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How to Upstage Your Friends at Their Weddings, I Mean, How to Make a Wedding Cake
It’s a fact: Everyone is getting married except for you. You are the proverbial always-bridesmaid-never-bride. It just doesn’t happen for everyone, you know? Some people don’t ever find true love. (You, I mean, in particular. You won’t ever find true love.)
But, even though there’s no chance of your having a special day of your own, there is a foolproof way for you to upstage all your friends at their weddings: make the wedding cake.
I know what you’re thinking: That sounds like wayyy too much effort for a little attention. First of all, there is no such thing as too much effort for a little attention, duh! Secondly, it’s really not as much work as you think it is: It’ll take two days (including the day of the wedding), no more, and you’ll put down probably $150 to $200 on equipment and ingredients, which is about as much as you would spend on a regular wedding present, right?
Oh, no, I forgot; you’re a cheapskate; you were planning to spend $20 on a wedding gift. Tell you what: Ask the betrothed if they’ll pay for the cost of the cake. They will probably say yes! It’s so much cheaper for them to outsource the cake-making to you than to pay upwards of $500 for a professionally made cake. And your labor will be your gift, which means you will spend zero dollars of your own money. And your friends will appreciate this literally A MILLION TIMES MUCH MORE than a picture frame. It’s win-win.
Plus, the attention you’ll get from other people is really just terrific. I cannot overstate this. Strangers coming up to you at the reception with drunkenly awestruck gazes, saying, “I can’t believe you did this. I could never do this.”
“Yes, you could,” you’ll say with a mysterious smile, “Anyone can.” This will make them kind of hate you. But it’ll be a love-hate kind of a thing. The way you feel about Lena Dunham, you know what I mean?
Making a wedding cake might even get you laid after the ceremony! The way to a man’s heart is through his etc. And it probably will be clumsy, sloshed, bad sex, and it DEFINITELY won’t turn into a relationship or anything, but you should really just take what you can get and stop complaining.
I’m going to tell you how to make a three-tiered rose water-flavored white cake with lemon curd and raspberry filling that will serve about 80 people, or more if you cut the slices super thinly. (If you need to serve significantly more people than that, you can just make—or buy!—a sheet cake or two on the side, and no one will even bat an eye.) Here’s what you’ll need:
3 cups raspberries (either frozen or fresh will work)
14 1/2 cups sugar
Zest of 4 lemons
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
36 large eggs (though you’ll need only 12 of the yolks—freeze the rest to make custard or tons and tons of mayonnaise later)
23 1/2 sticks butter
18 cups cake flour
7 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup vanilla extract
6 tablespoons rose water
1/2 cup baking powder
3 tablespoons salt
6 pounds powdered sugar
One 14-inch round cake pan (3 inches tall)
One 10-inch round cake pan (3 inches tall)
One 6-inch round cake pan (3 inches tall)
Two 14-inch cardboard rounds
Two 10-inch cardboard rounds
Two 6-inch cardboard rounds
A cake turntable (yes, yes, that’s really what it’s called!) or lazy Susan
One package plastic cake dowels
Three to four dozen pink roses
A few words on the special equipment before you start: You can buy most of these items at a baking supply store (such as, if you live in New York, New York Cake and Baking Supplies), or order them online from Amazon and the like. If you’re crafty and patient, you can make your own cardboard rounds out of old cardboard boxes with a protractor, pencil, and X-Acto knife, but I really don’t know why you would do this when pre-cut cardboard circles are available for less than a dollar each.
Let’s get started!
Day 1, Step 1: Make the fillings: raspberry jam and lemon curd. Homemade raspberry jam sounds like it’ll involve pectin and mason jars and shit, but it doesn’t have to. The secret to easy raspberry jam? Use a ton of sugar! Follow this recipe, using 3 cups raspberries and 3 cups sugar. EASY. DONE.
Lemon curd is a little harder, or at least more time consuming. I used (and doubled) one of Martha Stewart’s recipes, because it doesn’t require a double boiler, and recipes that require double boilers always make me want to moan, slump against the kitchen wall, and pour myself a glass of bourbon.
