"A party without a cake is just a meeting" ~ Julia Child
Have you ever been to an event, seen the cake, and exclaimed "I can do that!" If you're a passionate baker and you're up for the challenge, this post is going to walk you through the process of a large scale event cake.
Before you begin planning, I'd like to point out a few things to consider:
- Do not make a cake for your *own* event.
- Do not make the cake for an event in which you are actively involved in the ceremony.
- Try and avoid common allergens (e.g. peanuts).
- Do not offer to make a cake for an event if you have *never* made one before.
- Do not go beyond four tiers.
Collapsing cakes will result in tears, a rush for store-bought ice cream and perhaps even a YouTube video immortalizing the event that somebody took on their phone. It will not be pretty, though you will finally understand why VATEL threw himself on his sword over a fish delivery.
Please be realistic about your skill set and time constraints. Though your heart is absolutely in the right place, the effective execution of a large display cake is not as easy as it looks (no matter what Food Network says! ) and will take up a large portion of your time on the day it is due.
You don't want your efforts to end up on a video like this:
It is a fact that you will spend more time than you previously calculated delivering/ assembling etc.. in the kitchen on the day of the event. I can almost guarantee you that the kitchen you're delivering to will have forgotten about your cake and will need to move pans of dripping chicken or waxy cases of lettuce in order to accommoate your masterpiece.
Arguing your cake's value in this world (a foreign concept to line-cooks) and thus deserving of the smallest slice of precious real estate that is a walk-in refrigerator will take time. In the end, you can just hope that they won't place it underneath precariously balanced prosciuttos. Ask me how I know. Ask ahead about refrigerator space if you are bringing a cake to someone's home. Refrigerators tend to be packed full if someone is hosting an event in their homes. A large cake may not fit in a home refrigerator even if it is empty, so do take that into consideration.
Also, please be realistic about missing the event before you offer to make the cake. I am a professional pastry chef (so it's safe to assume I know what I'm doing), and the three wedding cakes I've done for my friends have resulted in my largely missing the ceremonies.
Though I knew this would be the case before I offered, it stings my heart that my work was a showpiece in their weddings, yet I mised the ceremonies themesleves. Given this, I'll ask you to seriously consider what you're getting into before you offer to make your best friend's wedding cake.
It is highly likely that you will be baking and assembling tiers of cake or attending to last minute decorations while the rehersal dinner is going on or people are at the religious service.
There is no question your heart is in the right place if you're offering to make the cake, please consider if missing the ceremony is a sacrifice you're willing to make. If it is not, please hand the job over to someone less emotionally involved or a professional.
Have I scared you yet? No? Okay, let's get to it! :)
The first thing you're going to need to do is figure out how many layers you need.
Cakes can (and often are) propped up on a false tier in order to make them look larger than they actually are. So if you have a relatively small cake that you'd like to look more generous and striking, consider a false bottom tier or an elaborate stand to help enhance the cake size that you're working with.
This is a wonderful article on how to incorporate false tiers or even Fake your Cake in order to save money but not scrimp on presentation.
You will then need to consider the flavor(s) of your cake.
When choosing a flavor, it is important to consider your audience's preferences. As a general rule, people enjoy what they are familiar with. As much as you might want to pull out all the proverbial stops and really showcase your flavor matching talent, a green-tea/wasabi cake is probably not appropriate for your aunt's 90th birthday at the nursing home.
This step is very important and is much more involved than many people realize. The first decision to make is:
- Do I want the entire cake to be the same flavor?
- Would I prefer the layers to be individual flavors?
If the entire cake is one flavor, it is easier on the baker, but it must be very "crowd friendly" or something that everyone enjoys. My suggestion in this case is to stick with familiar flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, lemon etc..
If the cake tiers are different flavors, you need to decide which tier is what flavor and make sure the fillings are all similar in their storage requirements. For example, if the cake is to be left out as a display, the filling of any layer must not require refrigeration.
Be aware that different tiered flavors will also slow down the cutting/distribution process as people will have to be informed of the flavors and given a choice. Cakes with varying tiers are not a "slice and serve" situation and require a lot more active participation on the part of the person doing the serving. So be sure someone is available and up for the challenge before you create multiple tiers to slice and serve.
This is a great video explaining how to make a basic cake from scratch. It is important to realize that you don't need a million different cake recipes and a single one that can be varied in multiple ways is a good thing to have in your cake arsenal.
Keep in mind that a simple vanilla cake can be modified to make a carrot, lemon, cinnamon, coconut or fruit cake (such as strawberry) with very little effort.
