Sunday 14 August 2011

Climb every mountain, make your own wedding cake

{photo by jel photography}

Climb every mountain, ford every steam, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream ~ The Sound of Music

Well, blow me down and call me Ed but I seem to have been conquering all sorts of culinary Everests recently.  Like macarons, making my own 2 tier wedding cake was for me an act of baking mountaineering.

I think this is one of my proudest baking achievements.  Really takes the cake.

What on earth possessed me to want to make my own wedding cake you ask, when a) I was living in a different city to where I was getting married, b) I've just started at Med school and c) I'd never made a tiered cake nor worked with fondant before???  Well, with professional wedding cakes costing around the NZD$1000 mark, there was definitely a huge financial incentive.  And then there was the reverse psychology incentive: the more people warned me against doing it, the more determined it made me.  You say: "Not a good idea Nessie, too stressful", I hear "Go on, I dare you".

Me, stubborn? No...

{photo by my cousin David}

Before this wedding cake, I had never ever made a multi-storey cake.  I was a complete cake engineering rookie and thought heck how hard can it be right? You just bake two cakes and plonk one on top of the other - done burger!  Turns out, it is definitely no cakewalk.  There's a lot more to it than just playing jenga with 2 cakes; you need particularly sized cake tins, cake boards to match, wooden dowels and even a saw to cut the dowels with.   Yes, a saw. Heavy duty artillery.  I'm surprised no number 8 wire was needed.

Making and assembling this cake was a multi-stage process that I did over the period of about a month and a bit (but can be done over a couple of days).  Sure, that sounds super complicated but actually splitting up the work over a longer period of time lightened the workload and made the process considerably less stressful.

Before I started,  I was most terrified about the cake assembly part (what if it all crumbles just as I put one on top eek?!) and the fondant part (what if the fondant doesn't like me and rips/bubbles/melts/bites me eek?!) but actually, the hardest part of the whole process wasn't either of the above.

The hardest, most frustrating part, the I-want-to-throw-this-cake-out-the-window part was actually getting the ganache layer smooth.  It just wouldn't smooth out.   The experience was kinda like trying to lick your elbow, doomed to frustrated failure.

{photo by jel photography}

Having said that though, it really wasn't as hard or stressful as I had thought.  Sure there were tears shed, mini melt downs had and 1.5 kgs of chocolate used but it was one of the most satisfying and fulfilling baking experiences I've ever had. 

See, who said you can't make your cake and eat it too?

Step One: Baking the Cake a.k.a The Easy-Lull-You-To-A-Sense-Of-False-Security Part

Chocolate Fruit Wedding Cake 

Adapted from recipe by Nigella Lawson

600 g pitted prunes, chopped
500 g raisins
250 g currants
350 g unsalted butter, softened
350 g dark muscavado sugar
1 1/3 cup honey
4 Tbsps golden syrup
3/4 cup brandy + extra for brushing
2 Tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
3 oranges zested and juiced
2 tsp mixed spice
4 Tbsp cocoa

6 eggs, lightly beaten
300 g flour
150 g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

Makes 1 x 30 cm (12") cake and 1 x 20 cm (8") cake.

1. Line one 30 cm baking tin and one 20 cm baking tin with 2-3 layers of newspaper then 2-3 layers of baking paper.

2. In a massive saucepan heat over medium heat the butter, prunes, raisins and currants, sugar, honey, golden syrup, coffee, brandy, orange zest and juice, mixed spice and cocoa until the mixture comes to a gentle boil stirring as it melts.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Take off the heat and let cool for an hour.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150oC

3. Once the mixture has cooled a little, add the eggs, ground almonds and sift in the flour, baking powder and baking soda and mix well.

4. Pour into the prepared cake tins and bake for 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours, until the tops of the cakes are firm and look shiny/sticky but a skewer comes out with wet crumbs from the middle.

5.  Cool the cakes in the tin.  Once completely cool, remove from the tins but keep in the baking paper.  Brush the top and sides of the cake with the extra brandy to seal.  You could freeze the cakes if needed at this stage by wrapping them in the baking paper, then cover with a layer of tin foil then a layer or two of clingfilm and freeze.  The cakes will keep in the freezer for months.  Or you could freeze after applying the ganache (I froze with ganache and they defrosted fine).

