Wedding Cakes

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I know that I just gave you a beautiful image of love and happiness and cool hair, but we’re here to talk about cake. And here’s the thing about cakes, guys; the thing is: wedding cakes are usually dumb. Half the time they’re from a catering company whose thing isn’t cakes and the other half they cost one million dollars. Most often they’re fakified in some way—slices are brought out from the back that clearly weren’t cut from the monstrosity those giddy newlyweds cut into minutes before. A lot of times they even taste bad. There; I said it.

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People are getting wise to this. I’ve seen various dessert bars, special hometown candies, doughnuts, and other creative giant-wedding-cake-replacers in the past few years, and I dig it. My friends Gigi and Zach (aka: Zizi, seen above dancing in love) chose to have an assortment of normal-sized cakes at their recent wedding instead of one giant cake, all home-baked by the beautiful Kinfolk Fairy Queen Ellen and myself (though Ellen is actually a professional baker, which is kind of cheating). And guys, we did it. We baked cakes for two hundred people and they all looked good and tasted good and I still can’t believe it.

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Ellen made lemon rosemary cake, browned butter coconut cake, and a berry white cake (get it?). I made chocolate ganache cake, red wine blackberry cake, and a carrot cake with spiced cream cheese icing. Something for everyone! People were just raving and I had another epiphany about how much I love baked-good affirmation. I shamelessly asked everyone what they thought of the cakes all night. News flash: they loved them. I already knew or I wouldn’t have asked.

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Bakers + Cakes

The wedding was very DIY, with lots of friend help, which I have come to approach with a certain degree of anxiety. But, when the couple keeps things simple and their friends are all incredibly talented and super generous, the stress goes way down. The wedding was held in the courtyard of the cute old apartment complex Gigi and Zach lived in when they met. Friends and family decorated, organized, performed music, cooked, and generally made good things happen.

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Everything was delicious, but I think MVP goes to the beer which was specially homebrewed by Ellen’s husband Tommy. I’d like to take a moment to appreciate that beer. If your experience of homebrew is bland, oddly carbonated grain water that all tastes the same regardless of kind, THINK AGAIN. Tommy is kind of a professional too though, so I guess that’s not fair either. The red was my favorite, expect that the pale ale was.

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This couple knows their way around grain.

Old friends came back in town. New friends ran amuck. Children, puppies, and a goat were all in attendance. Dancing was magical. I’ll never not associate ruling the world with that group of girls. The cops even showed up for the last song, which was pretty funny and added a festive, strobe light vibe (for the record, we were not yet breaking any noise ordinances). The night ended with everyone snacking on Cheetos in their fancy clothes, lying in the grass. One of the best weddings on record.

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Happy couple Zizi cutting cakes.

Here are my pro wedding-cake-baking tips:

  • Bake all the cakes ahead of time and freeze the layers individually in a double layer of plastic wrap—the weekend before is prime time. This is absolutely necessary, unless the wedding is teeny-tiny, or you have a time machine, or you are just a full-time baker (in which case, why are you reading this?).
  • If you can ice the cakes the day before the wedding, do it! This depends on schedule, of course, but will also involve refrigerator real-estate considerations, and other practical things like that. I didn’t have time before the day of the wedding and ended up missing more bridesmaids together-time than I would have liked.
  • Make lists and plan timelines and triple count ingredients. This way you’ll know if you in fact did not buy enough chocolate for the ganache icing before you start making it in your pajamas when you’re supposed to go have mimosas and eat breakfast tacos in like an hour…ahem.
  • Which brings us to the most important tip: only take on this task for people you don’t fear. Cakes can be complicated enough without the added pressure of eternal wrath if you mess one up. Generally, this means that you should only high-stakes bake for friends who are close enough/low-maintenance/low-stress enough to be safe, or for people you don’t really know.

When I told people I was baking cakes for a wedding, most reacted with looks of fear and horror. I think they had visions of bridezillas and broken relationships as much as the actual logistics of baking. I had to explain every time that my friend Gigi is someone you can bake wedding cakes for without living in fear.

Gigi is up for anything and wants you to be too. I am generally in awe of the way she welcomes and cares for people (and animals) without hesitation or reserve. She’ll adopt a cat or get matching tattoos with friends she just met without skipping a beat. And her enthusiasm for and genuine interest in others don’t just maker her fun to be around, they’re strong enough to bring other people closer together. Gigi’s relentless inviting has made me more than one good friend. I am so thankful to know her, and was honored to be in her wedding. So, of course I’d make her cakes. #ziziforever.

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Gigi + Robert

Anyway, I guess To Each His Scone is catering now. Cake recipe posts to come!

Lemon Chiffon Cake with Poppyseed Lemon Curd

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Lemon cakes, guys. I can’t believe this is my first post about lemon cakes. I have had quite a fling with lemon cakes over the past six months—the super dense kind, the lemon syrup drenched kind, blueberry glazed, buttercreamed, with rosemary, with poppy seeds. It all started with my sister’s birthday in June and hasn’t really stopped since then.

This is the one lemon cake to rule them all. Which makes me doubly glad that I took dramatic lighting glamour shots—as the previous three lemon cakes went woefully undocumented. Including the giant rosemary one with chocolate buttercream swirls and bunting I made for my friend Ryan’s birthday. I can’t even find the recipe I used. That pains me in a “seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone, / Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet…” kind of way. Though I doubt Hopkins was talking about cake.