This SITE is a wonderful resource for all sorts of recipes that will feed 100 - 150+ people. Check it out and modify the recipes as needed for your event. Alternately, rest assured that if a troop ship suddenly pulls up to the beach in front of your condo and they want salad *right now* this site will cover your needs. :)
As a side note: I will always recommend a cake made with an oil (rather than butter) as the fat of choice for event cakes.
Butter based cakes (though delicious) are heavier and will be *rock hard* if they're not served at room temperature. There is too much variation as to when your cake will be presented and cut, so do yourself a favor and make your desired cake flavor with oil. The resulting cake will be softer and lighter. An oil based cake relieves the stress of trying to get the kitchen staff to pull your cake out of the refrigerator in a timely way. Instead, focus your flavor intensity on how you soak your cake and your frostings/fillings. I promise that your cake will be unbelievably delicious without the worry of your cake appearing "dry" as an improperly served butter cake would.
The next thing to consider is how your cake will be decorated.
Of course, all decorations will need to be considered as appropriate for their venue. Keep in mind that you don't want to have a butter cream flower cake at a July outdoor wedding in Texas. Alternately, a butter cream covered flower cake should ideally be served at room temperature; so it also doesn't make a good choice for a venue that will need to keep your cake in the refrigerator until it is served because of space constraints. Eating what is essentially sweetened ice-cold butter is not appetizing and will not showcase your talents to their fullest.
So while it is important to consider the venue for the event, it is more important to consider the decorations if you're intending on creating one of the 'shaped cakes' that are so popular.
Shaped cakes require a stiff and sturdy cake (think: pound cake) with a sturdy filling (think: butter cream only). So that they can be carved and covered properly. If your heart is set on a shaped cake, it also needs to *not* be set on a soft mousse or fruit filling. Soft fillings will not hold the shape necessary and will tend to leak through your fondant or modeling chocolate covering. Obviously resulting in disaster.
This is an important point so I will repeat:
"Do not consider any filling other than butter cream if you are making a shaped cake."
To illustrate an example of what I'm talking about regarding a shaped cake, check out this video.
Be sure to click "YouTube' in order to see the picture.
I am seriously in love with this adorable dinosaur and wish someone would make it for my birthday! The shaped cake trend also includes designer purses, pets, iconic buildings etc.. so have fun creating your work of art, but do be sure to take the extra precautions in order to ensure that it will hold together properly.
Though I love the sweet dinosaur pictured above, this video more accurately illustrates what I'm describing.
Sugar or Gumpaste Flowers/Decorations:
|Rose and Hydrangea Sugar Flowers - Mine|
Given this fact, sugar flowers are a popular way to create gorgeous blooms that can also double as keepsakes. After the event, the flowers can be removed from the cake and if they are stored properly, will last indefinitely.
When deciding on what flowers to create, some things to consider are, of course, the venue and event.
However, I've also had customers create flowers that lovingly reminded them of departed relatives or a past event in their lives. One man choose a specific rose that his now-deceased mother grew because it reminded him of gardening with her as a child. Another choose the groom's grandmother's favorite Lilly as a quite homage to her love and influence on his life. A pair of high-school sweethearts choose the flowers they used at their senior prom.
Beyond their obvious beauty, sugar flowers offer a lovely, discreet way to incorporate personal memories of lost relatives and friends or pay a private tribute to a special time.
This medium can be used in much the same way as gumpaste, but unlike gumpaste, is intended to be eaten and tastes a bit like a Tootsie Roll candy.
This video not only illustrates how to make modeling chocolate (chocolate plastique) but also how to make a simple, yet gorgeously striking cake with the medium.
Transportation and Assembly:
I will always recommend that non-professionals assemble the cake on-site as much as possible.
When cakes are delivered already tiered, there is often a pastry newbie in the back hanging onto the box for their dear lives. If no such assistant exists for you and you still need to deliver the cake tiered, this is a great video showing how to make a cake delivery box. Just be sure the box is *secure* and will not shake or bounce as you drive.
Another advantage to placing your finished cake in a box is that it will protect your cake from street dirt etc.. as it is delivered.
When delivering a cake, be sure to have a backup of extra frosting, spatulas, scissors, flowers, decorations etc... for any on-site touch ups that might be needed.
It is also helpful if you take a picture of how you leave the cake. Hopefully you will never need to produce it, but proof that your cake was gorgeous and pristine when you left it will help mitigate any accusations that the cake fell or otherwise turned into a disaster because of your lack of efforts.
Hopefully I've proven that "a piece of cake" is a lot more than might meet the eye. I do hope that some of my troubleshooting tips will help you create the cream filled masterpiece of your dreams.
In any event, I assure you that the beauty of the final presentation, the love that went into making it and the smiles it elicits will make your efforts more than worthwhile. Good luck!