Extreme Cake Baking: The Wedding Edition

Several months ago, at my cousin’s open-bar wedding reception, my sister and I were enthusiastically dancing to an extremely “basic” Ke$ha or J-biebs song. In the heat of the excitement and overwhelming emotions of the day, I was very emotionally expressing to my sister how excited and happy I was that she found her perfect man and was getting married. It was in this excitement, that I suggested something mildly crazy: “Hey, what if I baked your wedding cake?” And thus, the idea was planted. The next day, my sister called me, just to make sure that the decision to bake her wedding cake was not due to any influence of champagne or wedding hype. In my head, I thought I’m a mechanical engineer. How hard can constructing a wedding cake be? I totally got this.  Plus, in the semester leading up to her wedding, I was supposed to be mostly done with my graduate thesis work, and relaxing and building a BattleBot. Should be pretty free, right? I enthusiastically confirmed that I’d still be down to bake this cake and told her to relax and trust me.

Fast forward several months to May. My spring semester had proved to be significantly busier than I had initially anticipated, and I still haven’t made any progress on cake baking. Amidst my panicking thesis struggles, I did some quick research on wedding cakes and decided to buy a very highly recommended book as a starting place. This book was amazing. It outline everything I needed to make this wedding cake, and came with a bunch of cake design options, quantity scaling charts, and recipes for several flavors of cakes/frostings.

At the end of May, I had finally had some time to test out some recipes from the book and went on a quick Amazon Prime shopping spree for cake pans. I decided to make a 4-in test tier (the smallest tier in the requested size) for my sister’s requested “chocolate cake with coffee interior frosting and vanilla exterior buttercream.” And so, the adventure begins…

One thing I apparently need to learn over and over again, is to ALWAYS read recipes ahead of time, NOT right before making the thing, especially if it’s for baking, as many things often require to be defrosted or brought to room temperature. For this cake and frosting, it was especially annoying, as I needed to bring several things (eggs, milk, butter) to room temperature before using. The baking schedule kept getting put off, because I had a hard time remembering to take things out of the fridge ahead of time. Whoops.

Eventually, I got around to making this test cake in it’s entirety (with some help from Jamison). It includes the cake, buttercream, and moistening syrup. What is this mysterious moistening syrup? Turns out, because wedding cakes are such large endeavors, it often takes several days, even weeks to fully bake and assemble. During this time, the cakes may dry up from being in the freezer or refrigerator. The moistening syrup is a sugary or flavored syrup that not only adds extra flavoring to the cake, but also adds back moisture that may have escaped in the building process. That’s the secret to having moist wedding cakes (shh)! The process for making the test cake went pretty smoothly.

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First layer of test tier

I wish I had a photo of the cake with a banana for scale, because a 4-in cake is absolutely ADORABLE! Fully assembled, it’s taller than it is wide :).

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First layer of test tier

As a test, I applied moistening syrup to only one of the layers inside the cake. My plan was to see if people could taste the difference between the layer with the moistening syrup, and those without. I frosted the cake and brought it into work to let my colleagues and friends taste test. Overall, the cake was very well received! This was very good news. I wouldn’t have to look up new recipes (score!).

For good measure, I had planned to make a fully assembled test cake for the 7-in tier for my sister to try when she visited me for my graduation, but, alas, I got distracted (oops!). I’m so grateful that my sister trusted my baking abilities so much. I mean, who else would be crazy enough to trust their little sister with baking something as important as a wedding cake, with no prior experience of such an endeavor?

Somehow time just flew by, and it was time to make the official cake. I made a schedule following the recommendations from the book, and decided that I will do all the baking and making back in Michigan, dump everything in a cooler, and drive it down to Ohio for assembly.  I flew back to my parents 1.5 weeks before the wedding. That’s enough time to practice and bake a wedding cake right? None of the recipes were particularly difficult, but the sheer volume of cake and frosting made the whole process rather time consuming and tedious. Still, it was enough time; even if i spent several hours a day playing too much League and Overwatch–ha. Since the buttercream frosting could be refrigerated for up to a month, I made it first. After scaling the recipe for all the cake tiers, I ended up making something like 21 cups of buttercream. Here’s the amount of butter that went into it:

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First layer of test tier

And that’s just the buttercream frosting. Anyway, about a third of the frosting was espresso and Kahlua flavored, and the rest was vanilla, as requested.

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First layer of test tier

The assembly and frosting of the cake was much more involved and annoying when it came to larger tiers. It’s quite important to make sure that each tier is individually very level; imagine the error stack-up if each tier were just slightly crooked?! I wish I had practiced it a little more, but thanks to Jamison’s moral support, I was able to finally level and frost all the cake tiers at some ungodly hour in the middle of Thursday night before the wedding.

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So many cakes!
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Frosting the cakes! (photocred Jamison Go)
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First layer of buttercream complete!

I finished each individual cake tier right before the rehearsal dinner on Friday with help from Jamison, and the backseat driving of my lovely, large, enthusiastic extended family. Now, all that would be left is the assembly of the tiers at the venue!

The day of the wedding was rather hectic, although I think I did pretty well as a first time Maid of Honor! The assembly of the cake went rather well, although I had to run off mid-assembly, so Jamison stepped in for the (almost) finishing touches on the cake. The final touch was the fresh flowers from the florist; I have to say, the cake looked much more elegant with the addition of flowers :).

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Ta-da!

I was really happy (and relieved!) that the cake turned out so well! Everyone told me it tasted awesome (although, it may have just been that people were being nice). But I’ll take it! My sister even had an awesome sign made for me!

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And thanks Jamison for helping :D!

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Final thoughts: Baking a wedding cake is definitely doable, as long as you have patience, time, and refrigerator space. I think the experience would have been more relaxing if I weren’t also Maid of Honor, but crazy as it might sound, I’d actually do it again! So, if anyone’s getting married… 😀

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