A few weeks back in August, I had a wedding cake to make. I was really excited about this one as it was completely different to anything I've done before. The wedding was to be a fairly intimate, elegant but rustic affair at the couple's country home and the bride had a very clear idea of what she wanted which is always a fantastic start. I'd been recommended by an existing client so she didn't even want a tasting! The cake itself was to be a three tier, rich chocolate, vanilla sponge and, after a little discussion, strawberry flavours, covered with a rustic, rough buttercream. Each tier was to be finished with twisted natural raffia, topped with fresh flowers to match the bride's bouquet and the cake stand was to be a log slice from the couple's own garden.
So, a fairly simple brief all in all, there were just a few extra challenges thrown in to really make me work for it however! Firstly, buttercream and hot, or even worse, humid weather, do not mix! I turned to the Internet for advice and after quite a bit of research and practice, found a recipe from the States that claimed to hold up in heat. I tested it a few times, piped decorations on a Victoria sponge that survived an afternoon in a 35 degree, humid cricket pavilion and felt confident that it was up to the job. By using white vegetable fat (I know, sounds yucky...) which has a much higher melting point than butter it makes the mixture thicker at normal temperatures and adding starch in the form of corn flour gives real stability. It also tastes good, honest! It does need beating for a very long time though, and here comes the next challenge.
I've owned my KitchenAid Artisan for nearly two years and simply couldn't do what I do without it. It makes light sponges, fluffy buttercream, perfect pasta, pancakes, bread, meringues, I use it absolutely every day. I've used it many times for this buttercream recipe too, but the day before the wedding had to make several kilos. Somewhere in the middle of the second batch, there was a loud bang, a strange smell and the fuse board cut out... Luckily I had already made two types of chocolate ganache, and some basic buttercream for the cake fillings which just needed flavouring.
KitchenAid customer service is very good, they are collecting the machine in an hour slot on a named day and will repair and return the mixer within 1-2 weeks, in the meantime I still needed to mix a LOT of buttercream, then there was the small matter of next weeks' orders, and the week after... I phoned around looking for another machine, but the thought of dragging three reluctant children out shopping for something 'boring' (to them) was really not appealing. I then found a limited edition Frosted Pearl machine at John Lewis for £50 less than any other model, it wasn't my first choice of colour (mmmm, pistachio green anyone?) but it was a very significant saving and next-day delivery was £6.95 which actually seemed quite reasonable. I have to say, it's a thing of beauty indeed with it's pearly metallic finish and frosted glass bowl, and is definitely even quieter than my slightly older model. And now I have no excuse so will be expanding the classes that Flossie Pops offers to include more hands-on baking!
I then popped into my local town and bought a Kenwood hand mixer (my last one died making buttercream for a day's baking at my children's school...there's a theme developing here) and worked with lots very small batches of buttercream to finish the cake.
The log slice cake stand had also not been as straight-forward as I'd first hoped. The bride brought me a beautiful piece of wood which has been cut quite level, I'd sourced little hardboard 'feet' to ensure it was completely level, there's rustic, then there's wonky cake which isn't a good look! A couple of days before the wedding I noticed there were a lot of very, very tiny insects all over the log and hot-footed it to the local DIY shop for advice - I came home with a clear, matt varnish to seal the log, no bug-cakes here!! I also spent quite some time with a wire brush making sure the bark looked properly matt and natural once varnished.
Because I wanted a firm base for the buttercream to sit on, I decided to crumb-coat the cakes with ganache rather than buttercream. I used dark chocolate ganache on the bottom tier and white chocolate ganache on the vanilla and strawberry tiers. The day of the wedding dawned and it a a scorcher! I was incredibly grateful for the adapted buttercream and had arranged delivery for late afternoon to keep the cakes as cool as possible for as long as possible.
The venue was beautiful and all was fine until I opened the box for the top tier, there had been some slippage during the journey, but nothing that wasn't fixable. Spare buttercream, cranked palette knife, hot water and 40 minutes later, it was re-covered and stacked. The finished cake was very effective and looked exactly as the bride had specified. I had a lovely email from a wedding guest the next day to say how lovely the cake was, and how delicious it tasted which is, after all, what it's all about!
Here's the buttercream recipe which is ideal for summer fete cupcakes and gives a really nice piped finish (just don't make too much at once in your mixer!!)
High Humidity Buttercream (adapted from a Wilton recipe)
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g white vegetable fat, softened (I used Cookeen as it's firmer at room temperature than Trex, but either is fine, as is Crisco)
500g icing sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Beat the butter and vegetable fat together in a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer)
add half the icing sugar and continue to beat until combined
Add the rest of the icing sugar and beat, the mixture will be dry and crumbly
Combine the milk and cornflour together in a small bowl and add to the icing mixture along with the vanilla.
Continue to beat until light and fluffy
Can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two weeks, just bring to room temperature and re-beat before using.