Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lessons Learned from a Wedding Cake

I've made a number of cakes that were tiered, either stacked or separated, but none have ever really been used for a wedding cake until today. I also made cupcakes for this particular wedding. The theme was rustic. The bride found cupcakes that she liked online; I carried the theme over to the cake. She wanted square tiers, a-kilter, with bows. The setting was the university student union ballroom. The thunderstorms started just as we were leaving after setting up the cake and cupcakes.


  • Let icing crust over before attaching ribbon so that the ribbon doesn't get greasy.
  • If you live more than 50 miles away from the nearest store where you can buy ribbon, buy it in two sizes. Return what you don't need later.
  • There is nothing you can do about ribbon that is too wide when there isn't a store nearby to get narrower ribbon. On the plus side, wide ribbon hides hours worth of trying to achieve a smooth-surfaced cake.
  • Sometimes men DO have an eye for necessary adjustments when the ribbon is too long.
WAY TOO MUCH ribbon on the cake! Is there even any cake in here?
  • If you don't want pretzels to get soggy on a cupcake, you need to drop royal icing onto parchment paper or waxed paper first, stick the pretzels in the icing and let it harden so that you can attach the whole pretzel/icing thing to the cupcake in one step. 
  • Don't store the cupcakes for too long with pretzels attached. They start to soften - we tested after about 12 hours.
  • Don't store the cupcakes with pretzels enclosed in a covered plastic container.

  • Royal icing flowers work better than meringue buttercream flowers. You can make them smaller, and they are less fragile.
  • Flowers can be made weeks in advance to save stress as the wedding date approaches.
  •  A fan blowing across royal icing helps it to dry faster so that you can actually avoid having to wait until morning to do something with your decorations.
  • If you forget - or decide to use at the last minute - silver dragees for your flower centers, you can put a drop of clear decorating gel on the flower to attach the silver dragee.
  • Do NOT make icing flowers when there is smoke in the air from a nearby forest fire. They pick up the taste of the smoke.
  • Buttercream flowers pick up more smoke taste than royal icing.

  • Brown butcher paper - shiny side down - makes a great table runner to keep icing mishaps off the table cloth.
  • Seems like a month's notice to the "builder" should be enough time to get a head start on production of display stands, but apparently not.
  • Use a level to make sure tree rounds are really level. It's difficult to control a chain saw well enough to make really level cuts.
  • SEAL the wood with something so that wood chips don't clutter up the table cloth. Don't rely solely on using an air compressor to "dust" them off.
  • SPRAY the wood with something to kill bugs. You probably need to do this pretty far in advance so that they don't smell. The logs, that is, not the bugs.
  • CHECK the table for ANTS, and PRAY very hard that no (more) ants come when you walk away from the cake display.
  • The best hint for transporting cakes/cupcakes that I saw was, I think, on The Cupcake Project blog. Place non-slip shelf liner in the bottom of the cake box. Place cake or cupcakes on the shelf liner to keep them from slipping.
  • I also placed the cake boxes on non-slip liner on the carpet in the truck. We took the truck, btw, because the air conditioning is better than my car.  You WANT to have GOOD air conditioning when temperatures outside are WARM... or HOT.
  • Look for a light switch for the walk-in refrigerator BEFORE you go in and the door slams shut.
  • Look for a way to prop the door open to the walk-in refrigerator before it slams shut on your finger as you try to catch it before it shuts you inside.
  • Do NOT leave the door to a walk-in refrigerator open too long (especially opening and shutting it when it's hot in the kitchen) or an ALARM will go off.
  • When you walk out of a walk-in refrigerator, make sure that you stay on the sloped exit ramp - don't accidentally fall off the side of the sloped ramp because you're carrying a lot of cake boxes and can't see the ramp.

  • Even though someone gives you a number to call if you need anything, be sure that person is really going to be there when you plan to be there.
  • Even though an office number says its an "EMERGENCY" number, if you get a recording, all bets are off.
  • Even though you've tried to open doors - twice - have someone else come try to open them. They might have a magic touch. Or stronger thumbs to open the latches.
  •  If you wake up at 4:30 a.m. because you can't sleep - wanting to be sure everything is done on time, you might was well just get out of bed. Think of it this way: bakers in most shops probably are up at 3:00 a.m. You've already gotten 1-1/2 hours more sleep!
  • Check an hour earlier than when you were told the party will be over. Just in case.
  • I'm not a professional. The best advice my cake decorating instructor told me. Be myself. I'm not a professional - the cake might not look professional. Good advice. It really relieves stress. I just need a lot of practice.
  • I looked at past successes in photos that I took. It gave me a lot more confidence to just keep plugging away.
  • If you know you have to get the job done, you might as well just get started. It's better to be working while you aren't tired (or hungry) than if you wait until it's way too late at night for anyone to still be awake.
  • Eat a good breakfast before you start working. Eat lunch. Eat dinner. Don't eat icing. 
  • According to the back of a bag of pistachios (in the shell), a serving size is 1/2 cup! This is the equivalent of 5 PPV (Weight Watchers). When the bag has been sitting in a truck in warm weather, the pistachios are warm - like they were just roasted. It is easy to eat more than you think you are eating. That's because you didn't eat icing.
  • Less stress makes cake decorating a little more fun. It can still be challenging, though. Yet, I still prefer to decorate cupcakes.

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