Slight problem, though – I’ve never attempted a three-tier cake before. What are ‘dowels’, and must I buy ‘icing smoothers’ to get this right? I need someone with experience to help me… someone who sells her cakes at Fortnum & Mason, perhaps…
Master baker Zoe Clark
Welcome Zoe Clark, owner of The Cake Parlour in Wimbledon and wedding cake baker for Fortnum & Mason. Alongside ten or so other romantically-inclined females, I attended Zoe’s wedding cake master class at the Piccadilly store and after an hour’s tutorial I felt ready for five tiers, let alone three. Here are her top tips.
Clear a week
My plan: rise at 6am the day before the wedding, spend 12 stressy hours in the kitchen, and come out the other end with a wedding cake. Right? Wrong. If the wedding was on a Saturday, Zoe and her London-based team would follow this pattern:
Monday: bake the cakes (apart from the fruit cake layer, which can be baked months in advance), then, once cooled, wrap them in cling film and refrigerate overnight. A cool cake is much easier to work with.
Tuesday: cover the cold cakes with marzipan (even sponge cakes should have a protective marzipan layer) and leave them overnight, uncovered, to let the marzipan dry out. Use a little clear alcohol such as vodka to stick the marzipan to the cake.
Wednesday: ice the cake board and cakes. The sugarpaste (rolled fondant) should be 3-4mm in thickness – roll it between rulers to keep it level. The marzipan should be a little thinner than the icing.
Thursday: stack and decorate the three-tiered splendour.
Friday and Saturday: a final check, deliver the cake, and collapse.
Be gentle with your icing
Sugarpaste doesn’t like fingertips, so only use the palms of your hands. Oh, and try not to dust your surfaces with too much icing sugar, as it will dry your icing out. It’s sensitive stuff!
Pick the sugarpaste up on your rolling pin and, moving like a ninja, flop it over your cake.
Use your palms to smooth it around and down the side of the cake. To avoid unsightly creases, pull the sugarpaste away from the side of the cake as you go until you reach the base.
When the icing is on, use a smoother to go over the top of the cake, working in circular motions. For the sides of the cake, use your smoother in forward circular movements, going right down to the base. Trim the excess icing with a sharp knife, and eat the scraps.
Don’t forget your dowels
Dowels are ‘invisible’ hollow plastic tubes, which you shove into the bottom and middle tier cakes to create a sturdy, level platform for the layer above. Without them, your top cake will melt into your middle cake like quicksand, before the best man has even cracked his first joke.
As Zoe herself said, “Don’t even think about stacking a wedding cake, or any tiered cake, without dowels. And make sure you trust how sturdy they will be – we once balanced a ball on a doweled cake then sat one of my kids on top of the ball. It carried the weight just fine!”
How to use dowels: If your cake is circular, you’ll need three dowels arranged in a triangle formation close to the centre of the cake; if it is square, use four. Confidently push one dowel into your iced cake and mark the dowel where it meets the top of the icing. Remove the dowel, trim it to size (it should now be the same height as the cake), and cut two or three more like it, depending on the shape of the cake. Push them all in – you should not be able to see any plastic above the cake – and place the middle tier cake board on top. Repeat!
You’ll have to wait until I go to Zoe’s next class, How to make sugar flowers, for our How To guide to creating dainty edible flowers.
But in the meantime, here are a few of Zoe’s simple decorating tips which she showed me and the gals in class:
1) Try covering your whole cake in ivory icing, then cut out decorative shapes in white icing to contrast. Punching a little heart shape in the middle of a flower stamp always looks nice.
2) Use edible glue (about £3 a pot) to stick your decorations onto the cake. Nothing else will do!
3) One of the easiest decorating tips is to tie a satin bow around the middle tier. Cheap, beautiful and time-saving, and you could even match the colour of the bow to the bride’s dress.
You'll find many more idea's in Zoe's book, Chic & Unique Wedding Cakes.
Minus the sugar flowers, I am good to go with brother’s wedding cake. How about you? Are you the designated baker at an up-and-coming wedding? Or are you a wedding cake veteran who can offer me some top tips? Talk to us in the Comments Box below…
All professional photos taken from Chic & Unique Wedding Cakes, by Zoe Clark.