Holy Crap that was HARD

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

September 5, 2011


Categories: Food, One a Day

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

Time, something I don’t have a lot of. Time, something required to practice enough to feel comfortable creating something like… a wedding cake. The first one is over. Now that it’s day 2, I am more positive about doing another, though the jury is still out. I can say definitively… that was hard work. Not just all the practice, but for the real event. I’m not sure I really knew what I was getting into as I had never undertaken something even similar.

What I know (the unfortunate)

  • The poor thing was a lopsided… placing the dowels is difficult on many levels
  • The frosting didn’t cover 100% in many spaces, leaving slightly bare spots
  • The chocolate sheet cake wasn’t layered, which offered a bit of inconsistency when serving
  • The yellow cake was cut at least 4 hours before serving, which lent it to be dry when served

What I know (the fortunate)

  • The Swiss Buttercream was definitely the way to go simply because of its creamy texture and easy piping
  • The Strawberry filling was easy, and very yummy
  • My husband is a fantastic SUV with cake packer
  • The caterers were very gracious and very helpful
  • The superb help from the kindly women at the Decorette Shop for their infinite advice

What’s in it (3 tiers + 2 sheets)

  • Two dowel rods
  • 7 cake batters (3 yellow, 4 chocolate)
  • Almost two dozen egg whites (Taylor Made Farms, Lebanon, Oregon)
  • 4+ pounds of butter (Cremerie Classique by Larsen’s)
  • Some sugar
  • Some flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
  • Some whole milk from Lady Lane
  • My homemade vanilla extract, freshly filtered
  • Oregon strawberries mixed with honey, maple syrup, lemon juice
  • 4 cardboard rounds, plus a half sheet
  • 3 sheets of pretty paper
The Cakes, Boxed and Ready for Travel

Boxed, Ready for Travel

What I used (the tools)

  • 6 toothpicks
  • 5 towels
  • 3 round cake pans, 1 12″x18″
  • 3 mixing bowls for sifting, sorting, holding, mixing
  • 3 spatulas, one flat, one angled, one tapered
  • 3 liquid measuring cups
  • 2 mini ramekins for ingredients
  • 2 parchment bags
  • 2 icing tips
  • 2 couplers
  • 1 cake leveler
  • 1 pair of snips for dowel rods
  • 1 emery board to file dowel rods
  • 1 rubber scraper
  • 1 strawberry huller
  • 1 cooling wire rack
  • 1 Cuisinart 7 cup food processor
  • 1 professional Kitchen Aid 9-speed handheld mixer, with whipping and whisking attachments
  • 1 oven
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Various knives
  • Lots of waxed paper, scotch tape, and a small amount of paper towel

The process

The practice runs taught me that I had to make the batter in batches. Each pan was about one cake batter, with the larger ones needing a little more. I alternated, so the top-tier was chocolate, the middle yellow, and the bottom tier chocolate. I opted for two 12×18″ sheet cakes instead of one because I was paranoid that there wouldn’t be enough. I now know there are leftovers, so at least everyone got cake.

I started with the yellow cake baking the 12×18″ sheet and 10″ round, in the oven. This was 3 of the 7 batters. Next, I made the batter for the 12″ round, which was about 1 and a half cake batters. While I was waiting for the oven to finish, I even baked a Wacky Cake for a food club friend who didn’t have time to make cake for her husband’s birthday party.

I found a good rhythm for making the cakes that went something like, gather ingredients, measure in bowls, sift flour, crack eggs, part out softened butter. So, when I whipped the batters it was cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, vanilla, dry ingredients alternate with milk. Repeat 7 (8 including the birthday cake) times.

I had to get last-minute supplies from the Decorette Shop, so my friend and I ran the cake-drop-off errand and cake-supply-pick-up errand. We  used her car, which my husband is fixing, so the trip also served as a car-test-run.

