A few months ago, my brother called to ask me to bake his wedding cake. It wasn’t completely out of left field, seeing as I had offered to, but with that phone call, it suddenly became very real. I’m a die hard DIY-er. I earned the nickname of Martha Stewart in my college dorm by cooking meals for friends on a contraband hot plate and occasionally mending clothing. However, not all of my DIY efforts turned out Martha Stewart quality, so I knew I had some careful planning to do. My goal was not only to give my brother and his wife a professional looking cake but to have it taste amazing too.
Since my brother and his (then) fiance live in New York and I live in Ohio, I had a conference call with them to get a feel for what they wanted. I originally suggested blueberry pies since it was going to be a Maine wedding and I knew my brother generally prefers pie over cake. He surprised me by wanting a traditional cake, so I said I could make a white cake with a blueberry filling, thinking it would be the best of both worlds. They both liked that idea, so settling in on a flavor was easy. They described the aesthetic of how they envisioned the wedding to me. They were renting an old farmhouse in Maine and the reception would be in the barn, which would be gussied up a bit for dancing. The vibe was rustic/ chic/ spare/ natural – so in short, like Maine itself. My concept for the cake was unfussy, simple frosting with piped borders, punctuated with occasional blueberries and leaves. I wanted to celebrate the legendary bounty of blueberries in Maine, but I wasn’t sure if they’d be quite ripe when we’d be there. So I made them in advance out of sugar dough (that sounds so much better than the more common terminology of gum paste, don’t you think? Gum paste sounds doubly unappetizing!)
Determined to make the BEST possible cake and the BEST possible frosting and filling, I hit the library and combed the internet. The cake batter and frosting recipes I settled on were from my nickname-sake, Ms. Martha Stewart herself. But heck if I could find a recipe for blueberry cake filling. I searched the internet high and low and only really found one. Was there a reason people didn’t use blueberries in wedding cakes? Did I not know about some physical property of blueberries that made them a terrible idea to use? Would they not thicken? Leach out into the cake in an unattractive way?
I went blueberry picking to get started on recipe testing and to photograph berries to model my sugar berries after. I mentioned to the owner that I was stockpiling blueberries to test for a wedding cake filling, and she told me she knew of a lady who made cakes she filled with blueberry curd. Aha! I left armed with berries and a new search term to ply Google with. Bingo! I made a ~1/3 scaled down version of the final cake to test recipes and practice stacking, doweling, and decorating.
Making a test cake was INCREDIBLY helpful. It may seem like a waste of ingredients and time, but if you are about to embark on making a stacked cake for the first time, I highly recommend it. I skipped the middle tier AND I totally cheated and cut the rounds into halves to minimize the amount of test cake I would have to figure out what to do with. Even with those modifications, I learned a lot by making the tester. That practice cutting the cake into thinner layers gives you a teeny bit more confidence when you have to do it for real and you don’t want some layers to look way thick and some to be way thin. It helps you think through what to DO with the layers after you’ve cut them, i.e. devise a way to move them around without crumbling, and come up with a place to park one while you work on the other layer. I made a few recipe tweaks too. Every single step you practice ahead of time, even if you’ve made zillions of regular cakes before, will help you be more prepared for the big event.
My plan was to make all the sugar berries and bake the actual cake layers, wrap and freeze them, and transport them to the farmhouse so I’d be ahead of the game when I landed in Maine. How did it go in real life? I tucked my delicate berries into egg crate foam, and packed the cake in dry ice. I’d love to give a shout out to the incredibly helpful Delta flight attendants who even made room for my cake cooler in their special closet when they learned I was hauling wedding cake. The cakes and berries made it to New England intact!
The farmhouse they’d rented was charming. It had the benefit of having a second kitchen, which became my home base while I was finishing the cake. I thought I was so far ahead of the game having baked off the cakes and made the decorations in advance. I still had so much work to do making batches of the blueberry curd, the frosting, cutting, and assembling and then… my middle cake collapsed when I was putting it together. My mistake? I needed to let the frosting dam containing the blueberry filling firm up in the fridge before placing the next layer on top. Lesson learned. Permanently etched into my memory banks. Fortunately, I was working ahead, so I had time to re-do it. Give yourself way way way more time than you think you need.
It was a tremendous undertaking, but I was pretty dang proud with the end result! I finished the cake with just enough time to change and make myself presentable for the wedding ceremony. I cried so many tears of happiness throughout the whole thing, I was so full of joy for my brother and my new sister in law.
The wedding was the pinnacle of a magnificent week. Both the bride and groom’s families and friends piled into a massive, quirky and creaky old house, and perhaps miraculously, everyone got along. We shared so many wonderful meals. The musicians among us played their guitars in the evenings and the rest of us tried to sing along. We collectively slaughtered thousands of mosquitos in self-defense, cheering for each other when we won a battle, even if we ultimately lost the war. It was without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable weddings I’ve ever been to. I may have even done a cake victory dance with sparklers.