cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Real Wedding Cake

Hello Codet(tes.) Remember the cake tasting from a few months ago? The session with the bottle of bubbly and such indecision that all three flavors were chosen for the cake? Yes? Remember? Well i made that cake this past weekend. This was my first extra large tiered wedding cake. It was also one of the most difficult things i have ever made. For this, you should know that your wedding cake costs what it does because it is a miracle that it exists!

Because i am quite confident with my single tiered cakes, the ones ordered for birthdays and small occasional gatherings, i knew i would be able to make each tier look/taste pretty good on its own. The difficult part came with the anxiety over whether or not i would be able to stack it evenly and whether or not it would be strong enough to keep from sinking in or falling over.

It took two days to bake all of the layers inside this beast. Any layer that wasn't perfect, i chucked and started again. I went through over 45 eggs, six kilos of flour, and over four kilos of butter. This. Was. Intense.

The thing that nagged the most on my anxious mind, however, was the way the Swiss meringue buttercream would hold up. The bride hired me specifically for my style and specifically for the fact that i don't work with fondant. It's almost unheard of to find a wedding cake made without fondant here. When i tried to explain to the wedding planners that it wasn't fondant they looked so confused. I use traditional American buttercream on all of my small cakes, but for the wedding cake i grudgingly settled at SMB. Why? I'll tell you. American buttercream, the kind made from butter and powder sugar, dries hard at room temperature. After an hour or so after frosting the cake, it's set. While you might think that a set, dry-to-the-touch cake would be perfect for this, i wasn't so sure. When buttercream sets it has the possibility to crack, and in my case the certainty to crack. Cakes settle, cakes heat and cool on their own, and during transport or lifting to each tier to mount cracking loomed almost inevitable. AND fixing dried buttercream has never worked for me. It just doesn't. It lumps up and never lies smooth. SMB, on the other hand, only hardens when it is in the fridge. At room temperature it stays soft and sticky--meaning it can't crack or ruffle off in powder. It can also be smoothed out again if, say, your apron happens to swipe it's side. For this i went with SMB, a much more difficult buttercream to make (it requires five five times the amount of effort needed to make American buttercream) but in the end the benefits seemed to outweigh the risks.

We transported the cakes flat in their individual tiers. I sat in the backseat with all four of them. Holding my breath. The delivery took about a four hour drive to get to the small suburb city of Embu das Artes, which is half and half a poor suburb and wealthy cottage town for weekend getaways and event rentals. It was a hot sunny day, a little over 75F. When we arrived the wedding planners told me to assemble the cake outside on the dessert table. Outside? In warm weather? No cloud in sight? Under a glass roof no less? You madame, must be joking. I said i wouldn't, i wouldn't unless she wanted to present a crying bride with a cake of clarified butter. So while the wedding planners scrambled around to figure out their whole dessert table issue, i set the cake up on the dance floor (hence the horrible photo with no light and an ugly background) it was the only place with an open table away from direct sunlight. While i was finishing attaching the flowers, the planner came over to me and said "well, all the chocolate truffles we put on the table outside melted. good thing we didn't put the cake out there." Yeah, no kidding. 

I left the cake, standing there in the middle of the dance floor, alone yet looking quite regal. I can't believe i made that thing on my own. Well, i had a little help. H drove like an old man to ensure safe delivery, he also ran to the corner a few times to pick up more butter...and he cut the 15 dowels that secured each layer. Thanks H.

This was my first wedding cake and for this i attribute the anxiety and difficulty. I'm already confident that the next one will be easier and much more beautiful.

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