The Cake Marathon

A lovely friend I met as a kid at 4-H camp got married yesterday. Her husband is also 4-H alumni, and, having known him at least as long as I’ve known her, I can honestly say they have been meant for one another since we were all kids. I’ve never seen two people look as goopy-eyed at one another as they did while saying their vows. It made me more misty than I usually get at weddings.

Back when they first got engaged, I offered to make their wedding cake as a gift. At first, I thought it would be a moderately minor task, because she told me she only wanted a small cake, maybe two tiers. Ideally, she wanted something about the same size The Electrician and I had for our elopement, but simple. Then she brought me this photo and asked for the same thing, but in purple instead of black and with roses instead of the five-petaled flowers.

White tiered cake with black lace embellishment

You can see the article where she found the cake by clicking here. I don’t own the photo, clearly, but it was published in Real Simple magazine. The cake stand alone is the stuff of dreams.

I’ve done a number of wedding cakes for loved ones, and I’ve been baking since childhood. My favourite cake thus far was the apple green one I made for my wedding to my wonderful hubby. I published photos of it in a prior post from last summer, and The Electrician and I took some leftovers on our anniversary road trip; it tasted only somewhat of freezer.

When I first saw the cake my friend hoped for, but with her own country chic twist, I’ll admit I was nervous. I know how tough it is to pipe very dark icing on a white cake, because it’s nearly impossible to fix mistakes. August in Alberta is hot and humid, and I’ve had nightmares over the last few weeks about a sagging wedding cake with purple drips of moisture turning it into some kind of matrimonial tie-dye mess. 

Beyond worrying about the possible pitfalls of this kind of cake, my hands have become unreliable and I don’t have much grip strength. The kind of piping done on it is tough on the best of days, and I was really worried I would have nothing but a hot mess to deliver to the bride.

Would it be in poor taste to show up with a cake from Dairy Queen as a second choice? I outlined my options in case things got desperate.

Baking was easy enough. The bride requested a vanilla cake, and chose lemon cream out of the list of fillings I suggested. We agreed on frosting it with vanilla buttercream out of a mutual hatred of fondant. As usual, I baked the cakes a few weeks ahead, painted them with vanilla syrup, and stored them wrapped up tightly in the freezer. My original plan was to thaw them in time to level and assemble the tiers on Thursday night, so I could come home from work on Friday night and get down to the fancy stuff.


We were out later than I expected on Wednesday night, and I got caught up in little tasks late in the evening and forgot to take the cake layers out to thaw. Then I slept later than I meant to on Thursday morning and forgot them again. This is the kind of realization a person doesn’t want on the morning bus to work.

Thursday night, I made lemon cream filling and discovered all my hidden paper cuts while zesting the fruit. I made a batch of loose buttercream for the crumb coating step and planned to get out of bed really early on Friday morning so I could assemble the six layers into three tiers and let them set up in the fridge. In the heat of my non-airconditioned kitchen, I knew keeping everything as cold as possible was critical to prevent slumping while I did the fancy parts.

Except. I woke straight up in my bed at three a.m. Friday morning and realized I had no cake boards to put between the layers. It was a full moon last week, and I found myself constantly losing track of my long to-do list. I’m still adjusting to my awesome new job too, and my brain feels like a week-old muffin by the end of most days.

After working late on Friday, I arrived home and ran errands with The Electrician to get the few things I needed for cakery. All in all, I actually started work on the wedding cake about 9:15 at night. A friend came over to coach me through the rough parts, and I built cake like my life depended on it.

Visions of Dairy Queen cakes with purple trim captured for all eternity in wedding photos kept me going.

Working very carefully to manage the temperature and humidity concerns, despite being caffeinated to just barely the safe side of shaky hands, I planned stages of work, including staggering times in the basement fridge to make sure the buttercream hardened up enough to keep the pieces together. I had that hollow kind of desperate tiredness a person gets when she faces a huge task on a very limited timeline. I also fought my stupid hands at pretty much every step of the way.

Let me be perfectly clear: the very limited timeline was completely my fault. Oops. I felt sick, and not just from Diet Pepsi and too many samples of icing.

I decided to do all the purple work in royal icing because it was more likely to hold up in the heat. I had a swatch of wedding invitation from the bride so I knew what purple to match, and I fought with tints sometime past three in the morning to mix the right colour. On a night when I was already scrambling (because I’m dumb and had a forgetful week) it seemed only appropriate that the vial of purple wilton gel was no where near the right colour plum. I needed some orange and rose too, but in the end I got it bang on. I suppose I could have just settled for “close enough,” but I wanted to get it as perfect as I could because my friend has been waiting all her life for this wedding and I wanted to build her dream cake.

I finally went to bed at 4:48 a.m. I stared blindly into the dark without my glasses on for a long time, worrying about how many steps were left. My alarm went at a quarter to eight and I had a piping bag in my hand again at 8:15.

Progress as of 10:30 a.m. on the wedding day.
Progress as of 10:30 a.m. on the wedding day.

Eventually, we had to go to the ceremony and the cake wasn’t finished. When we left, there was no purple on the top tier yet and I was sweating during the vows because of more than the August heat.

I went to a wedding with hairy legs, but my hair was washed and I was wearing deodorant. It became a day all about priorities.

I returned home to my disaster of a kitchen, and after shucking my fancy dress and putting on one of The Electrician’s old t-shirts I powered through the last two hours of decorating. In the end, it turned out pretty well, but I couldn’t really relax until it was safely delivered to the hall and I’d finished the final assembly.

I’m thrilled to tell you that after a very long, very stressful process, the cake was a hit. I kept sneaking peeks at it to make sure it wasn’t falling over and that the colour didn’t run, and I’m thanking my fairy godmother that it looked pretty solid right past the cake cutting.

Complete with bronze cowboy and horse.
Complete with bronze cowboy and horse. I promise the cake is straight but my phone was crooked.

It was a down-home country wedding, complete with cowgirl boots on the bride and her girls. The bride’s father made a cake stand out of boards from an old barn, and her mom trimmed it with heirloom lace. What you can’t see in the photos is the willow archway over the cake table. The whole set up was really pretty and I wish I had some clear photos of it from a few steps back to share with you.

Success in buttercream (thank goodness).
Success in buttercream (thank goodness).

After dinner tonight, The Electrician and I snacked on the trimmings from leveling the cakes, spread with lemon cream filling. I’m still finding purple icing in random places in the dollhouse, and I’ve been icing my hands religiously to get them workable for Monday morning.

I’m not making any more wedding cakes for a while. This one nearly killed me.

copyright 2013:

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Gorgeous job! I’ve never seen anything like it!

  2. Jody says:

    What a beautiful beautiful job you did! You are a wonderful friend, and I’d love a bite if there happens to be any left over, which i doubt:)

    And please remember for the remainder of this year that you promised to give your hands a rest, yes?

    1. Thanks, Jody. I’m officially done with wedding cakes until my brother gets married August 2014; hands are on a “cake break.”

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