Engagement Party, Part I – The Cake

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My Wedding Cake!

Just one slice – one slice in the name of love! 

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The happy couple slices the cake – photo by J. Bannow

This past weekend was such a whirlwind of wonderful. The fiancé’s family and my own came together in celebration of, well… us! Our plan from the start was to keep things intimate and low-key. Instead of a big white wedding, we’re looking forward to waltzing down to the courthouse in jeans and a t-shirt in May of next year.

Still, it was important to us to bring our families together to show them how special this thing that we have is, and to share it with them. Even though we won’t be “official” until Spring, it just happened to work out best for us to have this gathering now, rather than later. A reception pre-wedding instead of post. Hence calling it an ‘Engagement Party’.

For us, though, this was our marriage celebration. The people we love, all gathered ’round to clink glasses and toast to us. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t fancy, and it wasn’t traditional… but it was exactly what we wanted. To everyone who was there, thank you so much! Your presence and support are the greatest gift we could ask for.

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One of the many beautiful bouquets!

Being such a small group, I got it into my head that I would do the food… and the cake… and, well, everything. Fortunately, I had a helping hand from my Mom (thanks for hosting!), and The Brothers-In-Law to-be (thanks for the flowers!), and of course, The Fiancé (thanks for everything!).
Still, the week leading up to the party was a bit of a race – making mass amounts of buttercream, gallons of lemonade, prepping all the food, and of course baking the cakes.

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In the month or so before, I made five test cakes (and some cupcakes) to find the perfect recipe. It was imperative that flavor rival looks in my cake! I opted to use Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which is not typical for a wedding cake… not pure white… not very easy to smooth… but the best in flavor and texture. Unlike dense American buttercream, which consists primarily of shortening and powdered sugar, Swiss Meringue Buttercream (or SMBC) is made with whipped egg whites, granulated sugar, and real butter. Even the frosting haters were smitten with this one.
There are a lot of simple recipes out there, and plenty of  tips for how to deal with this sometimes finicky frosting – I don’t have a tutorial ready for you myself, but for first-time makers of SMBC I highly recommend this post. Rosie’s photos explain the process better than words.

For the cake, I wanted to make a simple and crowd-pleasing white cake. After testing recipe after recipe, I finally found the perfect one. Besides playing around with the extracts, I couldn’t find a single thing to modify in this recipe. I tried to make it better – oh, how I tried! – but so far the original is still my favorite. Completely un-adapted, I used America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for Classic White Cake.

I baked three 12 inch cakes, wrapping the pans in bake-even strips to keep the edges from cooking faster than the center. I also baked three 9 inch cakes, and three 6 inch cakes, to make each tier.

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In between each layer, I spread a mixture of Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Blackberry Jam. This was a welcome punch of flavor amid all the vanilla. Then I frosted each tier with a crumb coat, chilled them, and then applied a top-coat. To my dismay, the day I baked these cakes was incredibly humid. Once I took the cold crumb coat out of the fridge, the frosting quickly began to gather condensation… which meant my second coat literally slid off the cake. I frantically applied heaps and heaps of buttercream, getting more on the table than the cake itself, until at last I was able to make some of it stick – all the while cursing my lack of central air which could have saved me from such a dilemma. In the end, it all worked out okay. A few crumbs here and there, but close enough to perfect considering the circumstances.

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 Finally the tiers were frosted. I inserted a few dowels to support each cake, and stacked them carefully. Technically, I’ve made one wedding cake before – an Angel Food Wedding Cake for my Sister – but this was my first time stacking a big, traditional-style cake. I kept checking that the cakes were level, centered, etc…. and in the end? I was pretty pleased with myself.

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Not bad for my first try!
 I decorated the cake with fondant pearls, and the Gumpaste Calla Lilies I’d been working on for the past couple of weeks. For a tutorial on how to make the flowers, click here.
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The bride-to-be puts the finishing touches on the cake – photo by J. Bannow
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Good to go! – photo by J. Bannow

Now of course, the cake wouldn’t be complete without The Fiancé’s incredible ice cream.

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I barely had a chance to snap a shot of it!

Using the yolks leftover from all my buttercream making, he whipped up a batch of vanilla, and some of his out-of-this-world strawberry.

