Once upon a time, I got married. I had grand dreams of making my own cake. Until sense kicked in and nudged me sharply and told me that I had never made a wedding cake in my life and that was not the time to try. Now over four years later, I’m finding myself making a two tier wedding cake, not for myself, but for fun (and in training for my friend The Second Wife’s wedding on Hallowe’en Eve). Teaching me today was Faye Cahill, creator of some of the most breathtakingly pretty wedding cakes. In fact if I had known about her at the time of my wedding, I would have snapped up one of her creations immediately.
Faye uses the glue gun to stick the 12mm dowel into the cake base
Today my fellow students and I would be making a two tier wedding cake. Would it work out? I was worried that it might be a disaster. I only have a fleeting association with dowel rods and construction tools. We start off around the workshop tables. I am sitting next to a very friendly Not Quite Nigella reader Li-ting. Faye is softly spoken and lovely and her classes are nice and intimate with only seven students per class.
Using a handy measurement board to find the centre
Faye explains that the cake will sit on a wooden disc. In the centre of this disc is a hole that has been drilled and a 12m dowel rod (wooden sick) sits glued within it. This is the basic structure holding the cake in place which gives it integrity and support. We will be ganaching and icing an 8 inch chocolate mud cake while a 5 inch chocolate mud cake has already been ganached for us. Ganache (a mixture of chocolate and cream) not only gives us a smooth surface on which to place the fondant icing, as it sets hard it also adds support to the structure.
Ganaching the silver cake base to the decorating board
Slicing off the crusty top of the cake
The serrated knife slicer and leveller
We start by trimming off the top of the cake to remove any crusty pieces. We then turn the cake upside down and use a very handy tool, a serrated knife cake leveller which we use to cut the cake into three layers. We brush each layer lightly with sugar syrup which keeps the cake moist. We then ganache the bottom 8 inch cake board and place one cake layer on it and then ganache this on top. My issue has always been doming. I always end up creating a dome when I ganache it. Asha, Faye’s assistant gives me a tip to avoid the dome look. It is to hold the palette knife with the handle pointing up and the tip of the knife down slightly. I tend to hold the knife the other way which means that the ganache at the sides is lower and I get more ganache in the centre.
I ganache over the hole in the bottom so that the cake sticks
Scraping any stray ganache from the sides
Now that the cake is ganached, we get to shaping the cake. Did you ever wonder how cakes have that perfect edge to them? Like when you filled your cake the filling never quite got to the edge and you could see the layers in between? Well this is because they trim the cakes. In fact we take out an instrument which I haven’t used since High School (or was it Primary school?) which is a right angle.
Measuring to see that there is a a 1/2 cm gap between the base of the silver board and the cake
We need to ensure that the edge of the cake is at least 1/2 a centimetre to 1 centimetre away from the edge of the silver base. This is because we are going to fill that gap with ganache which will set hard and give the cake even more structural integrity around the outside. The cake is then refrigerated so that the ganache can set. So we trim the cake with the serrated knife to get us this gap.
Trimming the sides to get the gap
Ganaching the sides
Now whoever said ganaching is easy is crazy. The ganaching is also the most important step and one that we end up spending hours on in order to get that amazing sharp edge that Faye’s cakes are known for. In fact the next three or so hours are spent alternating between ganaching and scraping and ganaching and scraping back to get an absolutely perfect, smooth, straight edge. Because if you don’t have this, your cake won’t be as beautifully smooth. And it’s a wedding cake folks so we want it to be purrrfect!
We start ganaching the top and sides with the soft chocolate ganache where we use a back and forth motion with the palette knife to avoid picking up crumbs. When it looks good we take another 8 inch board, lightly sprinkle it with water on the silver side and place it silver side down directly on top of the cake where it sits flush against the bottom cake plate the water helping it adhere to the cake (see below).
Placing another silver board on top to create a lid
Filling in the ganache here too
Our task now is to fill the sides with ganache until it reaches the dimensions of the 8 inch cake board from top to bottom. We spread some warmed ganache and while the ganache is still soft, we use the scraper to scrape the top and sides checking for any gaps. If we do have any gaps, we spread more ganache over these and then keep reganaching.
You can do this from anywhere from three times to five or even more being sure to work quickly. The key is to scrape back the ganache while it is soft, not when it sets hard. All of the scarping is done while spinning the cake in a fluid motion on a turntable. The way to hold the scraper is to spread out your four fingers on one side and securing it with your thumb on the other side (see picture of Faye’s hand placement above). A quick way to ganache the sides is to place the ganache directly on the large scraper.
Once the ganache sits flush against the top and bottom cake boards we take a paring knife dipped in hot water and remove the top silver lid.
Carefully removing the lid
But it’s still not finished…
It’s not done though! We finish this off with a palette knife in hot water which helps to smooth out any rough edges. The cake is then refrigerated again. Usually the ganaching is done one day ahead as the cake is much easier to put fondant on if the ganache is well set. As the five inch cakes were done the night before we all see the difference.
We break for lunch (see I did tell you that we spent hours on the ganacheing-these cakes are perfection!) and Faye takes our orders for lunch from the nearby organic cafe. I order a burger which is juicy with beetroot, a beef patty and a sweet tomato relish and an excellent orange juice.
