Friday, 8 August 2014

Neapolitan Stacked Book Wedding Cake


This is going to be a long one, folks.  This cake took 2 days to make and decorate after all.

Well.  This year certainly has been busy, something a lack of posts can testify to.  I completed a post-graduate course in Primary Education and as a result will be starting a new job as a primary school teacher in a little over a week.  Admittedly, that means next year is going to be busy too but hopefully in a more manageable way because there is no erratic schedule to deal with (and no essays too I hope).  But university was not the only thing demanding my attention.  Oh no.  We had also decided that this would be a good year to get married.  As if there wasn't enough work to do!  Especially since we were planning to do a lot of things ourselves to save money.  And by 'we' I mean 'me' because I'm a control freak and didn't want to let anyone help me.

All that work culminated on July 27th and I am now married to the fiancé!  Well, he's earned an upgrade now so henceforth he is the Husband.  Or Hubby....hmm.  Possibly both.  I like both.  The wedding was just perfect.  The food was amazing!  So so good!  And there was much ceilidh dancing, even if some people never joined in!  As far as I understand it, everyone had a good time.

But your not here for the wedding.  Well, you are but it's a specific part.  A very important part.  One of those jobs I decided to take upon myself.  My pride as a baker demanded it!  As did the fact that I'm rather picky about my desserts.  And because we wanted to save money wherever we could.  You're here for the wedding cake! 

The wedding cake was the absolute last thing that had to be done before the wedding because we wanted it to be as fresh as possible on the day.  This wouldn't have been much of an issue if it had been a traditional fruit cake.  Those things keep well apparently.  Trouble is, we hate fruit cake.  So we had had a different plan.  We decided we wanted to have three tiers to our cake, but each would be a different flavour: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  Not only was it slight nod to the Hubby's Italian ancestry, but it would also mean that there would be something that everyone would like (with the exception of people like my brother who do not like cake at all), including us.  But, like I said, they would not keep as well as fruit cake so it had to be a day before thing.  Admittedly, yes, I could have made them earlier, frozen them and got them out the day before to decorate but 1) there was no room in the freezer due to space being taken up by the 460 biscuits I had made for favours and 2) I wouldn't be able to freeze any leftovers after the wedding.  And there would be a lot of leftovers because this cake is big.  Much bigger than our small wedding needed but when I think wedding cake I think big.  So big it was.

The plan was simple.  I would bake all the cakes on Friday.  I would then decorate and stack the cakes on Saturday, in between going to lunch with my family, who were travelling up from England, and looking after Jess when she was dropped off at my flat in the evening.  For the most part, this plan was fairly successful.  The only hiccup was that I slightly underestimated my amounts when scaling my recipes for each cake.  I had initially planned for two layers per cake, but they ended up a bit thin and I had to make extra.  Hence why the vanilla and strawberry cakes have 3 layers rather than 2.  I readjusted my estimates for the chocolate one before I attempted to bake it and they turn out fine.  At least I had bought plenty of ingredients, with the exception of strawberries.  The Hubby had to be sent out to the shops on Saturday morning for more before I could make the final strawberry layer.

So there are 8 layers spread amongst three tiers in this cake.  And all 8 layers were baked in one tin, one at a time (with the exception of the strawberry because they were smaller) because my oven is tiny.  Once again, I will need to gush about how much I love my Alan Silverwood Multisize Foldaway Cake Pan.  It is the most fabulous cake tin!  I can use it to make cakes of all sizes (such as all three sizes for this wedding cake) and it stores flat so it does not take up space in my cupboard.  AND, because it can be taken apart, removing the cakes from it is ridiculously easy.  The only thing you have to be careful of is making sure all the edges are well covered in parchment as the inside dividers have slats on the base to help them fit together and if you are not careful, batter will escape.  The pan did a great job with all my cakes.  I am so grateful I had it.  Aside from that slight hiccup I mentioned, the baking went well.  I had not really been worried about the baking.  It was the decorating that I was dreading.

Whilst I will always appreciate a beautifully decorated cake, I find I often have little patience for anything overly fiddly.  I like things simple.  The original plan for the wedding cake was simple.  Basic covering of fondant and then maybe some flair added through stripes, textures and very simple icing work.  However, about 2 months before the wedding I had a thought.  Said thought had stemmed from a discussion with the Hubby about what our wedding topper should be.  We'd been entertaining the idea of chess pieces at the time but then it was suggested (I forget who by) that we have penguins.  Specifically, the penguins featured on our invitations which I had made to imitate Penguin Classics books.  It seemed perfect and tied in wonderfully, though it added to my list of jobs as I was the one who was going to make them.

