I've never known how to do this kind of formal baking, so this was a great opportunity to try my hand at it. Sandra, in the wedding high season, mid-May to mid-October, makes 2 to 3 wedding cakes a week, charging between £400 to £600 each. This might sound like a lot, but when you consider that she makes all the iced flowers herself (a bride might casually request a cascade of roses on the cake), that alone will take Sandra a week to make. Each wedding cake takes 1-2 weeks to make. The great thing about her job? "All my customers are happy. They are going through a happy period of their lives."
There are trends in wedding cakes, as in everything else: fruit cake was the traditional wedding cake; now most people request a sponge cake. With a sponge cake, you need a larger cake, fruit cake, being denser, can feed double the amount of people. If it is a tiered cake, perhaps the smallest tier might be a fruit cake, often used for the first child's christening (although today, in post-christian UK, 'naming ceremonies' are all the rage), or perhaps to send finger slices to absent relatives. Obviously fruit cake lasts longer than sponge cake. This season, the trend has been for lemon drizzle flavoured wedding cakes and lace decorations, hand-piped by Sandra. Customers are increasingly influenced by American baking TV programmes such as Cake Boss, so flavours are becoming more exotic - pineapple, mango, coconut, chilli chocolate and salted caramel.
Couples often want Hello magazine-style big-tiered cakes, but may not have many guests. In that case Sandra will make the other tiers out of cake dummies, polystyrene cake models, which she will cover and decorate so that they blend in with the real cake.
The most exotic wedding cake she has ever made was one for a gothic couple with a wedding on Harley bikes on a cliff top. She made a grey and black cake with turrets and sugar bats, she charged around £900 for this time-consuming yet fun work of art.
A wedding cake is rather technical: you must make them straight and level, as a piece of architecture, that must hold several levels upright. You have to think about weight and balance.
It's also easier to make cakes when the weather is cooler or if you have a cool kitchen. (I learnt this last year when I wrote and tested my forthcoming book MsMarmitelover's Secret Tea Party in sweltering heat. Not fun.)
Here is a step by step, if you want to attempt this at home. I'm going to assume that you have already made the cake bases: 2 x 8 inch deep sandwich tins. We are making a two layer cake, one with a real cake, the other with a dummy. However, you can make two real cake tiers.
Equipment:1 base 'drum' cake board (which is thick)
2 x 8 inch hard cake boards (which are thin)
1 x 5 inch hard cake board.
A serrated bread knife
A 6-inch dummy cake
A spirit level
A cranked palette knife
Plain side scraper
A preferably plastic rolling pin
A white non-fluffy apron
A pastry brush
A cake smoother with with one flat edge, the rest rounded
Baking parchment (not greaseproof paper, which is not non-stick)
Coloured large head pins
2 thin dowels
ButtercreamProportion is always 1:2 butter:icing sugar.
500g of softened butter
1 kilo of icing sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract (or lemon or orange or whatever flavour you want)
1 jar of Seedless raspberry jam
Icing sugar for dusting
1 kilo sugar paste, ready to roll (what the American and now even the British are frustratingly calling fondant)
Royal icing330g icing sugar, sieved if opened packet
2 large egg whites,
1 tsp lemon juice
Floral paste/Gum paste
Making sugar craft decorations:
You will need Trex or similar
Oasis or an upturned sieve
A J Cloth
An elastic band
Tiny rolling pin
Rose petal cutters
Small paint brush and water
Piping bags and nozzles (1.5mm and 2mm)
Flower punch cutters
Step 3: Cut a square of parchment paper and unwrap your cake bases. Sandra tends to use cake that is a couple of days old. She usually freezes them in advance and defrosts them half an hour or so before using. When she bakes them she greases the sides of the tin and cuts out a circle of parchment paper for the bottom. She has also found that baking her sponge for longer at a lower temperature, 150º rather than 180º, prevents doming.
Crumbs: save these and freeze them for use in cake pops. You can put the buttercream crumbs in there too.
Step 9: Remove from the fridge and peel off the cling filmed hard board. Fill in any cracks with buttercream and the cranked palette knife. Put back in the fridge.
Step 10: Rolling out the sugar paste. Prepare yourself for this step. Don't wear fluffy clothing or apron. Wear a white apron. Close the windows. Try to shoo away flying insects. Remove all pets. Tie back your hair. Take off all jewellery on your fingers and wrists. Remove any crumbs from the surface, you want a clean surface to work on. The sugar paste is a total fluff magnet.
Step 18: Wet the drum board.
Step 19: Lift the sugar paste with your rolling pin and drape it over the drum board.
Step 20: Smooth it out with the cake smoother. Trim with a small knife. If you wish, use a punch cutter to make decorations.
