Sunday, July 6, 2014

DIY Wedding Cake Part 2: Avoid Wedding Cake Horror Stories

Wedding cake disasters happen when you least expect them

It's Bake Your Own Wedding Cake Show Time!

Your DIY Wedding Cake Should be an Important Part 
of a Beautiful Beginning
You've got three days to create a wedding cake miracle; and despite your enthusiasm, you can't imagine mustering the energy to do one more thing before your wedding day. If you want a last minute out, no one will blame you. It's short notice, but a bakery might be able to throw together a wedding cake at the last minute.
If you're still committed to making your wedding cake all by yourself, it's show time! Head for the kitchen, double check your mixer to make sure it's operating properly and get started.

Day One - Bake Your Heart Out
Get a big bowl. You'll need to mix a lot of batter at once. 
Rise early! Baking may take a good part of your day. A four layer cake is actually eight layers in all, four pans filled and baked then cleaned, dried, refilled and baked again.
  1. If you're feeling particularly domestic, you may feel a resurgence of the urge to bake your cake from scratch. This is not the time for domesticity. Get out your boxes of cake mix.
  2. Preheat your oven to a temperature about twenty-five degrees lower than boxed cake mix instructions. It will take a bit longer, but the cake will be moister.
  3. Before you mix one single bowl of cake batter, pull your hair back with a band, then cover it with a light scarf to keep stray hairs from ruining your hard work.
  4. Traditional cake baking instructions call for greasing and flouring your pans, but a slightly thick paste of oil, shortening and flour will do a better job. Use a pastry brush to coat each cake pan. Your layers won't stick and the cake surfaces will be smooth.
  5. For even heat distribution, use your oven's middle cooking racks. The highest or lowest racks could under or overcook your wedding cake layers. Unless you have an oversized oven, you will only be able to fit in a few pans at a time.
  6. Cool cooked layers on racks then put them in cake boxes until day two. Store them in your refrigerator if you have enough room and there are no smelly foods inside to contaminate them.
Day Two - Frost-a-thon
If you've ever been among a group of wedding cake bakers, you may have noticed the conversation shift to wedding cake horror stories, some of which involved frosting, a hot car and a summer day. With butter (or margarine) and shortening as butter cream frosting's primary ingredients, it's easy to imagine the sad possibilities.
For a beautiful cake beginning, place your first and largest layer on an embossed foil-covered cake board, sturdy enough to hold the weight. You should have purchased this during one of your many cake supply store visits. Or you can make one yourself (Stack and glue together five round cardboard cake circles at least four inches larger in diameter than your largest layer. Cover with gold, silver or color coordinated foil. Easy!)
-To hold the smaller layers, place on two glued-together cardboard cake circles 1 inch bigger in diameter than the cake layer.

Buttercream Frosting Dos and Don'ts
  • Do Add Meringue powder to your butter cream frosting to help it set and avoid melting accidents
  • Do complete a thin frosting layer to seal crumbs in place before adding a thicker final frosting layer.
  • Do consider fondant frosting. It's tricky to make but smooth and durable.
  • Don't use cream cheese frosting on a hot day. It will melt.
  • Don't use prepackaged frosting from the grocery store. It will also melt on a hot day.
  • Do add a hint of "embossed" texture to your cake. Frost your cake. Once frosting crusts over (wait at least an hour) smooth cake sides and top by covering with a dry paper towel then smoothing with a small rolling pin or a flat spatula. The frosting will take on the paper towel's embossed design.
  • Do make extra frosting. You will need it when you do your cake set up.
Day Two - Decoration Fest
The buttercream frosting has crusted over (okay, so you don't have to think about that if you use fondant) and late last night you smoothed the surface to perfection with a hint of a texture. Its time to decorate your layers to make them look as close as you can to the picture you cut out months ago.
Don't fuss with frosting colors. If you want your cake to reflect your wedding scheme, do your entire cake in white frosting and add fresh flowers for a hint of easy, beautiful color.
Keep decorations simple. Learn to create simple shell borders using your frosting bag and star tips in a range of sizes. Add shell borders. Make it a double row of shells. Create a criss-cross or curved pattern on the sides. Use your imagination.
If you want more decorating confidence, enroll in a beginner's cake decorating class. They won't teach you how to make a wedding cake, but you will learn a few basic decorating moves in a short time.
When completing wedding cake sections that will rest atop columns, place them on the appropriate separator plates, then complete the bottom border.
For stacked layers, complete your borders after you set up the entire cake.
Day Three - Crafting Your Cake Structure
Some of those cake horror stories you heard may have involved a tall, beautiful stacked and pillared wedding cake falling to the floor before the first cut. Perhaps the table legs were uneven, you may have surmised; or some naughty child pushed the wedding cake and ran away. That's not usually what happens. It's all about the inner structure.
Dowel Rods- Every tall wedding cake with elegant columns or more than one layer, has an inner structure that keeps it from toppling over. You will create that structure with wooden dowel rods or hollow plastic tubes you purchased in a set at the cake shop.