Now that we have our energy back we get ready for the fondant. We first brush the cake very lightly with an apricot jam syrup. Fay tells us that when we open the fondant, we should cut away any hard and crusty bits around the edge. We take about 800grams or so of the fondant to cover the 8 inch cake and roll it out on a little cornflour using big, broad rolling pin strokes on a lightly cornfloured surface and moving it about so that it doesn’t catch on the surface. The key is to work quickly before the fondant dries out (although if it does, you can add some glycerin to the mixture). Faye shows us the acupuncture needles that she uses to get out any air bubbles as they are very fine-the trick there is to prick the bubble low or to the side.
Placing the rolled out fondant on top of the cake
Smoothing the top
Smoothing down the top edges
We roll the fondant onto the rolling pin and then gently lift it above the cake. We first smooth the top down and ensure that there aren’t any air bubbles. We then smooth the edges down and then using the flat side of our palms, we smooth the icing downwards onto the cake. To avoid cutting into the icing you simply lift and smooth the icing. It looks difficult and like you will have to have a fold but if you continue to gently lift and smooth down the icing will go on smoothly-honestly!
Use a modelling tool to draw a line around the bottom edge of the cake and then cut the icing off using a paring knife.
Now comes the tricky bit which eluded a few of us. Shaping the sides to get a perfect sharp edge using the acrylic smoothers. I think I finally got the hang of it at the end and it seems the key here is to push the acrylic smoother on the side in and the one of top in the direction of the one on the side. We also smoothed out the sides with the acrylic smoothers and X-ray buffer.
Smoothing using a rectangle of Xray sheet
We do this for the 5 inch cake which has been ganached the day before and this cake is much easier to place the fondant on.
Impaling the cake onto the wooden board
Time for the impaling! We spread a little royal icing on the bottom and gently lower the cake onto the stick trying to find the hole at the bottom of our cake stand. I gasp as I see the wooden dowel rod peek out but this supposed to happen-the extra rod on top is for the second tier support.
As our top tier is a 5 inch cake, we use a 4 inch round as a guide to see where we put our three dowel rods in. We insert the dowel rods right to the bottom, mark them, and then cut them with secateurs. The dowel rods are three supports to help take the weight of the top tier off the bottom tier. We then cover these with some royal icing and then slide the 5 inch cake on top of the 8 inch cake.
Marking the height of the cake against the dowel rods
Cutting them off where marked and then…
Pushing them back down so that the 5 inch cake on the silver cake base can rest its weight on it
Now we’re up to the fun bit-or the bit where I have a bit of a panic. The decorating! I never thought that I’d ever do piping this intricate in my life. I always assumed that you needed to buy specialist equipment and border stamps that you press into the fondant but Faye shows us a clever trick. She photocopied a bit of lace and traced the outline of it. She then traces this onto a long sheet of greaseproof paper using pencil.
We take a look at our cake and see if there are any imperfections. If there are, we make that part as the back of the cake. We take some pins and pin down the greaseproof paper with the pencil side facing the cake. Using a skewer and with light motions, we rub the greaseproof against the cake which transfers the pattern onto the icing! We repeat the process with the bottom tier too. I’m rather excited about this as this means that I don’t have to buy lots of pattern imprints!
And then I come to my undoing. The Piping. I started off ok with the teardrop patterns where we start from the bottom and move the tip up quickly to get a crisp cut. But then it all starts to fall apart when I do the “snail’s trail” and I end up with more of a rope pattern.
See the rope pattern on the top tier? Not good…
My hands are starting to ache from clutching the piping bag and I have a real respect for people that can pipe (although I already did as I am not great at it). Faye suggests doing some drops which you might be able to see in the picture above-this is an easier and quicker way of piping a line than a snail’s trail.
Everyone quietly piping
Redone once I regrouped and recovered from my “moment”
I get a bit of a second wind after resting my hand and I decide to redo the drop and make it a snail’s trail which I kind of get the hang on but not quite…
Placing the icing layer on the board
The last part before the final decorations is lining the outside of the board. We roll out a round of fondant just larger than the cake plate and cut out an 8 inch centre. We discard the centre and take the ring and place it around the cake putting the join at the back of the cake and we just brush it underneath with the jam syrup. We buff the seal until it disappears.
And then brushing a jam syrup onto the base
The finishing touches are the ribbon and the flowers. Faye gives us an assortment of flowers and leaves and ribbon we can choose from. We join the ribbon with some hot glue and the flowers sit on the ends of toothpicks and the leaves on wire so we simply insert them into the cake cutting the wires if necessary.
My cake-don’t look too closely ok?
I look back at my cake and am slightly startled there for a moment-the cake actually looks like a wedding cake! Did I actually do that? I underestimated what a high I would feel when I saw the finished cake. I’m sure cake artists could pick it apart within seconds with an experienced eye but I actually feel excited that it actually looks like a wedding cake! We all go away with a certificate and an extremely detailed step by step outline of what we did knowing that if we were ever called upon to decorate a wedding cake, we could.
And speaking of weddings, you can check out the second of my series of four guest posts for the Modern Wedding Australia blog!
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever made a wedding cake?
NQN attended Faye Cahill’s Wedding Cake class as a guest of Faye Cahill
Faye Cahill Cake Design
2/420 New Canterbury Road, Dulwich Hill, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9568 3165
The Two Tier Wedding Cake class is $420 which includes taking home your own completed two tier wedding cake that feeds 50 people.
Classes are here (download a pdf): http://www.fayecahill.com.au/classesnovdec10.pdf
If you enjoyed this post, why not share it with your friends?