Now you have iced tiers. As I said, wedding cakes are about structure. You need to make sure that your tiered confection stands up, is strong, and doesn’t sink, tip or collapse.Sandra has had only one disaster when transporting a wedding cake; she took it to a venue with a cattle grid. The delicate 3-dimensional sugar craft tea pot on top of the cake got crushed when she drove over the bumps (speed bumps are a particular hate for wedding cake carriers). The mother of the bride was awaiting her at the end of the driveway at the venue. Somehow Sandra managed to divert the mother so she was none the wiser and sneak the cake into a basement room. Sandra’s husband talked her down off the ledge and drove into a nearby town for emergency repair supplies. She managed, by sheer force of adrenalin, to recreate the teapot in half an hour. Now Sandra always carries a wedding cake ‘crash kit’ consisting of: rolling pin, sugar shaker, box of icing sugar, piping nozzles, bags, sugar flowers, ribbon.
We are going to ice some scalloped swags, using a 1.5mm plain icing nozzle, onto the cake. Smaller scallops are easier than large.Step 23: Use another large headed pin to lightly scratch the outline of the scalloped pattern around the cake, rotating the cake as you go, on the icing. Repeat with the smaller cake. When you have finished, remove the pins and the paper.
Step 22: With your measured section of greaseproof or parchment paper, fold it in half, then again, then again until you have a folded section of about 2-3 cms. Use the bottom of a jar or cup to draw a curve at the top then cut out the curve. Unfold it and you have something a bit like a paper chain with a scalloped edge at the top. Wrap it around the cake, the ends should meet more or less exactly, joining up the scallops and use two large headed pins to pin the paper to the cake. Repeat with the smaller cake. Sandra uses this technique for all sorts of patterns. Sometimes she draws a template onto paper and then pin pricks the pattern into the icing.
(Cocktail sticks and pins: count them in and count them out. The last thing you want, especially if you are running a commercial cake business, is for someone to find a pin in their piece of cake. When Sandra delivers the cake to a wedding venue, she has a careful list of everything inedible in the cake, from cake boards to dowels, wire, decorations to give to the caterers.)
Step 24: Make royal icing (icing sugar, egg white, lemon juice as in ingredients list) and colour it if you wish. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth, royal icing sets very hard once exposed to air. Have a tall glass or jug with a damp cloth in the bottom. You can more easily fill your bag this way by standing it in the glass/jug. If you store the icing bag tip during pauses tip down into the damp cloth, this prevents the nozzle from drying up and crusting over with dry icing.
She fills one icing bag with a tablespoon of her coloured icing. You don’t need much for the scallops. Place the icing-filled bag into the bag with the nozzle, making sure the tip fits into the nozzle.
Decorative icingThis is probably the hardest part of making a classic wedding cake. It takes a long time, even years, to become proficient at piping decorations. Sugar craft is a whole art in itself. My Caribbean neighbour says that, in Jamaica, the bride's mother would make the cake for her daughter’s wedding but that for decoration, she would take it to the local cake decorator, often someone working from home. There are cake decorators in every area.
Sugar paste icing, royal icing is there primarily to preserve the cake, a bit like pastry with pies, rather than for flavour. It makes it easier to transport also. Royal icing will last for years. But the decoration is for beauty.
Push the dowels in at equidistant compass points a couple of cm (3/4 inch) within the scratched out circle. Your cake is now dowelled. If you are making an enormous wedding cake, you may use larger dowels. The bigger and heavier the cake, obviously the more load bearing framework is needed, sometimes 8 dowels are needed in the bottom layer.
Use the cake smoother to press down on the top, cementing the tiers together.
More piping stylesUse slightly softer royal icing for this; adding a few drops of water until you have ’soft peaks’.
Plunger cutters: roll out your gum paste on a bit of trex and cornflour then cut out flowers with the plunger cutter. Easy peasy. Attach, if freshly done, dabbing with a fine brush, with water to your swag joins. Or, if done later, pipe a little royal icing to stick it on.
To make a rose
Step 2: Then put Trex on your hands.
Step 4: if you want a coloured rose, select your colour and knead it into the gum paste.
Step 6: Rub some Trex into the work surface. Roll out your gum paste using the tiny rolling pin.
Step 8: Using the ball tool, stroke the edges so that they are thinner and have a 'petal' edge.
Step 9: Wet the cone with the brush and the back of a petal. Making sure that the petal stands 2mm above the cone, wrap the petal around the cone to conceal the cone.
Step 10: Continue using the natural curve of the petal and attach each petal to the outside of the cone, brushing the water at the bottom. Leave to dry until set.
Step 11: You will continue with larger petal cutters until you have a full rose.
You can do this with marzipan, chocolate paste, salt dough.
To commission a Sandra Monger wedding cake, click here.