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He dices the strawberries, then heats them slow and low with a heaping spoonful of brown sugar, and just a drizzle of balsamic. Using a basic vanilla crème anglaise, he adds the cooled berry compote at the beginning of churning… any leftover strawberry mixture gets set aside as topping. Mm! As you may remember from this post, his homemade ice cream was the start of our relationship. It just wouldn’t be our wedding without it!

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Now, you might be thinking – small family gathering, giant three tier cake… it just doesn’t quite add up. Well, I’m proud to say we managed to polish of the entire middle tier. The top and bottom, still uncut, lasted a couple more days in the fridge before finding their tasty end in the bellies of friends and co-workers. Very happy co-workers, I might add. Nothing brightens the average work day than when someone walks in with a 12lb. slab of cake.

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The middle tier disappears!

The Cake and ice cream may seem like the stars of the show, but they were only the center of attention for a moment. The icing on the cake, so to speak…  The cherry on top of the sundae that was our Saturday… The brûlée to our crème… The… you get the idea. The best and most important part of the evening was showing our families how much we care about each other, and how excited we are to share our futures together. I’m still struck by how deep our bond is, and every day I am thrilled by the thought that two people can share such a connection. I am in awe of what we have, and I don’t foresee ever taking it for granted. I look forward to every year, and every day, and every moment ahead.

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Thank you to The Brother, for commandeering my camera for this shot!
Here’s to us!

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20 Responses to Engagement Party, Part I – The Cake

  1. What's for dessert? September 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Beautiful and elegant cake, great job!

  2. mohalakitchen September 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    One of my goals in life is to make a tiered wedding cake.. You did an amazingly gorgeous job I love it! Plus it sounds delicious, which, obviously, is just as important..

    • Willow September 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks! It’s definitely a bit of an undertaking, but well worth it. :)

  3. Kat September 21, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    First of all big congratulations to both of you! Second, I keep staring at the pictures of the cake, and it’s WOW. It looks amazing, the calla lilies you made look gorgeous (and real). What an absolutely beautiful, professional job!

    This post just generally made me smile, congrats again! :)

    • Willow September 21, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

      Thanks, Kat! :D

  4. leaf (the indolent cook) September 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    How lovely! You and your fiance go together like your delicious cake and ice cream, and what a wonderful way that is to be. :D

  5. CJ - Food Stories September 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Oh my gosh … Willow, this cake is absolutely stunning & all your efforts were worth it … Congrats to you and your fiance :-)

  6. Abby September 22, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    Congratulations!!! We had a courthouse wedding too :) and then a family thing after. Your cake is absolutely stunning, you could open a shop!

    • Willow September 26, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Wow, I’m flattered – thanks!

  7. Kristy September 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    That cake is drop-dead gorgeous! And you, my friend, are a genius- having the party before the ceremony! Such a great idea!

    • Willow September 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Haha, thanks!

  8. TheDad September 26, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    I was there, but it’s worth a repeat here:

    Great people, great party, great food! It was a wonderful celebration for the start of your lives together. May it continue and continue and continue being beautiful. Best wishes, and thanks for letting me be there!


    • Willow September 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Thanks, Dad! :D

  9. corrie October 24, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    This is Corrie. One of Mark’s friends from MI who now lives in AL. I LOVE the pictures and just teared up seeing our favorite Mark and you together! Congratulations to you both. We love Mark! And I’m SO happy for you guys. I’m off to browse through the rest of your blog. You are one impressive girl!

    • Willow October 24, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Hi! Thank you! I’ve heard so much about you, Mark talks about you guys all the time. We will definitely have to figure out a time to come visit… I can’t wait to meet you! Now that you’ve seen the blog I’ll have to be sure to whip up something tasty to bring ;)

  10. Hannah-lyz November 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    I love this post! So lovely. You did such an amazing job with the cake and the flowers! I’m planning my wedding at the moment, and me and my fiance don’t want a traditional wedding either. I’m hoping to make the cake, and a lot of the food. We’re planning on outdoors, picnic-style, with blankets and cushions on the floor and bunting.. now all we need is for the Welsh weather to behave itself and be sunny on the day! So nice to read about your celebration :) Congratulations to you both!

    • Willow November 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      Thanks! It sounds like you’ve got a wonderful day planned out – hope the weather is beautiful to match! :)

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