I’m not sure how it happened, but suddenly everything in my life revolves around wedding. I find all the different parts hard to keep track of, especially that big looming figure known as the Budget, but as long as I keep hacking away at different parts, I know I’ll eventually cleave a path through this maze of dresses, flowers, tea lights, stationery, and so so so much more.
While I manage to compartmentalize the wedding talk, only indulging in it in short spurts (although my sister gets the brunt of it), I did think it would be fitting to begin a discussion on… the wedding cake. Because I plan on making my own! This explains the uncharacteristically bright photo above.
Any of you who have spent any time at all reading any wedding blogs will surely be familiar with that sensation of one’s brain becoming scrambled/brainwashed by the extreme girliness and frilliness of their content. Recurring themes: lace, pom poms, rose petals, long tables festooned with flowers, peach, blush and pink, macarons, lace, mason jars, headless shots of the bride holding the bouquet, more lace, and toppling multi-tiered cakes.
I, for one, am not a fan of fondant. What exactly is it anyway? And is it really edible? I’m only half joking.
While I’m not an extremely crafty person, I’m convinced that the day will be all the better if I involve myself in it in a tangible sense. This applies strongly to some areas, the wedding cake being one of them. I don’t think I’ve ever considered outsourcing the making of the wedding cake, partly because I’ve had way too many slices of cake-gone-wrong, and partly because I’ve got a secret weapon: my sister. (She’s a star.) While it would be lovely if every aspect of the wedding were made with love, I at least have control over the cake.
The problem is that I don’t have a whole lot of cake-baking experience. Nearly none, actually. I’ve made one other layer cake in my life, and it came out… homely-looking. This cake came out homely-looking as well, but I’d prefer to go with the euphemism “rustic.” It is a little prettier, but its surface gently undulates, like the ocean on a calm day. Nice imagery when describing the scenery, but not ideal when applied to a cake. Also, upon closer inspection, the observer will realize that the vanilla-bean-like flecks are actually stray crumbs that got mixed with the icing. Note to self: buy an icing spatula and stop using one’s bread knife to spread icing.
Anyway, as you can see, I have a lot to learn about the art of cake-making. But I also have seven months to master the art, and I’m not going to stress it. An unprepossessing self-made cake has its own merits.
In this case, its parts: a wonderfully moist devil’s food cake, the recipe I got from the Tartine Bakery cookbook, and a luscious Swiss meringue buttercream. I decided my first forays into cake-making had to begin with the likeliest cake combination we would end up choosing, and probably, quite simply, my favorite cake combination of all. For what could be more satisfying than a moist slice of chocolate cake swathed in Swiss meringue buttercream? To me, nothing. To Chris, a moist slice of chocolate cake swathed in ganache, but we’re not going to go there because our cake has to be white-colored, dangit!
I chose this particular cake recipe because in the description beforehand, Elisabeth Prueitt mentioned that one of her bakery managers used the recipe for her wedding cake. That means it passes the tests in both sturdiness and the ability to stay fresh-tasting after sitting out for awhile.
In addition, the frosting is my absolute favorite. Swiss meringue buttercream looks beautiful patted onto a cake, and it tastes phenomenal: soft, light, very delicately sweet. My only issue with it is that it turns sort of stale after awhile, and tastes more buttery than sweet. Also, it turned slightly yellow after sitting out, but I very well could’ve done something wrong. Does anyone have any ideas on why this happened and how to correct this?
So, cake number one turned out okay. But other flavors await, and I hope to get better at decorating!
DEVIL’S FOOD CAKE
Makes one 9-inch cake (serves 12 to 16)
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4-1/2 Tbsp corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/4 cups cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1-1/4 full-fat buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and lightly flour the sides of two 9-inch cake pans, knocking out excess flour. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper cut to fit exactly.
Sift together flour, corn starch, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat on the same speed until light in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in 3 equal batches, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 batches. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix again for another few seconds.
Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake until the top springs back when lightly touched or a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let the cakes cool completely before taking them out. To do so, invert the pans, then turn the cakes upright.
Use a serrated knife to slice off the domed portion of the top of each cake so the tops are flat. You can now slice your cakes into further layers, but read the note below.
Note: I ended up only being able to frost 3/4 of the cake using the recipe below. I had to leave out the fourth layer altogether, and I frosted quite sparingly, so if you plan on creating slicing your cakes into multiple layers, I would double the amounts listed below. You should then be able to go crazy with the frosting (but probably not this crazy.).
SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM
Makes 5 cups
For a truly comprehensive how-to on making Swiss meringue buttercream, hop over to Rosie’s blog (link above). Sooo helpful.
5 large, fresh egg whites
1-1/4 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
2 tsps pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Start out with a clean electric mixer bowl. Add egg whites and sugar, and whisk the mixture gently over a pot of water (not boiling), until temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Don’t let the bottom touch the water, or the eggs will cook. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
With whisk attachment of a mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 10 minutes or so). Don’t begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add butter cubes, one at a time, until incorporated and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture. It will probably look hopelessly curdled after you add the butter, but if you keep mixing, it will smooth out, trust me. (Rosie notes that if mixture is too runny, refrigerate for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it comes together.) Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.