We returned home during the afternoon slump, but I had cakes to bake. I realized I had forgotten the pretty paper, so my husband and our friend took the car for another test drive back to the cake shop before they closed and to the grocery store to get toothpicks. I finished baking the 12″ while they were gone, and created another 1.5 batters to finish the 12×18″ sheet that would now hold a chocolate cake. I couldn’t bake the chocolate sheet and the chocolate 8″ round at the same time because the 8″ required a higher oven temperature.

I pulled the last cake out of the oven late in the evening. I think this was before I ran off to the mall to buy my dress. I found a dress, shoes, and a few other items for a good price. The dress reminds me of Cristi’s Old Faithful. Same cut, similar material. I hoped the dress would bring me good luck.

I had made the strawberry filling Friday night, so it was still waiting in the fridge. Saturday night, I was tired, so I made my lists of what to bring and do on Sunday.

I woke up later than I wanted Sunday, so now I was feeling the pressure. I still had to make the frosting from the recipe I had never used before. The Swiss Buttercream only had 4 ingredients, but the first step was over steamed water. I revised my process to whipping the eggs and sugar, remove from heat, wipe bowl, finish mixing, all at the stove. The regular (9″ cake sized) portioned frosting turned out great. I panicked even though I was warned not to. I now belive the panic should simply be a part of the recipe. This batch worked great. It was smooth. It piped lovingly. It tasted great.

The second batch. The large batch. The batch that used 14-16 egg whites, broke. Yes, like mayonnaise can, my frosting broke. Thankfully, I was able to mend it by adding sugar in small batches. This made frosting arduous.

I neglected to use my special tip #789 because I was very concerned with my low ingredients on hand. I was down to my last pound of butter and only 2.5 dozen eggs. My frosting recipe, I failed to notice, called for regular sugar, not powdered. I had stocked up on powdered, not regular. So, I was also down to my last 1/4 cup of regular sugar. This is not the time for mistakes.

I was anxious to be sure. Which was adding to my frosting dilemma. I could not seem to get the cake to cover no matter how much icing I applied. Every time I tried to smooth the silky icing, I would take some off leaving a bare spot. The 8″ round frosted beautifully, just as it had for all my practice runs. The 8″ cake is becoming my new favorite.

At some point, I considered it all good enough. I think it was when the clock struck 2pm and I still hadn’t showered.

Did I mention my husband ran two more errands for me that morning so I could stay home and make and apply icing? He got me pantyhose from across town, and, we still had forgotten the toothpicks! The toothpicks are a necessary part to leveling the cakes. You level the cake, insert the toothpicks, one below the cut and one above, exactly on top of each other, to know where to put the cake layer back. I was very surprised at how uneven my levels were even with the cake leveler. I did a better job with my bread knife on the 10″ and 8″ in my trial runs. The leveler worked well for the 12″ cake.

I stopped frosting, and boxed the sheet cakes. I then started measuring, trimming, filing, and inserting my dowel rods. The dowels were never exactly the same size, which is why the top layer looked a little lopsided in the final product. I am very curious to know what tricks are used to make them the same size. Are there miniature saws sold some place?

I arrived at the venue at 3:30pm. The caterer reminded me of the box smashing technique, or rather the box breaking and pulling away to avoid the icing. I brought my extras, and I even remembered my apron. I hadn’t practiced the simple ball I would edge the cakes with, and it ended up being surprisingly easy. My hadn wasn’t entirely consistent, but the creamy frosting was very forgiving. I still had bare spots, though the cake frosted better at the venue than at home.

I really just needed to be done, since I wasn’t feeling like I was making much progress. I fixed a few more mistakes, and then with help wheeled the cake out. I had it in place by 4:20pm. I couldn’t find the cake’s “good side”, so I left well enough alone.

After taking a few photos, I grabbed my things, moved my car, and came back. I put on my new high heels, applied a little makeup including my fiery red lipstick. Then, I sat. CAT people started to arrive shortly before the ceremony started, and I was finally able to relax.

There were compliments abound. I do hope the bride and groom sincerely enjoyed their day and cake. It was an experience … to be sure.

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