There have been some really special requests that have come my way cake-wise since having been a contestant on The Great South African Bake Off. The biggest – and by all means most intimidating- has certainly been this wedding cake request I was asked to do for a lovely bride-to-be. Her name is Marilyn and she came with all the right ideas: something elegant and simple but pretty and Provencal. Something out of a French love-letter. After a little teatime tasting we knuckled down the flavour combinations of each tier which are scrumptiously grab-a-handful-from-the-dancefloor-ish.
Warning: this post is a little technical so if you have no desire to learn the inner workings of my neurosis about tiering then stop here, scroll through the process pictures and put the kettle on. A cuppa tea might be more worthy of your time.
The bottom layer is classic Vanilla Bean pound cake with Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream. You really can’t go wrong with a perfectly baked m-word vanilla cake in my mind. Which is maybe why I have never understood when people use the term “… very vanilla” to describe something mundane. This pound cake recipe I have is anything BUT. It’s teatime in a perfectly balanced and flavoured classic, that can be striped down and celebrated on its own or fancied up with anything from chocolate ganache to coconut frosting or fresh fruit sliced in between layers.
For the second layer we settled on something the bride had requested, which was a Turkish tasting orange and almond cake, sandwiched with flaked almond crisp – a kind of light brittle in between the frosting layers. This cake in its own right is the kind of cake so delicately packed with flavour that you don’t actually need a frosting to compliment it but I developed the most subtle and yet moreish orange blossom Italian Meringue Buttercream which elevated it to heavenly status in my mind. Claudi, my trusty baking side-kick and taster totally agreed. She is a sucker for anything which a meringue base and the reason I actually chose Italian Meringue buttercream for the cake was two-fold. Firstly, I know it is the most stable of the buttercream family- having the sugar syrup bubbled to a hard ball stage before whipping it into the egg whites means it is the most likely to put up a fight against warm conditions and the shaky transportation to the venue. The second reason I chose IMBC as the frosting of choice is because the bride specifically requested that she wanted the frosting to be delicious but not too sweet. I can totally understand why this becomes a concern because the simple American Buttercream which is essentially icing sugar blended with softened butter and flavouring requires LOADS of sugar to become stiff, ending in a gritty and overly saccharine “paste”. Italian Meringue Buttercream is superlative in this regard because the sugar content is notably lower, allowing the other flavours – such as zesty orange rind and floral orange blossom water in this case- to have a lead role in the play of cakey satisfaction. It is also ri-dic-u-lous-ly smooth and buttery! Even after being chilled, the frosting melts in your mouth like a block of chocolate the moment you devour it.
The very top layer was an Orange Chiffon cake which was a bit difficult to get right. Seeing as chiffon cakes are mostly baked in fluted cake pans- the only way I have every baked them- formulating a recipe for a normal 6 inch round pan was tricky. I flopped the first attempt as I used the exact recipe a chiffon fluted pan usually calls for. I then adjusted the quantities of flour and egg white to achieve an orange cake that was like the yummy lovechild of light genoise sponge and a naughty chiffon cake. I leveled all the cake layers with the toothpick method, then stacked, iced and crumb-coated each layer. I chilled them separately and then finished them off with a tall and somewhat finished but slightly rustic-edged final coat of frosting. If there was one thing I was most concerned about with this cake it was the stacking! I watched Youtube video after Youtube video and read many blogs before attempting it. Many said it would be fine to stack the night before but considering my ultimate fears of cake compression, I decided not to chance it and woke up early (very much with he help of my baking side-kick Claudi) to stack on the morning of the wedding. I also know many people stack the tiers on site and I would obviously recommend this as the most full proof method but it wasn’t an option with the wedding being far away.
I used Wilton dowels as well as a lot of back and forth chilling to stack, with one long central dowel from the top tier to the bottom for extra sturdiness throughout transportation. This last dowel must be cut about half and inch shorter than the cake and “hammered in” through each layer including the cake boards. I used a wine bottle and it made a pretty fine hammer. Finally once the scariest part of the process was complete I could begin to get busy with the funnest bits; the flower bits! I felt as if the stars had aligned and the universe really just wanted Marilyn to have the most perfect wedding day because the day before the wedding I went flower shopping at the one and only Adderly Street flower market and found not only the most perfect dusty pink Peonie Roses but also closed-bud miniature roses in a heritage ivory tone. These were the exact flowers in the reference image that the bride sent me and I can’t tell you how many times I have been to the market and not seen them. It was a really rare and lucky find just like floral treasure! I bought a MASSIVE bunch of fresh roses and some baby’s breath to complete the decorating and I honestly felt like I had just won a beauty pageant leaving the market clasping onto that gargantuan haul of roses. I couldn’t even help myself I had to take a #MissColombiaSelfie which you can see on Instagram.
The final touches were done on Saturday morning while Claud put on a pot of tea on the stove and Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose played in the background… a pretty perfect end to what was a two and a half day labour of cakey love. I really hope the bride had as much fun and joy eating and sharing this cake with her loved ones as I had making it with my loved ones. I feel pretty confident that I have arrived in the land of tiers with my baker’s dignity in tact! I would also totally recommend anyone who has been itchy to try their hand at tiering, to give it a go! At least you won’t be needing to do it on national television for the first time!