There are two tricky things about lemon curd, even in the absence of a double boiler: The first is recognizing when it’s time to take the curd off the heat and start adding butter; there’s an almost imperceptible change in texture as the curd thickens slightly. (How about we say that you’ll just know when it’s time? You’ll just know. A woman’s intuition!) The second thing is that you have to stir like a motherfucker for like an hour as you add cold butter, one small piece at a time, to the curd after you’ve taken it off the heat.
(There’s actually a third thing, too, which is that lemon curd is such a beautiful thing, but it has such an ugly name! Lemon curd. Curd. Curd. Just say it, and try to tell me you don’t want to rip your ears off. Curd. Aaaaaaaauuughhh.)
Here is another option, if you’re moaning and slumping and pouring right now: Buy a jar or two of lemon curd. No one will know, and if they somehow find out, they really really won’t care.
Day 1, Step 2: Make the cakes. You’ll have to work in two separate batches; each batch will make one 14-inch layer, one 10-inch layer, and one 6-inch layer. Do you live in a tiny apartment with a tiny kitchen with a 20-inch oven? Of course you do; this is one of the many reasons no one will ever want to marry you. But don’t despair: All three cake pans will fit in your tiny oven at once, promise.
Use this white cake recipe, but double the recipe for each batch. (You’ll be quadrupling the recipe overall.) Also, omit the almond extract and add 1 tablespoon rose water per batch.
You can use a stand mixer to cream the butter and sugar together, but you’ll need to transfer the butter mixture to a much larger bowl (or large pot, if that’s all you have) before you start adding the wet and dry ingredients, or else you won’t have room for all the batter.
Line the bottom of the cake pans with parchment paper and grease them a lot before you add the batter, or else the cakes might stick to the pans, which will make you want to stick your head in the still-warm oven. Rotate the pans after 30 minutes in the oven and move the bottom pan(s) to the top rack and vice versa so that the cakes will bake evenly. The 6-inch cake will be done after 45 minutes or so, the 10-inch cake a few minutes after that, the 14-inch cake a few minutes after that. If the cakes start looking brown but are still liquidy on the inside, turn the oven down to 325°F or even 300°F.
While the first batch is in the oven, wrap your cardboard cake rounds in aluminum foil so that whatever germs they picked up on the way home from the cake-supply store don’t get on your cake. After the first batch has cooled a bit, turn each cake out onto a foil-wrapped cake round, then wash out the pans and start the second batch. You’re a pro now; you can make this fucking cake in your sleep, so it’s totally cool if you have a glass or two or three or four of wine while you’re making the second batch.
When all six layers are cool, wrap them (foil-covered cardboard round and all) in plastic wrap, put them in the refrigerator, and go to sleep all alone in your big, empty bed.
Day 2, Step 1: Make a cake soak, which is really just buttery sugar water (mmmmmmm): Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter in a saucepan and stir over medium heat for 10 minutes or so, then take it off the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon each vanilla extract and rose water. If you make the soak in advance of assembling the cakes, it will start to look absolutely disgusting because the butter will separate from the water, but it’ll still taste fine.
Day 2, Step 2: Make a batch of buttercream frosting with 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, 2 pounds powdered sugar, 1/2 cup or so milk, a teaspoon of salt, and a couple of tablespoons each vanilla and rose water. Here’s how you make buttercream frosting: Put the butter in a stand mixer and beat it up for a minute or so. Then add the powdered sugar (which you don’t really need to sift unless it’s looking super lumpy) and run the mixer on low speed until it’s all incorporated. Stir in the salt, milk, vanilla, and rose water, then turn the mixer back on and let it run for twenty to thirty minutes. For realz.
Look, I used to think that it was fine just to mix buttercream frosting just until it was all well combined, and when a friend of mine who went to culinary school told me that she had been taught to mix it for half an hour, I was like, “Pshhh, whatever, time is money.” But when I tried it, I was amazed: I finally had the kind of fluffy, easily spreadable frosting that I had thought was only an urban myth perpetuated by the Food Network. So do yourself a favor, and walk away from the stand mixer for while as it’s mixing the buttercream. Do you know how many cocktails you can drink in the time it takes to make buttercream frosting? You will now!
