Monday, September 6, 2010

How to welcome more chaos into your baking a wedding cake

A couple months ago, my stepdad’s niece called to tell me that she and her longtime boyfriend had finally decided to tie the knot. In the tradition of keeping things simple, they were going to get married at the courthouse and then have a reception over Labor Day weekend at my mom and stepdad’s house.

As we were discussing the details of the reception, she mentioned that they’d be serving store-bought cupcakes instead of wedding cake to help keep costs down.

"Oh no,” I said. “Let me make you a wedding cake. I’d be happy to do it! After waiting this long to get married, you and Mark deserve to have that moment where you get to smash cake into each other’s faces!”

She graciously accepted my offer and we discussed flavors and colors.

Now, I should probably clue you all in to the fact that I had no business offering to make anyone a wedding cake, let alone a family member. I mean, I’ve made birthday cakes for my kids and had a blast doing it but a wedding cake is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

A wedding cake needs to be perfect…it needs to be beautiful…most importantly, it needs to be impressive.

Shit. I guess a Toy Story cake wouldn’t fly.

I spent a couple weeks looking at various wedding cake pictures, trying to decide on a design. Julie’s only request was that it be a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. Simple enough. Thankfully, she wasn’t expecting something out of Ace of Cakes. The bar had been lowered, much to my relief.

Everything seemed to be falling into place except for one minor detail, which I had forgotten would need tending to. My kids….the 4 little spawn who suck the lifeblood out of me.

I sat them down and explained, “Mommy did something super crazy. I’m gonna need you guys to really work with me here and cooperate, k?”

They sat extremely still and stared at me with scared, wide eyes. “Mommy, what did you do? Is Daddy gonna be mad at you?”

“Well,” I answered. “I offered to bake a wedding cake for Julie and Mark, which is going to require a lot of attention. I’ll do most of it while you’re all at school and after you’re in bed at night but some of it will have to get done during the day when you’re home.”

The thought of competing for my attention with a shitload of buttercream frosting suddenly didn’t sound like a big deal to them. They clapped their little hands fiercely and squealed, “Can we lick the bowls?”

Nice to know my kids can be bought off with the slightest temptation of sugar.

Okay, so let’s get down to details…you know, in case any of you are thinking about offering to make a wedding cake for a friend or family member because, like me, you don’t have enough chaos in your life.

First and foremost, don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to make a cake from scratch. Betty Crocker is famous for a reason, people. Trust her. Love her. She won’t let you down.

Oh, wait…you’re worried that the cake won’t taste good…concerned that it’ll be dry? No worries. Let me share a couple tips.

Immediately upon removing your cake from the oven, cover it with a clean dish towel. All that steam coming off of the cake will be forced back in, making it the moistest cake ever! moistest even a word?

After leveling and torting your cake, dab a small amount of simple sugar syrup on the top of each layer with a small brush. The syrup is easy to make…it’s equal parts sugar and water. Just bring it to a boil on the stove and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Pour it into a cup and let it cool off. Then dab away.

Not only will it add a bit of sweetness to your cake, it will keep it super moist. You can even add flavoring to the syrup if you want to give your cake an extra unique taste.

Meet my 2 new BFF’s…”cake lifter” and “cake torter”.



Both of these tools will simplify cake baking for you. The cake torter will help you tort your cake in a perfectly even manner. The cake lifter will help you take your layers on and off without the risk of damaging the cake.

I learned the hard way, after rushing to flip a layer back on the cake while hurrying to get the kids out the door to meet up with some friends. I practically cried like a baby as it fell to the floor in crumbles, resulting in me having to bake another 14-inch cake.

Bella hugged me tightly and said, “Mommy, I’m sorry. I mean, not that it’s my fault or anything. It’s your fault the cake fell. But I’m just sorry because you’re so sad.” Isn’t that sweet….sort of?

The best way to make sure all your layers are even is to use a level. Yes, it’s a carpenter’s tool but it comes in handy for cake baking too. Who knew, right?

Your heart will be filled with joy when you see that little bubble line up right there in the middle of your level. Kind of like when you witnessed your baby smile for the first time. Or when your toddler finally figured out that the toilet will not swallow him whole if he sits on it.

This would also be a good time to call your husband at work and warn him, “Uh, honey…I have to run out and take the kids to the park. But I’m just calling to let you know that you’ll probably get home before I will and the kitchen looks like a tornado blew through it. I will clean it when I get home. If, for some reason, you should get the urge to clean it up for me, you will be rewarded greatly for your efforts.”

