Sunday, April 19, 2009

So you want to bake a wedding cake - cake 2 (part 2)

When I say I "invented" my own wedding cake recipe, that may have been a bit of an embellishment. Realistically, I edited a few key recipes I found online. Editing recipes can get a little hairy, though. You should be prepared to bake lots of cakes, or just scrap some cakes altogether (cake baking is the most volatile form of stoichiometry I know!). I was looking for something pretty specific, so when I didn't find it as I imagined, I made it that way.

The specific things I was looking for in my main wedding cake were:
  • light, airy, and very fluffy almond-flavored cake
  • thick lemon curd filling (it needs to hold its shape so that when sliced it doesn't run)
  • light and airy frosting that tastes more like icing (sugary, but not fondant) than frosting (thick, like butter)
Our main cake is going to be - get this - three layers of almond chiffon cake with lemon poppyseed curd filling, and lavender infused italian meringue icing. We have a lavender and poppies cake! :)

sticking to simple decorations is best for me.

The Cake:

My absolute favorite cake in the world is angelfood cake. I definitely have a love affair with chocolate, but nothing beats a cake that tastes like a sugary cloud (plus, my mom would always bake me an angelfood cake for my birthday as a kid :) ). Angelfood as a layered wedding cake doesn't really work. I found out, however, that chiffon cake is the next step down in fluffiness from angelfood - and it holds up great in layered cakes!

I found two recipes online that were almost want I wanted, so I combined them, optimizing for fluffiness (more levener) and richness (more milk in the place of water). The trial cake I baked was about 6.5 inches in diameter, yielding 3 layers of a pretty good thickness. For the final cake, I'm going to increase the recipe.

Almond Chiffon Cake
  • 2.25 C sifted cake flour (use 2C of flour - once sifted it will be about 2.25 C)
  • 1.25 C granulated white sugar + 0.25 C confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1 C egg whites (from about 5 eggs)
  • 0.5 C vegetable oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 100grams almonds (a heaping 0.5 C)
  • 1 t cream of tartar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 0.25 C water + 0.5 C whole milk
  • 2 t almond extract
Pre-heat your oven to about 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare your cake tins by putting parchment paper in them - do not grease your tins, or the cake will fall.
  • Bowl 1 -- With a food processor, pulverize together the 1.25 C sugar and the almonds. With a hand mixer, beat together the sugar-almond mixture and yolks. Beat in the veggie oil and zest, then the almond extract, then the water and milk. Add in the baking powder, and incorporate the flour in thirds. Cream everything together completely.
  • Bowl 2 -- With a really good hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the egg whites. What's the best way to beat egg whites? Start on a low speed until the whites are foamy/frothy, then add the cream of tartar and crank it up to the highest speed! When the whites hold stiff peaks, slowly add the 0.25 C confectioner's sugar, continuing to beat the eggs whites on a moderately high speed.
  • When the egg whites are fully stiff, pour bowl 1 into bowl 2 (carefully!). I recommend doing this in parts - add about a third of bowl 1, fold, add another third, fold, etc. Be careful to not pop the egg whites you worked so hard to create! A spatula (not a slotted turner) is your best friend here - scoop and fold, scoop and fold.
Divide the batter into the three 6.5" cake tins, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. The cake is ready when it's slightly golden brown on top, and a wooden toothpick stuck in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool a bit, then remove from the tins to finish cooling. If this cake is being prepared in advance, let the cake cool completely, and then wrap it several times with saran wrap and put it in the freezer.

Note - if you don't have cake flour (because they only have two types of flour in Chile - with or without baking powder), you can make it really easily. Put 2 tablespoons of corn starch or potato starch in a cup measure, and fill the rest of it up with all-purpose flour. Sift this several times, and now you have a cup of cake flour!

The Filling:

I used Alton Brown's recipe for the lemon curd, and added poppyseeds. The easiest way to learn a recipe is to watch someone else make it, so I recommend watching Alton make his lemon curd yourself (start the video at 4:32).

