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Wedding Cakes

A homemade wedding cake can just be dreamy

Even in a pandemic, people get married. And where there’s a wedding – even a small one in the back yard – there’s usually a cake.

Home bakers who want to make their own wedding cakes don’t need a fancy, multi-tiered tower. But how can they create something that rises above the ordinary?

Don’t be too ambitious, says Jocelyn Delk Adams, cookbook author and founder of the Grandbaby Cakes blog. People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves when baking wedding cakes.

“Don’t be too wild,” she warns. Make an exercise cake or two to help you feel prepared for the big day.

Preparation is key, agrees cake maker Ron Ben-Israel, owner of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York City.

“Prepare and simplify the process by writing down all the different phases,” he says. “Separate the pieces of the process and write down what each needs.”

List the ingredients you will need and make sure you can find them all as items like flour and baking soda may be scarce.

Ben-Israel emphasizes the need to get your cake recipes, including fillings and frosting, from a reliable source.

The good news is that layers of cake can be baked and frozen weeks in advance, packaged well. Thaw the wrapped cakes in the refrigerator. According to Ben-Israel, it’s easier to assemble and decorate cakes straight from the refrigerator (not from the freezer, as condensation may form when thawing).

Fillings and icing can be done days in advance. Take them out of the refrigerator and let them reach room temperature. Then mix them again and distribute them at room temperature.

And shortcuts are fine. Adams says, “If you don’t feel like you are technically good at baking, don’t be afraid to treat a cake mix! There are so many ways you can make a cake mix special.”

One thing I’ve learned the hard way is the importance of a crumb layer of icing. This is the technique of applying a very thin layer of frosting to the cake and setting it before you apply the final, thicker layer. The first layer may pick up some crumbs but then seal them so the subsequent layer of frosting doesn’t pull up more crumbs and mess up the clean look of the cake. This is important if, for example, you are frosting a chocolate cake with white icing.

Single tier cakes are easier, and if you want to make more than one tier, Ben-Israel recommends that you read up on how to structure a layered cake. Check out videos on YouTube to learn the physics. When making some rudimentary wedding cakes for friends over the past few days, I put the top layer on a round of cardboard (camouflaged by frosting), and before putting it on top of the bottom layer, I put some straws on top The bottom cake layer was cut in a circle in the center of the cake to support the top layer.

Ben-Israel and Adams advise on decoration to be kept simple. Ben-Israel says you could skip the piping entirely, or if you wanted to use a bag of pastry tips, “think about Keith Haring and cover the whole cake with doodles. Don’t go for straight lines.”

He also advocates candy, sprinkles, and edible flowers (sprinkled with nothing). He suggests using multi-colored candies to create a stained glass window effect.

If you’re feeling particularly creative, says Ben-Israel, mix some food coloring with a clear alcohol like vodka and paint it over the frosting like watercolors. “If the paint starts to drip? Great! Drip the paint all over the cake.”

One benefit of baking a cake for a small wedding party: you can really think about the flavors the couple loves.

“Your cake can reflect the personality of you and your fiancé in ways that may not have felt possible if you’re hosting a big wedding and worried about being a people-lover,” says Adams.

Erin Butler, volunteer director at City Harvest, a hunger relief organization in New York, knows exactly what she wants for her cake when she gets married to fiancé Ben Cohen this summer.

“The first time Ben visited my family in Florida, I took him to a Publix supermarket cake that was totally reminiscent of my childhood,” she says. It was the cake her family bought on every festive occasion, and Butler and Cohen searched Google forums for the recipe.

“There are certain traditions that we throw away, but this Publix-inspired wedding cake feels like a really important piece of the puzzle to make our wedding feel special,” she says.

Adams also suggests thinking beyond the cake.

“At the moment you don’t really have to stick to tradition that much,” she says. “The tradition is to really cut the dessert together, so you could cut up a cake if you like it.”

Try to have fun with the process, she says, maybe making the cake together and creating that memory.

“It’ll taste sweeter – the fact that you created this cake or dessert together for your special day.”

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