6. To defrost frozen cakes: take the cakes out of the freezer and let them defrost in the refrigerator still wrapped overnight.

~I think next time I'll put dark chocolate chunks in the cake mixture to chocolatify it more.
~ I didn't have the bigger sized cake tin (30 cm) so instead of forking out money to buy one I just rented one for around $6 from a place in Birkenhead (Auckland).   Easy peasey.

Step Two: The Ganache Layer: The Like-Trying-To-Lick-Your-Elbow Part

Making the White Chocolate Ganache

500 ml cream
1.5 kg white chocolate (use white chocolate drops rather than good white chocolate, according to the experts it's easier to work with)

1. Break chocolate up into little chunks (or chop finely) and place into a large microwave safe bowl. Make sure the bowl and everything that touches the white chocolate is bone dry.  White chocolate is fussy and will just seize up even if there is a speck of water. 

2. Put cream into the bowl of chocolate and microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Take the bowl out of the microwave and wriggle the bowl to get choc under the cream - don't stir.  Let the chocolate rest for 4 minutes.

3. After resting,  microwave on high for 2 minutes, wriggle and rest for another 4 minutes.

4. Microwave again for 2 minutes.  Take the bowl out (should be warm to the touch at this stage).  Stir the mixture with a silicon spatula (not a wooden spoon as a wooden spoon can retain moisture and cause the chocolate to seize up) until all the chocolate is off the sides.  Let the chocolate rest for 4 minutes.

5. If the chocolate has not completely melted, microwave for 2 minutes more.  Whisk the chocolate to make sure all melted through.  It should be no warmer than your finger.

6. Once the chocolate and cream mixture is completely melted and smooth, let it cool to room temperature until it hardens to the consistency of soft serve ice cream.  You can make the ganache and use the next day, leaving it to set in the fridge overnight.  Let the ganache come up to room temperature and heat in the microwave in 30 second bursts to soften.

~ Remember, make sure everything is super dry when you work with chocolate.
~ If the ganache is too hard, it won't spread well, just microwave for 30 seconds bursts to get it to the right consistency.
~ When it comes to smoothing, a hot L shaped ruler / meat cleaver / pastry scraper is your friend.

How to ganache the cakes like MacGyver

1 x large thick cake board for the bottom layer
~ chose one that's larger than the diameter of the cake if you are not using a cake stand.  If you are using a cake stand, choose one that's around the same diameter of your cake if not roughly 1 cm larger.

1 x thin cake board for the 2nd layer (same diameter of the cake if not a little bit bigger)

1.  To prepare the cakes for ganache, take your completely cooled cakes out of the baking tins and trim off the tops to flatten.  Then turn the cake upside-down and place on top of their respectively sized cake boards.  Ganache one cake at a time.  Make sure the cakes are totally cool (or up to room temperature, if you are defrosting them).

2. Get the ganache to the consistency of soft serve ice-cream (by either allowing to cool down if just made, or if you've been keeping in the fridge, by heating in 30 second bursts in the microwave).  Use an offset pallet knife and plonk a big dollop of ganache on the top if the cake.  Spread the ganache evenly over the top of the cake.  At this stage you are only doing a thin "crumb layer" to kind of set the cake so that no crumbs will come off it.  The crumb layer also makes it easier to get a smoother surface.  Taking more ganache, cover the sides of the cake too, being careful to get the layer even.

3. Let that layer of ganache set to had before putting on the next layer of ganache.  Make sure the ganache is the right consistency (heat in microwave for 30 second bursts as necessary) and put on a thicker layer of ganache on the cake again starting at the top, then the sides making sure the sides are flush with the edge of the cake board (on the smaller cake boards).  All the tutorials I watched on the internet made the ganache layer around 1/2 - 1 inch thick.  I think mine was more like 1 cm thick.  Let the ganache harden between each layer.

4. Then to make the ganache really smooth, the trick I saw on the internet was to use a stainless steel L-shaped ruler/set square heated in hot water (and dried) to smooth over the sides first, then the top of the cake.  I didn't have a set square like that, so I channeled my inner MacGyver and used a large meat cleaver.  It worked really well, way better than when I had tried with the pallet knife but I still could't get it looking super shiny smooth like the pros do.  Mad props to the pros.


