Monday, October 15, 2012

My First Wedding Cake

Hello my dear friends!

I have to start with some reasoning for the long break...may be that will soften things a little bit. Despite my random posts, I still continue baking, however, I wasn't finding time to tell you about it. As I had mentioned before, I love my hobby. I get excited about every single cake I make, and don't mind the sleepless nights, only so I can see a happy face and a smile when I reveal it. It has been a while since I posted anything here, but I had great events happening during that time and want to tell you about one of them - my first wedding cake.

A while back, a physician who I work with (I work in the Radiology department of the best hospital in MI), asked me if I had made a wedding cake and if I was willing to make his daughter's wedding cake. What an honor was that for me! A wedding cake? Of course I am willing to make it! So, I said yes. I was sooo excited, so it took me some time to realize...a wedding cake...this is such a huge responsibility! And how do I do it successfully? I am one of those people who jumps at an opportunity and make things work, rather than thinking about it to the point when I decide that I can't do it. I know that I can do anything if I really wanted to, so I just do it. It is usually really hard, but it has always worked for me so far.

So...I met with Matt and Christina (the groom and bride to be), and had a discussion about the wedding cake. What a nice couple! I immediately felt a connection with both. You know, that feeling when you meet someone and you realize that you like them without knowing anything about that person. Matt and Christina told me that they are designing their wedding in the colors of their invitation, tangerine and turquoise, and those were the colors they wanted for the cake. I put some sketches together and sent them my drawings of different designs. After pictures and some discussions we decided that the cake would be made of different height turquoise squares of cake, with tangerine applique of the tree on the side. Christina mentioned that the flowers of the wedding will be hydrangeas and calla lilies, and she wanted those incorporated into the cake too. During our conversation she mentioned LED lights, and I immediately thought I can raise some of the branches of the tree and hang LED lights and sugar crystals on them. It was a plan! Now onto to realizing it...

I knew I had to plan in advance and plan well. I was going to make a cake for 250 people, where the cake would be the only desert, so I needed to plan for bigger pieces. The only desert....right? Huh? My cake? It has to be outstanding in taste! And then....what if I got sick before the wedding? What if something happened to me and I didn't have anyone to rely on to ask them to step in for me...I just prayed that everything went well. I must be there for this couple no matter what, and need to do a great job not for myself, but for them. I can't let them down.

Time for some planning...Cake stand, cake supports, separator plates, pads, batter amounts, pans...crazy! I read, and read, and read about how to succeed in making a wedding cake. I was planning to have 8 layers of cake with several small raisers in between some of the layers, or almost 3 ft tall cake. I am sure people thought I was crazy to do that for my very first wedding cake, but I knew I can do it. Do you already picture a huge cake, slowly sliding to the side and finally smashing on the floor into pieces, right in the middle of a dance floor of a wedding with a couple of hundred people staring at it? This was my vision until the end, one of my greatest fears. Hmmm, and if that happened, imagine having to go to back to work after that wedding, in a place where the dad is the Chair of the department....I definitely did not want to be that person. As much as I was trying to keep quiet, everyone at work already knew that I was making the cake.Well, it was all up to me now.

Professional bakers typically offer cake samples, so why wouldn't I, if I was striving to perform as close to a professional as possible. I made 5 different flavors, packed them and took them to work, so that dad can take the samples home. And oh my! I saw Christina's picture on Facebook the next day, and I thought "That was it! I screwed up!" Some of the directional decorations on the small cakes had run down and fallen off to the side. My heart sank. I was hoping that they at least liked the taste of what I offered. Well, they did.

Here is where I probably need to mention that I have made a lot of different recipes. I have found that there is a significant difference between what my European friends like, and what the American standard of a good cake is. In short, Europeans like their cakes with very little butter or oil and moisturized with syrups cake layers, while the American cake is baked with lots of butter or oil to make it moist. I made both types, just to be on the safe side. Christina and Matt selected a chocolate cake with whipped cream and caramel filling. It took a few batches to come up with the right chocolate cake that was moist, not overly sweet, chocolatey enough, but not too rich, bouncy and tasty. And as to the filling, who doesn't like caramel and whipped cream?

Advanced preparation was going to be key for me, so I started making my sugar flowers weeks in advance. A couple of weeks before the wedding I had hydrangea flowers all over my house. But, I loved the way they were turning out, I was very happy with how things were coming along. 

I had purchased everything I needed except the cake stand. I looked, and looked, and found that there aren't that many choices (or I wasn't finding them) that I liked. The stands didn't look sturdy enough to bear the weight of such a large cake. I needed help to come up with a stand that would hold the weight of my cake, be stylish, and not too busy to take away from the cake design. I asked my husband for help with it. I knew exactly what I wanted, now I had to make sure I restated that to him to make sure he makes what I want. It wasn't without re-doing some things, but after it was all done, I was happy with the final product. It was for sure that this stand will hold a cake this big. 

Closer to the wedding the number of guests was reduced and I had to tweak the design to adjust the number of servings. Still over 200 servings though. My accounting skills came in much do I need of the cake batter, sugar, butter, cocoa, chocolate, eggs, etc.? I came right on! I was so proud of myself.

A weekend before the weeding...I was planning to start making the fondant, buttercream, and some of the other things that can be prepared in advance without compromising quality. Guess what? I got sick!.... I couldn't let that happen. Thankfully it wasn't anything else but my allergies. Quick fix, whew!

