Time to talk about wedding cake and how, honestly, it's not that difficult to do it yourself - or at least keep it inside the family, if you have a good home baker to help you out.
This is the next in an ongoing series this summer on wedding food. We told you that we were going to give tips on DIY wedding meals, catering planning, and more, but there's one thing we didn't tell you... ... which is that I (Faith) am recently engaged, and getting married in mid-September. I promise this won't turn into a wed-blog (no way!), but I do want to draw on my experiences as things move forward. I'll share any tips and ideas that come out of being a fully food-obsessed person dealing with the perils and pitfalls of planning a wedding.
Today I want to look at wedding cakes.
But first, a step back. It just about kills me that I can't make all the food for my wedding. It feels so right to feed and nourish your guests yourself on the day when you are officially becoming one with the person you will set up home with. We want to have a home where people are nourished physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the rest of our lives, and what better way to start off than to feed people with your own hands at your wedding?
Alas, our idealism didn't survive the practical considerations, so no back-room cooking for me on my wedding day. (Read: family put their collective foot down.) So we are working with a splendid caterer who happens to be on the board of Ohio's ecological and organic farmers' association, and who shows every sign of creating a seasonal meal we'll enjoy enormously. (Also, he fed Barack Obama lunch last week so, you know, good vibes all round. Oops - wedding AND politics. Will try to be more careful.)
But I had to do something. Food often seems to be an afterthought in today's weddings - somewhere after the flowers and dress. I want to not only protest that, but also offer some sort of homemade hospitality at this rather special, rather big, party.
Wedding cake and ice cream seem to be the answer. So I am planning on making our wedding cake with my own two hands. Hey, if Molly of Orangette can do it then I can too!
Image by wonderful photographer Lisa Lefkowitz - click the link to see more of that lovely wedding.
The plan is to have two kinds of cake: a simple fudgy chocolate cake - again, rather similar to Molly's own wedding cake - and a Meyer lemon olive oil cake from Gourmet's recipe. We'll pair it up with a honey ice cream (perhaps with a touch of lavender?) and an herbal sorbet.
Now, here is where we return to the subject at hand. Wedding cakes are simply not that difficult to do yourself (she says in over-confident tones). If you are going for a more rustic or simple look, a wedding cake is far more economical and probably better-tasting when baked at home.
Here are a few tips for keeping it simple and accessible. If you want to have a culinary hand in your own wedding (or any big party you're planning) some of these tips may lend some confidence.
Glazed angel food cakes at Martha Stewart Weddings. Another good way to keep decoration easy but pretty - pour glaze over top.
• Choose your favorite flavor - don't feel bound by the traditional white cake. For me this is chocolate and Meyer lemon. I realize I am rather disregarding seasonality; Meyer lemons are my one guilty splurge for this wedding!
• Find a recipe you're comfortable with - There's something meaningful to me in serving a cake that I often like to serve at home. Both recipes are also ones that I am very familiar with; there aren't a lot of surprises there.
• Spread out the work - Making cake for 150 sounds like a huge task, but that's only about 15 batches of a normal cake recipe. Do two each night for a week, or use larger baking pans, and you're done.
• Use your freezer - Many cakes actually improve with a little aging. Wrap your cakes in many layers of plastic, then foil, and freeze until the day of the wedding. Let defrost at room temperature. Be sure to do a test run with one cake before the wedding so you know exactly how long it will take for each layer to defrost. Both cakes I am planning on making will do well in the freezer for a couple weeks.
Dramatic yet simple cocoa-dusted cake by Rebecca Thuss, via Brooklyn Bride.
• Forget the frosting - Wedding cakes look so intimidating because they are usually swathed in fondant and artistic icing. If you dream of a sleek, fondant-draped cake with elaborate decorations, we can't help you. I'm all thumbs with a pastry bag, so I'm sticking with the rustic look I prefer anyway. Besides, that frosting and fondant hardly ever taste good! You could dust powdered sugar or cocoa over instead for a simple and more modern look.
• Whipped cream! - Even if you're ditching frosting you can still get that stacked look. We're planning on baking several sizes of each cake and stacking them with stiff whipped cream between the layers. This takes almost no skill - just slather on the whipped cream for a soft, rustic look. I'll make the whipped cream the night before and stabilize it with a little gelatin. Any reasonably experienced friend or relative can be delegated to stack and assemble. 1-2-3-done.
• Splurge on the decorations - A wedding cake with just whipped cream or powdered sugar can go over the top with just a few decorative touches. Check out Wendy Kromer's handmade confections for a treat to dress up your cake.
• Keep presentation simple - Unless you're just stacking layers simply by themselves or with whipped cream, forget the pillars and plates and expensive custom building materials. I would far rather buy a few pretty cake plates or stands and serve the layers separately.
• Think seasonally - fruit is your friend - And finally, I really think that all the fancy icing in the world will never be as pretty as an in-season strawberry. (Or apricot, or fig, or plum...) Consider topping your cake with fruit and a little powdered sugar. You're done!
So that is my list of tips, ideas, and reasons to make your own cake - or do it for a friend. And I haven't even mentioned budget considerations. The average price of a wedding cake today is $543. Cake-cutting fees and any little extras can raise that considerably. I estimate that cake, ice cream, and sorbet for 140 people will run under $100. And no cake-cutting fees; our "cake cutting ceremony" will be us cutting and serving our guests ourselves. At least a small nod to hospitality of the table and of the home, which is what we hope our wedding is all about.
Have you ever made a wedding cake or a wedding meal, and do you have any tips or ideas to share?
Related: Wedding Finger-Foods On a Budget