So, I had this fantasy. No, not the one about John Cusack asking me to be his date for the Academy Awards Ceremony where I happen to be nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category for the movie that I skillfully adapted from my best-selling novel. And I win. And my hair is awesome.
Not that fantasy.
In this particular fantasy, I get to make a wedding cake. For, you know, someone who happened to be having a small wedding. And needed a vegan cake. And agreed to let me take a crack at it, just to see if making a wedding cake (or cakes) was something I could do. I actually thought about this quite often, usually while walking the aisles at Bulk Barn and looking at all the fancy cake decorating stuff they have for sale.
A few months ago I mentioned this particular fantasy to my friends Spencer and Isabel who, it turned out, were in the midst of their own wedding plans. They weren't going to have a big wedding, they were trying to work within a reasonable budget, and Isabel needed the cake to be dairy-free.
We were a match made in heaven. I told them I'd make three cakes for their wedding. Then I promptly forgot about the whole thing. Because the wedding was In The Future and I had more important things to tend to in the present. Things like work, and gardening, and Top Chef, and then, eventually, my own (cakeless) wedding.
Suddenly, it was The Future. And I needed to get baking.
The first thing I did was ask my hairdresser, the incomparable Meghan Dailey, for tips on making the a gluten-free chocolate cake. She has been eating gluten-free for years and I knew she had a sweet tooth, so I was pretty sure she'd have some guidance for me.
"Bob's Red Mill chocolate cake mix," she told me, instantly. "It makes the best gluten-free cake I've ever had."
I can't remember the last time I used a store-bought cake mix. But when it came to wading into the uncharted (for me, anyway) territory of gluten-free baking, I was more than happy to surrender to the professionals. I made the two gluten-free layers out of the mix, and I couldn't believe how well they turned out. Good call, Meghan.
I made those layers on Wednesday and froze them, leaving Thursday night for the chocolate dairy-free cake layers and Friday night for the dairy-free lemon cake layers. I left myself all day Saturday to decorate the cakes, figuring that was where there was the most potential for disaster.
Thursday night's chocolate cakes were actually the trickiest part of the whole adventure. The recipe, which I've made a million times, was not the problem. The issue was that this cake was to be the largest, so the two layers I needed to make involved a whole lot of batter and a very large pan. The first cake ended up as kind of a triangle, really high in the middle and really low on the sides. I knew that I'd have to carve off the tops to flatten out the cakes, but this one would have been about a centimetre high if I'd done that. Cake fail. Please pack your whisks and go.
I made a double batch of batter and tried again. This one ended up high in the middle too, but with all that extra batter I had no problem chopping the peaked top off of and I still ended up with a reasonably sized cake. And then it was time for bed. Which meant that I was one layer short of my Thursday night baking goal. Eeg.
On Friday, I made a second trip to the Bulk Barn for additional pans and another bag of sugar. While there I found something called Bake Even Strips. These are strips that you soak in water and wrap around the outside of your cake pan before you put it in the oven. The strips keep the sides of a pan cooler, so the cake all bakes at the same rate, eliminating the high, cracked middle problem. Science!
That night I mixed up another batch of chocolate cake batter (not a double batch this time, but rather a one-and-a-half batch), wrapped the pan in the Bake Even Strips and hoped for the best. Success! One well-formed, pretty damn flat cake.
I used the strips for the lemon cake layers as well. For those, I used a recipe from the Bake and Destroy blog which can be traced back to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. These cakes were nice and moist, but didn't rise up very high, so I ended up getting up early on Saturday to bake one more layer so the lemon cake would have the same height as the other two cakes. Isabel had been excited about the lemon cake, so I figured she'd be pretty happy with a triple layer cake. Way more icing involved that way.
So, for those of you playing along at home, we're up to seven cakes now. Two double layer cakes and one triple layer cake. And one slightly-sleep-deprived amateur baker.
I didn't have to deliver the cakes until four PM on Saturday, which gave me a good amount of time to decorate them. I took the frozen cakes out of the freezer and let them thaw for about half an hour. Then, starting with the gluten-free chocolate cake, I methodically decorated each one.
Yes, that's store-bought icing you see there. It's "Buttercream" AND it's vegan, which isn't something I'd want to think too deeply about because... yuck. I didn't trust my own icing making skills enough to do all that icing from scratch, and besides, the icing in this case is really just the glue between fondant and cake. Good old Duncan Hines "Buttercream" served me very well. All three tubs of it.
After I iced each cake, I rolled out a big circle of white fondant on my kitchen counter which I'd vigorously cleaned and then sprinkled with a layer of icing sugar. When the fondant was thin enough, I very carefully flipped it up and over the iced cake, then slowly smoothed it down and cut off the excess. This was the hardest part. Sometimes the fondant would crack, sometimes it would just pull a bit and get unattractive little fondant stretch marks at the corners of the cake. Also, this fondant, being white and sugary, picks up traces of anything that touches it. Like the chocolate crumbs on the counter. Or the dog hair that floats though the air in our home at all times. So it requires a lot of care and vigilance to get one cake looking pretty. Especially if you also sit down and roll a bunch of tiny little fondant balls to go around the base of the cake, and then spend a while fussing with a ribbon to make it look awesome/hide any messy bits around the cake's circumference.
But you know? My system worked. And by "my system" I mean work hard and be careful. The cakes actually ended up looking pretty much like I pictured them. Exhale. After spending that much time together, however, the cakes and I needed a bit of a break. So they had a rest period in the cool of the refrigerator while I had a nap in the hammock.
I packed the smallest cake in liquor store box and fit the middle one in my plastic cake carrier. The wonderful Man of Science McGuyvered a box for the largest cake (while I annoyingly hovered over him and shrieked whenever I thought he was going to accidentally jab the icing) and then drove me to the wedding venue to drop these babies off . I was highly pleased when the venue coordinator asked me if I had many more cakes to deliver that day. When I told him I was just a friend of the bride and groom's and I had never actually baked any wedding cakes before, he made a fantastic surprised face. I was already proud of myself, but extra validation never hurts.
We were actually supposed to go to the reception, but I was felled by a migraine and the MoS was equally beat, so we stayed home. Which means that no, I did not get to sample any of the cakes. From the brief note Spencer sent me it seems like the cakes were a hit and the wedding itself was great. I am excited that everything went so well, and also happy that any baking I do this week can be as frightfully unprofessional as I want it to be. Yum.
This Time Last Year: Dragon's Tongue Beans with Garlic