You can read how this all began here.
I had no idea how to pack gum paste decorations for traveling. Reassuring online research and a not-so-reassuring phone call to TSA had me nervous about flying with so many wires sticking out of objects. Handing the flowers over to be thrown into checked luggage wasn’t an option, so I had to figure out how to carry them on.
Originally, I wanted to layer the decorations in egg crate foam, but apparently everyone who lives nearby is either sleeping very well or not well at all because it was out of stock everywhere.
Instead, I used styrofoam cups and bowls to pack the flowers.
For the roses, I cut the tops off of the cups so they would fit stacked two high in cake boxes and lined each cup with tissue or paper towels. With each flower’s wire, I punctured a hole in the tissue lining and cup bottom, then pulled the wire out through cup until the bloom was cushioned in the tissue. I used another tissue for cushion on the top and hooked the flower’s long wire over the top of the cup. For the peonies I used the same method using bowls. I topped each peony with another bowl to shield the edges of the petals. Leaves and balls I wrapped individually and stacked together then wrapped again with paper towels.
Everything went in three 10″x10″ cake boxes, a size I knew would fit under a seat on a plane.
The flowers were protected from jarring in transport and easy enough to look at if an agent wanted to get a closer look.
And it worked. It all fit and nothing broke. Airport security took no issue with my carry-on. Agents were more interested to know if it was cake in there (no) and could they have some (NO). The boxes fit neatly under airplane seats and the flight went without incident.
When we arrived in Texas I put cake making to the side for a few days to help with wedding preparations. My parents hosted the reception at their house and also made all of the food. It was insane and still makes me tired to think about it.
When I finally extricated myself from savory cooking I started making the actual cake.
Originally, my sister wanted a chocolate cake with berry filling. When we got to Texas her husband-to-be asked for vanilla tiers as well. I wanted to cry a little bit because at that point wedding preparations were verging on a National Lampoon’s Vacation level. If it could go wrong, it did, AND MY HOW IT DID.
I am all about asserting myself and saying ‘no’ when I need to, but this was my sister, so a chocolate and vanilla cake went on the menu.
The cake needed to feed about 170 people. I used a tremendously helpful website to experiment with tier sizes and servings so I could see what the cake would look like with various tier sizes.
Once I knew the sizes of the tiers I wanted to make I started the math for the recipes.
It took some spreadsheets.
I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible (that’s an affiliate link through Amazon, here’s a non-affiliate link if you’d like) when making this cake. I use The Cake Bible whenever I need a cake not to fail. Which is always. I always use it. I love other baking books but this book is the best book for cakes, the end.
The Cake Bible has a section that allows you to scale several recipes by pan size. You can’t just double a recipe and put it in a bigger pan and expect your cake to turn out well because cakes are assholes.
The edition I own has outdated serving sizes for wedding cakes so I adjusted the serving sizes in each tier. Once all of the counts, numbers, and adjustments were in, I checked the weights of my ingredients more times than I can count, fixed them a few times (sweaty armpits again when I almost missed a major baking powder error), then checked everything another time.
While my mom has everything to make anything savory, she doesn’t bake very much. I had to make some emergency trips to the store for teeny cake pans, large cake pans, larger cake pans, and largest cake pans.
Trying to muster up some of the initial battle cry I started out with a few months ago, I started baking. And then promptly sent my husband out on another emergency run for cooling racks.
I made do with a colander for the 4″ top tier but was thankful when I had proper cooling racks shortly thereafter.
Making the sponges was the easiest part of everything.
The challenge of the cake came in two forms: ruffles and weather.
My sister doesn’t care for fondant but wanted stiff, nearly translucent, edible ruffles covering the cake. When researching techniques, I read that the types of ruffles she wanted are usually made of fondant or gum paste then attached to a fondant-covered cake using a little bit of water to ‘glue’ them on.
Determined not to watch guests peel off of their cakes layers of fondant or see gum paste ruffles shatter during cake cutting, I wanted the ruffles to be the only fondant on the cake.
Looking ahead, I knew It was supposed to be in the low 80s (F) and the cake was going to be outside. I needed a stable non-fondant frosting for the tiers of the cake that would hold the ruffles on without sliding off the cake as it sat in the heat for hours.
Mousseline frosting solved everything. An Italian meringue buttercream, egg whites in the frosting provided the stability and strength I needed.
I flavored the frosting with raspberry liqueur and made more than I needed to. I did not want to be caught needing to make more frosting when I was already exhausted, a lesson learned the hard way a few years ago.
Three days before the wedding I had the sponges completed.
That day I torted the five tiers, brushed them with simple syrup, and filled them with a berry puree I made the day before. I put a crumb coat of the mousseline frosting on and stored the cake in refrigerators overnight.
