A few weeks ago a friend announced that he and his fiancé had finally set a wedding date. It’s going to be a small wedding in the middle of April. Before I could properly congratulate him, or even think about it, the words tumbled out of my mouth that I bake wedding cakes. What I meant to say was, I have baked one wedding cake. I walked back to my desk muttering under my breath that I should think before I open my big mouth, but was convinced they’d never take me up on it. I mean, of course I’d love the challenge, but I’m no professional wedding cake baker.
The excited couple popped round the following weekend eager to hear what I could bake – and to make matters more complicated for this wannabe baker, the bride-to-be was adamant that she did not want a traditional fruit cake or a sponge cake. She wanted a fancifully decadent layer cake. Words like praline and mousse were flung across the lounge over cups of tea, conjuring up visions of the type of cake you find in little French patisseries. And she wanted these delicate layers tiered! My mind raced. As soon as they left Pierre Hermé’s new book came out, amongst various others, and sitting on the lounge floor with books strewn all around me I wondered whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew. My other half just shook his head.
The next few weekends were spent holed up in the kitchen – while beautiful spring blossomed outside – combining all manner of layers. For me, most of them didn’t work – they were too rich and thick and indulgent and unbalanced. Those around me seemed to like them, but I couldn’t tell whether they really did or whether they were just being polite. Either way, none of the layers were right for a wedding cake – and certainly not a tiered one – the moussey layers simply wouldn’t hold up.
Finally, this weekend it all came together. I didn’t know whether it had worked until I stood there this morning, gingerly slicing the cake while the bride-to-be watched expectantly. The tester I baked was the size of what the top tier will be. To give it some sort of structure I’ve had to add thin layers of sponge – but sandwiched in between the other bits one hardly notices it. I think it adds some lightness to the richness. So the final product will be built up of a layer of genoese sponge (genoese because it’s light like swiss roll sponge – made by whipping egg until it’s fluffy enough to act as the rising agent), underneath vanilla cheesecake pitted with roasted pistachios, topped with a crunchy layer of hazelnut praline and cracked meringue. Now we’re in the middle of the cake. Another layer of genoese sponge, cushioning big black cherries smothered in a pistachio mousse. And then frosted with a swiss meringue buttercream.
Wondering why I hadn’t made one mid-week and only once deemed successful unleashed it to the happy couple I nervously lifting the first slice out of the cake. It held together completely. I sighed. And then smiled – just tentatively until I tasted it. I expected it to be borderline too sweet and rich – but it was surprisingly light and the swiss meringue buttercream somehow toned it down.
Of course, the cake still needs to be refined – the layers need to be more defined – but it’s a starting point. Hopefully one from which I can pull this wedding cake off – in tiered glory garnished with avalanche roses and blue irises. I have three weeks exactly until the wedding day – over which time I will deconstruct the cake and share the recipes for each component.