Monday, June 01, 2009

The Wide Lawns Wedding Guide - Part 4: Cake is Good

The Cake - Cake is important to me. Of all the things I could be concerned about at my wedding, I was oddly fixated on the cake. There is only one reason for this and that is that I love cake and I wanted to eat my wedding cake. This meant that it had to taste good. I've been to so many weddings where the cake tasted like a mattress pad spackled with bathroom caulking and I always felt disappointed. I got married in a hotel and they had a whole wedding package thing, so they included the cake. I told them to keep it simple, just make it taste good. They even let me come in and try some cakes as proof that their cakes actually tasted good. They didn't, so I gave them my recipe and then they made that and it did taste good so everything was fine. It is my firm belief that wedding cakes should not be elaborate sculptures a la Food Network Challenge. They are food and they should taste good.

Wedding cakes can be absurdly expensive, but they don't have to be. The best wedding cake I have ever tasted in my life was baked by the groom's aunt who had taken a Wilton Cake decorating class. This was at a charming, modest wedding. The reception was held in the church rec room and all they served was cake, punch, cheese and crackers and spinach dip. It was wonderful. The cake was pretty and delicious and no cake has ever matched it since. I asked the aunt and she said her trick was a flavoring called "creme bouquet" which is a mixture of vanilla, lemon and almond extracts. I ordered some from Kitchen Krafts. I use it in the batter and in the buttercream frosting when I make cakes.

If you are lucky enough to live in Florida or Georgia, it is a well known secret that Publix make the most ass-kicking and insanely affordable wedding cakes around. I know many a bride who has lied about the origins of her Publix wedding cake, saying that the delicious and beautiful cakes came from secret, fancy bakeries. The trick is to ask for the almond flavoring, which makes it taste like a traditional wedding cake.

A commenter mentioned that her mom made wedding pies! I loved this idea. I was so excited when I read that and thought how fun and yummy that must have been, not to mention inexpensive and meaningful. I'm all for creating new traditions, especially when they involve desserts.

Another idea would be to have a cake potluck and have some of your guests bring regular sized, homemade cakes and then have a cake buffet. Or you could have someone make cupcakes. People go ape over cupcakes, they're easy and they look darling when displayed on one of those tiered stands and decorated with fresh flowers or fruit.

I'm going to let you in on a secret. Many years ago when I was being trained in a pastry kitchen, the pastry chef told me that you will never make a cake as good as Duncan Hines. The trick is doctoring up the mix. A basic recipe that makes the most delicious cake you have ever had is this: take a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix and exchange the oil called for on the box directions with an equal amount of melted real butter, use four eggs per box regardless of what the directions say and exchange buttermilk for water, then add an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract per box of cake mix along with a teaspoon of creme bouquet. Depending on what kind of cake you want you can also add nuts, chocolate chips, citrus zest, candy pieces or whatever seems like it might be good in cake.

Then find a standard American Buttercream frosting recipe and make it. While boxed cake mix is good, canned frosting is not. The recipe should not involve cooking anything or candy thermometers. Beware of European Buttercream which involves meringue and an advanced graduate degree to make. You also can't go wrong with a nice cream cheese frosting as long as your cake or cupcakes aren't going to sit outside for long periods of time.

Decorate your cake with edible flowers or small fruits and berries accented with lime leaves. Simple, pretty and inexpensive.

I do not, however, recommend baking your wedding cake if you are the bride because you will have enough stuff to worry about the day before your wedding.

Last, remember that fondant is gross. It looks pretty but it tastes horrible. If you insist on one of those perfectly smooth, fondant covered cakes, make sure the baker puts a good layer of buttercream under it to make up for the fondant which looks and tastes exactly like Sculpey.

The most important things to remember with your wedding cake are that your cake doesn't need to look like architecture, your cake should taste good, you don't have to have a traditional wedding cake at all and you should never stress out if your cake isn't perfect because you will have a funny story to tell at cocktail parties forever and you can send pictures of it to Cake Wrecks and be famous.

Remember, someone stuck a whole green apple in the back of my wedding cake and I thought it was the most hilarious thing I'd ever seen in my life.


kerry said...

