Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to Bake a Wedding Cake or Am I Freakin' Nuts?

The test cake. I couldn't get The Candyman to do a test cake-cutting. He was all about the taste-testing though!

OK, my tutorial here is mostly for self-examination of my own cooking skills. Follow at your own risk! If you have helpful hints, by all means, SHARE! :)

A premise – I am a pretty good cook. I’m not a fantastic cook, but I’m good. I know my strengths (all things veggie related, pork tenderloin, grits, Thanksgiving turkey, my special chocolate chip cookies, casseroles) and my weaknesses (beef related items, grilling, deep frying anything). I am a so-so baker. It really depends on what it is.


So I started this foray into baking my own wedding cake because I think $4.50 a slice is ridiculous. I really do. Getting a really nice cake is probably worth that kind of money, however we just don’t have that in the budget. I spent the cake fund on my dress!


I began by reading several recipes on-line and researching wedding cake preparation. I needed just a few tools, so headed over to Joann’s, armed with 40% and 50% off coupons. I purchased items that I knew I would use again or that were really inexpensive:


I got the smallest decorating tip, one reusable parchment bag, a cake leveler (WHY have I not invested in one of these before?), an icing spatula and Meringue Powder (the butter cream recipe called for it). With my coupons and tax, I spent $16.48. Not too bad since I’ll use most things again.


First note to self: you need a stand mixer. Thank goodness we registered for one. If I actually go through with this plan, I’ll have to borrow one, for sure. I made the icing first using a recipe I found on What’s Cooking America. I didn’t use the Wilton recipe as it uses only shortening and I wanted this to have butter in it. I did not use the butter flavoring here, instead I used butter flavored Crisco. It worked fabulously.

Butter Cream Icing

  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups Crisco shortening
  • 1 teaspoon butter flavoring (Wilton's makes this and is available at Joann's)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (some recipes said to use clear, I didn't)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 pounds powdered (confectioners) cane sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder (optional but the texture will be smoother)*
  • Water as necessary (the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons but you may need more or less depending on the humidity in your neighborhood. I didn't use any.)
*You can purchase meringue powder at your local grocery store under the brand name of Just Whites or at Joann’s.


In the mixer, mix butter, Crisco shortening, and salt together to incorporate, about 5 minutes on low.

Add almond, butter and vanilla extracts. Mix together well. Add about 1 pound of powdered sugar and the meringue powder and mix.

Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar at a time and mix until you get the consistency you want.

Add a little milk, a teaspoon at a time, if necessary to thin the frosting. Blend well on low for several minutes.


Just so you know, this makes a hella lot of icing. I stuck this in the fridge to chill and went to Lowe’s with The Candyman. When we got back from our expedition in patio tiles, I got to work on the cake batter. It was relatively simple, as was the icing, just time consuming because I only have a hand mixer.

Mmmmmm....butter cream!

For the cake, I followed the Wilton recipe and guidelines.

Butter Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon clear almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
Makes about 7 1/2 cups cake batter.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray pans with vegetable pan spray, or use Cake Release.

In mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and almond flavor. Mix flour with baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, starting with the flour; mix well. Pour into prepared pans.

Refer to baking chart, for baking times and temperatures for specific pans.

I made a 2-layer 8" round cake and used 3 1/2 cups of batter in each pan. I had left overs so made some cupcakes too.

So, not all that pretty, but they tasted okay!