Lemon Poppyseed Curd
  • zest of 4 lemons
  • juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 C)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (0.5 C)
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • about 1 T poppyseeds (more, if desired)
  • Add together the yolks, zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a metal bowl, and whisk well for about 4 minutes.
  • Put your bowl over a pot of boiling/simmering water, and continue to whisk! This will take about 10 minutes. When it's done, the custard should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (this is a cooking term called "napé"). I wanted my custard to be on the thicker side, so I whisked it in my make-shift double boiler for more like 15 minutes.
  • Whisk in the butter, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until completely smooth.
  • Add poppyseeds!
Note - This holds up extremely well in the fridge. If you want to save on prep time, make this in advance.

Warning: if you want your lemon curd filling to stay put, think about adding some stabilizer (like corn starch or gelatin). When I cut into my first trial cake, it turned into a lemony Niagara Falls.

The Frosting:

Originally I tried making the frosting as an italian meringue buttercream frosting, but the only butter you can buy in Chile comes con sal - they don't even sell it without salt! (Chileans love salt.... and sugar. Ask any South American about manjar - they'll start drooling!) Anyways, the meringue buttercream frosting did not hold up well in the fridge. It turned into cement. So just don't add any butter to the meringue - add more powdered sugar - and you've got meringue icing. This is very similar to "royal icing" (another common wedding cake icing), but my version turns the egg whites into an italian meringue first.

The basic recipe I used for the frosting was from a youtube instructional video by CakeLove owner Warren Brown. He makes italian meringue so easy (and easy to look at - I don't know which looks tastier - Hottie McCakeBaker Brown or the buttercream!).

Lavender-infused Italian Meringue Icing
You'll need a candy thermometer for this!
  • 2T cooking-grade dried lavender buds
  • 0.25 C boiling water
  • 1 C granulated white sugar + 0.25 C confectioner's sugar
  • (approx) 1 C confectioner's sugar
  • whites from 5 large eggs
  • food dye, if desired (enhances lavender look)
  • (approx) 0.25 t vanilla extract
  • Make a "tea" with the lavender buds - steep the boiling water and lavender for about 10 minutes.
  • Put the lavender tea (with buds) and the granulated sugar in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. When the candy thermometer reads 245 degrees Fahrenheit, it's ready to be added to the stiffened egg whites.
  • While the candy water is heating up, start beating the egg whites in a metal bowl. Make them frothy on a low setting, then beat the crap out of them on high! When the eggs form stiff peaks, slowly add the 0.25 C confectioner's sugar and beat for another minute or so.
  • When the candy water reaches 245 degrees F, pour this directly into the egg whites bowl, while continuing to mix! You should beat the meringue on a medium-high speed, completely incorporating the hot candy water. The metal bowl should feel hot to the touch - you're cooking the egg whites!
  • Continue to beat until the bowl cools off completely.
  • Still beating (now on medium-low speed), slowly add the 1-ish C of confectioner's sugar. Honestly, I don't know the best amount of sugar to add here. A cup to a cup & a half should do it, though.
  • Beat in the vanilla extract and the food coloring!
Note - Reserve some of the icing (pre food coloring) for the "cement" of the cake. Take about half a cup of the icing, and beat it with about half a cup (to a cup?) of butter. You'll know your buttercream cement is done when it has the consistency of whipped butter. The Warren Brown video is a great resource for this.

The Construction:

In general, if you want to keep your filling between the cake layers, it's a good idea to pipe a border of frosting around each layer. This is the buttercream cement you made from before.

I just used a plastic bag with a corner cut off for piping

Then dollop on some yummy lemon curd. (Think of the buttercream as a sugar fortress!)

I could invite Hansel and Gretel to a dinner party at this castle!

And caaarefully place the next layer on top of the last.

This is serious work, this cake-making stuff!

Now put a first layer of frosting on the cake. If you have leftover buttercream, that's a good first layer. If not, the royal icing works fine here, too. This acts as cement to keep the crumbs out of the final product.


