Baking My First Wedding Cake

photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com, flowers by Dinah's Floral Studio 

photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com, flowers by Dinah's Floral Studio 

This is a story of a cake, a cross-country friendship, and some truly whacky problem solving. It starts though in Punta Gorda, Florida, March 2012, where I had the good fortune of being on the same Penn Alternate Spring Break (ASB) trip as Amanda Liew (now Amanda Hill). Amanda and I were in the same sorority, Chi Omega (#DiscouragedNever), but we were different pledge classes, so I didn't know her very well before this trip. Doing ASB was probably the best activity I did during college because it pulled students from totally different corners of campus--people I wouldn't have gotten to know otherwise--and stuck them in a hot sweaty van traveling for 8+ hours in a new location with the focus of doing community service for a week. I did 3 trips as an undergrad, and walked away with some of the closest friends in my life--people I've kept in touch with weekly since graduation. Amanda Liew was one of those people. After college she went into investment banking on Wall Street and I went to work in orthopedic surgery in Los Angeles--we literally couldn't have been further geographically. Luckily, we both love cards, snail mail, and small life consistencies so we never fell into that dangerous "sorry I haven't spoken to you for 6 months....how is life?" pattern that it's easy to get into when you live far apart. Through the years there were major changes--I got into medical school and moved back to SLC! Amanda quit i-banking! There were dates and break-ups! We briefly reunited in NYC after my MS1 year! I remember when she called me during my second year after meeting Caleb, her now husband, and how excited she was. But not like normal excited (we are both enthusiastic people) but like this-could-be-life-changing excited. Pretty soon I was Skyping them in October, hearing about their engagement! 

So when Amanda called in January as I was walking out of the hospital on my surgery rotation and started the conversation with, "You can totally say no to this and it won't be a problem, but would you make our wedding cake?" well let's just say I'm sure it was an easy yes when Caleb asked Amanda to marry him, but this was also a very, very easy yes. When your cross-country wavelength girl needs a cake, it's freaking go-time--even if it's in the middle of your OB rotation. This is how it all went down: 

First, what kind of cake?!

I told 'mans that I would put anything under the stars between the cake tiers, but I had to work with white cake. I must admit, although I love eating chocolate cake, chocolate cake is a pain in the butt to work with sometimes, and I haven't quite figured out the chemistry as to why (any bakers out there know? holler at me). It is more crumbly, doesn't bake evenly (I have had many of the dreaded cake domes that I had to cut off), and the crumb coat is more difficult and less forgiving than with white cake. I am 100% in a committed relationship with this white cake recipe (I just left out the sprinkles), and so that's what I used. It's sturdy, tastes great, and accepts frosting with loving arms. For the filling Amanda and Caleb wanted raspberry buttercream, with white frosting on the outside.  

I used  this  recipe for the raspberry buttercream! Make sure you allow all your ingredients to come to room temp so that you don't curdle the the frosting. Whip it really well! 

I used this recipe for the raspberry buttercream! Make sure you allow all your ingredients to come to room temp so that you don't curdle the the frosting. Whip it really well! 

How many Tiers?! 

Amanda and Caleb originally wanted 2 tiers, but when I told them it honestly wasn't going to be much more work to make a third tiny tier on top, they elected to go with 3 which I was excited about because it meant more baking! And more height. More = better. Since the official dessert of the wedding was going to be donuts (and boy were they delish) I didn't have to worry about this cake feeding everyone (it ended up that everyone got a slice anyways), but it was nice that I didn't have to stress about that as much. After going back and forth between a 12-10-8-inch tiered cake and 10-8-6-inch one I went with the latter. The former would have been too big to fit on my decorating stand and I think the 6-inch cake on top is so cute. 

Now came the math: let me just say, all that math I did in high school and college finally paid off. I was balancing fractions here, solving for x, even threw some long division in there just to prove I still had it. Basically, I figured out how much 1 recipe of cake batter weighed, quadrupled it, and figured out how to divide it up to make 9 cakes that would all be the same height. Oh and I did this all on a J. Crew magazine because I was too lazy to find paper. So here it is. 

The Practice Run

Safe to say, I did not want the first time I made a wedding cake to be for the real, literal wedding. Luckily, I happen to know about 100 medical students who will attend various student-interest-group meetings in hopes of getting free pizza, so I was hoping they would do the same for free cake sans meeting. I made a full 3-tiered cake with the measurements from above and I was so glad I did because I ended up completely changing the frosting recipe and I got to mess around with various frosting-texturizing methods on the outside (more on that in a future post). I invited a bunch of post-call/pre-call student docs over and we made an event out of demolishing my practice run. 

the timeline

So a couple things I haven't mentioned yet: I was also a bridesmaid in this wedding, I was on my OB rotation during this time, and the wedding was in beautiful San Diego. Basically we had a time crunch situation on our hands. I was allowed 1 extra day to take off that week from my clerkship director but that still didn't leave enough time to bake, frost and assemble an entire cake. Not to mention the bridesmaid activities I needed to be at, plus I needed to find time to wash my hair and look presentable for photos (powdered sugar doesn't make the best dry shampoo). From the practice run I knew the cake would take about 5 hours to bake and cool and then frosting would be another 8-10, counting in time for it to chill. After reworking the timeline a million times I was left with 1 crazy idea: bake the cake in Utah and transport it to San Diego. When I floated this option to Amanda I was scared she would be uneasy about it but she trusted my instincts and pretty much said, do what you gotta do! 