He’ll assume you’re talking about sex but you can just buy him a milkshake from Jack in the Box on your way home. He’ll forgive you eventually for the misunderstanding. Or not. I apologize in advance if he holds a grudge for the next 20 years.



Moving on…the key to avoiding all the crumby mess while frosting is to do a crumb-coat first, especially when icing a chocolate cake with light-colored frosting. It’s totally a bitch but it can be done.

Simply cover your cake in a thin layer of frosting and then put it in the fridge to harden up. Don’t worry about crumbs getting all mixed in with the frosting…that’s the whole point.

But when you put it in the fridge, all those nasty little crumbs will become immobilized in the frosting, not unlike the annoying fly that the kids found tangled up in a spider’s web on the window sill, which kept them preoccupied for whole 10.25 seconds.


If you have time to kill, you can also leave your cake out on the countertop overnight…just be sure to cover it with saran wrap so it’s protected from wild animals running freely throughout your home. Or your kids. Whomever.

While you're waiting, take a minute to relax. I chose to watch Paula Deen on The Food Network, as she and her grown sons demonstrated how to make popcorn balls. I laughed my ass off every time she told her sons, "Be don't want your balls sticking together". Oh ever did you get your sons to keep a straight face while filming that episode?

Once your crumb coat has hardened, you can go ahead and frost your cake. Even though the crumbs should be held in place by the thin layer of frosting, some may become loosened if you touch it with a spatula.

I prefer to fill a piping bag with frosting and just squirt it directly onto the cake. No coupler needed…just snip a hole in the bottom of the bag (you can even use a large ziploc bag if you don’t have a piping bag) and fill it with your frosting. Then you can use your spatula to smooth the frosting over the crumb coat. Your spatula never has to come into contact with any crumbs this way.

So now you have the final layer of frosting covering your cake and you want it to be smooth like a baby’s bottom, right? Okay, bad analogy, I know.

Here’s a little tip I’ve learned along the way….it’s called the Viva paper towel method. After frosting your cake, put it in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes to crust up. Test it by touching it with your fingers. If no frosting comes off, you’re ready to smooth it down.

Grab a Viva paper towel (or any other paper towel that doesn’t have a design on it) and place the smooth side of the towel on your cake. Use your hand like an iron to smooth the frosting out (you can also use a fondant smoother if you have one). Just use very light pressure as you move your hand in a circular motion.

Do this to the top of the cake and the sides…you’ll be amazed at how flawless your frosting will look once you perfect this method.

From there, you can move on to decorating your cake. I wanted to do a fancy scrolling design but quickly figured out that I totally suck at piping so I decided to stick with something relatively easy and go with dots and ribbon.

I used a #3 tip for the dots and the ribbon is simply polyester ribbon that I bought at Joann’s. I was worried about the ribbon soaking up grease from the buttercream but I used double-sided tape on the back of the ribbon, thus protecting it.

I thought my biggest challenge would be getting the buttercream the perfect shade of aqua to match the ribbon but a friend of mine came over and made it her sole purpose to create magic with a couple bottles of gel food coloring.

She also brought her 5-year old son over to babysit Garrett and Landon. He works for cheap too…all it cost me was a couple glasses of juice and a nutrigrain bar. He has some openings in October if anyone needs a good sitter.

My friend suggested placing fresh flowers on the cake and was kind enough to run to the store and pick up a beautiful bouquet of alstroemeria. All was good until I was researching later that evening how to keep them at their freshest after placing them on the cake when I learned that the sap in the stems could be dangerous if ingested.

I’m pretty sure I heard God laughing at me right then.

So at 8:45 that night, I ran out to Joann’s and got some artificial flowers. Whew…major catastrophe averted.

At 11:30 pm on Friday night….after 4 days of preparing this cake….it was finally done.



The cake topper was something Julie had wanted…and after waiting several years to get married, it was completely appropriate.

The cake did have some imperfections here and there. When I asked Tim what he thought, he said, “Well, sweetie, it looks amazing…especially if you’re standing 10 feet away.” Geez, thanks, honey…I think.

And I do realize that the grout on my kitchen counter needs to be cleaned. I’ll add that to my list of the other 432 things I need to get done around here.

The next day, we drove 45 minutes to my mom and stepdad’s house…with Tim driving 15 mph while I held the cake on my lap. And the kids yapping in the background, “When are we gonna get there?” and “Why are you driving so slow?” The spawn may be adorable but, damn, they’re impatient little boogers.

Julie and Mark loved the cake and I received many compliments on it throughout the day from other guests at the reception. The best part….everyone said it tasted amazing. I was over the moon!!

