DIY Wedding Cake: What Can Go Wrong

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My neighbor’s sister recently married her long-term boyfriend. They had a very simple ceremony at the court house, followed by a small celebration at her father’s house. My neighbor asked me if I’d be willing to make them a cake, since fancy wedding or not, every bride deserves a cake!

I of course said yes. I’d been wanting to attempt a wedding cake forever. When I asked how it should be decorated I was basically given free reign. Which was awesomeeeeeee.

There was just one little caveat though. The cake was going to have to be transported quite a long distance in a vehicle. In Texas. In June.

Some wise advice that I once read (and promptly disregarded) is that you should never try a new recipe or technique on a cake that you are selling. Follow this advice, people!

Here is what made this experience new for me:

  • It was my first ever wedding cake.
  • It was my first time using gold luster dust in a liquid form.
  • It was my first time stenciling a cake.
  • It was my first time trying a buttercream recipe that is meant to resist high humidity.
  • It was my first time attempting to stack three tiers.
  • It was my first time ever making a cake that I knew had to be transported more than 1000 feet from my house.

Pressure, much?

I really, really, wanted this cake to be absolutely gorgeous. Perhaps you are looking at it and wondering what is wrong with it. Here are the things that stand out to me:

  • The icing is super lumpy and sort of looks like cement.
  • The stenciling: It is definitely not as crisp as I was intending.
  • The bottom band of gold/pink fondant jewels: They are not all perfectly aligned.
  • There appears to be a dead beetle behind my cake board in the photo (Okay, this doesn’t count but I just noticed it. :P).

When I agreed to make this cake, about two weeks before the party, I started planning immediately. I knew that I wanted HUGE peonies and at least one tier to be metallic. The knowledge that the cake would have to be transported weighed heavily on my mind, so I immediately went on the hunt for humidity-resistant icings. Every single one that I found required shortening. Here’s the thing: shortening sucks. It makes your American buttercream so grainy. As a result of some web sleuthing I found out that the reason this occurs is because Crisco and other brands have removed all trans fats from their shortening in recent years. You know, to be healthy. I read that if I spent some money on a high-ratio shortening (That is, shortening made specifically for baking with all the trans fats.) and made sure my powdered sugar came 10x sifted, I would be fine.

So, that’s what I did. I was feeling confident. Real confident. The recipe I decided to try is the High Humidity Icing Recipe by Wilton. I watched a video of one of the Wilton girls making it and learned that the trick is all in the added flour and cornstarch, which is supposed to soak up any moisture and keep your icing in tact.

Perfect!

Nah, not really. I will never use that recipe again. The end was result was a super thick icing that just did not smooth on the cake very well at all, despite any liquid I added. Furthermore, the high-ratio shortening really did nothing to rid the icing of graininess, in my opinion. Total waste of money. Then again, it’s very possible that the cornstarch and flour worsened the problem.

This was clearly a crusting buttercream, which wouldn’t be a problem except that I was never fully convinced that it was even attached to the cake layers. It seemed like if you dinged the cake the icing would fall off on large clumps, which is just weird, right? I did not like it. Grainy, thick, chalky icing is not what I’d pick for my wedding cake. And once it was set, it was set. No fixing any errors. No more smoothing allowed. Hence the lumpy appearance.

Another problem is that I had three tiers that needed to be chilled before I could apply any stenciling or decorations.

Whenever I opened my freezer or fridge (had to use both because there was no room) I heard the most peculiar noise. It went something like:

A la la la la long, a la la la la long long li long long long.

I’m like, “Whaaaaaaaaaat?

Then another time:

Girl, I want to make you sweat, sweat till you can’t sweat no more
And if you cry out, I’m gonna push it some mo-o-oooreee.”

I thought, “Wow, that was weird.”

But that’s EXACTLY what happened, people. Whenever I removed a tier from the fridge or freezer my cake began to sweat profusely. Well, not sweat exactly. The drastic change in temperature forced condensation to form on the outside of the cake. Dripping. Imagine my complete effing panic when I went through all that effort to make humidity-resistant icing just for my cakes to turn into a slippery slimy mess.

And my poor stenciling. 🙁 The lines became a lot less crisp. As you can see in the picture the pattern was still obvious, it just wasn’t as clean anymore. By the way, if you’re interested in learning this stenciling technique I plan to use it again on a cake I’m making tomorrow. So stay tuned for that! Don’t think I’ll use gold though.

My biggest concern was whether or not it would ever dry! 🙁 🙁 🙁

The answer is yes. Once the cake comes to room temperature the condensation evaporates off and the cake is (mostly) back to normal. But then you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place: Transport the cake while it is room temperature and risk bumping it into things where big chunks of chalky, humidity-proof icing fall off and you’ll never be able to fix it or smooth it out again? Or chill the cake really well before transporting so that the guests have to look at a soaking wet mess?

I went with leaving it at room temperature. Luckily, my neighbor’s mother held the cake in her lap all the way to the destination.

They also LOVED the cake. So there is that. We are our own worst critics.

But the cake decorator in me couldn’t help but wish the whole experience had gone a little smoother. Literally. It gave me major doubts about the feasibility of me making cakes for extra money here in Texas. That is, until the next week when I made two more cakes for my other neighbor, using regular frosting, and she got them to her destination perfectly fine. That blog entry is also coming really soon!

Here is what I learned:

  1. High-ratio shortening might not be worth the money. Going to try it with just butter and icing sugar and let you know my final verdict.
  2. High-humidity buttercream is awful. Just don’t even bother.
  3. UB40 is living in my refrigerator.
  4. Fridge is always better than freezer when it comes to chilling cakes. But condensation is still a real problem, especially in the south.
  5. Flowers do a great job of hiding the worst trouble spots.
  6. It’s never as bad as you think.

I will sign off with a few more pictures of the cake in different lighting.

Until next time <3

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wedding cake slanted

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