« Stump The Tech | Main | One Week »

A Cake Story

So a little while ago, Geekent and Adrienne told us they were planning on getting married. After exchanging a couple of emails with the man, I learned they were planning on a small, private ceremony and a small dinner party afterward. They wanted it to be casual, not unduly stressful and focused on family - which I utterly approve. Weddings aren't about the dress, the cake or the amount of money spent. They are about two people making a commitment. Anyhoo, I digress. Almost immediately after I learned the wedding plans, I decided I would make them a surprise wedding cake. Just a small and simple one as I don't have the skill yet to make a big elaborate one. They said they didn't want presents, just congratulations and good wishes but I thought they should have a cake to cut after dinner. I always thought the cake was a fun part of a wedding ceremony and wanted them to have just that much more to their wedding.

On Monday we all went to dinner at Grunt, Cluck and Low where I proceeded to pump them for information about the wedding ceremony. What colour would the bride be wearing (ivory), what would be her bouquet (none, she has allergies and didn't want to be sneezing), what the groom would wear (sage green and bronze tie) and exactly how many would be in the wedding party. So now I had the information I needed. I was going to make a cake to feed at least 13, with roses for tradition, a few green leaves and decorate the edges with bronze powder for a bit of glitter.

First problem - bronze powder, any metallic cake powder, isn't available in Canada yet. It is awaiting FDA approval. No big deal, the cake would be ivory on ivory which would look elegant.
So I make the cake. I'm not sure of the recipe so I do a test cake and a test batch of the icing I want to use. I don't like fondant from my previous experiment with it and Adrienne wasn't too fond of it either, finding it rich yet bland. So I made Swiss Meringue Butter Cream. To make it ivory, I flavoured it with lemon essence which is bright yellow. Food colouring made it too yellow so I left it out of the final icing batch. Now it was late on Tuesday night so I called it a night and started fresh on Wednesday.
Second problem - Wednesday was hot: really, really hot and humid. Icing doesn't like heat and really hates humidity. We don't have air conditioning installed. The icing kept melting and not piping properly. The roses were a challenge to make. I pretty much could only pipe a single petal then everything had to go back into the fridge to firm up. I think it took 8 hours to make 6 decent looking roses.
Third problem - how to get it to them? It was a surprise, cake after all. On Thursday, I called Kent and left a message that said: "I made you a surprise wedding cake, how do I get it to you?" He called back and said "The wedding is next Thursday."
Son uva...D'oh!!!
So Kent now knows I am making a cake for their wedding and is touched. There is no way I am saving a cake for over a week and then serving it to them. This cake is toast and I will have to do it all over. TBIT and I joke about it being just a good test run and the girls at work tease me. TBIT was supposed to bring the cake to the office for approval from the wedding couple but he kept forgetting. I ended up cutting it up and feeding it to his parents while they were visiting. TBIT also ate a bit. Some did make it to the office but it wasn't the freshest.

The Cake Redux

The wedding is on Thursday. I buy all my ingredients and start over. I want the cake roughly done by Wednesday evening so I can just finesse and tweak on Thursday. It is agreed I will drop the cake off at the restaurant where the wedding dinner is being held. Monday I start making the cake.
Problem one - the cake, since it is a double batch, takes a total of 16 egg yolks. The eggs don't want to separate. I need the whites for the meringue icing and whites won't meringue properly with even the slightest bit of yolk in them. It turns into a frustrating experience. But the weather is cool and with low humidity which is great.

Problem two - The cake gets made and while it cools I start the icing. The icing is actually cooked, which is why I chose it. Some icings like Royal icing have raw egg whites which I think it very unhealthy. The egg whites are constantly whipped with a hand mixer while cooked over a water bath until they are 140 degrees F and then cooked until they are 160 degrees F. I use a candy thermometer which I've had for years and years. When the thermometer hit 150, it seems to stop moving. The consistency of the egg whites is getting to where it feels it should be finished. I lift the thermometer out of the egg whites and find it has shattered. There must be lots of little pieces of glass in the bowl among the egg whites. Luckily, the mercury bit is still intact. Egg mixture immediately tossed. I'll start fresh in the morning.

