The Wedding Cake Saga Part 2: Filling & Fondant

The cake is baked! 16 total hours of bake time later and we’re moving on to getting these layers prepped for decorating. If you’re just joining this trio of wedding cake posts, you can start here to read more about the project I’m working on for a friend (and to find a bookmark-worthy chocolate layer cake recipe).

Back to the cake! After my cake layers had spent a night and day in the refrigerator, they were at the perfect chilled temp to work with. First up was applying a buttercream crumb coat. This is a must for three reasons: fondant (our very top layer of ‘icing’) isn’t super tasty and guests will enjoy the sweeter buttercream underneath, the crumb coat helps to disguise the chocolate cake (turning it into a white base for the fondant) and the fondant will go on that much smoother and easier with such a well-formed base. Actually, after much fondant experimenting I have come to prefer two coats of crumb coat and if you give this a try (even for a smaller birthday cake), I think you’ll find that it makes things worlds easier, too!

Now to share a few tried and true recipes.

Classic Buttercream
Adapted from Savory Sweet Life (a post which also shares several great tips and pics for following along)

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream. (Note: I accidentally bought salted butter and therefore omitted the third ingredient on this list)
3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I opt to leave this ingredient out for any icing that will be piped onto the outside of the cake and vanilla -unless you use clear vanilla – leaves your icing a bit off-white in color)
up to 4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

1. Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar (in 1/2 c or so increments) and turn your mixer on the lowest speed until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt and 2 tablespoons of milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time.

2. Optional: seal up frosting in a tight container and refrigerate until necessary. You’ll want to give the icing plenty of time to come back to room temp and to whisk up again before using (which is why I only refrigerate icing if I must – there’s a risk that you might lose it).

Milk Chocolate Raspberry Ganache
Adapted from this recipe

1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup seedless red raspberry preserves
2 tablespoons butter

1. In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Add the chocolate chips, preserves, and butter and begin stirring slowly with a wooden spoon, shaking the pan occasionally to immerse the chocolate and as much of the preserves and butter as possible.

2. Remove from heat once chocolate begins to melt and continue to stir. The butter and preserves should prevent the chocolate from thickening up and the ganache is ready once all ingredients are melted.

3. I found that adding 3 parts ganache to 1 part buttercream resulted in a thick icing ideal for the filling in my cake layers.

Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan, reduce to a simmer and remove from heat when your sugar water becomes slightly thicker. You can flavor with really any sort of additive (lime juice is great on a white cake, for example) but this is a step that helps to moisten thick, beefy cakes.

Alright, here’s the basic assembly of one tier of this three tier cake: foam core (should already be at the base of the cake layer you refrigerated), cake, simple syrup brushed on with a pastry brush, a smooth coating of ganache, raspberries halved, repeat until you have four layers. A large dollop of buttercream on the top and then a pastry spatula for smoothing out over the top and sides. Forgive the nighttime pics!

This first crumb coat layer is really to seal in the filling and the loose crumbs of the chocolate cake. It will likely be rough (unless you’re a serious pro) which is why I inevitably do two. Back into the fridge it goes!

You’ll notice that I try to use towels under each tier and that’s to help keep the space clean but also so to help aid me in getting the bigger layers out. I can casually pull on the edge of the towel closest to me and that slowly delivers the heavy tier right into my arms.

All three tiers get an overnight chilling once again to really help firm up the cake before we add the final layer of buttercream and fondant.

Now it’s time for crumb coat #2! The first coat is well chilled and this second coat should smooth right on.

This is the coat that needs to establish a little structure for under that fondant. If you’re after nice tight corners and edges, here’s where icing can be built up and shaped. It doesn’t have to look perfect – after all it’s going to be covered – but it will provide the pliable base that the fondant can then be smoothed over.

