The night before my wedding, a well-meaning friend asked me what time I “start” in the morning. Without missing a beat, I explained that it didn’t take long to make a batch of buttercream, and that the cake layers wouldn’t need to come out of the fridge until noon to thaw, so I wouldn’t have to do much until late in the morning.
Why I made my own wedding cake – despite the best advice from everyone
I stopped when my friend’s brow furrowed. She was asking, she realized too late, about hair and makeup. I was embarrassed, and told her I would handle it all myself. Actually, I didn’t think much about it. Instead, my mind was filled with visions of wedding cakes: clean layers, silky-smooth ganache, crumbly streusel and glossy buttercream frosting.
When I decided, about six months before my wedding, to make my own cake, I had only the vaguest idea of what it would entail. She announced the plan on a whim, after learning that the average wedding cake in the D.C. area costs $5 to $7 per slice. I was expecting 120 people, and I can double the number and I can also bake. The cost made me nervous.
So I called my mom and opened up my favorite cookbooks. I hauled loads of butter and eggs home from the grocery store, ordered a few 12-inch round pans, and started testing recipes.
For a while, friends and family tried to talk to me. I ignored them until it was too late to come up with a backup plan, at which point they calmed down and I improved my methods. There will be three layers of cake: citrus, sesame, passion fruit, coconut, chocolate and espresso. Two of them will be single-tiered, and the third, Citrus and Sesame, will be a multi-tiered project. I plan to build each cake a few days in advance and then freeze them, according to the technique explained by chef and writer Natasha Pekovic in her book, More Than Just a Cake. (I used Pekovic’s recipes for all three cakes.) This way, on the wedding day, all I have to do is make the buttercream, frost the cake and decorate it.
be seen? I told everyone who would listen that none of this would be stressful. Almost everyone asked the same question in response: Why are you doing this?
Meanwhile, I recited my math problem. But as I sweetened hazelnuts and roasted Meyer lemons in a huge Dutch oven in the days leading up to the wedding, I realized I was only telling part of the story. Sure, I was blown away by the cost of throwing this party, but that didn’t stop me from hiring a photographer or buying a new dress. The ingredients were not free, and neither were the antique dishes I purchased to display the cakes. It’s time to call my own bluff.
Six myths about baking you shouldn’t believe
Planning a wedding didn’t come naturally to me. I felt like I was in a play and expected to speak a language I couldn’t understand. So I’m rough. I did things that were out of order. My husband and I booked a wedding venue before we got engaged. We were legally married in our living room 10 months before our reception. I won’t let anyone bathe me, citing the decade I spent stocking my own kitchen. I refused to wear a white dress to the reception, due to my borderline ghostly skin.
Traditions have been swept away, except for one: cake.
I’ve always paid undue attention to wedding cakes, and have always been the guest who races off the dance floor, teetering on heels, to try a slice. There is nothing as beautiful as the sight of cake and nothing more delicious than eating a good meal late at night with sore feet and a sweet tooth. I was hoping my cakes would take the spotlight away from me, but that’s only part of the reason I make them. More than anything, I wanted to have a tradition, and contribute a few thousand calories of joy.
In the months leading up to the big day, I didn’t worry much about my playlist or the weather. I focused my attention on buttercream and buttermilk, and scaled the recipes up and down. Friends taste tested. Finally, I set up a multi-day, hour-by-hour cake baking schedule. I felt completely calm.
One week before the wedding, I started by cutting down my ingredient list, labeling plastic containers and storing everything from infusions to streusel in the refrigerator and pantry. After three days, I assembled the layers and frosted the cakes. One day, I made two batches of buttercream, frosted my smaller creations and stored them in the refrigerator. I stuck a sticky note on the door: “Don’t ruin the cake!”
The bulk remained in the fridge, not yet frozen, and still in separate layers. I checked it before bed.
On the morning of my wedding, I whipped up hot sugar syrup for 10 minutes and called it a workout. The steam was curling my hair, and the heat was washing my cheeks. My mom cleaned up after me, and my best friend kept me on schedule. I layer one cake on top of the other and ice it. At one point, when my last cake was still half-naked, I turned to the two most important women in my life and felt tears welling up behind my eyes. “I’m so glad I decided to do this,” I told them.
That night, I completely missed cake. By the end of the party, all that remained were a few butter-smeared plates scattered on tables throughout the restaurant. I was too busy dancing, surrounded by my family and close friends, to even eat a bite.
The Wedding, in my memory, is a vaguely fast-paced home movie. I can’t remember who complimented my dress or commented on the flowers. But I remember everyone grabbing me and talking about the cake.