Now, I love baking cakes. I regularly volunteer to bake birthday cakes, and I’m even known to randomly bake a cake on a week night and just bring it into the office the next day. I don’t need a reason. I even have a sign stashed away in my desk drawer that reads “FREE CAKE DAY” and gets taken out whenever I bring my baked offerings into the office. But a wedding cake is another matter, even for a seasoned baker such as myself. It involves discipline; the perfect levelling of layers, pristine smoothing of frosting, dowelling the cake so the tiers don’t collapse into each other, the actual process of stacking the layers and keeping everything centered (oy!), and it just has to look so pretty. And then there’s the challenge of making a cake that holds its structure, but maintains its moist crumb and tastes delicious. How many wedding cakes have you had that are gorgeous works of art, but when sliced into… are sadly disappointing?
So I was understandably nervous and a bit stressed about making this cake. I didn’t have time to practice dowelling and stacking a cake – that was probably my biggest worry. I trusted my ability to make a delicious cake, and experimented enough with various versions of cakes in the past two years, that I knew that the cake combinations that my sister and I eventually settled on (bottom tier = chocolate cake with a peanut butter cream cheese filling; second tier = vanilla almond cake with blackberry filling; third tier = lemon cake with lemon curd filling) would be crowd pleasers. It turned out that stacking the cake wasn’t really that difficult, and when decorated in a modish, sunset ombre design, the cake was a real knockout! I must say that my heart swelled with pride when gazing at my first official wedding cake. My mother’s adorable, hand-crafted bride and groom wedding toppers made it all perfect.
The entire cake was frosted with a vanilla buttercream. I’ve made a lot of buttercream frostings in the last few years (searching for the perfect wedding cake frosting of course!), and I really believe that this is the best buttercream out there. The secret is whipping the butter, then whipping it some more, and more and more, until you are just so tired of whipping that you are ready to give up. It makes an impossibly light, yet rich, frosting. And despite its lightness, it also held up very well all day without melting (it probably helped that the Oregon coast, where the wedding was held, is fairly cool, even in midsummer), and the colored discs remained glued to the frosting without slipping.
And let’s talk more about buttercream frosting … Buttercream is an American thing. It doesn’t traditionally exist in Germany, at all. In fact, there is no precise translation for it. The closest translation is probably Glasur, which actually means icing. Icing, in American terms at least, is not quite the same as frosting… I believe that buttercream frosting is actually one of those peculiarly American foods that was born during the depression, when eggs were scarce and too expensive (egg whites are used to bind older forms of frosting – for example “Royal Icing” – traditionally used to frost cakes). In my opinion, buttercream is one of the happy accidents that resulted from Great Depression cooking, and I would not have considered using another type of frosting for my sister’s wedding cake.
Whipped Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from Sweetapolita
When making this at home, I often substitute a vanilla bean for the vanilla extract. I split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and mix the seeds with the milk. I also throw in the scraped vanilla pod and let both pod and seeds steep in the milk while I whip the butter. I then remove the pod, and add the vanilla bean and milk mixture to the whipped butter in step 2, below.
3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups (475 g) powdered sugar
3 tablespoons (45 ml) milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1. With an electric mixer, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed. Butter will become very pale & creamy.
2. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy and fluffy.
Tip: best used to frost the cake right away, and then also consumed that day. After all, why wait? Cake is always best when fresh!