This is the post where I reveal to you guys what a weirdo I am, because I baked this three-tier wedding cake not for a wedding, or an engagement party, or an anniversary, but just for no particular occasion whatsoever. Whenever a friend gets engaged, I always think about offering to bake their wedding cake, but it’s not the kind of thing I feel comfortable just volunteering for without ever having done it. I mean, I’ve baked a lot of layer cakes, but never one that requires tiers and dowels and an entirely empty refrigerator. While there are a couple things I wish I had done differently, I’m pretty proud of my first try, which isn’t half bad.
Most importantly, the cake tasted amazing, which is not a given when it comes to wedding cakes. In fact, when we got married seven years ago, Simon and I gave up on finding a cake, and opted for wedding pies instead. Since then, I’ve come across a couple delicious wedding cakes, but they are few and far between.
This one is a cardamom gingerbread layer cake with rosewater buttercream, and I’m going to post a simple everyday recipe for this in a couple days (with a rosewater cream cheese glaze), so keep an eye out. There’ll be no special equipment or decorating skills required, and honestly I think it’s even prettier than this more ornate version.
I’ve been holding onto these photos for a while now, because I wanted to do something more useful than just post them—I thought about putting together a complete guide to baking a wedding cake, but there are so many good resources already out there (although if there’s interest, maybe next time!).
But after reading all the articles and watching all the youtube tutorials, I’ve got a few of my own tips I’d like to contribute. If you’re going to bake a wedding cake, definitely watch some soup-to-nuts videos to really understand the process, but here are some of my own thoughts to supplement:
1) cut a single tier’s dowels so that they’re all the exact same length
What are dowels, and why we use them:
When building a tall cake, you have to use dowels to give the multiple tiers structural integrity. This was especially important for this cake, which has an incredibly delicate crumb and would have fallen apart under its own weight. You can kind of see 3 little green ones (Starbucks straws, hehe) poking out of the top of the middle cake layer in the mid-process photo above.
The dowel strategy that didn’t work for me:
Dowels need to be cut to size, so that they are flush with the top of the tier, but the strategy in many of the tutorials I watched didn’t work super well for me. They suggested inserting the dowels, and then cutting the excess off right where they meet the top of the frosting. But if your layers are not perfectly 100% level (like, construction worker level), this will lead to a cake with off-kilter layers, which looks terrible, and isn’t structurally sound.
The dowel strategy that worked for me:
Insert 1 dowel into the center of the cake. Use your scissors to mark it with just a little snip on its side where you intend to cut it. Pull the dowel out. Take a few more dowels, and hold them together with the marked one. Tap the bottoms against a level surface to make sure they’re even. Cut across all of them at the same time, and tap on the counter again to make sure they’re all the exact same length. If they’re not, clip a little more off until they are, or start again more carefully. Insert the dowels into the cake, and stack on the next layer. If your cakes are pretty much level, there might be a 1-2mm gap on one side, but you can fill that in with decoration once you put the cake together. It’s better to have a teeny gap than to have a crooked second tier.
This strategy doesn’t work for a really crisp minimalist cake that won’t have any piping in the corners between the layers. Those cakes just need to be straight-up perfectly level. Sometimes the problem is that your frosting tops aren’t level, even though your cakes are. In that case, you can add more frosting once the dowels go in (but this only works if you insert them after the crumb coat, and before you frost them). Every cake is different, and this strategy won’t work perfectly for every decorating plan, but the goal should always be the same: dowels on a single tier must all be the same height.
2) Invest in a good turntable
I made this cake at my parents’ house, and bought an inexpensive little $10 turntable to leave there, thinking that it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but it kept seizing up in the middle of a rotation, and the jerky motion made it way harder to pipe the ruffled collars onto the sides. I hate buying expensive equipment for no reason, but sometimes it’s worth it, as in this case. So if you spend more money on one cake decorating item, make it a good quality turntable.
3) how to bake a multi-tear cake with just a few pans
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have room for more than a few cake pans. To bake this cake, I only had 1 6-inch round, 1 8-inch round and 1 10-inch round, but each of the 3 tiers is made up of 3 layers. In order to do this, I baked the cakes in batches and did some quick math to make sure I would be able to bake 1 of each at a time, and that the cake layers would all be the right height (if you think doing the math will take you longer than 10 minutes, you can just wing it, but it saves a lot of time if you happen to be a math person). Here’s the math for the recipe I had with the equipment I had:
Each batch yields 2 8-inch rounds, which is 100 square inches of cake per batch (a=πr^2)
A 10-inch round yields 79 square inches of cake.
An 8-inch round yields 50 square inches of cake.
A 6-inch round yields 28 square inches of cake.
So I needed to bake the following batches, to yield 1 6-inch, 1 8-inch, and 1 10-inch in each batch:
1) a double batch (reserve 20% of the batter for batch #3)
2) a double batch (reserve 20% of the batter for batch #3)
3) a single batch + leftover batter from the first 2 batches (this batch will be 7% taller, which is no big deal)
4) careful with the food coloring
Add food coloring to frosting a little at a time, and remember that it will become a little more vibrant as it rests (I don’t know why this is the case—but I’ve always noticed it, and I googled it and found that others have noticed the same thing, so I guess it’s probably true). Sometimes less is more, and if you’re going for a pastel look, start with just a drop at a time.
5) pipe a billion roses and then choose your favorites
Molly Yeh’s rose rose cake inspired me to play around with different rose piping styles (and inspired me to snap the above photo of my practice batch). Watching lots of tutorials is important to get the general idea, but it’s fun to try winging it on a few, to come up with your own rose piping style. I think my signature rose style is a little cabbage-like, but I’m okay with that.