~ I started off with dark chocolate ganache but found white chocolate was far easier to smooth.  If you're using dark chocolate the ratio to cream is 500 ml cream to 1 kg dark chocolate (and adding a splash of brandy in there is really nice too.)

~ Even though I couldn't get the ganache to be super smooth, once I put the fondant on it was actually ok...whew!

Step Three: Oh Fondant, my Fondant

This part was the part that I was pretty scared about (fondantophobia perhaps?) so there aren't any photos of this part.  The concentration was great.  This part is really hard to describe in words, but there are some great video tutorials on youtube which are worth having a look at.  I liked this video by Inspired by Michelle.

3 packets of pettinice fondant icing
Large rolling pin (preferably silicone)

1 Tbsp apricot jam
2 tsp hot water

2 x fondant smoothers

To make a duster:
Pair of clean thin pantyhose you don't mind cutting up
2 Tbsp cornflour
2 Tbsp icing sugar

1. First of all make the wee duster, its cute and really handy in the fondant process.  You can use it to dab a mixture of icing sugar and cornflour on to your work surfaces and to the fondant itself to stop it sticking.  All you need to do is to cut off around 5 inches from the toe to make like a pantyhose sock.  Mix the cornflour and icing sugar in a bowl then pour into the sock.  Tie the blob of icing sugar/cornflour off making sure the blob has a little bit of give and voila! You have your own duster!

1. On to the fondant part now.  Make sure you have a large clean smooth dry surface (like a bench top or table top) to work on.  It's really important that it is clean, coz the white fondant will pick up every little speck!  Dust the surface using your new toy a thin layer of powder.

2.  Combine all 3 packets of fondant and knead.  It is quite hard to start off with (like plasticine) but knead it until its got some give and is more pliable.  You might need to dust it while kneading to keep it sticking.

3. Roll out the fondant to around 5mm thick and roughly in the shape of a circle.  It will look massive, way bigger than you actually need for the cake but this makes it easier to get the sides smooth (a great tip given to me from a friend!).

4. Take the bottom (larger) cake with the ganache layer completely set and hardened.  Mix the apricot jam and hot water to make a glaze and brush over the ganache to make sure the fondant sticks.  Drape the fondant over your rolling pin and very carefully place the fondant circle over the cake making sure the cake is right in the middle.  You shouldn't move the fondant once you put it on the cake as the glaze and chocolate will stain the fondant.  Smooth the top and down the sides gently stretching the fondant out to get rid of any folds.  It's hard to explain clearly what to do and a picture tells a thousand words so do have a watch of this video coz I reckon it all becomes clear when you watch it being done!

5.  Cut around the edge of the fondant, right at the seam between the cake and the cake board (or further out and then wrap the fondant over the cake board if you are using a cake board that is flush with the cake.  Re-knead the excess fondant and roll out to cover the smaller cake.

6.  Smooth the fondant using the fondant smoothers (these are truely the most awesomest invention!). They are like these plastic paddles that with handles that you rub over the fondant that magically smooths the surface, cracks and all!

7.  Don't put the cake in the fridge after it has been fondanted (it will melt the fondant) and don't wrap completely with plastic wrap as this will cause the fondant to weep.  Loosely cover the cake with plastic wrap and keep in a cool dry place.

8. Cover any excess fondant in a layer of shortening and then wrap in 2 layers of plastic wrap and keep in the freezer for later use.

~ If the fondant keeps tearing, it could be because it is too dry.  Try kneading some shortening into it to moisten.

Step Four: Assembling the cake

~ 8 wooden dowels (or plastic ones)
small saw
fine sandpaper

1. Poke one of the dowels in to the middle of the bottom larger layer to gauge the height of the cake.  Saw the dowels to the exact height of the cake and sand to remove splinters.  Evenly distribute 6-7 dowels within the area that the top layer will sit on top of to support that layer.

2. Place the second layer on top of the bottom layer, right on top of the wooden dowels that have been pressed into the cake.  You are supposed to take a sharpened dowel at this stage and poke a big long one through the top and bottom layer to make sure the layers didn't slide on top of each other but I was too scared to do that so skipped it!

