Pictured above: mini test take 2
Sooooo, my beautiful big sister asked me to make her wedding cake and I said “Yeah!!!!”
For weeks I was feeling flattered and important and not considering the repercussions of such a whole-hearted affirmative response. I’ve baked cakes before (although not my strong suit because my gift for aesthetics is somewhat lacking) and I didn’t feel nervous about her request for a long time.
In fact, I don’t think it was until we had our first official Cake Meeting (by which I mean we went to Bea’s of Bloomsbury and ate cake) and I got out my dorky notebook filled with awful sketches of cakes, when panic started to set in. When you make a wedding cake you really can’t get away with all the cheeky blags of home-baking: “gooey cookies” are under-baked; “brown butter” is burnt; “drizzle” is a frosting that didn’t thicken. Like I said, I’m no expert, but it occurred to me at this “meeting” maybe I needed to be.
But I grabbed the proverbial balls and panic was quickly followed by research. Research was even more quickly followed by a fresh wave of panic and the only thing that seemed to calm the panic was researching further. It was a confusing time.
After going through all of the bride’s specific requirements (definitely not coffee and walnut, no sugar flowers), I attempted to build my own kind of Frankenstein’s monster-esque cake made from ill-fitting elements of other cakes and frostings that I have admired from other recipes designed by people who probably know what they’re doing. I have a tendency to get a little carried away with experimentation in the kitchen. There were some tear-stained trial runs, including one brick-like white chocolate mud cake that I’m confident would be quite lethal if thrown from a first floor window. Eventually I knew what I had to do…. Follow a bloody recipe. Well, almost.
A wedding cake is a pretty personal and special thing and my sis asking me to make it for her made it all the more important. I wanted it to say something about her. So I started from the beginning and thought about flavour. Alice (sis) had quite an intense fondness for white chocolate when we were little. And since she became a mum on the cusp of a New Year, 31/12/2013, my nephew Oscar is our little family’s new obsession. One of his favourite things in the world is blueberries and since the moment he could first make proper half-word, gurgle sound thingys he was demanding “bloobs” from anyone that got within 3 feet of the fridge door. Blueberries and white chocolate….. That’s like what old Franky Sinatra said about love and marriage in my book. Good stuff.
Flavour sorted. Size? Style? Hello, second wave of minefield. Research Hat went back on and research head hurt from eyeballing too many size charts and graphs and just big sheets of numbers that made my numerically challenged brain want to hide in a cake-free bubble until the wedding was over. I kid you not it took me three weeks to get my head around a sum that would have taken an average five-year-old about half an hour. But, FINALLY, I had the appropriate proportions for the kind of batter I had chosen and I have always been a strong believer in making up your own frostings and fillings. Not depending on an oven means the only things to focus on are taste, colour and consistency and that’s personal, right? So I found a recipe, jazzed it up a little and then jazzed it up a little more with some bespoke (i.e. made-up) extras. I settled for two tiers, initially because I thought it would be less daunting. Turns out the bottom tier alone weighed more than the baby.
I don’t deal with stress well. I only got through what I was fully anticipating would be a small breakdown- aka morning of the wedding- because my parents metaphorically, and heroically, scooped me up and rescued me. Rescue came in the form of a home-made transportation box from my dad, as well as a kind of wallpapering technique commentary whilst I was decorating at the venue. My mum was graciously acting as a verbal punch bag whilst simultaneously trying to throw edible glitter into what we quickly realised was an air vent that swallowed it mercilessly and without warning. I was being a humourless mardy-arse the whole time. Note to self if ever asked to make a wedding cake again- it’s not life or death. Laugh it off.
I don’t have any pictures of the inside of it. I think I was too busy being relieved that it didn’t fall to a messy doom somewhere between the basement kitchen and lift-free reception area; that, and the ever-powerful distraction of free alcohol. I don’t even have many pictures of the thing itself. But it happened. I did it. People liked it (so they say).
On a very infantile bucket list I created when I was about seven, I believe the third point down was “make a giant cake”. I’ll tick that one off.
Incidentally, leftover homemade blueberry compote makes a damn fine filling for almost everything I’ve baked since. It’s still lurking in the freezer somewhere … I’m gonna be baking with “bloobs” for years.