Wednesday things are going okay. I spend a bit of time running around to buy a new thermometer and looking for a cake bell tall enough for a small wedding cake.
Problem three - can not find a cake bell tall enough for a small wedding cake. The average cake bell is six inches. By my estimation, the wedding cake will be just over 8 inches. I hit every store in the neighbourhood and after 2 hours, call TBIT to start looking. I go home to start on the cake.
Problem three - I think I can take my time because I have all Wednesday and most of Thursday to work on the cake. Late Wednesday afternoon, I receive a call from the store asking me to work Thursday. I can't say no to work (i.e. money) so agree. I now have just Wednesday evening to finish the cake. The mad scramble begins.
Problem four - new thermometer doesn't seem to be working. I make the icing by eye. The red food colouring on the roses last time made them inedible. I read that marachino cherry juice adds colour so less food colouring required. It works and still tastes okay.
Problem five - the temperature and humidity are rising rapidly. Icing decides not to play. I'm getting tired. The icing on the sides of the cake won't smooth down. I end up taking so much off the top layer, I can see the cake. I have to ice it all over again. I want to do beading around the base of the cake but the icing resists. I end up doing scallops. The roses are much paler than I want but more red will make the icing taste gross. The icing keeps separating because of the extra liquid from the cherry juice, so I keep having to whip it which softens it further. Roses are being make the same way as last time, a petal at a time and into the fridge it all goes. The roses don't turn out as well as I would like. I would really love more time to do them better. At 4:30am on Thursday morning, I have to give up and get some sleep.
I go to work where I spend the day unpacking a huge shipment - 22 boxes of mainly French pottery Emile Henry. It's dirty, dusty work. My boss gives me permission to leave at 4 instead of 5:30 so I can deliver the cake.
Possibly problem six - a customer comes in and tells us there is a huge power outage in the neighbourhood. It extends from St. Clair to Lawrence and from around Mt. Pleasant to Yonge. My apartment is near that zone. If the power is out, the cake isn't being refridgerated and it is very, very hot and humid. Luckily, when I get home I have power.
Problem six - TBIT found something we thought would work as a cake bell. I discover that if I actually close it, it will crush the roses. It's about half an inch too short. We'd cut the cake board so it would fit the base of this thing but now I'm not using it, the cake base looks really odd to me. Too late to transfer to a regular shaped board. I hastily make an impromtu cake carrier and call a cab. I'd thought for about 5 minutes I would just catch the TTC to deliver the cake but the heat of the day would make the icing pool around the base of the cake.
Problem seven - the cab is not air conditioned.
Problem eight - the power is still out in the neighbourhood, meaning no street lights. Cops are directing traffic and it is very slow. I'm in a cab heading south on Mt. Pleasant which means the western sun is beaming in the window right onto the cake.
Problem nine - traffic. The...cab...is...moving...very...slow... We get to Yonge, about a block from the restaurant and are still in traffic so I pay the driver, hop out and rush to the restaurant.
Problem ten - stupid people. Can you not see I am carrying something carefully here? Could you look where you are going, you idiot?
Finally, I get to the restaurant in one piece. I give the cake a quick once over before handing it over to the staff. The staff invites me to deliver it in person the to wedding party but I decline. I'm not dress properly and I think if I show up someone might ask me to stay which would defeat my idea of the cake being just for them. With quick instructions to keep the cake cool and ask if the wedding couple want the first layer removed before serving or not, I head out the door to meet TBIT.

Reading this you would think making a wedding cake was an huge ordeal and if I am complaining so much, why did I bother. It was a bit of an bother but I was making it with a purpose and not once did it make me freak out and swear or want to give up. I was making it for friends and for them, I would do it again in a second. Congratulations to them both and may they have many happy years together.

Posted by Marmy on August 24, 2007 12:27 PM


Marmy, thanks so much. It was beautiful and delicious and everyone loved it.

It was the best finish to a great meal we could ask for. Thanks again for all your hard work!

Posted by: Adrienne at August 27, 2007 11:28 AM

A much delayed reply, but all your hard effort was definitely appreciated. It was, you might say, the coup de gras of our wedding day. Thanks for making it happen and the pictures with the cake and the happy couple look fantastic.

Posted by: graig at August 29, 2007 02:58 PM