plus back-up 9" x 13" sheet cake. This is a nice alternative when a towering four-tiered cake might not be appropriate for the vibe of the wedding. There are always ways to achieve the exact scale your couple wants to see while also satisfying serving requirements. 

Whether the wedding is indoor or outdoor might steer you towards a certain icing choice. Fondant is a play dough like sugar paste that can be rolled our and draped over a cake. It's easy to work with when decorating and hold up extremely well to heat. The downside is that fondant has a very sweet taste and funny gummy texture that some people find unpleasant. Buttercream is your other, more tastier option and it has many variations. American is the simplest but it's also the sweetest and it doesn't hold up the best in warm weather. Meringue-based butter creams are a little more difficult to make but they have a far superior taste, rich and not too sweet, they're easier to work with, and they hold up pretty well in warm weather conditions. The two most popular meringue-based buttercreams are Italian and Swiss, which are mainly the same except for the technique. I am going with Italian because I've had the best results. It does take a little practice so I recommend making a few half batches until you get the hang of it.

Now on to the tasting. I was able to drive up to Ithaca last week-ish to do a cake tasting with Emma. It was such a great experience to finally show her everything we've been talking about over the last few months, and go through each step of making the cake. I'm sure not all brides care to be this involved in the making of the cake but for Emma, someone who is so passionate about cooking, it was perfect. We ended the weekend with a lavish cake eating party with some of her friends. 

We chose to make the lemon berry cake because I wanted to test the differences between using cornstarch and arrowroot in the berry filling, and I also wanted to try out using fresh ground cardamom in the lemon syrup. I choose not to use cornstarch because A- it's hard for our bodies to digest and B- we are so overly dependent on corn in the US, it is in one-forth of everything on our supermarket shelves, and 99% of the crops are modified, chemically treated, and synthetically fertilized. I'm VERY happy to report that cornstarch did not work any better than arrowroot in the thickening of my berry filling. In fact, arrowroot has a more neutral flavor, works at a lower temperature, and tolerates acidic ingredients and prolonged cooking better. The only downside is that arrowroot is pricier than cornstarch.

This is the last of my lead-up posts. Next up I'll be sharing the actual baking of the cakes, and all my learned tips and tricks for chiffon cakes. 

The nice thing about wedding cakes is you can outline a baking schedule that works within your timeframe. I'm baking the cakes on Wednesday night, making the fillings and syrups on Friday morning, and making the buttercream and assembling on the Saturday morning of the wedding. 

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