I agree with you about desserts! On a wedding cake, I think it's fine to have a little decoration, but not to go overboard. I've had great tasting cakes that maybe weren't much to look at, but I'm going to eat it, so I didn't care. I hardly remember what my wedding cake looked like.

Wedding pies or wedding cupcakes- I hadn't thought about that, but it's a great idea! I did have a birthday pie one year instead of a cake. I don't know if my parents thought I was crazy or if it was no big deal. I do know they got me my pie, though. :)

Fascinating that boxed cake mix is so good... I don't often make cakes but I'll have to remember that.

Rich said...


Have you found a good gluten free cake mix? If so, how does it taste?

renee in seattle said...

I'm going to doctor up a box cake mix like this today and make some cupcakes for the kids.

MtnMama said...

Aside from the fact that I should have had a different groom altogether, I had a very nice wedding and reception and we didn't spend a great deal of money.

I love chocolate, so we had a chocolate wedding cake, with lovely dark, luscioud chocolate frosting decorated with real pink roses. Everyone loved it, it was so pretty, and it tasted great.

thanks for the tips on making cakes; I love it!

Jean said...

We had a weird outside picnic wedding -- and I made all four of the cakes. Just simple homestyle cakes. They weren't pretty, but they were good.

Then it was off for the water bslloon tosses!

I made the cakes ahead and froze them, frosted them the day of the wedding. You're right -- it was a lot of work, and if you were trying to decorate (i just slapped on frostings and pulled the knife away to get peaks) it would have been WAY too much. However it did do one thing -- I didn't panic until I was holding his hand, looking into his eyes, listening to him recite his vows.

That was my only "what the hell am I doing" moment.... 26 years later we still don't know but we're having lots of fun doing it!

Amy said...

I got married last year. A friend volunteered to make the cake, which was very nice. But I was completely unable to get a plain cake with plain yummy frosting. Apparently it's "just not done". I was even called Bridezilla because I didn't want fondant or basket weave or what have you.

If I should get married again I think I'm having cupcakes. :)

Albany Jane said...

I am so going to try this cake recipe out.

I did a cake I knew was tasty and affordable, especially since I'm not a big 'cake person'.

Wide Lawns said...

People who make my cake recipe, please check back in and let me know how you liked it.

RE: gluten free cake mix

I have made the mix from Whole Foods and I like it, but the chocolate is a little better than the yellow. I doctor it up similarly, but with less eggs because the gluten free cake mix is a much smaller amount than a Duncan Hines cake mix (1 round pan instead of 2). When I make the chocolate I throw in a bunch of chocolate chips and some espresso. I like it with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles. The funny thing is that when I make gf desserts and don't tell anyone, everyone loves it and no one knows. They taste pretty much the same. The difference is with texture. GF stuff is a tad more crumbly or gritty. I don't mind the texture.

Wide Lawns said...


Do not use creme bouquet flavoring to doctor up chocolate cake mix. It's yucky.

JDogg said...

That was some good cake!

jennifer said...

i had the best wedding cake i ever tasted - the hundreds of times i got pieces from the bakery before the wedding. A layer of guava/cream cheese (not too sweet at all), a layer of chocolate w/ canoli filling, and a layer of vanilla that i dont remember at all. Sadly I was too drunk and full to have any wedding cake except for the piece that was fed to me and it didnt taste nearly as good as it did in the store.

Consultant Calamities said...

so...are you going to tell us more about your own wedding? :-) I'd love to hear about it (if you wouldn't mind sharing.)

went back and looked at the apple-in-the-cake post. Funny!

sha said...

I went back and looked at your cake and laughed again. Cake has been figuring a lot in my world right now. My boyfriend was recently shipped to Japan and his rented house has no oven or hookup for an oven (apparently Japanese people don't use ovens like we do). So I baked one in the crock pot to see what would happen. The recipe I used was excellent, however, it's a good idea to not forget you are baking a cake in the crock pot.

btw, the word verification word I have is hilarious: bratesse. There are so many things I could come up with... A spoiled countess?

Laura said...

Publix made my wedding cake! It looked and tasted great, and was so inexpensive!

Chiada said...