Day 2, Step 3: Assemble the tiers. This part, like so many aspects of going to other people’s weddings, is simultaneously fun and harrowing. Start with the 14-inch cakes; unwrap them, peel off the parchment paper, and put one of them, cardboard round down, on the cake turntable. Brush it all over with the cake soak, then add a thin layer of raspberry jam, followed by a thin layer of lemon curd. Emphasis on “thin”: They will squish out the sides once you put the second cake on top, and you will have to wipe away the excess jam and curd with your fingers and lick them off, and no one wants that.
OK, now put the second cake on top, pull off and discard the second cardboard round, and immediately plunge two or three cake dowels all the way down into the cakes to keep the top layer from sliding off. Use some sharp (and clean) scissors to trim the dowels so they’re flush with the top of the cake. (Fun thing about plastic cake dowels, which look like drinking straws, only sturdier: When you find one in your piece of cake, if you suck on it really hard, a little dense cylinder of cake will shoot into your mouth. This is why you should use hollow plastic cake dowels instead of solid wooden ones.)
Now brush the top layer with more cake soak, and start frosting the whole thing with buttercream. It does not have to look good. It can look terrible, in fact, because you’re going to add more frosting later. All you’re trying to do here is seal in the fillings and trap any crumbs so that they can’t migrate to the surface of the finished cake.
Done? Yay! Put the first tier—with one cardboard round still stuck to the bottom—back in the refrigerator (this is important, since refrigeration will harden the first layer of frosting and make the whole thing easier to handle) and repeat with the smaller cakes. (You will probably have to make another batch of frosting, but no biggie.)
Day 2, Step 4: PUT THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER. Do this step at close as possible to the wedding reception, but give yourself at least an hour to do it so you don’t have a nervous breakdown under the time pressure. You’ll need another batch of frosting and more cake dowels.
First, add an additional layer of frosting to the 14-inch tier. This time you do want it to look pretty, but you should probably give up on trying to make it perfectly smooth. If anyone takes you to task for the rough appearance of the frosting, tell them it’s supposed to look rustic. (And also tell them to please go fuck themselves.)
Now, plunge four to six more cake dowels into the tier in an approximate 8- or 9-inch circle, trim them so they’re flush with the frosting, and carefully set the 10-inch tier on top (cardboard round down—the cardboard round is what will keep the layers from caving in on one another). Repeat! Frosting, dowels, final tier, more frosting.
You’ll probably have a little frosting left over, and you’ll probably have some naked spots around the seams, so go ahead and dab a little extra frosting on to cover up any cardboard rounds peeking out.
Day 2, Step 5: This is the fun part, now that you have finished all the hard work: Take your roses, snip the stem a couple of inches below the base of the blossom, and STAB the stem into the cake at strategic locations. Actually, they don’t even need to be strategic locations. If there are places where the frosting has crumbs in it or looks like shit, cover those patches up first, but really, just go crazy with the flower stabbing. The more flowers, the better. Stab, stab, stab. You can’t go wrong here.
Voilà! You’re done; get yourself a(nother) drink, then show it to the bride and groom (or brides, or grooms, or partners, or whatever else kids are calling themselves these days). One of them will probably get a little bit misty eyed; the other will clap you on the shoulder and clear his/her throat and say something self-serious about how much they appreciate it, and it’ll be SUPER AWKWARD for a minute, but that’s okay, because now they’re indebted to you for life, and if you want to, like, demand their first-born child, now is the time.
And now is also the time to bask in the fawning compliments of every single wedding guest. SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Get baking, and get ready to feel as close to a being a bride as you’re ever going to, you eternal spinster, you!
There’s one final thing about the wedding-cake-making process I’d like to make very clear: Booze is always an option. Throw a shot or two in the cake batter instead of vanilla and rose water. Add a splash to the lemon curd. Pour some into the soak (after you’ve taken it off the heat, so the alcohol doesn’t burn off, obvi). Glug glug glug glug into the buttercream; you can always make up for the additional liquid with extra powdered sugar. Be careful when you turn the mixer back on after you’ve added the liquor, though—it splashes! But then you can just lick the puddles of booze up off the furniture and floor. Cook’s treat!
L.V. Anderson lives in Brooklyn.