The next day I put the final coat of frosting on the tiers and started the ruffles.
I made a large batch of marshmallow fondant. My sister asked for ivory ruffles so I tinted it with a drop of so of brown dye.
Working in batches, I thinly rolled out pieces of fondant and used a pizza wheel to cut the entire piece into skinny strips.
I frilled each strip with gum paste tools and applied it the cake, one by one, using a small line of frosting to make sure it adhered well.
I repeated that until I wanted to throw up
and then did it four more times.
I finished at around 10 p.m. the night before the wedding.
I drove straws through tiers so I could stack them on the day of the wedding. The straws allow for less displacement of cake than dowels but still provide enough support to hold the tiers up on each other.
Looking at the finished cakes that night and planning for what the next day would look like (chaos) I quickly realized a few mistakes.
1) I should have stacked the cake that night and used an additional support stake through all of the tiers. The cake would be tall and heavy and I was concerned about it tipping, even with the straws. I would have to transport each tier outside, one by one, instead of being able to do it in one trip with some help. It was too late at that point to do anything about it since I didn’t have the necessary hole drilled in the cake boards (the plate-like cardboard pieces on which each tier sat).
2) It was going to be hot the next day so the cake had to stay inside until the reception. It dawned on me that since the cake was not already stacked and adorned with flowers (I didn’t want the gum paste in contact with the cake to start getting soft on the cake which happens over the course of a few hours) I would have to assemble and add the flowers after we got back from the ceremony while the reception was going on. My mother hired waitstaff to help the next day but I did not trust them to carry and assemble the cake.
They were mistakes that could not be fixed and had to be worked into the plan.
The next morning the cleaning crew didn’t show, the rental company didn’t set up the dance floor, chairs, or tables, and we found they only gave us bowls instead of plates and not enough cups or utensils.
Also, it was the day of the wedding.
I told you it was National Lampooney. And I didn’t even tell you about the septic system problems.
My husband and I took over the cleaning crew’s job. Some of my family went outside to set up tables and chairs while other members scoured Texas for rental companies that would supplement equipment since the original rental company couldn’t.
It was a stressful morning.
Finally, a little later as things were coming together, some of us left for the church to meet my sister there for photographs while others stayed to tame the madness. I was supposed to do the bride’s makeup (you’d be surprised at how much makeup application and cake decorating have in common) so I showed up with my kit and waited for her to get there from her hair appointment.
And waited. And waited some more.
We got word that she was stuck in traffic from an accident on the highway but that she should be there in time for the wedding.
My to-be-wedded sister walked in five minutes before she was supposed to walk down the aisle and that was the fastest I have ever applied event makeup in my life.
The wedding was a success with everyone forever holding their peace and a newly married couple exiting the church riding unicorns and hearts in their eyes and rainbows out their ears or pretty much just looking like that because they were so happy.
And then it was
party time cake time.
My husband and I “drove the speed limit” back to my parents’ house and started working on transporting the cake tiers to the small gazebo and table where they would be on display.
I stopped short when I walked up to it because it was in 100% direct beaming sunlight.
I’m not sure how I missed this the entire week I had been there. There was no changing it now or shielding the cake so I prayed fervently that this stupid pile of butter and sugar would hold and all of the work wouldn’t slide off to crash in a pile of sadness and ruin.
My armpits were sweaty again and I wanted to run away screaming I DON’T DO WEDDING CAKES I DON’T DO WEDDING CAKES forever and ever.
Instead, I stacked the tiers and started poking flowers in.
I have two regrets with this cake. The first is that I didn’t use a dummy cake to practice wiring the flowers together on the cake. I felt like I put them in haphazardly in the end which still bothers me. I wanted them doing that cascade thing, remember
The second is that I didn’t have a cake stand. My mom and I had a miscommunication about it and I ended up having to set the cake board directly on the cake table. It was fine, just not exactly how I wanted it.
But regrets and all, once it was stacked up, flowers all in, I took a step back and exhaled for the first time in a week.
photo courtesy of Chris Rake Photography.
photo courtesy of Chris Rake Photography.
photo courtesy of Chris Rake Photography.
I managed to keep breathing for the rest of the reception but didn’t relax until the cake cutting. Despite being in the sun the cake held up beautifully. Nothing slid off or even around a little. The stupid pile of butter and sugar stood there very nicely for the whole reception. Thank you, mousseline.
There are a million things I could pick apart about the cake but I am just happy I was able to do it. It could have gone wrong and failed spectacularly at so many points but it didn’t.
I’m still not sold on making wedding cakes. They are in the realm of possibility now but still make me sweat. At least now there is less crying and more triumphant screaming.