CALLING TSA and getting through the airport

Luckily, cakes freeze BEAUTIFULLY. I can't say enough good things about freezing cake. Knowing this, I bought a bunch of cardboard rounds in 6-inch, 8-inch, and 10-inch sizes so that I could wrap the baked cakes on them individually and they would hold their shape. I baked all the cakes over the span of 2 days, placed each one on a cardboard round, wrapped them all in several layers of saran-wrap and tin foil and froze them. Even though I felt they were pretty sturdy, I was too anxious to risk putting them in a checked bag--what if it got lost?! What if they ended up smashed? Carrying them on was the best option, and so I called TSA at my airport and asked them if they would allow me to carry on a cake. To my surprise, they said YES! So on the day of my flight I came home from clinic and took the frozen cakes out minutes before I had to leave, put them in a gigantic Lululemon bag, and headed for the airport. I kept the bag close at all times, and with the exception of a couple weird looks from the people behind me in security, I got them through their maiden voyage without a hitch! Once at Amanda's house in San Diego I put them immediately in the freezer again. 

my baking supplies bag! prepared for anything.

my baking supplies bag! prepared for anything.

commemorating life's big moments via SnapChat.

commemorating life's big moments via SnapChat.

assembly san diego 

My first morning in San Diego I woke up and got to work! Took the cakes out of the freezer to thaw, made the raspberry buttercream and a triple batch of white icing. Amanda's mom, who I call Mama Liew, kept my strength up by force-feeding me pigs-in-a-blanket every couple of hours (thanks Mama Liew!). Amanda and the rest of the bridesmaids were DIY-ing up a storm and taking care of last minute details. It was such a fun day! I had 2 tiers done by the time we had to leave for the rehearsal dinner, and I finished the last one when we got back that night. 

Janet, another bridesmaid and Penn gal (above) was my eye for if things looked even or not and helped me stack the cakes! Lifesaver.

Janet, another bridesmaid and Penn gal (above) was my eye for if things looked even or not and helped me stack the cakes! Lifesaver.

I tried to stay contained by ended up taking over the Liew's entire kitchen O_o Amanda's parents were so sweet and made sure I had all the ingredients I needed! 

I tried to stay contained by ended up taking over the Liew's entire kitchen O_o Amanda's parents were so sweet and made sure I had all the ingredients I needed! 

thick raspberry buttercream

thick raspberry buttercream

scraping down the first layer! 

scraping down the first layer! 

fresh raspberries between layers--gotta love California produce. 

fresh raspberries between layers--gotta love California produce. 

By far, my favorite moment of the entire weekend (aside from seeing Amanda marry her best friend!) was stacking the tiers. I felt like all the work had been leading up to this moment and I was So. Nervous. Thankfully Amanda was outside practicing her first dance with Caleb so she didn't see me wringing my hands in the kitchen, so riddled with anxiety about this part! Luckily Janet, Amanda's brother Jordan and her dad Michael were all there to help out. We found the biggest knives in the kitchen to help lift the cakes and then everyone gave me instructions on how it was looking: a little to the left! more over here! nope that is too much! come this way! I was SO THANKFUL they were there. I didn't have help when I stacked my trial run and one of the tiers was crooked and I hated it. With them helping me they went on straight and even, and we all high-fived each other after like we had just finished a marathon. It was a great moment, one I'll always treasure. 

sittin' pretty! 

sittin' pretty! 

the final push 

Wedding day morning was filled with curling irons, lots of mascara, happy tears, and everyone ooohing and ahhhing over the wedding dress and bridesmaids' dresses. It was so fun getting ready with everyone at Amanda's childhood home. We had gone back and forth about the best way to transport the cake to the oceanside ceremony--at first Caleb's cousins were going to do it but that didn't end up working out, and honestly I wanted to see this thing through to the end. I had read online about cake-transporting methods but they were pretty complicated. To many protests, I decided that I would ride in the back of the family minivan, with the other bridesmaids up front (holding 200 donuts!) and stabilize the cake. Yes, it was probably dangerous and definitely illegal but the cake just was not going to stay still otherwise. On another note, I'm just shy of 6 feet, and I was actually so excited that I could fit back here. I put it on a suitcase to raise the cake up a little and a silplat on top of a cookie sheet to minimize sliding. Since I couldn't see the road the bridesmaids would yell directions like "left turn ahead! going downhill! sharp right! stop sign!" so that I knew what way to brace for. It made the 20 minute ride just great and we transported it into the reception venue where the florist (Dinah's Floral Studio) added the final touch--beautiful succulents and greenery! 

...and we have a wedding cake! 

Not much else to say here! The flowers totally brought the whole look together and the new frosting recipe I used held up great in the San Diego sun! Everyone got to try a piece which made me happy :) there is really nothing better then getting to bake for people, especially people you adore! 

photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com, flowers by Dinah's Floral Studio 

photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com, flowers by Dinah's Floral Studio 

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stealing a moment with the beautiful bride!!! photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com

stealing a moment with the beautiful bride!!! photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com

these two! photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com

these two! photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com

photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com

photo by the amazing Natalie Franke, nataliefranke.com

Thank you so much Amanda and Caleb for letting me be part of your incredible day!