Here’s Landon, my little sugar junkie, enjoying a piece of cake…



That smile says it all, doesn't it? It melted my heart when he said, "Mommy, you make my wedding cake too".

Uh, no....I don't think so. But at least the thought was nice.

47 comments: said...

it looks great! congratulations on surviving the ordeal... I'm sure the bride and groom were extremely pleased with your work and grateful for your help :)

Buckeroomama said...

I think you did a super job with the cake, brave girl! SO sweet of Landon to ask that you make his wedding cake...! :)

Merri Ann said...

Wow ... you're on a whole other baking planet than I am. That was amazing. I can't believe you fit that in to your schedule.

Have you thought about getting some help for your uncontrolled responses to the male anatomy????

Between your "balls" thing and my "farting" thing we would make quite the pair at any kid related function ... we would only be allowed to sit in the back of the room any time we were together.

My advice for the day ?? Get Formica counter tops ... God created plastic countertops and plastic floors to help us busy moms. I'm sure He is working on plastic walls.

Carly said...

So that's where you have been..Wow you are one Brave womann to offer up a Wedding Cake..The Cake looks Great! & I ZOOMED in . Amazing that you can do that. What a nice gift for the Bride and Groom. I only ever make cupcakes..I cannot make a cake to save my life.

Donna said...


Yeah, you just raised your cake making to a whole new level! Very impressive girl! And you did it with no hands! I mean, you did it with 8 extra little hands to worry about!

I love all of your attention to detail and all of the problem solving - double sided tape on the ribbon? Genius! I would have solved it by running to the nearest bakery and buying their display cake up in a heartbeat! lol

And a moist, flavorful wedding cake!? Can't tell ya how many times I've passed on a wedding brick, I mean piece of cake, cuz I like to enjoy my calories with some measure of flavor!

Bravo! Brava! Bravista! (Now I'm just making up words that sound like cheering!!) [Insert hand clapping]

Now go get some "rest."

Eva Gallant said...

The cake was beautiful and thanks for sharing all your tips!

kristi said...

Nice job!!

The Boob Nazi said...

You did a great job. Wow.

Shell said...

You did a fabulous job! Wow.

I'm impressed that your kids didn't find a way to eat it.

sbswtp said...

I think it looks amazing! What a great post :)

Heather said...

What an amazing job, Helene!

Charlene said...

Wow looks amazing!! Great job!

Charlene said...

Wow looks amazing!! Great job!

Kristina P. said...

You did a great job! My cake would end up on Cake Wrecks.

ashley said...

Wowza- what a beautiful cake! I love to bake, but have NO skills at the icing or making the cake pretty part. I may have to try again when the hubby is home. It's a good thing he likes cheesecake- it's easy to make those guys pretty!

Jen said...

Wow! That was awesome. I am going to share these tips with Jeff, since he is out resident cake maker.

MiMi said...

That looks amazing you crazy, crazy, CRAZY woman!!! :)
Also. Paula Deen. She cracks me up!

Anonymous said...

Wow girl! You are my hero. That cake looks dang good! So glad it turned out well and everyone loved it. You are amazing.

Anonymous said...

That cake looks amazing. Imperfections my ass!! If I did it you would see lopsided and... well, it would be a disaster!
And, I wanna come live at your house since you only have 432 things to do on you list ;)

Creative Junkie said...

OMFG - I cannot believe you made a wedding cake, and such a gorgeous one at that! Holy shit, woman ... I don't even make our own birthday cakes!

Blogger needs to get one of those "I'm not worthy" emoticons for an occasion such as this.

Angela said...

I'm breaking out in a sweat just thinking of trying this! You did an amazing job! love the cake topper! And be still my beating heart re: Landon's comment!

Nezzy said...

You are a brave girl just for offering a little lone with two sets of twins in the house. My mom used to bake wedding cakes so I know this is no easy task! You did a magnificent job sweetie.

BTW: Just a little tip if ya want one, if not just toss it out with the bathwater. If you make a thin power sugar glaze ( you can even add chocolate if you want.) to glaze you cakes with and let the glaze dry before you add the butter-cream the glaze seals in the crumbs so the icing goes on smooth.

God bless ya and enjoy your day

Karen Peterson said...

Helene, that cake looks beautiful!

And this is such a helpful tutorial. I'm going to use this the next time I make a cake...If there is a next time...

Jackie said...

Beautiful job! And I love the flowers! Even if they aren't fresh...

Rebecca said...

You're a NUT (a very nice nut) for ever agreeing to make it in the first place with all of those kiddos in your house!!! Rock star!