I made silicone leaf mold from a real
hydrangea leaf that I picked from my garden 
....and a hydrangea veiner to
use for the flowers too
So, all was fine again, but when do I start baking so that I can put the cake together, ice it, cover with fondant and have time to decorate it while keeping it as fresh as possible? And....plan for time to fix any misshaps. All by myself? It was so much measuring and baking on that Thursday that by the time I was done I could tell you the recipe in my sleep and could probably measure without the scale. On Friday all cakes were iced with buttercream, waiting in the fridge to be covered in fondant and put together into two big pieces so we can transport them to the venue. I have a fridge (one of the three) that I use exclusively for cakes and it is located on the lower level of our house. Do I need to say how many times I went up and down those stairs in those two days? Excellent exercise! And just so you know, I was literally running up and down without any effort.

Calla lily centers ready to color
Dollar Store foam sheets come in
handy when you have
to make many calla lilies.
I planned having three 10 in square cakes, each 4 in tall, assembled as one of the layers, in addition to two 12 in ones assembled as another layer of the final cake, added to a single 16 in, a single 8 in, and a 6 in square top. The 12 in cakes were put together and refrigerated! I assembled the three 10 in cakes separated with wooden dowels to support each layer, and as my husband was helping me put this piece in the fridge, the cakes shifted! All three layers almost fell apart! I am so glad it happened at home. The wooden dowels were sturdy enough to bear the weight, but were not wide enough to provide stability. I had chosen to use the wooden ones instead of the plastic cake dowels I bought, as the plastic would have basically taken out 4 servings per layer (28 in total), which would have messed up my total servings count. Well, I had to use the big dowels now and had to make extra cake so I can have enough servings for all guests!

At this point (late Friday afternoon), I was freaking out and very scared about how all this will turn out! I didn't have time for much experimenting and had to come up with a solution very quickly! I decided that I would take out two 4 in cake layers and make three separate cakes in addition to the big one. I'd rather change the design and make it safe than having my initial fear become a reality. Thanks to my husband who was helping me keep my sanity that day! I wouldn't have done all the lifting without him either. One person can't possibly make this large wedding cake alone!

One of the toppers I made
I was able to match the colors of the fondant very, very closely to the invitation, and was very pleased with that. However, I committed to make the fondant from marshmellows so that it is a little tastier than the store bought one, and it did not turn out to be as smooth as I wished. I had cut out tree branches in advance and let them dry so I can later attach to the cake. I am just going to say that not all of them worked as intended. I had also made the topper (a couple of them by now) and let that dry, so it was ready to just put on top of the cake at the venue.

It was Saturday now, and after three hours of sleep (I had trouble sleeping that night as you might imagine!), time was flying by faster than ever. By now I was hurrying to match the tree pieces on the two separate pieces of the cake without having it all assembled, and so nervous that my hands were shaking and couldn't do anything right. Thanks to my lovely husband (yet again I have to admit), for all of his help! I couldn't have done it without him!

The lower half of the cake was on the stand, with a long wooden rod in the middle for stability and the other half in the cake box, that I received as a gift from a bunch of lovely Bulgarian friends this summer (thank you girls! it worked perfectly!). I had 15 minutes to get ready and to head to the venue for the cake set up (we were invited to the wedding too). I usually need a lot more time than that to get ready, but....I managed.

Cakes were loaded into the van and ready to go! And did I think of taking pictures? Of course not! I was a nervous wreck!

After 50 pounds of powdered sugar, 48 sticks of butter, 25 doses of chocolate cake and a couple of sleepless nights we arrived with the cake at Pine Lake Country Club and started setting it up. I pulled out the two boxes of small LED lights (battery operated, lasting 8 hrs, according to the boxes) that I was going to put on the cake and started twisting them to light up. Guess how many of them worked? 6-7 out of the 24! Of course! Of course! And d..., next morning when we were cleaning up the van, quite a few of those suckers were glowing! To my further surprise, now when I was writing this post, I happened to check the boxes, and viola! A whole other bunch of them were still lit up! That's 2 weeks after the wedding!!!! Why not when I needed them? Well, fix with what you have and go on!

Mmmm...homemade buttercream!
It was now time for the guests to start coming and I didn't have any pictures of the entire assembled cake. I did my best....and I wish I had more time for that, but...lesson learned. The professional photographers took some pictures later....Click here for Arising Images blog, where they posted some pictures of Matt and Christina. You will also see the amazing work these photographers do.

It was now after cocktail hour, after all guests settled at their tables, and after I had already received positive feedback about the cake, and I still couldn't relax. It wasn't until after staff took that cake out of the dance floor to cut it when I finally started settling back. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I also heard from a few people that they loved the taste too (including the Dad of the bride), so I was happy.

I could go home and get some rest finally. And oh boy, was it hard going down the stairs to the lower level the next day....So many muscles (that I didn't know I had) were aching on Sunday, but it actually felt really really good. I was filled with sense of accomplishment, some warm, genuine, sincere and beautiful feeling that grabbed me the day I met Matt and Christina and I stuck with me to the last minute at the wedding. Thanks to the family for the honor and the opportunity to work on something so important as the wedding cake!

All this is perhaps an everyday happening for some people, and is probably not so important for others, but it was very special for me. I had a great experience and was filled with very good feelings that hopefully I was able to describe so well that they reached you through the lines of this post. I have learned a lot during the process. Despite the snags along the way I enjoyed every single minute of the planning, baking and revealing the cake. May be because it was my first, or may be because I got too excited about this cake, but I felt like I had to share all of these feelings with everyone. I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience as much as I did while making the cake! And here are some pictures of it....

The cake set up at the venue

Sugar flowers

And the lights...

I will continue to share with all of you all the love I put into each and everyone of my cakes. I always hope that my work will make more and more people happy. That's what makes me happy in return. Thank you again for stopping by!

See you soon!


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    1. Thank you poona! I am glad you found my post interesting and thank you for stopping by my blog. :)