Wedding Cakes!

Every flat surface in my kitchen and living room is covered in frosting. Pretty much the only thing keeping me from becoming a professional cake baker is how much I really, really loathe frosting. Chocolate and I are not friends. Butter and I are on poor terms. Egg whites? Egg whites and I have exchanged words. Those words were not civil.

I spent pretty much my entire Friday and Saturday baking. My little oven only takes one baking pan at a time. The chocolate cake I made was 4 layers, and the almond cake need three (two for the bottom tier, one cut in half to form the top tier).

Thursday night I made the chocolate leaves. We’ll talk about that later because the leaves in themselves were an adventure to make, and I’m still a little bit angry. I need some space before I relive that adventure.

Friday, I made the cakes. Well, first I went to Sanyuanli, bought everything I thought I would need. Except strawberries, because apparently strawberry season has passed, and not a single vendor had a single box. So I also went to Jenny Lou and BHG; and they didn’t have strawberries either. I went to April Gourmet, and they had one box, half of which were soft and spoiling, but half of which were salvageable, hiding in the back of their produce section.

Apparently the last strawberries in Beijing,

For the chocolate cake, I doubled the Midnight Chocolate Cake recipe that I posted in January, and made four round cakes. Wrapped them in plastic and stuck them in the freezer. Then I made three almond cakes (recipe posted last week) and wrapped and refrigerated them as well. I also made ricotta cheese, for stuffing the strawberries.

Saturday morning I started with the chocolate cake. I assembled the four layers, spreading nutella and raspberry jam between each one. Then, I made a chocolate lacquer glaze.

I poured this over the top and realized that the cake was a little uneven, and it was so humid in the apartment even with the AC on full blast that it would never thicken until I refrigerated it, so getting the glaze on the sides would be a huge challenge. So I tried to make frosting. First, I tried the buttercream recipe, only adding some chocolate syrup to it to give it flavor. It failed miserably and tasted weird. So then I tried to make the chocolate ganache frosting just for the sides.

This took three tries. The first time, the chocolate seized up. I used the last of the cream I had, so next I tried with milk, and it seized again. So I had to go back to April Gourmet's (for the second time that day) to buy more cream, more butter, and more chocolate. The third time it finally worked, and I was able to frost the sides of the cake nicely. I put this is the fridge to firm up and turned my attention to the almond cake.

lopsided 4 layer cake

I made vanilla honey lemon buttercream, Italian meringue style. Wary of my first failure with the chocolate, I tried very hard to make this one work (I was NOT going to go back to April’s to buy another pack of butter). It is VERY important to wait for the meringue mixture to cool down to 80F. Maybe you don’t have an electric mixture so think that whipping it by hand for half and hour is impossible, but whip it anyways and put ice pacs on the side, whatever you have to do. Otherwise, you’ll be an idiot like me and put the butter in and it will not come together, and look suspiciously like bad, watery, cottage cheese and you will hate yourself and start yelling at frosting and want to cry when the whisk goes flying out of your hand spatter frosting everywhere. Should this happen, do not despair. Take a small bowl of the frosting, microwave it for 15 seconds, pour it back it, and then beat the ever-loving shit out of the frosting. Seriously. I literally begged the frosting to come together and went to town (I could probably strangle an ox with my right arm right now) and after a few minutes of furious whisking, it incorporated into fluffy, beautiful frosting.

I sliced each layer of almond cake in half, and put a layer of buttercream and raspberry jam between each layer. Stacked two caked, then frosted the whole thing.
I took the third cake, cut it in half horizontally, then vertically, and stacked the two halves on top of each other, and then squared off the sides as best I could without measuring. More jam between each layer, then I carefully measured a piece of cardboard as a base for this tier. Put the cake on the cardboard. I stuck four skewers into the base and cut them off just at the top of the frosting. Then I placed the small tier on top. Covered it all with frosting, and piped a line of frostig along the seam to disguise the cardboard base.

At this point, with all the starting over and minor meltdown, it was already 5:15, but Bambi and Maggie were running late trying to catch a cab, so I was able to decorate them. For the chocolate cake, I pressed the chocolate leaves all around the perimeter, sticking on raspberries with a dab of ganache to stick.

Chocolate leaves and raspberry decoration. It almost looks professional. Almost.

I made a pastry bag out of Ziplock, and stuffed hollowed out strawberries and raspberries with ricotta mixed with powdered sugar and lemon zest, then stuck them into the frosting. Maybe not the most sophisticated of decorations, but it looked pretty enough. And, Bambi and Maggie were late enough that luckily I had enough time to shower and change, and didn’t have to attend the dinner in chocolate smeared tshirt and shorts.

Wrapping the cakes was a bit of a challenge. I made my own cake stand for the round cake (gorilla glue, cheap bowl, large cheap plate=fancy times), but I didn't have a cake cover. So we stuck toothpicks in the tops to keep the plastic from ruining to frosting, and carefully wrapped them both. Important step, because China could have gotten all over them with one passerby’s sneeze. We were fortunate to hail a cab almost immediately, and made our way to Great Leap Brewery. Walking through Gulou, received many stares (I guess its not everyday three dressed up laowai wander the hutongs bearing fancy cakes). There were double takes, a few comments, and some one even snapped a quick picture.

Almond cake with stuffed berries and buttercream frosting. The less attractive, but still mightily delicious cake.

The cakes turned out really well, I’m relieve to say. I was a bit nervous. And the wedding dinner was great–Home Plate catered, and the atmosphere was great, and luckily the cakes mostly eaten and packed away when we got hit by a beautiful lightning storm.

The cake-baker and the happy couple.


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