Sometimes the toughest of fortresses can't keep out the sugar fairies. My first cake trial sprung a leak:


delicious falling cake

Bummer, but oh well. I still served half of that cake to my co-workers! My first trial cake was made with the italian buttercream frosting - everyone agreed the cake was delish, but the frosting was like chewing on butter. Funny, I had a roommate in college that liked eating straight butter (margarine, actually). She said it tasted like cake batter. (huh...)

So my first cake trial was good, but had a few issues - the butter frosting, and the runny curd. I had half a cake left, and no desire to shove straight butter in my mouth (I prefer my butter with accoutrements). I did what few cake bakers ever dare to do. I took apart the three layers and re-filled it and re-iced it!

I've got the blue-steel blues

The lemon curd was almost there - all I did was add some corn starch. I made a whole new batch of meringue icing, from the above recipe (with lots of leftover icing).

Overall, this cake was a success! Everyone I gave a slice to said it was definitely wedding-cake caliber taste-wise. There are still a couple of kinks I need to work out:
  1. The cake falls a little bit in the middle. Maybe I need to cook it longer, at a lower temperature?
  2. What's a good diameter for a single-tier, triple-layer wedding cake? I still need to adapt the recipe for a larger (than 6.5") cake.
Was your wedding cake everything you thought it would be? What do you think is a good diameter for a single-tiered main wedding cake? Which do you like more, in general - italian meringue icing, buttercream, or fondant?

So you want to bake a wedding cake - cake 2 (part 1)

A wedding cake is, generally speaking, a pretty big undertaking. Unless you want to make something like this, you're going to have to think outside the box a little.

What's most important to you - the presentation? the decorations? the flavor? the height? the color? Unless you're a professional baker (or you've got a lot of time on your hands and are willing to take a cake decorating class), you may have to prioritize what you want in a wedding cake, especially if you plan on making it yourself.

I already told you that I'm making (with my sister) three "normal" sized cakes to serve as a wedding cake buffet. I decided early on that I don't really care so much about the decorations; simple is sophisticated, and I want the flavor to speak louder than the fondant. Just to remind you, this is what I consider a beautifully decorated wedding cake:

I do, however, want one of my wedding cakes to be what I consider a "stereotypical wedding cake" - light as air, fluffy as marshmallows, and trend-settingly elegant in flavor palette. This will be our "main" wedding cake, the one we slice into and feed to each other (and the one with little birdies on top!).

This was (believe it or not) the hardest cake for which to pin down a recipe. After looking in several places, I first tried the smittenkitchen-recommended Vanilla Buttermilk cake. The author of this awesome cooking blog made an amazing wedding cake from this recipe, so I figured it could work great for me!

I baked this trial cake with my parisienne ex-pat friend for our Obama-rama election party.

There's a reason I don't want to decorate my wedding cake.

Great friends, obama-rama parties, and Charlie the Unicorn. That's how I roll.

The cake was everything it was supposed to be - moist, rich, and yummy. But it wasn't quite right. (besides my suck-tastic decorating skillz.)

I decided I'd have to invent my own wedding cake recipe.

How did you decide on the flavors for your wedding cake? What's the most important thing to you when deciding on a wedding cake - the presentation? the decorations? the flavor? the height? the color? other?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We made cake! I will upload pictures when I'm sober.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A note on fillinngs

Mutti and I just got the hazelnuts, so we'll start cracking on these recipes soon.

On question- how firm are the fillings? I made a mousse filling for the brother's b-day cake and it was somewhat difficult to manage.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Do all the wedding cakes use 8" cake pans? What sizes and how many of each size do you need? We will pick them up here and bring them with us.
Would you prefer white and light green milk-glass cake stands? That way, the cake stand colors wouldn't distract from the beauty of the cakes and especially, the overall poppies/lavender color theme. Let me know, what colors you want me to look for. (Muti)

Cake pans

We have two 8" round cake pans, which we can bring with us. (Muti)