I was overjoyed when my brother and his girlfriend announced their engagement, not only because I think they are absolutely perfect for each other but also because it was the perfect motivator for me to finally do a cake decorating course! As luck would have it the course got cancelled but this was easily overcome – I learnt everything I know about cake decorating from a handful of library books and a whole heap of googling. I have had so much fun making this cake and it turned out pretty fantastic if I do say so myself!
The plan: A three-tier wedding cake – 12, 10 and 8 inch cakes, enough to serve up to 100 coffee sized portions. The bottom two tiers were chocolate mudcake, filled with milk chocolate ganache. The top-tier was a lemon cake filled with lemon buttercream. All tiers were to be covered in ivory fondant, the middle tier to be quilted, and all decorated with navy blue ribbon. The cake was to be topped with wire hearts and fresh flowers.
Baking: I baked the cakes six days before the event using 3 inch high pans. Baking was quite time-consuming as the cakes were so large they needed to be cooked slowly and at a low temperature. I lined each tin with baking paper and used baking nails in the bottom two tiers in order to help the cake bake evenly.
To get an end result of nice high/full looking tiers I had to fiddle with the recipe amounts. I discovered the best way to get a nice full cake is to ensure the batter fills at least 2/3 of the cake tin and always let the baking paper sit about 2cm higher than the side of your tin.
Once baked I cooled the cakes and turned them out of their tins. The baking nails can be easily flicked out with a knife. When the cakes reached room temperature I wrapped them in cling film followed by aluminium foil and stored them in the fridge.
Trimming and Torting – For best results the cakes need to be cold and firm. I had mine stored in the fridge overnight. Basically trimming involves cutting the cake to make it the perfect shape for icing. Torting refers to cutting the cake through the middle so that it can be layered with ganache/buttercream. I have been getting better results by using a sharp serrated knife to begin with and finishing off with a smooth-edged knife. I use a lazy susan style cake stand in order to attempt a nice straight cut. I have to admit I am pretty awful at this step but luckily my dodgy work gets disguised by ganache and icing before anyone sees it!
Ganache: fill and cover – Ganache is so easy to make and incredibly good for you (your soul that is). I used a milk chocolate ganache to fill the two mudcakes and a lemon buttercream for the lemon cake. To make the ganache I brought 500ml of pouring cream to a rolling boil on the stove, then poured it over 1kg of chopped good quality chocolate (do not use compound chocolate). Let it sit for a couple of minutes then whisk until smooth. This recipe is easily adjusted, basically you use a ratio of cream to chocolate of 1:2. I then stored it in the fridge overnight to let it set. In the morning when I was ready to fill the cakes I microwaved the ganache for 10 seconds at a time in order to get a nice smooth consistency. For the buttercream I used a simple recipe of butter (250g), icing sugar (4 cups) and the juice and rind of one lemon. I used this to fill the lemon cake immediately.
I started out by putting the bottom layer of each cake on an equally sized cake board using some ganache as glue. I usually put my cakes on the boards ‘top down’ as I find I get a much better shaped cake using it upside down. I then covered the bottom layer of each cake evenly with about 2cm of ganache/buttercream. I placed the second layer on top and pushed down hard with 2 hands in an attempt to get rid of air bubbles. I was careful to put the top layer on in exactly the same position as I took it off to compensate for my terrible torting job. For the cakes that were baked with nails I filled the nail holes with ganache. I then worked around the cake adding more ganache to the centre line to even it out.
I used white chocolate ganache to ‘dirty ice’ all three of the cakes. This helps to fill in any gaps, give a smooth surface and provide something for the fondant to stick to. The white chocolate ganache was prepared in the exact same way as the milk chocolate ganache except the ratio of cream to chocolate needs to be 1:3. For the three cakes I used just over a kilo of white chocolate.
Using the white ganache I covered each cake thoroughly. I then used a set square (from a newsagency!) and pushed it up against the board of each cake. Holding the set square very still, I turned the cake using the lazy susan to scrape off excess ganache. I then checked for any gaps and made sure the cakes were the prefect shape. This is a very time-consuming process but essential to getting a good-looking cake! Once the cakes were ganached I used a smooth knife dipped in hot water to run over the whole cake ensuring the ganache was silky smooth.
The cakes were set aside on a benchtop to settle overnight. This was 3 days before the wedding. The settling is a really important step as was demonstrated the next morning when I noticed that air trapped in one of the nail holes had risen and caused a massive bulge on top of the cake. I used a brand new sewing needle to pierce the bulge then pressed the air out to return it to a perfectly shaped cake. If I had covered the cake in fondant immediately this bulge would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, to fix.
Covering the cakes – So now we finally get to the fun part! First I soaked a pastry brush in boiling hot water then lightly brushed over the ganache to moisten it allowing the fondant to stick better. I recently purchased a product called ‘The Mat’ which is absolutely fantastic, basically you put your fondant in between the two layers of the mat then roll with your usual non stick rolling pin. The results are amazing, much less risk of your fondant drying out, collecting dust or cracking. I think I will let the pictures do the talking from here…….
I also rolled some fondant to decorate a large drum cake board (16inch) which I then placed the bottom tier onto, again using ganache as a glue. I used some non toxic glue to stick some navy ribbon securely around the base of the drum board.
Navy blue ribbon was placed around the base of each tier, again I used a non-toxic glue to secure the ends of the ribbon together at the back of each cake.
By the time I had finished the top-tier it was about 1am… and I was exhausted. I used over 5kg of fondant on this cake and rolling it was a huge workout. I put the cakes back on a bench top overnight. It is really important not to refrigerate them as the condensation will damage your fondant.
Stacking the cakes – I have no idea how heavy these cakes were but I used at least 5 kg of fondant, 12 blocks of chocolate, almost a litre of cream and too much butter to even think about. It is likely that they would crush each other if they were directly stacked so I decided to put 4 dowels in the bottom tier and 3 in the middle. I used wooden dowels bought from a cake supply store and cut them with brand new garden secateurs then sanded the tops to make them smooth. To get the right height I inserted them first and marked with a pen where I would need to cut, a couple of mm above the top of the cake. I did this the day before the wedding.
Transporting, setting up and decorating – The morning of the wedding I very carefully put each cake in a separate open box. I laid out long strips of baking paper in each box then put the cake on top to help me lift it out without damaging the fondant. Once I arrived at the venue I stacked the cakes, inserted the cake topper (another great eBay purchase) and decorated the cake with fresh flowers and flower petals. It was such a relief to have the cake completed and all set up. I gave the cake to the Bride and Groom as my wedding gift – it was absolutely the most fun and exciting wedding present I have ever given, and practical too!