The wedding cake takes center stage during the reception, second to none other than the bride, of course. Brides and grooms today have many options; their cake can reflect their own style, can be brightly frosted and flavored exotically, and can take any form or size they wish.
The wedding cake began as a tradition sometime during the Roman Empire. However, the cake was a loaf of bread. During the Middle Ages, the bread changed to scones. The guests each brought one small bridal “cake” to the wedding where these biscuits were piled on top of each other. The bride and groom had to lean over the top of the cakes to kiss to bring good luck in their marriage.
The evolution from bread to cake happened sometime between the 17th and 19th century. In England, breads were enhanced with sugar, spices and dried fruits, along with icing. The British Royalty was first to create architectural sculptures out of beds of raised cakes. These sculptures were used as tall centerpieces for the tables of wedding banquets, leading directly to the three-tier classic wedding cake prototype, which became the standard for all wedding celebrations.
Other traditions surrounding the pure white wedding cake bring new representations. The joint task of the bride and groom cutting the cake is meant to symbolize their consummation of married life. The gesture of feeding cake to one another is a symbol of the commitment the bride and groom are making to each other.
Creative couples may wish to prepare their own cake in a labor of love together. A homemade wedding cake may seem like a major challenge, but it is not impossible if you give yourself enough time and practice beforehand.
Your cake and filling can be any of your choosing. The following is the method to use to assemble the cake into tiers, along with some tips.
For 100 people, use a 7-, 10- and 14-inch cake pan. These sizes will create a nicely proportioned cake. Cut a piece of plywood, cover with tinfoil, and build the wedding cake.
The home baker can buy plastic cake rounds and dowels (for support of the tiers and pillars) cut to the size you want the tier to be and lock the dowels into the rounds. Decorate it the day before the wedding, keep it refrigerated in a spare refrigerator with shelving removed, and time the transport of the cake to within one hour of its removal from the refrigerator.
ASSEMBLING A HOMEMADE WEDDING CAKE
1. With a long, serrated knife, trim the “skin” off the top and bottom of the cake layers. Trim the top of the cake to create a flat surface. Wrap remaining cake rounds in plastic while you assemble one layer at a time. Start by looking down at the cake and your knife hand to make sure you’re holding the knife blade level. Crouch down to eye level with the cake, and turn the cake with one hand to score the outer edge and mark where you’re going to make your cut.
2. Slice the cake into 3/8-inch thick to ½-inch thick layers. The thicker the layers, the more rustic the look. Cutting a cake round into multiple thin layers requires more skill, more filling and more time, but the look is elegant and refined. Each cake round should yield two to three layers, depending upon how thickly you cut them, how full your pans were and how high the cake rose in the oven. Special insulated baking strips are available that moderate a cake pan’s temperature and help cakes bake evenly, without pronounced rounding in the center. Using these strips can help reduce the amount of cake you’ll need to trim to get a flat surface.
3. Before adding filling or frosting, brush each cake layer with simple syrup. Pay particular attention to the edges, as this is where the cake will begin to dry out.
4. Spread a generous layer of filling on each cake layer. If you’re using a soft filling, like mousse or whipped cream, pipe a ring of butter cream around the edge of the cake to contain the filling.
5. Carefully stack your next cake layer on the frosted or filled bottom layer. Crouch down at eye level to be sure you’ve stacked the layers evenly. Brush the layer with syrup, and spread with filling.
6. When you’ve added the top layer, brush it with syrup, and add a generous dollop of frosting. Don’t worry about crumbs; you’re going to spread this layer of frosting fairly thin and refrigerate the cake to create a “crumb coat” that will seal in the cake and fillings before you frost and decorate the cake.
7. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour, until the frosting is firm to the touch. Note: butter- and cream cheese-based frostings will firm up more than frostings made with shortening. If you’re using whipped cream as a frosting, you can apply a thin layer of jam to help contain the crumbs. Frost the cake round to create a smooth, even coating.
8. Refrigerate the finished cake, and repeat with the remaining tiers. The filled, frosted cake layers can be refrigerated for up to two days before the wedding without losing quality, but it’s best to use a separate refrigerator so that the cake won’t absorb strong smells from other foods in the fridge.
DECORATING A WEDDING CAKE
1. Before you stack the cake tiers, you need to add extra support. Use cake dowels, extending no more than a quarter of an inch above the cake’s top surface. Or you can “flush stack” the cake: the layers are stacked directly on top of each other, without pillars separating the tiers.
2. Carefully lower the next tier onto the base layer. Stand directly over the base layer to make sure it’s centered. A long off-set spatula can help you avoid digging fingertips in the icing.
3. When all cake tiers are in place, it’s time to touch up any flaws and to hide the gap between the layers with piped frosting. You can pipe a shell border or round pearls. For an extra-special touch, you can use a parchment cone for fine detail work.
4. If you don’t have a traditional cake topper, you can decorate the top tier with sugared fruit, flowers or intricate piping. Designs that look like intricate lace patterns are made by piping a single fine squiggly line that loops back and around but never touches or crosses over itself. (Practice on a plate or sheet of parchment paper if you’ve never tried it before.)
5. Add flowers or fruit that corresponds with the season, the cake’s flavors or the color scheme. Be sure to use pesticide-free nontoxic flowers. Examples: Marzipan candy, candy strawberries, Austrian peach cookies, frosted cranberries, frosted grapes.