Monday, January 5, 2009

Getting Ready for a Wedding: Make the Cake

When my daughter and I began thinking about the cake for her wedding, we were amazed to discover that upscale bakeries in the Washington, D.C. area were charging as much as $15 per slice for a fancily turned out wedding cake like the one shown above. The price tag for this option included a white or yellow base cake, fondant icing, a choice of one or more flavored fillings, and custom decorations. Take it from me, however, you can make a wedding cake yourself with a little practice, and put hundreds of dollars back into your pocket or into the wedding budget as a whole. Moreover, you can make a wedding cake tastier than anything your guests expect to be served, and you can make it weeks or months in advance and stash it in your freezer waiting for the big day.

In the interest of absolute honesty, I did not end up making the cake for my daughter's wedding. We found a talented local lady who supplied us with a beautiful product at a fraction of the cost of the high-end bakeries in town, and were happy to decorate it with fresh hydrangeas to match the wedding colors. But the initial sticker shock sent me scurrying around the library and the kitchen, and, after a bit of experimentation, I was convinced that it was a project well within the capabilities of the home baker with the right recipe and tools.

I found just the right recipe in First Steps to Cake Decorating by Janice Murfitt. This little volume supplies everything you need to know about choosing, sizing, baking, decorating, and storing a wedding cake. Murfitt's recipe for light fruit cake, flavored principally with sherry and allspice, is superb. It stores for three weeks in the cupboard and up to two months in the freezer. The ugly duckling picture above is a 12-inch round of the light fruit cake; we are still carving little slices from the chunk of it that has been in our kitchen freezer since March! Murfitt's excellent recipe for dark fruitcake, designed to be soaked in brandy, can be stored for a month on the shelf and indefinitely in the freezer with no loss of flavor.
Both the light fruit cake and the dark fruit cake are intended to be covered in a layer of marzipan (almond paste) before they are frosted and decorated with buttercream. The most difficult part of this operation is rolling the marzipan to a sufficient diameter to cover each layer of the cake. Once the marzipan is applied, however, it's a relative snap to frost the cake and add the final decorations with a pastry bag.
If you can make a pan of brownies you can make these cakes! Are you still hestitating? Think about making the layers yourself, and find a local baking "pro" who can add the marzipan, butttercream and custom decoration. This approach would still save Big Bucks.

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