Step Five: Decorating the cake

small bouquet silk flowers (or fresh flowers)
plastic wrap
white ribbon

1.  Take your silk roses and poke them into the top of the cake as a decoration.  If the stems are too long, cut them and wrap in plastic wrap if there is a metal rod in the middle of the silk flowers.  Alternatively, if you are using real flowers, you can get little test tube things to push into your cake which you can put a little water in to keep the flowers alive.  Don't push the fresh stems straight into the cake, it will wilt the flowers and the chloroform from the fresh flowers will leech into the cake making it taste grassy.

2. Attach one end of the ribbon just by wetting a spot on the cake where the ribbon will go (right on the bottom edge).  Wrap the ribbon around and using a spot of icing stick the end on top of the other end.

The End

And you're done burger!!! Finally! And the fact that you made it yourself is just the icing on the cake.


  1. I was reading your recipe step by step and I wonder if you went hysterious somewhere in the middle of the process or you were just fully focused? hahaha. OMG! I've made so many wedding cake back in my days, to be honest, I will definitely buy my wedding cake. It's not a peaceful thing to do before a wedding, any glitches will just stick in my critical mind forever.
    Maybe I'll buy one from you Nessie, cos your cake looks truly made with someone in love ;)

  2. well done. looks fab...seriously $1000 for a wedding cake!?

  3. Wow. This is seriously impressive. I wish I made my own wedding cake now! I'd love to make someone else's some day so will bookmark this!

  4. Beautiful cake. I admire your tenacity.

  5. randomly stumbled upon your blog. you must be kidding me, on top of all that you have to do AND the stresses involved in getting married in the first place, you're making your own wedding cake?? that's nuts, but beautiful.

  6. oh my goodness, well done you! it looks fantastic - & i'm sure it tasted it too ;)

    maybe i will offer to bake my sister's wedding cake next year, it would certainly be a challenge!

    Katie x

  7. PFx: I did go crazy. Planning a wedding slowly eats away at your sanity I swear!! I'd like to think that hysterious was not a typo but you merely referring to my state of hilarious hysteria. :P

    Teresa: Thanks heaps!!! I have a whole new respect for cake makers. How are they still sane?

    jacksta: Thanks lovely! Incredible how the word "wedding" can add whole extra 0's to prices huh?"?

    timeforalittlesomething: Thanks heaps Jem! It was actually super rewarding. Think it would be more fun making one when you're not trying to plan a wedding as well!

    Lora: Thanks heaps Lora. I like "tenacity". Has a much better ring to it than "stubborn as a mule@!! :P

    Katie: Aw thanks heaps!! I loved the cake even though I don't like fruit cake! Reckon it would be fun to make if for someone else! (so long as they aren't a bridezilla...) :P

  8. Shu Han: Thanks heaps Shu Han! I actually don't know what I was thinking!? But am super glad I did it though! Thanks for stopping by :)

  9. Nessie, I am so behind on catching up on blogs, and I am very behind on your beautiful wedding posts - but taking on your own cake! I had to comment! That's so brave! It looks beautiful and you were smart to save the money!
    Amazing job on your cake. It looks perfect.

  10. wow I'm amazed, had been waiting for this post for so long. Thought i'm so late i didn't want to miss reading them. Infact wanted to send you email few weeks before, since a wedding cake order fell on my lap few weeks before but transportation of cake to about 250 km screwed everything! i was planning for 3 tier one so can imagine the stress and hard work you would have dealt with! Ganache is just perfect and fondant looks professional. hats off lady! It def is a golden feather on ur baking cap :)

  11. Well done! I made my own (gf) wedding cake just a few months ago. Stressful, yes. But so worth it aye?!

  12. kita: Thanks so much!! What a lovely comment! It really is one of my proudest acheivements! :)

    Ananda Rajashekar: Aw thanks Ananda! Oh no what a disaster, you poor thing! Hope the cake in lap situation all worked out in the end xox

    Emma Galloway: Oh wow massive hi fiiiive to you! It really is an experience making one of these puppies huh? My hat def goes off to pro bakers who make these all the time. Most definitely worth it!!! Would do it all over again in a heartbeat :)

  13. We had an amazing time making our wedding rings with Alba Urbina at the Wedding Ring Workshop. Its so special to have a wedding ring that your significant other made for you, from scratch. custom bobble heads



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