You may consider yourself a good home baker—maybe even a very good one! But could you take on the ultimate challenge: a wedding cake?
Seattle resident Ann Scranton, 32, had been baking for just a couple of years when she volunteered to do just that. Not only did she (and her cake) rise to the occasion, she has since gone on to create five other wedding cakes for friends and colleagues. All it takes, she says, is patience and practice—lots of practice.
"If I'm using a technique or a recipe that I haven't used before, I always, always, always make a sample cake," Ann says. "It's usually just the smallest tier, but it's worth it to me because I learn things about the recipe or the process that save me a lot of time, money, and headache. Also, it lets the couple see what the cake is going to look like, and make changes to the design."
As a child in Northern California, Ann baked a little—"helping Mom with cookies, that sort of thing. And one Thanksgiving when I was in high school, I baked the pumpkin pie. It was a big triumph—the edges of the crust were mostly unburnt!" She started baking in earnest after college, starting with family favorites, doctored cake mixes, and cookies.
A couple of years later a college friend—who had done Ann's hair and makeup without charge for Ann's wedding—became engaged, and Ann offered to bake her wedding cake. "At that point," she recalls, "I had been baking for a couple of years, and fancy layer cakes didn't scare me. But I'd never done anything with a piping bag!" She signed up for cake-decorating and wedding-cake classes at a Seattle-area community college, and dived right in. Not only was it her first wedding cake, it was for a "destination" wedding, a three- or four-hour drive from Seattle.
"I wasn't about to drive across the state, in the heat of summer, with a fully decorated cake," Ann says. "So I took the baked cake layers—white cake with chocolate chunks—and all my gear with me. Luckily, the groom's mom had a big stand mixer I could use for the frosting! I got it frosted and covered in fondant the night before the wedding, and then piped on the decorations and stacked it the next morning. I loved the color of the cake, which was the same as the bride's dress. And I don't think there was a bit left because people came back for more!"
You can see a photo of that beautiful seafoam-green cake—and Ann's other creations—at her blog, Sugar and Wool. Yes, as the title suggests, Ann is also an enthusiastic knitter!
Ann's advice to wedding-cake novices: "Take a class and give it a try! If you're really nervous, make a cake for no reason, or ask a friend to throw a party so you have an excuse. Then you can start with a recipe you're already comfortable with." For inspiration, she suggests looking at bridal magazines and at TheKnot.com. She also recommends finding a specialty store in your area—she likes Seattle's Home Cake Decorating—where you can browse and ask questions.