Here’s a little trick I’ve learned with tiered cakes. Sometimes all of your layers don’t bake evenly and one might be a bit shorter than the others. I make up the difference with foam core (just like the foam core used to help refrigerate the layers) and then cover that foam core in icing just like it’s a cake layer. I’m usually the one also cutting the cake so I’m well aware of the faux portion :). Here’s an example, it’s the top tier but it’s about 1/2″ shorter than the other two. I’ve added three layers of foam core to the base and will frost! Shh… if you don’t tell anyone I won’t.

I then added a layer of buttercream over the foam core to blend it in.

Fondant time!

I’ll preface that fondant and I have a love-hate relationship. I loooove how it looks on a cake (hiding all of those frosting flaws with no risk of a melty, droopy cake) but a I am not a fan of rolling it out, dealing with cracks and creases (that really can’t be put back correctly once it happens) and then smoothing it perfectly onto the top of a cake.

Favorite fondant tools that make the process much easier include:

A lazy susan (this is not the same one that I borrowed from a friend for this cake but is similar – have to get me one of these for frosting and fondant), fondant easy glide smoother, favorite new fondant brand, a sharp knife to cut the fondant edges, rolling pin (we used the usual kind but this would have been worlds easier since there wouldn’t have been dents from the edge of the pin) and flour to prep your surface and avoid any sticky spots.

After reading recommendations online I gave this fondant brand a try, but I actually ran out mid-cake and sent my dad to the craft store to pick up uber expensive last-minute fondant and loved, adored, sang praise for this brand (see pic above). I would say it’s worth the cost difference, especially if it’s your first go around with the stuff. (If you are looking for a cheaper bulk fondant though – and you need like 10lbs of the stuff – then I would recommend this brand, which is what I used for my wedding cake back when.)

Side note is that I needed ~7lbs to cover a 12″, 8″ and 5″ set of tiers.

You need muscles for this next step! I recruited another wedding guest/house guest to help me roll out the massive sheets that we needed and he was a huge help. This would have taken me hours alone. To transfer fondant to the top of the cake, consider rerolling it around your rolling pin and then unrolling above the cake – or wedging your arms under it and carefully lifting it up over the cake. About a foot is all you’ll want to travel so make sure you’re rolling out your fondant close by your cake workspace.

You’re aiming for about 1/8″ thick which also means that your final fondant coat is quite thin and easy to tear – but any thicker and it will surely crack on you. My method is to start with the corners (because a square cake can be tough!) and to move inward on each side. Just keep on smoothin’.

You can see my corners above start to cave in a little, which is why a really sturdy, chilled buttercream shape is essential.

The last step in applying the fondant is cutting the edges with a sharp knife.

And perhaps another once-over with the smoothing tool (which is awesome, by the way!).

These shots are from my easiest layer (aka the magical fondant) while my others were quite a bit tougher. You can repair minor tears with just a bit of water (or light pinching). Or better yet, you can cover them up with flowers, ribbon or burlap and lace! Which this cake happily called for anyways.

Whew! There it is. See you all very soon with the final cake!

The Wedding Cake Saga Part 1: Baking the Cake

This past weekend I had the honor of creating a wedding cake for my friend, Katie. Boy, what an undertaking that was! But because I’m always up for a good challenge and because I love to create personal gifts for those that I care about, I gave her an enthusiastic ‘yes’ at the request.

I’m breaking this saga into three parts: baking, filling & fondant, and assembly/wedding. Join me over the next three days to partake in the journey! If you’re not really interested in the art of novice cake baking, feel free to head right on back here Thursday. If you love up close pictures of  chocolate ganache (that’s so good you could just eat it right off of the computer screen) or are slightly amused by such a ginormic challenge, then I invite you to join along ;).

Let’s begin. My mission was to design a wedding cake that melded the bride’s organic, rustic-themed wedding (rustic might not be the right word, but think beautiful lace + rugged burlap) while also baking a deliciously yummy dessert that could feed the 150ish guests. Inspiration from the bride included:

Beautiful! I was immediately smitten with the entire look and feel of this future cake.

