It has been two weeks since the wedding – a crazy, unusual, exciting two weeks of house hunting filled with things I’ve never had to think about before, like standard variable mortgage rates, and freehold vs leasehold, and why combi boilers are better than condensing ones. But that’s a whole other story – for another day’s rationalisation of why we’ve settled on a flat with a kitchen that has no oven and hasn’t been updated since the 1960s.
I’ve only just about managed to get the stickiness off my revolting rented linoleum kitchen floor. In the franticness that led up to the completion of the cake all manner of meringue, cake mixture, sugar, eggs and frosting ended up splattered and trampled into the floor.
Was the wedding cake a success? I grimace at the question – I was not entirely happy with it. Or should I rephrase and say that it just didn’t look exactly how I imagined it would. Some of it was out of my control – the avalanche roses and blooming blue irises that were meant to wedge the two tiers together in a statement of floral opulence were left out of water overnight by the florist. And so when I got them, the few I could use were so wilted they couldn’t hold their shape, let alone fill the gap between the two tiers. This also meant that the tiny imperfections at the bottom of the top tier were very visible. I had hoped they would be hidden behind big curling petals, but alas.
225g caster sugar
4 large egg whites
350g unsalted butter, softened
1tsp vanilla extract
These quantities will make enough icing for a 9 inch cake, plus some extra.
In a large metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water whisk the egg whites and sugar occasionally until the sugar has completely melted. You will know it is completely melted when you can feel any sugar granules when you rub a bit between your fingers.
Take the mixture off the heat, wipe the bottom of the bowl to prevent any water condensation getting into the mixture as this will prevent it from whipping. Whisk with an electric mixer until the mixture is white and glassy and doubles in size. Whisk in the vanilla.
Add the butter, a third at a time and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens and comes together. This can take quite a few minutes – don’t panic, just carry on whisking.
100g egg whites (about 2 large egg whites)
100g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 150°C (130°C for fan oven). Whisk the egg whites until they start to go frothy white. As soft peaks start to form add one tablespoon of sugar at a time until it is all incorporated. The mixture will go stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla extra and continue whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture holds stiff peaks. You will know the sugar is dissolved when you rub a little bit of the mixture between your fingers and it does not feel gritty.
50g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C for fan oven). Place the hazelnuts directly onto a baking tray and toast in the oven for 20 minutes. While the nuts are toasting, put the caster sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until it melts. Watch it constantly so that it does not burn.
As the sugar begins to turn golden and caramelise, add the hazelnuts and stir to coat them in the syrup. Continue stirring over a medium heat until golden brown. Pour the mixture out onto a baking tray lined with grease proof parchment and allow to cool.
Break the solid mass of nuts into chunks, place in a food processor and pulse blitz to desired chunkiness or powderyness. I blitzed mine until quite fine – ensuring I didn’t over blitz it as this will then turn from powder into paste. Alternatively you can bash them with a rolling-pin.
The wedding is on Sunday. It’s Friday night and I’m wondering how I’m going to get to Sunday and actually produce a magnificent, professional looking cake. Yes, I made a test cake. A little test cake. But I haven’t practiced making the whole thing, getting the quantities right – and above all icing it perfectly and getting the two tiers to stand upright, one on top of each other. Well the top one kind of ‘floating’ above the bottom one on pillars with a layer of avalanche roses and blue irises sandwiched between the tiers.
Sitting on the floor – somewhat bewildered, that Sunday after the happy couple came round for the first time – frantically thumbing through my books looking to be inspired by something impressive I came across a decadent looking layered pistachio cheesecake. A combination of creamy pistachio cheesecake, little cubes of syrup soaked sour cherries in the middle topped with a pistachio mousse and then sprinkled with ground pistachios.
This was my starting point for putting the wedding cake together. Stumbling at the first hurdle though, every component of this cake needed pistachio paste. I’d never seen in it supermarkets, but presumed it would be easy enough to find in London – I mean you can practically buy anything if you’re willing to spend a bit in fancy specialist food stores. I googled it, and although pistachio paste is a common ingredient in French and Italian baking, I couldn’t find a single source to buy it from in the United Kingdom. Ordering from online shops in France was easy enough but paying £25 with postage for a small jar of paste seemed obscene. So, my only other option was to make it.
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.