Dressing the cake

Whoops! I just realized that I showed y’all the finished Project Wedding Cake without any of the buildup and the fancy-fication. There are several steps from fresh-baked layers to that neat and tidy finished product. Since I am in no way, shape or form ever going to be an expert on this, and besides Deb from Smitten Kitchen has a very good cake tutorial already, I won’t go into too many grisly details. Just those parts that I learned and think you might find helpful, too (ahem, those I remembered to take pictures of).

First, you want to have frozen your individual layers overnight. That’s right: wrap them, tuck them in individual freezer gallon bags, and let them get as cold and stiff as they possibly can. That will make it so much easier to even them up later, and as a bonus will help keep the frosting nice and firm. (Ever tried to ice a warm cake with buttercream? It ain’t too graceful.)

Once you’ve sliced off the puffy top of the cake (if, like me, you’re too much of a cheapskate to buy those Bake-Easy strips that keep your cakes perfectly flat), flip it upside down onto a cardboard circle so you’re working with the smoothest, flattest part – the bottom. If this is your bottom layer – and not the bottom of an upper tier (where the bottom edge doesn’t matter much because it will be hidden) – tuck strips of parchment all the way around the bottom so that you won’t smear frosting onto your cake plate.

Fill a ziplock bag with frosting and snip off the tip. You’re going to make a thick line of frosting all the way around the edge.

That keeps the – usually gooshy – filling inside, where it belongs. It also provides a bit of a cushion so that if the next layer isn’t quite level, you can push down or wiggle it around to even it up – I actually used a bullseye level. Dump in your filling and repeat all the steps with the next layer. And so on, until you have all the layers stacked.

Next comes the crumb coat. This is what keeps your final frosting from filling with crumbs and looking gucky. It’s like glue and stucco both: smear it on, even up the edges, fill in gaps, give the whole cake its final shape. Then chill that baby for at least an hour to stiffen it up.

Then comes your final coat. (I like to keep the bowl of frosting out on the counter, so that later it will glide smoothly over the stiffer chilled crumb coat.) Be generous, so it doesn’t lift up the crumb coat underneath. This is where one of those loooong offset metal spatulas comes in really handy, as does a lazy susan. (I didn’t have a lazy susan, and boy, if I ever do this again I’m buying one first thing). The spatula can smear frosting evenly across the top, and to do the sides you just hold it steady and spin the cake around on the turntable. Then it wouldn’t look smeary, like below.

This is the bottom-tier, 3-layer cake. (See the parchment pieces below it, protecting the cake plate?)

If you’re doing tiers, this is where you stick your cake full of pencil-thick dowels. I kid you not – the second tier is actually, on a cardboard cake circle of its own, resting on top of those lower-level dowels. You transport the layers separately, then assemble on site – this is impossible without a spatula! – and skewer the whole dang thing with one really long dowel that you’ve sharpened like a pencil so that it can punch through all those levels of cardboard cake circles. I pushed mine in a little too enthusiastically and punched a hole in the top of my cake. It’s ok though, because I’d brought along a repair kit (two bags of frosting, my frosting spatula, a regular big spatula, extra ribbons, scissors, and even a lighter to singe ribbon ends if they frayed) so I just filled that sucker with frosting. And looked around guiltily to see if anyone had been watching.

If you’re not using ribbons, you pipe a line of frosting around the layers’ join to hide it; I just wrapped the ribbons around. The frosting works fabulously as a glue, no extra fastenings required. I offset my ribbons by about 1/4″ so that both of them would be touching some frosting.

FYI, the colors are all off here because we were running late and had no time for more than a quick snapshot and couldn’t adjust the white balance. The cake was cream-colored (not yellow) as you can see in the pictures above. The dark parts of the ribbons were chocolate brown, not black. This picture annoys me, but alas it is the only one we have.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I had so much fun with this. But I would do some things differently.

  • First, like I said, I’d buy a turntable. And maybe some Bake-Easy strips… though that wouldn’t leave me any cake tops to eat, so maybe not. (Don’t look at me that way, it’s not because I’m greedy! It’s because I have to judge how well all the flavors of the syrup and cake and frosting and filling work together! Really!)
  • Second, I wouldn’t dowel the top layer, except perhaps for the central dowel. There’s just no need to dowel a single 2-layer cake, and it confused people to find bits of wood in their cake.
  • Third, I’d cut the bottom-tier dowels longer – I was too miserly and the top-tier bottom stuck to the bottom-tier’s top. And then not only was I “stuck” (ha ha) with it when I set it down off-center (that baby was NOT moving, so we backed up the ugly side to a table arrangement!), but I also had to refrost the bottom’s top when the top-tier was eaten and removed.
  • Fourth, don’t decorate the top of the bottom-tier until the top-tier is in place. It just smeared all over and I had to redo it.
  • Fifth, I’ll never do an 8-inch tier on top of a 9-inch tier again. WAY too hard to maneuver a sticky, heavy layer cake on top of another and leave a perfect 1/2″ all the way around. Next time, I’m treating myself to a couple of 10″ pans. And maybe a 6″ pan too – I’d love to do a 3-tier cake.

In summary: Fun, fun, fun! As long as it’s a casual wedding. :)

2 Responses to “Dressing the cake”

  1. Ann Says:

    Beautiful!!!!

  2. diana Says:

    Thank you babe! I can’t wait for the next one, because I bet fresh flowers would make the whole thing look ten times better!

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