For the 30cm round cake tin:
750g pack unsalted butter, room temperature
750g golden caster sugar
3 heaped tsp real good vanilla paste
15 large eggs, cracked into a jug and whisked
255g plain flour
300g full-fat Greek yogurt
750g self-raising flour
9 tbsp milk*
For the syrup
150g golden caster sugar
1 heaped tsp vanilla paste
For the 23cm round cake tin:
500g pack unsalted butter, room temperature
500g golden caster sugar
2 heaped tsp real good vanilla paste
10 large eggs, cracked into a jug and whisked
170g plain flour
200g full-fat Greek yogurt
500g self-raising flour
6 tbsp milk*
For the syrup
100g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
I made x2 30cm and x2 23cm
Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease and line tins accurately- base and sides. I decorated mine “half-naked” style so a clean crumb was important and lining the sides of the tin, higher than the tin itself helps this.
Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and a good pinch of good salt with electric beaters, until all fluffy.
Pour in the eggs, a little at a time, and beat really thoroughly each time. If the mixture curdles a little, add a tiny bit the plain flour.
Beat in the yoghurt.
Fold in the flours, using a large metal spoon. Then add the milk. Slowly, at this stage you’ll have a LOT of batter.
Bake the 30cm cakes for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Be aware of it though. Ovens are very different and mine baked at a different time every time I practised it. A skewer should come out clean. If it browns too fast, cover it with dampened greaseproof after 1.5 hours. The 23cm cake took between 1.5 and 2 hours, depending on the oven.
Whilst they’re baking, make the syrup by mixing the sugar and vanilla with the same amount of water (150g sugar, 150ml water) in a pan until dissolved.
Let the cakes cool for half an hour then skewer them all over and drizzle the syrup into them. Leave them to cool completely in their tins (this will take AGES), then wrap and freeze or fill and frost!
*(I actually used coconut milk in one of the trial runs and it worked just fine… doesn’t really change taste but if you fancied a non-dairy alternative it’s possible. I also did a mini version using coconut yoghurt then topped with coconut cream frosting and lime curd….. that was gooooood)
As I said, when it comes to frostings and fillings- to each his own. But this is what I did!
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
4 tbsp cornstarch
1.5kg full fat cream cheese, softened
1kg melted white chocolate
4 teaspoons good vanilla
Generous pinch of sea salt
Melt the chocolate VERY gently in a pan with a good knob of butter. Stir a lot, and keep an eye. White chocolate is weird. There’s science behind it but I’m not the one to explain that. Abridged version of science= white chocolate melts weird. So be nice to it.
Whip the cream cheese with electric beaters, add vanilla, salt and cornstarch and whip a little more.
Gently fold in the melted chocolate until gloriously combined.
Fridge it till needed!
1kg Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla paste
100g icing sugar, sifted
720ml heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp cornstarch
Beat the mascarpone down a little. Add the vanilla and sugar (this is not meant to be sweet, hence gap in cheese and sugar weight!)
Gradually add the cream and whisk in, until it starts to thicken. Add the cornstarch and whisk again until it’s really super intimidatingly thick! Adjust quantities if necessary
6 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice and rind
Combine the blueberries, maple syrup, and lemon juice in a sauce pan over medium heat. If it doesn’t thicken, add some cornstarch. Once cooled, blend until super smooth!
Once the cakes are completely cooled, use a cake cutter to evenly cut them into three. Then it becomes a scone argument- jam or cream first!? I tried both ways and, frankly, both felt awkward. In the end, smearing cream cheese frosting on first, then sort of drizzling the compote on top seemed more natural. Then top it with the next cake and begin again. Again, because of the “nakedness” of my decorating, this stage had to be kept as neat as possible. I tried. I failed. It’s hard. Neatness out of the window. I did a crumb layer with lime curd, which helped.
I am not going to go into the doweling rod process here. There are a millions sites that explain it and it depends what your cake size, height, batter is etc. Buy the right dowels for you and practice with them.Just make sure they sit just inside the bottom layer, so the top layer sits on evenly. YouTube tutorials are good!
Grab ya palette knife and get “wallpapering” on the mascarpone. The voice of my dad is burned into my memory: always in the same direction, turn the cake and you spread it on, do one layer, scrape off, then layer again in the same direction……. et voila!
Below is leftover compote sandwiched in coconut and lime fairy cakes! yummm