The rods (tubes are preferable but harder to cut evenly) hold the weight of each subsequent cake layer to keep it from smashing the previous layer. Properly structured, your cake can stand as tall as you please without danger of falling.
After you finish frosting all layers, cut your rods or tubes tall enough to fit into each layer that has to support another. The bigger the layer to support, the more rods you need. Ideally, once cut, the tops of your rods will be slightly lower than the frosting.
Separator Plates- When using columns or pillars, you will have a set of separator plates, a base plate on top a layer that will hold the pillars or columns and a plate on the bottom of each smaller layer to be elevated. You should have finished frosting the smaller, upper layer on the appropriate separator plate. Now that you have your dowel structure in place, go ahead and add any base separator plates.
For steadier transportation, add a circle of duct tape to the bottom of those layers resting on cardboard cake circles. The tape will help hold them in place. For the layers on separator plates, use thick foam the same size as the boxes you'll be carrying them in. Cut holes in the foam to fit the separator plate prongs, then slip the foam into the cake box to hold the layer.
Label your boxes: Base, Second Layer, Third Layer, etc.
It's Almost Over
You're nearly done with the hard part; now you should get out of the house for a while. You'll probably have a rehearsal dinner and bachelorette party to get to; but first make a run to the flower shop for greenery, ferns perhaps. Also pick up a few stems of baby's breath and a bouquet of flowers color coordinated to your wedding. Put these items in your refrigerator then go out and party.
If you think about it months ahead of time, you might realize you won't want to make a last minute flower shop run. That is the time to add these items to your wedding florist's things to do list. They will cost a bit more, but your florist will have them waiting for you when you bring your cake in to set up.
Wedding Day- Aaaargh!!!
By now perhaps you have come to your senses and know you should at least delegate the wedding cake set up duty. If you insist on doing it yourself, grab a sharp knife, a bowl of frosting, a frosting bag with tip in place, a long flat spatula, your flowers and greenery, paper towels, a kitchen towel and a picture of your cake. (In the heat of the moment you may very well forget what your beautiful wedding cake is supposed to look like when you're done.)
Print out Mapquest turn-by-turn instructions to the reception hall. Throw all of these things in a box or tote bag. Load up your cake layers. (in boxes.) Make sure they are resting flat. Turn on the air conditioner and drive very carefully, no sudden turns or stops that may cause layers to shift or smash against the side of a box. (Think Baby on Board)
Setting up your cake-
The person in charge of setting up your reception hall should have your cake table decorated and waiting. Check it out before bringing in your cake boxes so you'll know where to go when you enter the hall.
Take out your wedding cake picture and follow the plan. Begin by placing the large bottom layer in the middle of the table, then add the next layers in turn. If you have columns or pillars, set them in place between their appropriate separator plates. If the cake is tall, get a step stool or chair to stand on so you won't knock it over while you're adding the final layers. No optimistic reaching.
Wet your kitchen towel and use it to clean stray frosting from your hands as you work. Use paper towels to clean up the area. There will be a mess.
Last Minute Once Over-
When you are done "building" your cake, add frosting borders to the base of each layer that needs them.
Arrange your greenery around the base layer, close to the bottom edge of the cake, then sprigs of baby's breath. Cut flowers with a knife, just the tops with a little stem, and place them strategically in your greenery.
Add your fresh mini flower arrangement inside the pillared layer and place your wedding couple on top. (You don't have to have a couple at all. A flower arrangement can be just as beautiful.)
Complete a once-over and use your bag of frosting to fill in any accidental gouges you find in the cake surface. Use your cake spatula to smooth areas that need it.
You're done; but you don't have time to pat yourself on the back. Just grab your wedding dress and run to the church before they realize you're not there.