But gah, I am no cake expert and wedding cakes are a category of their own. I have just two wedding cakes under my belt: the daisy covered cake I baked for a friend a couple of years ago (where I learned that buttercream and I are not best friends) and the beast of a cake that I did for my own wedding – which I really, truly loved (you can see pics of both by scrolling through this post). But even these two projects (years apart, really) make me an absolute beginner at the art of giant cake baking. You will find a million excellent tutorials on the proper baking and styling of wedding cakes from the galore of tasty food blogs out there (one such that I depended heavily on was this one) – but you might also enjoy the ramblings (fortunes and misfortunes alike) of me creating this special dessert. Just please don’t judge (wink, wink).

Let’s start off with the world’s tastiest cake recipe. I made a very similar version for my wedding, but I can report that this one is that much better. It is rich but not overwhelming, it is deliciously moist (in that dense sort of way) but also holds its form well. We went through the entire cake (the below is supposedly enough for 149 people, but maybe I cut too big), and I am hoping that that means I have finally found a good recipe. If you are in need of such a chocolate (with just a hint of of espresso) recipe, look no further. It’s so good it’s worth bookmarking.

Rich Chocolate Espresso Four-Layer Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Butter Cake (which was adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes)

I sought out this recipe because I was searching for a tried-and-true wedding cake story (not recipe but blog story, with plenty of reviews and suggestions included). I’ve found that there’s a big difference between chocolate cakes and wedding chocolate cakes – the latter being sturdy, holding its shape well and still being tasty, just any ol’ chocolate cake recipe won’t do. Deb highly recommended this guy on her blog so I gave it a go.

Another huge plus is that this cake recipe is made nearly entirely in one bowl without the usual separating out of dry and wet ingredients. Convenient. Because of this unique assembly, Deb shared that she had issues with deposits of unmixed butter and flour that she had to scrape down often in her mixer bowl, I used very room temperature butter and didn’t run into this issue at all, but it’s worth noting just in case.

Makes one 12-inch square cake layer (or two 8-inch layers). My total cake is three tiers high with a 12″, 8″ and 5″ tier – four layers per tier.

3 cups flour (some use cake flour but I find the regular stuff works just fine and is quite a bit more economical)
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (I should note that the original recipe calls for 350, but I have come to prefer to bake my cake layers for much longer than a recipe traditionally calls for and at a lower oven temp, and have found that this results in a deliciously rich, flat cake layer that is ideal for stacking). Line the bottom of a 12-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and butter/cooking spray the paper and edges of the pan.

2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt (because I’m making so many layers, I prefer to have these ingredients premixed in ziplock gallon bags. One recipe batch per bag and one more step that can be completed a day or two earlier). With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds.

That butter should be soft.

3. Add the butter and buttermilk and continue to blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes (now’s a good time to taste! Your batter should be amazingly delicious and sans eggs)

4. Whisk the eggs and coffee together (both should be room temp), and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. Pour into prepared baking dish. If using 8-inch pans, split between two.

5. Bake for 40+ minutes and watch carefully. 8-inch layers may take close to 40 minutes while 12-inch as much as 50-55, the lower 325 temp means that baking time is increased over the average cake but be sure to not over cook! Cake is finished when a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. I prefer to keep the cakes right side up (to prevent any breaking if the edges or center rises higher than average), so I flip them twice. Once to remove them from the pan (the layer is now upside down) and once again onto a wire rack for cooling (now it’s back right side up). Leave those parchment paper liners on for refrigerating later.

*A couple of thoughts on baking a flat cake. I have used both a heating core (if you use, grease well!) and baking strips in the past and I find both to be helpful (especially at calming the nerves – so if you’re that type I highly recommend), but the best tip I have ever received is to drop the temp of a recipe and bake for a longer time. As mentioned above this is already a step I suggest to create a dense cake, but it also yields near flat results as well. I baked near all layers above with neither the core nor the strips, but that’s mostly because I forgot the former at my house (baking at my parents which is in the same city that the wedding is) and forgot to apply the latter to most cakes prebake.