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This lovely was served at my dear friend DeAnn’s engagement party last weekend. If you remember DeAnn you’ll know what kind of cake had to be made for that special event. If love is communicated by baked goods (which it is), the pressure was on. So I finally made this cake I have thought about but have been too intimidated/lazy to make, literally, for years. The thing that always tripped me up was the lemon curd. There were just too many elements; too much fuss. And that instinct was right—this is an all day kind of cake. You have to separate approximately one million eggs, fold in whipped egg whites, buy gelatin, double boiler some curd, dig out your cake flour, and whip butter for ages. If all that is too much for you, don’t run away though. The cake itself is by far the best element and it could be completed with less exertion by a glaze or a whipped cream icing.

Chiffon is right; this cake is light and moist and perfectly lemony. It uses olive oil instead of butter, which works with whipped egg whites to make the cake practically fluffy. You can’t taste the oil beyond a rich, fruity depth of flavor which compliments the brightness of the lemon perfectly. I cannot wait to make it again. With a lighter, whipped cream icing!

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Lemon curd requires double boilers and hassle.

Let’s talk about lemon curd for a second. When has anything ever sounded so bad and tasted so good? Never. This lemon curd recipe is not my favorite (this one is way better for scones or to eat with a spoon), but it works well in a cake. I wouldn’t normally put gelatin in a curd (totally unnecessary), but the added structure is good here, preventing the curd from disappearing into the cake too much.

The icing was described as “adult,” which I took a compliment. It isn’t overly sweet and has just enough flavor to prevent it from tasting only like whipped butter on a cake. Which it kind of is. It is dense and has a fairly elegant ivory color from the slight amount of lemon curd mixed in.

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It’s hard to know what to comment on concerning the party—the impeccable hosts, the house full of friends, the delicious food and drink, the lovey love birds, the winsome toasts? I will say, if you’ve read my post on DeAnn, you will be shocked to know that she has found someone worthy of her attention. Her fiance Kevin is one of the few, real, genuine southern gentlemen I have ever met. He stands when women approach a table and does so in such a way that none of my northern feminist hackles are raised. He’s so great I almost don’t resent him for whisking DeAnn away to live happily ever after in New Orleans. Almost.

The party was thrown by the Foleys, a family I have been incredibly fortunate to get to know this year.  Spending time in their home has given me a new, living definition of what manners are supposed to be about. They are effortlessly gracious hosts, and make you feel so comfortable that you forget you were intimidated and end up being yourself—which you regret immediately upon leaving, remembering the stupid, brash things your ease around them caused you to say. That last part may just be me.

The night was just what you’d imagine with such a guest list: sharp suits, pretty dresses, delicious snacks, an impressive selection of cheeses, fancy drinks, charming toasts to the happy couple, music all recorded before 1970, dancing, and Chinese cigarettes. Well, mostly what you’d expect anyway. Here’s the cake.

Lemon Chiffon Cake with Poppyseed Lemon Curd   

Ingredients

For Cake:

  • 8 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For Curd:

  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon poppyseeds

For Frosting:

  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Directions

Cake Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line the bottoms of three 9-inch-round cake pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, and water.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium speed until light and frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup of sugar and continue to beat until soft peaks form.
  4. Sift the flour, remaining sugar, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk gently to combine.
  5. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the egg yolk mixture and mix to create a smooth paste. Add one-fourth of the egg whites and fold in to lighten the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites until evenly incorporated. Divide among prepared pans.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer to wire racks. Once cool, run a knife around the cakes to release, then invert onto wire racks. Cakes should come out cleanly.

Lemon Curd Directions:

  1. Place 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over top. Let sit at least five minutes or until evenly moistened.
  2. Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, remaining 1/3 cup lemon juice, and lemon zest together in a medium heat-proof bowl.
  3. Place bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until the curd thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (it should reach approximately 165ºF), about 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let it boil.
  4. Whisk in gelatin mixture and cook for one minute more.
  5. Strain the mixture through a sieve.
  6. Stir in the butter until melted and smooth.
  7. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto the surface of the curd. This will prevent a skin from forming on the top of the curd. Refrigerate until set and thoroughly chilled, at least three hours.

Frosting Directions:

  1. Beat butter on medium speed with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add powdered sugar, a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add 1/4 cup of curd and mix until smooth.
  4. Add cream, a little at a time as needed, and beat until light and fluffy. Add more cream or powdered sugar as needed to achieve desired consistency.

Cake Assembly Directions:

  1. If the cake layers are really uneven, you can trim the domes with a serrated knife to make them lay flat.
  2. Stir poppyseeds into remaining curd.
  3. Place one cake layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread 1/4 cup of curd evenly on top. Position second layer on top and repeat. Position final cake layer.
  4. Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream as a crumb coat and let it set in the fridge for a few minutes. Sometimes I skip this step, but don’t. The cake is really light and the frosting is heavy, so crumbs will come off and make you look a slovenly cake maker. Considering all the work you just put into this damn cake, that is to be avoided at all costs.
  5. Remove cake from refrigerator and frost with remaining buttercream. I smoothed the top and created ridges on the sides by dragging the tip of a spoon from the bottom to the top of the cake in an even pattern. Garnish with some mandolin-thin slices of lemon, or whatever you want.

Adapted from Love and Olive Oil, which was adapted from Sky High Cakes, and so on.