Making the Cake

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Photo Credits:
Jen Huang, Kay English Photography, Geoff White Photographers, Gateaux Pastries and Cakes, Nicole Dixon Photography, Gemma Comas, EyeWonder Photography.

Making the Cake

Not many brides will bake their own wedding cake. With all the wedding planning tasks to accomplish, the thought of making the perfect fondant icing and decorating a giant confectionery tower is unfathomable to most brides. But for you few who are up to the challenge, (or you mothers, sisters, and friends of the bride), those of you who intend to go where few non-professional bakers have gone before, do we have the advice and recipes for you!
Some gentle warnings. If you are not an experienced baker, making a wedding cake is probably not the best time to test your wings (or oven mitts). Creating such a cake is a challenge even for the most seasoned bakers and there are plenty of wrong turns without appropriate signage. From assembly, to the act of frosting, to transportation and storage, the potential for mishaps are rife. Have I scared you off yet? If not, read on.
By the numbers. Making a wedding cake involves baking and assembling several smaller cakes into one larger creation. Before you begin to measure and mix, you should know the number of people you are planning to feed. As a quick reference, here are some round cake pan sizes and the numbers each cake will feed. Please remember that pans of different sizes will bake the cakes at different rates, so keep your eye on that oven.

Round Pan Number of Servings
2" x 8" 8
2" x 10" 12
2" x 12" 20
2" x 14" 30
2" x 17" 40

If you feel that the cake you’re planning to build will not be large enough to feed all of your guests, you can always have a sheet cake of the same variety and icing "back stage" or cut smaller slices. These estimated serving sizes are quite generous.
Getting ready to bake. It’s very important to get everything out on the counters and ready before you start mixing. This procedure allows you to take an inventory of the supplies you have in case you’re missing a crucial ingredient. On the counter you should have:
Plain cake flour (not self-rising which will interfere with the action of your baking powder). The flour should be sifted before measuring. The other dry ingredients (baking powder, salt etc.) should be sifted with the flour a few more times. Pre-sifted flour is available -- White Swan brand for example -- but it’s more costly than regular cake flour.
Unsalted butter is crucial. Sweet baked goods should be buttery and rich without a salty under taste.
Eggs should be left out of the fridge the night before so they’re at room temperature when you begin to bake.
Cake pans should be buttered and floured and set aside before you begin mixing. Removing the cakes from the pans will be made much easier if you line the pans with wax paper or, better still, parchment paper. Parchment is now available at most major grocery stores.
Skewers or toothpicks to test cake when you think it’s done.

Mix it up. When you make the cake batter, follow the recipes exactly, and adjust it according to recipe instructions if you’re baking in a high altitude location. You have a lot of batter to make, but don’t try to make it all at once, tripling and quadrupling the recipe. By multiplying the recipe, you increase your chances of miscalculations as well as the fact that certain ingredients won’t be entirely mixed in.
Pop it in. Be sure not to overfill your cake pans. Fill the pans only two-thirds to three-quarters full. Never fill them to the rim. Some bakers choose to attach a collar of parchment around the edge of the pan so the cake rising above the edge will rise in a straight and even manner.
As mentioned, different sized pans will cook the batter at different rates, so watch all the baking carefully, particularly with small cake pans.
Sometimes, cakes will bake faster at the edges than in the center. This is particularly true with heavier, buttery batters or a pan with a large circumference. It is very important for a wedding cake to be cooked all the way through. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of an undercooked center and brown edges, turn the oven temperature down, and leave the cake in until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. If the edges get a little too brown or crispy, you can always trim them with a sharp, serrated knife. If the center of the cake has domed up during baking, use the knife to make the layer flat once the cake has cooled.
Cool it. Once the skewer or knife comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven and let it stand untouched for about 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Remove the cake onto a wire rack and let it cool completely after removing the wax paper or parchment. Once the cake is entirely cool, you can wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it until you’re ready to frost it. If the cake is baked well in advance of the serving time, consider freezing it, then thawing when you’re ready to frost and decorate it. If you do choose to freeze, be absolutely sure the cake is cool before you wrap it or you will have a soggy sponge when you thaw it out.
Putting it together. The layers of a wedding cake are not simply piled on top of each other. It is a genuine architectural structure where each layer sits on it own cardboard round and is set atop little support poles that have been pushed into the layer below. Before you assemble the cake, be sure you have enough refrigerator space in which to store the tower you create. If not, DO NOT assemble the cake until you have an appropriate refrigeration option.
Making the rounds. For cake assembly you’ll need thick cardboard cut in circles exactly the diameter of each cake. Punch a small hole in the center of each piece of cardboard. Once the cardboard circles have been cut, place each cake on it own round and set it into the fridge.
Icing. Each cake should be frosted with a layer of the frosting you’ve decided upon. Don’t make it a thick layer, and keep only one cake out of the fridge at a time. After the first layer of frosting, begin decorating one cake at a time.
Straw pole. Cut six to eight plastic straws, wooden dowels or chopsticks to a length about a quarter to a half an inch above the height of each cake. Determine exactly where you’ll place the second layer, and push these "poles" into the bottom layer, evenly spaced and about half an inch in from the edge of where the second layer will sit. The cardboard base of the second layer will sit atop these poles, leaving a small space for the insertion of flowers or other non-icing decorations you’ll add before serving. Repeat this process with the subsequent layers. A final dowel with a pointed end can be pushed down through the entire cake to stabilize it.
Move it. Many cake bakers choose to construct the wedding cake at the location where it will be served in order to avoid the terrifying ordeal of transporting it. If you have to move the cake, don’t do it alone. Get at least one person (preferably two) to help you and find someone with a station wagon or SUV to drive. Wedding cakes are very heavy and awkward to move. The more help the better, and watch out for kids and pets underfoot. Be sure that the location to which you’re moving the cake has adequate refrigeration. Bring extra frosting for any touch-ups that might be needed.
Flowering. Flowers are a wonderful way of making the most beautiful cake even more so. They are also the ideal way to spruce up the less than beautiful creation. Flowers can cover up everything from an irreparable gouge, to misguided attempts to create patterns with frosting. Decide about flowers before you begin to create the cake, and try to have fresh ones the day of the wedding. Keep the flowers in water until the last possible moment before you present your creation to the crowds and listen to their gasps of amazement.
Breaking the mold. As with most wedding traditions, the rules about the type of cake you choose to serve are made to be broken. You are not bound to serve a multi-tiered extravaganza. Some couples choose to serve a selection of different, smaller cakes. You might even consider serving fruit tarts, such as custard tarts with mixed berries, or lemon tarts. More good news is that there’s a growing army of couples who are choosing to serve a world favorite: chocolate wedding cake.