If you do end up with a tiny extra lip like above, a simple serrated knife should do the trick. Start at each corner and work your way towards the center.

You can use this technique to slice thick layers in half (my ideal cake layers are 1/2-3/4″ tall and four layers thick per tier).

If you’re keeping track, this three-tier, four-layer-per-tier cake calls for about 6lb of butter, a 5lb bag each of flour and sugar, 3lbs of cocoa, 2 dozen eggs, a half gallon of buttermilk and 12 parchment squares. Dang.

Next, I cut out foam core bases for each layer of the cake. This is crucial if you make the cake in advance and require refrigeration or freezing. Even if you’re brave enough to bake the entire thing the day before, you’ll want at least one foam core (or store bought cake board) per tier to serve as your sturdy cake tier base.

An exacto knife is super for this.

Each layer of each tier received a foam core base and a healthy wrapping of seran wrap before they were stacked in the fridge. I baked nearly all layers on the Wednesday prior to the wedding which meant that the plastic wrap didn’t have to be terribly tight or thick, but if I were baking cakes a couple of weeks in advance (as I had originally intended) I would opt for at least three layers of wrapping and zero exposure of cake before freezing and finally moving to fridge five-seven or so days in advance.

The above was my stash as of last Wednesday, Thursday brought with it the baking of at least one more layer for each tier plus a whole lotta buttercream and ganache. Oops on that little corner peeking out.

See you all here tomorrow! Where the baked cake gets its delicious raspberry ganache filling (another to-die-for recipe), buttercream crumb coat and fondant shell.

Curb Appeal: Our Saltillo Tile Porch

It is officially curb appeal month at the Spenlas. Make that season. I’m sure all of these projects will take us at least the rest of the beautiful summer season :).

Kevin is traveling for a crazy project that he is undertaking (more details soon… crazy is the only word I have for it right now) but before he left we worked a bit more on the front of the house. This particular project is one that he finished up a while ago but that I haven’t had a chance to mention here on the blog just yet, and being Curb Appeal month it fits right in!

Our front yard has always been high on our priority list. When we first moved in the very first task we took on was transforming the entrance and street level view of our home into something warm, inviting and well-loved. It’s a great way to meet new neighbors (nothing like working outdoors to meet dog walkers, bikers and stroller mommas), too!

The most recent updated may not appear to be all that exciting… but it has made a world of a difference when you’re walking up and down those front steps everyday. Kev’s new weekend project was to grout and seal the saltillo tile on our front porch.

I know, I know, exciting stuff. But finishing a project is always a plus (especially when it was started four years ago) and a grouted front porch landing has made all of the difference! Sometimes it really is that last 10%.

This project involved renting a power washer to really clean the tile and clear out any debris from the cracks. Next a wet gloss sealer was applied directly to the tile, a roller brush is helpful for application. Grout is prepped and smoothed over all adjoining tile spaces and any excess is wiped away with a wet rag. Last but not least, another coat of wet gloss sealer after the grout has cured.

I was not on top of it and completely forgot to take pictures of the naked cement porch and the porch with just tiles. But here’s another shot of the house a couple of months before we bought it and you can kind of see the bare brown slab that originally occupied this space.

The beauty about saltillo tile (which is very traditional Spanish and will look great with the new paint color! on our little Spanish bungalow) is that it looks better and better with age. It’s supposed to be weathered, a bit messy, not-so-perfect.

All great features for a front porch that will see plenty of wear and tear.

While grouting the front, Kevin went ahead and tackled the back patio as well. Here’s a shot post-grout, pre-wiping down the tiles of excess wet grout shot.

Keeping up with the theme of front porch, Kev also pulled our wood slatted bench out of the entrance and applied a honey shade of stain followed by a coat sealer.

(That’s the power washer in the foreground.)

The bench was a housewarming gift from my parents and I love how it looks on the porch, especially with its fresh coat of glaze.

One more curb appeal project down! Plenty to go through summer, but you can read all about that here.

Have a great weekend.

PS More Curb Appeal projects right here.

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