The Ins and Outs of Making Your Own Wedding CakeIf you are a home baker, chef, or especially a pastry chef, people are going to expect (or at least hope) that you will be making your own wedding cake. After having made over 100 wedding cakes, and gotten to experience first hand all the dramas surrounding a wedding, I have a few basic ideas to help keep your sanity intact and allow you to enjoy your own wedding. First, keep in mind that wedding cake portions are traditionally small. A three-tier cake (12 inches, 9 inches, and 6 inches will serve 150 people. If you are anticipating more guests or chose to serve larger portions, make a sheet cake in addition to the tiered cake. (The batter for two 12 inch layers is equal to one 18 by 12 inch sheet cake.) Tiered cakes take longer to cut and serve and since the wedding cake comes at the end of the reception, guests often leave before the entire cake is cut. A good plan is to make the cake layers ahead and freeze them. If frosting the layers before freezing, they need to be set, unwrapped, in the freezer for a few hours until frozen solid so as not to mar the decorations when wrapping. They will need to be defrosted gradually by unwrapping and setting them overnight in the refrigerator, to avoid condensation. Be sure to use a refrigerator that is odor free as butter and or chocolate absorbs aromas readily. If freezing the layers unfrosted, wrap them well in several layers of plastic wrap. It is also helpful to set the wrapped cakes in freezer weight zip seal bags. You want to keep the cake from drying or absorbing any odors in the freezer. If you choose to have a traditional white (or ivory, assuming and hoping you are using butter!) the best choice of covering the cake, if not using fondant, is mousseline. At relatively warm temperatures it holds up well, and even at excessively high temperatures, should it melt, it is so beautifully emulsified it forms an elegant sauce. (See base recipe below. You can add different flavorings such as colorless liquors. Fruit purees, lemon curd, or cooled melted chocolate will tint the mousseline so best used as the filling between the layers.) If traveling with a tier cake it is highly advisable to stake the tiers. Drive a 3/8 inch wooden dowel, sharpened at one end, through the tiered cake layers to keep them from sliding. Choose a dowel that is about 6 inches longer than the height of the finished cake for ease in removal. Before frosting each cake layer, it is a good idea to cut two 1 inch long slits in the center of each cardboard base to form an X before placing the cake layers on top. This will enable the dowel to penetrate through the cardboard without risk of compressing the cake. No need to make the cuts on the cardboard supporting the bottom tier. Use a hammer, tapping gently, to drive the dowel through to the bottom of the cake. When the cake is ready to be displayed, remove the dowel by twisting and pulling it up and out of the cake. Frost or place an ornament on top of the cake to hide the small hole. Alternatively, you can use a 3/16 inch decoratively covered wooden cake base and a 1/2 inch dowel attached to its center with a flat head screw (similar to a sheet rock screw). Be sure first to make a hole in the dowel slightly smaller than the screw to prevent the dowel from splitting. The dowel must be shorter than the height of the completed cake. Also drill a slightly larger than 1/2 inch hole in the center of each cardboard base before placing the cake layer on top. When ready to tier the cake, lift the layer supporting it with the palms of your hands. Line up the center hole with the top of the dowel and carefully slip the layer down to the base or layer beneath it. To prevent marring the frosting, when the cake layer gets almost to the base or layer beneath it, remove your hands and allow it to drop gently into place.
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