Sunday, August 22, 2010

How Not to Make Your Own Wedding Cake

Long ago, in a strange faraway land called Berkeley, there was a Nicole who had to walk by Barnes & Noble on her way home everyday.  Now in this bizarre land, strange and magical things could happen.  Impossible ideas became reality.  Tiny, independent used book stores like Pegasus put big, fat chains like Barnes & Noble out of business.

And when Nicole saw that her Barnes & Noble was having a "going out of business" sale, well, what could she do but go in and help them dispose of their unwanted books at ridiculously low prices?  And so she did...everyday for about a month...and several times after that.

And that is how I ended up with a book on how to make wedding cakes.  Now, Daniel and I definitely were not engaged at this point, but we were living together, and I could see a distant future in which marriage was a very realistic possibility.  I have always enjoyed baking, and I figured learning how to make fancy awesome cakes would be a lot of fun.  Hell, maybe I would even get good enough to be able to make my own wedding cake!

Yeah, not so much.  The first and only cake I made using that book was actually pretty decent for a first try, but the fondant was a pain in the ass, and I was just not up for the intense amount of work it would take to learn to make a cake that looked professional.  I set the book aside.

Fast forward to a few months ago.  As I've said before, one of my coworkers recently got married, loves to talk about weddings, and made her own wedding cake.  Naturally, we've discussed wedding cakes (extensively), and I figured I'd try making a fondant-covered cake again.  I had found the traditional fondant recipe difficult to work with, so I thought I'd try her marshmallow fondant recipe, supposedly much easier.

Let's just say I got some interesting results.

The following is what I have learned by trying to work with fondant (and if you are thinking of making your own wedding cake, and you are not a professional cake-maker, you WILL be using fondant).  My coworker's suggestion for making your own cake is to buy fondant and any decorations you want, but if you insist on doing it yourself, this should help you get started.

I won't tell you what cake or frosting to make because if you're going to tackle this, I assume you have enough experience with baking to know what you want.  However, I will advise you to keep your layers small to support structural integrity and that it will taste better if you coat the cake in a layer of frosting before covering it in fondant.

Also, I really ought to have cut off the top and sides of my cake to create a less lumpy shape.  I was in a hurry and figured the fondant would cover up most of the imperfections.  That did not so much happen.  The fondant really forms itself to the shape of the cake, so just be aware of that.

Here is my coworker's fondant recipe:

1 bag marshmallows (good ones)
1 bag powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
2 T. water
A smidge of butter flavor (recommended)

Melt marshmallows by microwaving in 30 second intervals and stirring after each interval.  Stop when marshmallows are just melted.

Combine marshmallows, vanilla, water, (butter flavor), and 7/8 bag powdered sugar in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly.  Kneed the fondant for several minutes.  Wrap tightly and leave out for at least 2 hours.  DO NOT refrigerate.

Cover your hands, a rolling pin, and a large, flat surface with remaining powdered sugar.  Roll out fondant until it is about 1/4 in. thick.

Supporting the fondant with both of your arms (and you may want someone else's arms as well), place the fondant over the largest layer of the cake.  Cut the excess away using a sharp knife.  Repeat with remaining cake layers.

Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, here's what happened when I tried it....

Now, in my defense, I was screwed from the beginning because I thought I was supposed to use a BOX of powered sugar instead of a BAG of powdered sugar.  That would have made a really big difference.  It also would have saved me from this:

Can you say sticky?  I sure could.  In fact, I couldn't quite figure out how to get the paste (for paste it was at this point) out of the bowl, so I had to resort to this:

Yeah, so I was pretty concerned at this point, but it's supposed to congeal a bit while it sets, so I had some hope.  It did help, but not enough.

So rolling that out was an interesting experience.  I basically ended up kneeding the rest of the box and another quarter box of powdered sugar into the fondant which made it possible to work with if still a little runny.  However, when I ran out of powdered sugar, I was at a loss as to how to roll it out.

At this point, I was getting pretty desperate.  This had taken a lot longer than I was counting on, and I was supposed to go to my first Cubs game in about five minutes.  After frantically opening and closing all of the cabinets in my kitchen, I came up with an alternative destickifying agent.

Butter!  Haha, and this made up for the butter flavoring I did not include in the recipe in the first place.  It actually worked exceedingly well though God knows how many calories I added to the fondant by covering my hands, my cutting board, and my rolling pin with the stuff...multiple times.

So in the end, I succeeded in rolling out the fondant and getting it onto the cake with a little help from Daniel.  At this point, I really needed to go, but the fondant was looking a bit... melty, so I did the thing you should never do with fondant:  stuck it in the refrigerator.

Turns out, refrigerating it was fine, and I'm glad I did because it seriously would have inched its way off the cake otherwise.  Nonetheless, the combination of not smoothing out the cake in the first place and less-than-sturdy fondant required me to do a little decorating before I was comfortable showing this cake to my coworkers.

I cheated and decorated with store-bought icing, but it looked a lot better once I covered up the edges, and everyone really liked the fondant roses I made.

In the end, it could have been worse, but I definitely have a renewed and unflinching respect for cake makers.  I would not want to make my own wedding cake.  There are just too many things that can go wrong.  And that was my coworkers advice to you all as well even though she has been making awesome cakes for years.

However, if you decide to DIY, just remember to use a whole bag of sugar ;).

What DIY projects have you abandoned?  What made you decide it was too much?


  1. Oh my! Fondant scares the crap out of me. Although I've never worked with marshmallow fondant before. I'd have to agree that you went wrong with the measurements- BOX and BAG are pretty different. I find that with baking you really can't take an "eyeball it" approach and you do need exact measurements. Looks like you kind had fun though? How was the taste?

  2. Yeahhh, I think my subconscious just didn't want to believe that it was a bag of sugar instead of a box because a box is bad enough for you.

    The taste was actually really good. I was surprised. It probably helped that the marshmallow was much more dominant than it was supposed to be. Of course, it probably also helped that I am in love with sugar and will eat it out of the box anyway...

  3. An easy way to lower cake cost is to go with a two-tiered cake instead of 3+. We got our cake for $3 a slice instead of $6 because of that, even though it had the same number of slices. You might want to try and make a cake that you freeze and eat for your first wedding anniversary (someone told us about this tradition at the last minute, but the cake didn't really last that long anyway).


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