What is one of the most beautiful moments in a person’s life is also one of the most stressful, nerve-racking, and sleep-deprivating moments in their life – as well as for the person baking the glorious cake commemorating that day! Wedding cakes, as I have learned from this past week, albeit stunning and delicious, are a colossal amount of work right from the tiers to the tiniest of decorations. Sure, any cake you are producing for a customer has to be done well, but wedding cakes have that added pressure of being a non-negotiable and very necessary asset to an important affair. And I learned all this merely from having to design and create one in my class, imagine having to deal with a neurotic crazed bridezilla! (I’ll take a moment here to say much love to all past, current and future bridezillas, as I am sure if I were to ever get married, in my quest to make everything perfect I’d likely be one too.)
Wedding cake week went like this: four days, 12 different wedding cakes and 12 ambitious and tense chefs-to-be. Each of us had to pick out of a hat the type of cake and frosting we were to create, and design an entire 3-tiered confection. Some got chocolate cake with ganache, others were lucky enough to get a spongecake with fondant, I got yellow cake with white buttercream. Easy enough, except I cannot smooth the sides of a buttercreamed cake for the life of me. I had to work around that. After days of worrying about how the heck I was going to smooth the sides presentably enough, I decided to comb my cake. Solution acquired. Then I was able to focus on my design, which was a classic Japanese-themed cherry blossom cake, using fondant for the flowers and branches, as accents. Excited and eager, I went into the week assuming I would be able to finish by day 3, leaving day 4 for assembly and the finishing touches. Not exactly what happened.
On Monday most of us baked off our cakes and started on either our frostings or fondant decorations, if using. Unfortunately, some of us, myself included, only made one batch of our recipes, so instead of moving onto something else on Tuesday, we had to bake another batch of cake so that we had enough for our tiers. A minor setback. Still cool as a cucumber, I continued to work on my flowers and painted most of them. Wednesday came and the first thing I had to do was make my buttercream, which I made twice, thinking it should be enough. Wrong. As I torted and crumb-coated (a light layer of frosting to coat) my cakes, I realized by the middle tier that I was not going to have enough. I began to panic a little, by this time Chef G had changed the deadline on Thursday to 8PM instead of 9PM, which left little time for anything on the last day. I still had to finish filling and crumb-coating my top tier, and frost another clean layer of buttercream on all 3 tiers! Rushing to make 2 more batches of buttercream, I finished with just enough time to frost my bottom tier, which was huge by the way. That meant that the next day, the last day, I had to frost my top two tiers, comb the sides, stack the cakes, finish painting my flowers, make my branches that I did not start, and any other last minute touches in an hour and a half. At this point about half the class had already stacked their cakes and were just working on their decorations, so I left with a feeling of dread and lump in my stomach that I was not going to finish on time.
Judgment day came, and I, lump still in stomach, arrived at school ready for the worst. As soon as we were able to get into our kitchen, the class made a mad dash for all their supplies, each of us rushing to finish by the required time. I have never heard the kitchen so silent or seen everyone so concentrated in their work as on that last day, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked faster. Within a half hour I was all finished frosting – much less than the time it took me in the first place! Ready to comb my cake, I called Chef G over to help me do so and as she began to comb the bottom tier, it was too hard to. Realizing I had left my bottom tier in the freezer when I shouldn’t have if I wanted to comb the sides – I began to panic. Practically cry. I had no time left to play around. Working quickly, I slabbed on another layer of fresh frosting so I could actually comb it, but it still would not come out right because it was so frozen underneath. If it were not for my Chef, I don’t know what I would do, because she kept me calm and showed me a few different combing techniques, until we decided to simply comb the cake vertically. With a half hour left, I combed all the tiers and stacked my cakes. Then we made my fondant branches and finished up my flowers with the help of a classmate who was done with hers. Most of us were still working on our cakes by 8, so Chef extended the deadline to 8:30 – giving me enough time to complete the cake and add finishing touches. Once 8:30 hit, I lugged my behemoth of a 20 pound cake (it weighed so much!) to the doughboy, whereupon Chef had us each take a picture with our respective cakes. I then dragged my giant masterpiece to the dining tables, set it down, and collapsed on a nearby chair. Tired but pleased, I took pictures and watched as the rest of the school came in groups to vote on which cake they liked best. We will find out the winner this week.
Things I learned: planning is key! Plan every day down to the last minute. Another thing, if you think you might not have enough, you are probably right. Go with your gut and double or triple your recipes – after all, it’s better to have too much than not enough and then have to waste more time making another batch. Lastly, stay calm! Easier said than done, especially when there’s a deadline, but if you cloud your mind with worry, you won’t be able to clearly think of solutions. Things happen, like me putting my bottom tier in the freezer because there was no more room in the fridge, it didn’t even occur to me that it would make it quite difficult to comb through a frozen cake. But I worked my way around it, with help, of course. All in all I survived to tell the tale, and am looking forward to my next grandiose project!
Love & Sweets,