Wedding cakes are the pinnacle of cake decorating- time consuming, difficult, but the most impressive and elaborate of cakes. And apparently the only area of cake decorating where people can make any sort of decent money!
I found a wedding cake decorating evening course at a college about five minutes’ drive from my house which was perfect, and signed up a few months before the course was due to begin. About two weeks before, I rang to check what I needed to bring – as I have history with this college. I did a novelty cake course there two years ago which was great, then last year I had been set to take another course which they cancelled at the last minute, and forgot to contact me – I only found out because I rang the day before to ask what to bring. Surely that can’t happen again, I thought… only to be told that not enough people had booked onto the course so it wasn’t going to go ahead.
They were running other cake decorating courses starting in January but said they were all full and they couldn’t squeeze even one more person in, which I thought was a bit unfair as their late cancellation meant I probably wouldn’t be able to get on to a course at another college. Luckily, I did find a course that still had places and wasn’t too far away – South Thames College’s Tooting branch, which is right next to Tooting Broadway tube. I can get there quite easily from work but unlike my local college, where I would have been able to go home, get the car, and then drive back with my cake – I had to get a very bumpy bus home.
Though despite that, had I known how good the course at Tooting was going to be, I’d have signed up for it immediately.
The course is taught by Anna Murphy, who went through the syllabus on the first session but also asked us what kind of decorations we would like to do. She also gave us a printed list of everything we would need for the course – which is much more helpful than other courses I’ve done, where you are told each week what you need next time. If like me you can’t get to a cake decorating shop and have to order online, you then have to pay over the odds for express delivery every week to make sure it arrives in time for the next class. Anna gave us the full list from the outset but also said she would often be able to provide equipment which we could pay for, as it’s sometimes cheaper for her to order in bulk. She also took a small contribution for sundried which meant that rather than bring all our sugarpaste colours every week or decide in advance which colour we wanted to use, we could help ourselves to hers.
We covered a lot in each session, which ran for two and a half hours, and are working on three projects over the ten weeks. I thought I’d share with you the first project and how we went about it.
We started off by making flowers from flowerpaste. We simply used different sized flower cutters, and a balling tool to rub the petals to make them curve inwards. We left them in a drying tray which is a really useful (and cheap) piece of equipment, as it ensures your flowers hold the curl as they set hard.
In the following session we used royal icing and a number 1.5 or 2 nozzle to pipe a few dots into the centre of each flower. Some people did theirs in black but I decided to use the same colour as the flower as I thought the black might look a bit strong.
We covered two cake dummies in sugarpaste – one useful tip I learnt if you are using dummies is to rub them with a very fine layer of Trex. This means if you need to remove the sugarpaste and start again, it comes off easily and cleanly (you can’t do this on a real cake though!).
I’ve often had problems covering cakes with sugarpaste and I think not using sugarpaste that is brand new does cause a problem; no matter how tightly you wrap it, an open packet will dry out – even if it’s just because the sugarpaste dried out when you were initially kneading it and rolling it out. So it’s fine to keep offcuts for later and use them in modelling or smaller projects but to cover a whole cake I would advise always using a new packet. Especially if it’s a wedding cake!
We were quite robust when it came to smoothing the fondant on the sides and top of the cake; again this is something you can only really do with a dummy. You do need to smooth the cake as best you can when you are using a real cake, but if it’s a sponge cake and you have crumb coated it with buttercream you will have to be very careful.
Anna advised always having a two-inch difference (at least) between the sizes of tiers in a cake and also a 2 inch wider cake board, which we also covered in sugarpaste. I admit this is something I don’t usually bother doing and just leave the board silver but it does look very pretty covered in white with a matching ribbon around it.
We then left those cakes until the following week in a large box, so the fondant was very hard when we came to piping.
To begin, we traced over a design on tracing paper and made some piping bags out of the same paper.
We made up some royal icing and first piped in the centre of the flowers we had made previously. Anna wanted us to do the centres in black, which everyone else did, but I thought it looked too stark and did mine in purple instead (though I know that wasn't realistic).
We put the design into a clear A4 file pocket and piped the design over the top. This is a really good way of practising before you do it on the cake!
When we were ready to do it for real, we put the tracing paper around the cake and traced over the reverse, which meant a faint line appeared on the cake. If you were doing this with a real cake rather than a dummy then you wouldn't want to use pencil; instead you use a pricking tool. Anna said you would need good light to see the marks though so it was easier for us to do in pencil.
Finally I was ready to pipe onto the cake; by now I was already exhausted and aching! My piping wasn't perfect but it was better than I have ever done before so I was pleased with it. I also realised that when I make royal icing at home I don't do it properly and it does need to be really thick!
That same week we did the top layer as well; we were asked to buy or make a cake and as I was a bit short of time, and Anna had specifically recommended a Sainsbury's Taste the Difference chocolate sponge - and the college is right above a Sainsbury's - I decided to do that. We actually needed two cakes, to stack on top of each other, though we didn't need the whole cake - we used a large circle cutter to cut out the middle of the cake. And took the rest home to eat!
We then covered the two cakes in chocolate ganache and left them in the fridge to set; I think Anna transferred them to the freezer and then defrosted them for the following week.
We covered it in fondant in the third class of our 10-week course - and then had to do the painstakingly slow piped design on the even-bigger bottom layer of the cake. I knew the finished cake would look great but it would have been nice to actually try out a different technique on the bottom layer rather than doing the same thing all over again. The next cake we are making does have a different design on each layer though so that will be good - and I can't deny this one does look great.
We stacked the three cakes on top of each other, on the cake board and then stuck on the flowers with some royal icing.
And here's the finished cake! It took about 7 hours over the three weeks, which is a long time when you consider that didn't involve baking any cakes! I am really pleased with the finished cake - by far the most beautiful and elaborate cake I've ever decorated - and I can't wait to start on our next project!
While I didn't actually bake this cake, I think decorating it counts as eligible for a blog challenge. I'm hosting Alphabakes this month and the theme is V which includes Valentine's - and how much more romantic can you get than a wedding cake?
I'm also sending this to Cake of the Week hosted by Casa Costello as she doesn't insist it's something you've actually baked from scratch!