Thursday, December 26, 2013

How to make a wedding cake

I've been asked how to make and stack a wedding cake.  Well, here is What I do.  This is one of the larger cakes I've made.  The base is a 16" square in Chocolate with chocolate ganache, and on it is a 12" square red velvet with cream cheese filling, on that is a 8" faded blue layer, and on the top is a 5" chocolate ganache layer.

To start, do all your prep ahead of time.  Here are the cake boards.  The bottom is a 1/2 inch piece of plywood covered in contact paper.  I use wood for the base because this cake will weigh about 75 pounds by the time I'm done with it.  Each layer of cake gets a piece of cardboard under it covered in fancifoil. Regular Foil is ok for small cakes, but tears too easily.

Day 1: Baking day.  For a cake this large, I allow the entire day to bake, fill and dirty ice.  I started baking these at 8:00 a.m. and finished and went to bed at 10:00 that night.  Keep in mind I only have 1 standard kitchen oven and one of each pan size.  I have 4 layers of cake in each level.  the 16" layer I baked each layer separately to make it easier to move and handle.  The red velvet, I baked thicker layers then sliced them in half horizontally to make a total of 4 layers.  The layer that fades blue had to be baked 4 different times because each layer is a different color.  I cut each layer to about 1" thick.  This way the finished cake will have each tier equal heights.
 This table is 4 feet wide and 6 feet long.  This is a lot of cake...

 When the cake has cooled, cut the top off so the cake is completely level and 1 inch tall.  place it on the cardboard.  This is the bottom layer, so I went ahead and centered the cardboard onto the plywood.  To keep it from sliding around, I used double stick tape to stick the cardboard to the wood.  You do not want cake to slide.  When it is all put together, it is heavy, and so easy to mess up.
 Using buttercream, pipe a boarder around the edge of your cake.  I am filling this with ganache and the buttercream will help keep the liquid from the ganache from oozing out.  This is more important when covering a cake in fondant, and more important when filling with something that has a high water content or is really soft like lemon curd, but I do it with ganache as well.

Here is my ganache.  It consists of equal parts (by weight) chocolate chips and cream.  Heat cream to almost boiling (don't boil) then pour over room temperature chocolate chips.  Let sit for a minute then wisk until it is all incorporated.  Chill for several hours before using. Super yummy.  You can either us this as is.  It looks shiny and soft like below:

 Or you can beat it until it thickens and has a dull appearance like this below.  I chose to beat this because the whipped ganache is more stable.  And this cake is so big, I don't want anything sliding. 

Spread that ganache on the cake, inside the buttercream border you piped.  Keeping things as level and smooth as possible is important.  Repeat this 3 more times until you have your bottom tier done. I used just over 4 pounds of chocolate and almost half a gallon of heavy cream to make enough ganache for this cake.  You see why this is going to be heavy?
 When you have all 4 layers of cake together with 3 layers of chocolate between them, dirty ice the whole thing.  This just means to frost the cake with a very thin layer of frosting to seal all the crumbs in.  It makes it easier to frost later and keeps crumbs from creeping into your frosting layer.

Do the same with each layer.  Here is a picture of the faded blue layer before assembling.

Each layer should be assembled and dirty iced.  Put these in the refrigerator overnight.  You want to get these cold all the way to the center.  It will add stability and allow a smoother buttercream or fondant exterior.  Also, do you see the slight bulge on right of the large chocolate layer?  The next day when I pulled these out, I could easily trim off anything that wasn't perfectly square and straight.  Cold cake is so much easier to handle.  If you only chill for an hour or so, the middle won't keep the whole cake cold while you are working with it and it will squish and move while you are working with it.  Not much, but it is better to go ahead and chill overnight.
 The next day, trim anything that is not square.  Dirty ice and chill just long enough to set the frosting.  The cake will be cold all the way through, so you don't have to chill as long.  If I square one layer at a time and put them back in the fridge while I'm working on the others, the first layer is ready by the time I've finished with the last layer.

Frost each layer, decorate, insert dowels into each layer to support the tier above it, stack, touch up, and you're done. 
I've looked at so many sites trying to learn how to get perfectly smooth frosting.  I used viva paper towels on this which was helpful, but even more so, once I put on my layer of buttercream as good as I could get it, I put the cake back in the fridge to get the buttercream nice and hard.  (I used all butter buttercream, so it did get nice and hard)  Then, after a few hours, I pulled it out again and put nice soft buttercream on that hard buttercream.  It worked like Spackle.  It filled in any pits, went on smooth, the buttercream was firm so I could get those corners square.  The best advice I can give is to practice.  No amount of reading and research can accomplish what actually doing it can.

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