I was going along, reading all of this and nodding my head. Until I got to the part about the fondant, and then I got offended. Haha, just kidding. I'm not offended. To each his/her own, right? My wedding cakes were hand made by a friend of my husbands and I requested fondant icing and showed her a picture of one that I loved. It was simple and white and smooth. No fancy decorating. And I absolutely cannot STAND whipped cream frosting on wedding cakes or any cake at all. Talk about disappointment! Anyways, our cake was, in my opinion, probably the best cake I have ever had in my life. And I'm not biased. I've tasted lots of wedding cake. About 90% of them have whipped cream frosting. Ugh. Buttercream frosting is the way to go. But even with the fondant, my cake was sooo good I wish I could have it again. I had several different flavors too since there were several small cakes. My mom saved the top, smallest cake and wrapped it snugly in plastic wrap and put it into an air tight container in the freezer. A year later, thawed out, the cake was still absolutely divine.

For a different kind of cake, when my sister got married she insisted on having something other than a traditional cake. So we went to a Franch pastry bakery and looked at the options. They showed us a picture of a "croquembouche". She decided that's what she wanted even though she's not French. It had both chocolate and vanilla filling, was glazed in a thin caramel sauce, and lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Next to it we had two huuuge platters of chocolate covered strawberries. Everybody thought it was really neat.

My cousin had tiered cupcakes which were delicious.

I agree that people shouldn't be afraid to try something different and cost effective. Cakes can be so expensive! It's crazy.

Teddi Taylor said...

Fondant doesn't have to taste like Sculpey. I found this wonderful marshmallow fondant recipe here:

It takes like marshmallows, so it's not amazing, but it's way better than store-bought fondant.

Wide Lawns said...

Good solution! Flavor the fondant and then it won't taste like modeling clay. Why didn't I think of that?

And I agree that fondant does often look beautiful on cakes, but it isn't necessary for a beautiful cake. Ehn, I just can't get around the texture of it. It peels away like skin. Bleck.

Wide Lawns said...

And Chiada I am with you on the whipped cream frosting. Usually it's not real whipped cream anyway and it ends up tasting like Cool Whip and chemicals. Gross. Although there are certain cakes that I like served with real whipped cream, so how does that make sense?

Robin in Ohio said...

Loved the picture of the cake with the green apple stuck in the back! Although, the picture was strangely askew. Perhaps it was taken by someone who had imbibed a few drinks?? Heh, heh, heh!

JoeinVegas said...

Thanks for the cake tips, now I feel like going out and getting a box and trying it like you suggest.

Anonymous said...

I like how your wedding guide basic rule is: don't worry about the so-called wedding rules and just do want you want to do. Amen, sister.

I wore a teal blue dress and had a green cake (pistachio buttercream over chocolate). The only decorations on my dress were antique buttons in a pattern called "Ship of Fools."

On a cake flower decorating note, commercial flowers are fine. No one ever eats the flowers (euhuww, flowers and cake?) and the chemical exposure (flowers touching cake/frosting) is negligible. We imbibe more chemicals from non-organic fruits and vegetables whenever we eat at an non-organic restaurant (i.e. most restaurants). I guess a super green, bride wearing hemp, groom using rock salt anti-perspirant sort of wedding would want to avoid commercial flowers and stick with organics.


Anonymous said...

Your wedding cake-apple pic IS hilarious! I laughed til my back hurt! That's a great perspective that you have on life!

auronsgirl said...

I do not, however, recommend baking your wedding cake if you are the bride because you will have enough stuff to worry about the day before your wedding.

*raises hand* My husband-to-be and I made our groom's cake right before the wedding. We wanted a 3D pumpkin cake for our Halloween wedding. We took two Bundt cakes and put them together, then iced it and decorated it ourselves. A twisty green candle served for the pumpkin stem and we decorated it with foil leaves. It looked a damn sight better than the Cake Wrecks contender that was my wedding cake.

It also bled. This was to tick off my mother, who was having a huge fit that we weren't having the kind of wedding *she* wanted us to have. When I said we were making a pumpkin groom's cake, she said "What's it going to do? Bleed?" I decided to take her up on that. So, a little red icing between the cake layers hidden with the orange outer icing and it bled like anything.

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