Sunday, July 14, 2013

wedding cake part II: how to make a wedding cake in the forest

i shoved my kitchen aid mixer behind the seat cushioned with a pillow and my backpack. it was thursday morning. ...i wonder if i'll need more parchment..? i should grab a couple more..

he had a ukulele and a guitar. i had two coolers, a  cake stand, a box of tools..2 spatulas, whisk, a double boiler
Ripe nested down by my feet, for some car entertainment.. aside from my occasional outbursts of song lyrics changed to pertain to things around us.

the point is, we had a lot of shit. and a long ride.
i thought a lot about how i still had a whole wedding cake to build.
i had deli cups filled with caramel and hazelnut paste, and rounds and rounds of individual frozen and slowly defrosting cake layers, all sandwiched together as snugly and safely as i could arrange.

my plan of cake attack was to assemble the "bodies" of the two cakes when we got there later in the night, and then have them in the freezer overnight.
we got there in the late evening, we unloaded our truckful of junk and explored around the beauty of the place, we ate eggy english muffins and, what do you know, it was 10:30 and i was pondering where to begin.

well. make vanilla bean custard, that is where. that needs to get in the fridge cooling asap.
next, figure out how to approach doing this in this little studio kitchen strip.
oh look it's 11:30.
i haven't even started unwrapping and leveling the cakes out when one self-proclaimed 'sous chef' had clearly dropped out.

i chose to take the momofuku route in building the insides of the cake into one drum.
i compiled them in 10 and 8 inch springform pans lined with acetate.
i love this method of building cakes in a perfectly round mold, particularly for cakes with several layers and components. the sides are smooth and it keeps everything tighter. Also.. generous layers when it comes to the fillings. okay?

i finished up around 2 or 3.
i shoved (carefully maneuvered them with caution) them  into the freezer,
and then, to face my messy mini kitchen that i had turned into a warzone. oh yay
i glanced over at joe in enviable disgust.

the next day,  
in the afternoon, i took them out of the freezer, peeled the acetate paper off immediately to ensure nice sides and let them thaw a bit. in the meantime make a giant batch of caramel swiss meringue buttercream.
crumb coat on each cake. refrigerator.
then frost each. back in the refrigerator.

oh. what? buttercream? i haven't told you about the frosting. the one to tie everything together. the one that had to pair deliciously with the two (very different) cakes.
i had a few ideas, but the second i made caramel swiss meringue buttercream, the other frosting candidates got kicked to the curb. there truly isn't a cake i can think of that it wouldn't be delicious on.
in essence, you make a swiss meringue buttercream which isn't nearly as intimidating to make as it sounds.
caramel softens in the sun.
caramel gets whipped into the buttercream. it's beautiful.

now. the wedding day. it's a few hours before the ceremony. i shove a bunch of neon straws into the bottom cake, snip them so they are level. i make sure that no one is around me and everything is completely silent. i hold my breath, and stack the one cake on top of the other.
whoa. it worked.

i took out the racks in the mini fridge, and slid the cake in. all that was left to do was put the topper and flowers on it.

YES. sweet success!
then i hit the wine, stuffed my face with chorizo and brie, and hoped the night would never end.

things learned: the dishes now. not later. apparently there are millions of ants in the forest that will flock to every miniscule crumb and frosting smudge you can't even detect with your eyeballs.
2. i work pretty messy alone when there is no one around to get mad at me for being a mess.
3. flimsy neon straws can work together to achieve great strength
4. salted caramel swiss meringue buttercream > everything

Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
adapted from here and here

10 oz egg whites
10 oz sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
the scrapings from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 lbs unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
8-10 oz caramel

combine the egg whites, sugar, salt, and vanilla bean together in a clean bowl (if using vanilla extract, don't add til the end). set the bowl over a pan of water and turn the heat on medium low. you don't need the water to boil, just hot enough to steam and heat the whites. 
whisk frequently to prevent the whites from cooking. cook until the sugar completely dissolves, and should reach 150 degreesF on a thermometer. (i don't use a thermometer for this, i just touch the whites and rub it between my fingers, if it's still grainy it needs more time, but if it's smooth, the sugar has dissolved and it's ready.)
when the mixture is sufficiently hot, remove from heat and using the whisk attachment of a kitchen aid mixer, whip on medium high speed until the mixture has doubled in volume and turned white. continue whipping until the meringue is cool. feel the bowl, it should not be warm. 
turn the mixer down to medium-low and begin adding the butter, one chunk at a time. scrape down the sides of the bowl on occasion. don't panic if it looks curdled at a point. just keep the mixer running and continue adding the butter chunks and it will emulsify. finally, splash in some vanilla extract if using and drizzle in caramel with the mixer still running. let continue to whip until it's fully incorporated. adjust salt to taste


  1. This post on how to make a wedding cake in the forest is just so brilliant. All this work is praise worthy. Well, I am at my home and thinking to host DIY bash at the garden event Venues in San Francisco for my husband’s 30th birthday. I am definitely going to try out this cake recipe for the party.

  2. Our anniversary is coming up and was thinking of you. Love this :)