But with penguins for toppers and a book theme to our invitations I started thinking 'what about books for our wedding cake?'  It could be a stack of white books.  In theory it wouldn't be much harder than the original plan.  It was still basically an all over cover job with fondant.  I would just have to do some things a bit different.  It didn't seem like it would be too hard but just in case, I kept it secret from most people.  That way, if it didn't work out, I could go back to the first plan and no one would be any the wiser.  Sneaky, I know.

I admit, I have forgotten how frustrating fondant can be.  Despite my best efforts and liberal applications of icing sugar it would stick to EVERYTHING except the cake.  And it would stretch out of shape after I had cut it to size so in the end I just got it roughly the size and shape I wanted and then trimmed it once it was in place on the cake.  This was trickiest on the sides but I managed.  Once I was able to complete the first tier, the others did not look as daunting and, whilst not perfect, the effect looked rather good.

The bottom tier was by far the best.  I really should have cut the other two so they were flat.  The curving on the chocolate cake meant the strawberry didn't sit properly on it when stacked and I was annoyed with it for ages.  However, I was impressed that I managed to stack it at all (having never done it before) and it stayed intact on the journey between the flat and the hotel.  Having never stacked a tiered cake before I had been fearful it would get damaged in transit.  But nope!  It made it all the way.  And then the hotel did an excellent job of presenting it on the actual day, making it look like the slanted placement was deliberate.  So I was much happier with it after that.    As I said, it was by no means perfect.  The finishing could be smoother but hey, I'm not a professional cake decorator.  I loved it and everyone thought it looked good too (though obviously they have to be nice to me because I was the bride).

But you know me.  I am always concerned about taste as well as appearance.  I was so anxious when it was finally served during the reception.  There was a lot more than necessary so there was plenty of choice.  And clearly all flavours were enjoyed as many people tried all three and went back for more.  I only had the vanilla but it was the BEST vanilla cake I have ever made.  All those vanilla beans really improved the flavour.  According to the Hubby, the strawberry cake tasted much more of strawberries this time around and the chocolate cake was wonderfully fudgy.  All in all, I was pleased and proud of this cake.  It looked good and it tasted good!  I couldn't really ask for more.  And there were plenty of leftovers which have gone into the mother-in-law's freezer, so that's a bonus! 

Serves 226 (1x1inch slices) or 113 (1x2inch slices) 

Bottom Tier - Vanilla Bean - adapted from The Good Food Channel:
  • 12 eggs (approximately 750g/26.5oz)
  • Caster sugar equal to the weight of 12 eggs in their shells
  • Salted butter equal to the weight of 12 eggs in their shells
  • Self-raising flour equal to the weight of 12 eggs in their shells
  • 4.5 vanilla beans
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Grease and line three 30x23cm (12x9inch) cake tins with baking parchment. (You can do this with one tin, you'll just have to bake each layer one at a time). 
  3. Separate the eggs and whisk the egg whites until they reach the soft peak stage.
  4. Remove the seeds from the vanilla beans. 
  5. Put the butter, sugar and vanilla seeds into a large bowl and beat until really pale and fluffy. 
  6. Whisk the egg yolks and vanilla extract together and add to the butter mix a little at a time, folding it in to add air to the mixture.
  7. Sift in the flour and fold that in also.
  8. Add the egg whites and fold those in too until you cannot see any white in the mixture.
  9. Pour one third of the mixture into each tin and use a spatula to make sure it is evenly spread. (If using one tin, cover the rest of the batter with clingfilm between bakes).
  10. Bake each layer in the oven for about 1 hour.  The sponge should be springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.
  11. Allow to rest in the tins for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and removing the paper.  Leave to cool completely.

Middle Tier - Chocolate - adapted from Mary Berry's Baking Bible:
  • 115g/4oz cocoa powder
  • 12 tbsp boiling water
  • 6 eggs
  • 100ml/3.5fl.oz whole milk
  • 350g/12oz self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 200g/7oz salted butter
  • 550g/20oz caster sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line two 25x18cm/10x8inch cake tins with baking parchment. (Or one tin and then do it again for the second layer).
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cocoa powder and the water into a paste.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat the mixture until it becomes smooth and thick.
  4. Divide equally between the two cake tins and smooth the surface.
  5. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  6. Allow to rest in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack, removing the parchment and leaving to cool completely.