The issues I had:
  • The instructions said 30-35 minutes to bake. At 30 minutes, the center was still liquid. I set the time for eight more minutes, meaning to check at four, got side tracked and over-baked slightly.
  • I used 2% milk and I think it needs whole milk.
  • I whipped my icing on high instead of low (ooops) and it had LOTS of air, making it difficult to get smooth (see top picture!).
  • I took too much air out of the cake layers by banging the pans on the counter too many times.
Results:
  • Excellent tasting icing, but not smooth. I think if I don't try to get it smooth (embrace texture) and top with flowers it will be nice.
  • Cupcakes weren't over cooked and were light and airy, but a little dry.
  • Cake was over-cooked therefore too dense and a little dry.
Tips:
  • Use fresh ingredients. I always update my baking soda and powder when I'm baking something I want to be good.
  • Use quality ingredients, especially with flour and sugar.
  • Be consistent in the products you use. I learned from watching Baking with Julia Child that using the same kinds of eggs (I use cage-free and organic) every time you bake bread teaches you how to adjust your kneading. Sounds weird, but would YOU question Julia?

I think the whole milk might help the dry factor. Does any one know anything about this? Does anyone have any fabulous cake recipes they would like to share? Do people think I'm a nut-job for even thinking about attempting this? Based on Wilton's serving guidelines, I'd need four cakes. Will I have time to do this? I need some feedback!

11 comments:

  1. Yes, you are freakin nuts!!! LOL

    I can't believe this is the same Anti-Establishment/Anti-Tradition, Anti-Wedding chick I have known forever! Your rep is DEFINITELY ruined. ;)

    Oh, and the cake looks yummo - sorry to Rachael Ray you.

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  2. At least you didn't mention "EVOO, Extra Virgin Olive Oil." I mean, what's the point of using an acronym if you say the long version after the acronym EVERY SINGLE TIME? Rachael Ray annoys the hell out of me.

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  3. That's more like it.

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  4. Wow, I totally commend you for attempting to bake your cake and it looks good from the pictures. But it is a lot to stress about - smoothness of icing, dryness of cake, etc.

    It's of course totally up to you.
    Could you get help from family or friends to do it? Or could you half and half it somehow? Or make some and purchase the rest from a nice supermarket or neighborhood bakery? But I am totally with you - wedding cake is unnecessarily overpriced. I honestly have not had a single good piece of wedding cake so I nixed the traditional kind. Would you consider other desserts (tarts come to mind, or a dessert smorgasboard)? You could still cut into a small cake.

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  5. Cousin, the cake looks fab! And I will help you if you need help. But I suppose I do worry a bit about the magnitude of this endeavor. When would the baking occur?

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  6. The Candyman and I are sitting ourselves down to timetables this weekend - who/what/ when/where.
    I might ask Dr. P if I can borrow his house for baking (stand mixer, double ovens, giant frig, massive counter space). It would be great to use his house as a staging area!

    The icing will actually keep for weeks if properly stored so it can be made well in advance. The cakes can be made and frozen, but I would hate to do that. They could stay in the frig for a day or two though and that would be OK. Don't you think?

    The Candyman wants in on the action too, so it's not like I would be flying solo on the cake baking experience! :)

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  7. Louise--yes you are indeed nuts for attempting to bake your own cake. But if you insist, look for a pound cake style recipe with lots of eggs and butter, and yes whole milk if the recipe calls for it. This will ensure a dense, moist cake with gorgeous texture. You can add any flavorings if you like. I tend to avoid extracts in favor of essential oils, or even the zest of potent citrus flavors, like lemon zest, etc. Also, don't neglect cake flour, which makes a more refined cake texture.
    That said, consider your frosting. A standard buttercream will tend towards a more "sugary" product, tasting of little but powdered sugar and butter. Have you looked into an Italian Meringue Buttercream? It's made with egg whites, granulated sugar, and tons of butter, but it's extremely flavorful without being "tooth-achingly" sweet. Problem is it's a little harder to work with and the cake will need to be refrigerated. But so worth it. If you need more advice let me know. Seriously I have done this type of thing quite often in recent months.

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  8. Yes, you are nuts. There are too many other things to worry about. (I checked with all the brides I know and they confirmed it. Ha!)
    --Scott

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  9. Awesome! I think I will attempt to as well, or maybe my FMIL... not sure yet. I think it's a great idea if you can pull it off, which of course you can ;)

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  10. This post looks delicious lol. I will surely make this cake for my partner.

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