Elizabeth said...

You are amazing (crazy but amazing). What a nice thing to do for a family member. The finished product looked fabulous and I heart Betty Crocker too.

Annie said...

I'm so impressed. You did a great job. It looks so beautiful.

I have a question: How did you prepared the frosting?

Jenny said...

You did a great job with the cake! How stressful though!

On a funny side note, my cousin makes cakes and actually uses paper towels with a design on them. It always looks so stupid!

Zeemaid said...

I think you did a wonderful job!!! Waaaaay better than I was picturing as I read your post... mainly because I was thinking of my own cake decorating skills which largely depends on lots of sprinkles. *L*

Lovely, lovely job!

Dysfunctional Mom said...

You are one brave mama. But it turned out beautiful!

Anonymous said...

OmG..Helene..that is gorgeous...amazing......she is a lucky are one talented Momma...Paula Dean move over...!!!..Hey did Tim clean the kitchen ..?

The Mother said...

I am jealous of your cake-decorating skills. Beautiful.

Even if I don't condone volunteering in any form.

Crossed Fingers said...

Wow! What an awesome job!!! Thanks for the pointers too - I learned some good tips for my next cake - although it won't be a wedding cake. :)

Sadia said...


Mmmm ... simple syrup. I quite literally made 5 pints of mint simple syrup this weekend. Delish in lemonade!

LucidLilith said...

Em, so quick question...why don't you have your own bakery?

shortmama said...

Way better than anything I could have done, it looks great!

The Lane Family said...

The cake looks AMAZING Helene. You are very talented.

thank you also for sharing some tips. I especially enjoyed the tip about the crumb coat and then putting it in the fridge. I have had nightmares with that issue!!

Also the tip about telling your husband you will reward him was great. I love the milkshake idea:)

The last little bit about what Landon said just touched my sweet!!!

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

Wowee...that cake looks great! I was reading your post, basically holding my breath, hoping - after all that work - that your hubby didn't hit a bump on the way to the reception and the layers collapsed, or something equally horrific.

What an awesome gift you gave the bride and groom!

Oh, and I think my hubby would prefer an ice cream treat over pretty much anything. ;)

Anonymous said...

Seriously??? How in the heck did you find the time to do that with 4 little kids running around your house? I'm in awe. It's just beautiful.

PS I need a sitter for Friday night if that little man is free.

The Girl Next Door Grows Up said...

Holy crap that thing is beautiful. You have some serious guts for taking that on.

I never knew about the crumb layer and then with the smoothing at the end.

WOW! My mom's birthday is next and I am the cake person in the family so LOOK OUT! I am going to take some of your tips.

Oh yes, and who makes cakes from real "scratch" anyway? They taste icky. I figure if it isn't store bought it is made from scratch :-)

Mrsbear said...

It looks fantastic! I am in awe of your pastry skills. And as detailed as your directions were, I would never in a million years attempt it, I'm fairly certain I'd smash that cake to bits when I got crumbly bits all over my uneven frosting. You're so brave.

Anonymous said...

You are a very brave woman.

I really need to get a cake lifter. I made a 2-layer cake the other day and when I put the top layer on, it kinda split in half.

I used a LOOOOOOT of icing to glue it back together. But the family didn't seem to mind! ; )

debi9kids said...

That turned out fantastic for your first wedding cake.
Just beautiful and so much better than wedding cupcakes :)

ps Thank you so much for your prayers and friendship. These past few weeks have been awful, but made better by my caring friends :)

Heather & Chaos said...

I think it looks AMAZING and would hire you. =) You are definitely one crafty lady who can do anything!!

Lani said...

great job on the cake!
I have a super-secret tip for you too, for keeping the crumbs under control before icing. My mom is a baker and does a lot of wedding cakes.. she takes apricot preserves, and heats them in a saucepan till they're melted down, then brushes them on the cake with a paintbrush (preferably one not used for actual painting), then puts it in the fridge for a while. It kind of glues the crumbs in, and it gives the cake a very subtle sweet taste. No one can ever figure out what it is, but they like it.
Do NOT tell her I told you that:)

Semi-Slacker Mom said...

It looks awesome, Martha freakin' Stewart! You're making the rest of us look bad. well at least me anyway...

Mighty M said...

Congrats and beware - the wedding cake offers may start flooding in!

And, I guess it looks okay but I really think a Toy Story cake would have been very cool and original for a wedding. :)

I figure that if the children are alive when my husband gets home at the end of the day, I've done my job.

----Roseanne Barr

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