Top Tier - Strawberry - adapted from Smitten Kitten:
  • 370g/13oz plain flour
  • 60g/2oz cornflour
  • 400g/14oz caster sugar
  • 3.5 tsp baking powder
  • 225g/8oz slightly salted butter
  • Approximately 350g/12oz strawberries
  • 6 egg whites
  • 120ml/4fl.oz whole milk
  • A couple of drops of pink food gel (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line three 20x15cm/8x6inch cake tins (again, it is possible to do this one at a time with one tin).
  2. Sift the plain flour and cornflour together into a large bowl, add the sugar, baking powder and salt and give everything a good mix.  
  3. Purée the strawberries and add them and the butter to the dry ingredients and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites with the food gel (if using).
  5. Add the egg whites a little at a time to the batter, beating after each edition until just incorporated.
  6. Divide the mixture between the pans.
  7. Bake for at least 35 minutes but cakes may take as long as 50 minutes.  Cakes should be risen, springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
  8. Allow to rest in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.  Cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Buttercream:
  • 250g/9oz salted butter
  • 500g/18oz icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp whole milk 
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
You will need to make two batches of this.  One batch is enough for the bottom tier whilst the other batch does both the middle and top tiers.  It's just easier to do it as two as it is easier to divide up the mixture, and puts less pressure on your mixer.
  1. Beat the butter until it is very pale and creamy.
  2. Sift in the icing sugar and add the milk and vanilla extract.
  3. Beat the ingredients together until well combined and you get a smooth buttercream. 

  • 4kg/9lbs ready to roll fondant icing
  • 1 jar of strawberry jam
  • Gold lustre dust (optional)
  • Cold water
  • Icing sugar
  • Cake boards (one thick 12x12inch, one thin 10x10inch, one thin 8x8inch)
  1. Cut the two thin cake boards to match the dimensions of the middle and top tiers of cake.  Set aside.
  2. Dust a cool surface with plenty of icing sugar and roll out about 500g fondant icing into a rectangle that is just slightly bigger than the base area of the bottom tier.
  3. Place icing rectangle onto the centre of the 12x12inch cake board.
  4. Place one layer of vanilla cake on top of the icing rectangle so that one long edge of cake is lined up exactly with one long edge of icing.  The rest should poke out like the cover of a book.
  5. Coat the top of the cake layer with 1/4 of the first batch of vanilla buttercream, leaving a slight border around the edge. 
  6. Coat the underside of another cake layer with jam and then sandwich on top of the first layer, jam side down.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the third layer.
  8. Reserve slightly less than half of the remaining buttercream and then use the rest to thickly cover the top of the third layer.
  9. Measure the height of the cake.  Roll out and cut three rectangles of fondant.  Two will be for the short sides of the cake and one for one of the long sides.  I recommend making them slightly bigger because fondant can stretch out of shape and I found it easier just to trim it once I had it where I wanted.
  10. Cover the sides of the cake in the remaining buttercream and use it to help fix the fondant to the cake.  Trim any excess.
  11. Use a tiny bit of water to fuse the joins at the corners together.
  12. Use a straight edged object, like a clean ruler, and press lines into the covered sides to create the effect of pages.
  13. Now you need to roll out a piece of fondant big enough to cover the top of the cake, with a slight overhang, and the remaining long side.
  14. Gently lay over the top and down the side of the cake and press into place.  Trim off unwanted excess.
  15. Use a dowel rod to make an indentation about 1inch in from the the book's 'spine' on the top of the icing.
  16. If you want, you can use a lustre dust mixed with a tiny bit of water to paint decoration onto the book.  You can also use fondant to make raised decoration, like book seals, spine decoration and bookmarks.  Patterned rolling pins can be used to add some texture.
  17. The steps for the middle and top tiers are practically the same.  However, the filling for the chocolate cake is just buttercream, no jam.  Also, I did not put fondant on the thin cake boards.  I added the 'bottom cover' of the books after they were stacked.

  • White plastic dowel rods
  • Some fondant icing
  • Cold water
  • Icing sugar
  1. Place a dowel rod into the centre of the bottom tier, pushing it all the way through.  
  2. Mark where the top of the cake meets the dowel rod and remove.
  3. Cut the dowel rod to size.  This can be done by sawing through it with a serrated knife.
  4. Cut about 8 dowel rods to the same size.  You can cut more if you want.
  5. Place these into the bottom tier within the area you want the middle tier to sit.  
  6. Dust the area with icing sugar.
  7. Place the middle tier on top of the dowelled area.
  8. Dowel the middle tier in the same manner as the bottom tier.  You can use fewer dowels as the top tier is not as heavy.
  9. Sharpen the end of a dowel rod that is equal to the height of all the cakes and push it through the top tier, through the cake board and into the middle tier, through the second cake board, through the bottom tier until you hit the cake board at the base.  If you don't have a long enough dowel (I didn't) do this once for the bottom and middle tiers and again for the top and middle tiers.
  10. Cover the hole the dowel made in the top tier with fondant, using a little water and icing sugar to hide the patch.  If you want to be fancy, you could make a little 'cover' decoration to hide the dowel.  Otherwise, if you are having a topper that can also disguise the patch.

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