Although people get married all year long, summertime is definitely peak wedding season. Among the myriad tasks that future brides and grooms need to accomplish before the big night, choosing the type of wedding cake can be one of the trickiest – and after the bride’s gown, it is the next most important part of the celebration.
For a number of years, wedding cakes were less popular, but now they are back in style, and bigger and more grandiose cakes are in high demand.
The first recorded mention of a wedding cake was during the Roman Empire, and there are many explanations for its modern shape as a multi-tiered concoction. One is that during the Middle Ages, presents were stacked high on a table in this shape, and another is that it resembled the spires of a church.
Wedding cakes are always white, as is the bride’s wedding dress, to symbolize chastity and virginity. Customarily, the bride and groom cut the first slice of the cake, to signify their first joint act as a married couple. Another custom is for the bride and groom to feed each other the first bite, as an expression of their commitment to each other.
In many countries, it is customary to save the top layer of the wedding cake, wrap it well, freeze it, and only take it out on the couple’s first anniversary or to welcome the birth of their first child (whichever comes first). There are numerous other customs and traditions connected to wedding cakes, most of which symbolize unity and a commitment to family.
In the early 20th century, wedding cakes were often made with dried fruit, since refrigeration was not as commonplace and fruit cakes would last longer. They were covered with icing made from sugar and fat, which would protect them even more. To this day, cakes made with dried fruit and alcohol and covered with marzipan or sugar paste are still quite popular in the UK.
While wedding cakes in the 1950s and 1960s were relatively modest, the 1970s brought about a new decadence, as wedding cakes began to grow in height and grandiosity. It was common for cakes to be made with three or four tiers, and oftentimes little dolls in the image of a groom and bride would be placed on top. The taste of these cakes was less of a focus, and icing for the most part was made from margarine and lots of cream.
In the last decade, sugar paste has become a central ingredient of wedding cake decoration, and the biggest change is that cakes are now baked using high quality ingredients and are incredibly tasty. In fact, some are so gorgeous that they are considered to be edible artwork. Many are created to tell a story about the happy couple, and can take hours to create by professionals.
In addition, wedding cakes nowadays tend to include stylized flowers and edible lace. Some people like folds and elegant styles, while others like gold and silver and ribbons. Naked cakes, which are bare on the side so that you see all the layers of cream, are extremely popular these days, as are cakes adorned with real flowers, fruit and macaroon cookies.
I was interested in learning more about wedding cakes, and so I invited the incredible cake designer and sugar paste maven Limor Zisman to let me into her world for a few moments.
Zisman said she’s always loved making things with her hands, especially sculpting, but chose to study computer science and worked as a programmer for many years. When she met her husband, who had made aliyah from France, she was introduced to the world of French pastries and fell madly in love. She signed up for an evening course, and when her sister got married, Zisman offered to prepare the wedding cake. Of course, it was a huge success, and the rest is history.
Three-tier wedding cake
This cake can be made as a 12 cm., 18 cm. or 24 cm.-diameter cake.
Wedding cakes can be covered with fresh or edible flowers, fruit, roses, cookies and macaroons.
The amounts listed below are for a 18 cm. cake. To prepare a 24 cm. cake, double the amounts, and to prepare a 12 cm. cake, halve the amounts.
Tall vanilla cake
The icing is applied only after the cake has been refrigerated for 24 hours.
Use a round pan with a diameter of 18 cm. and height of 10 cm.
6 large eggs
1½ cups (300 g.) sugar
1½ cups (350 ml.) oil
1½ containers of sour cream
3 cups (420 g.) baking flour, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Beat the eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed for two minutes. While mixing, gradually add the sugar, oil and sour cream. Add the flour and mix well. Pour the batter into a well-greased pan and bake in a 160° pre-heated oven for 90 to 120 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs. Let the cake cool slightly, and then cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge or freezer. Cut the cake into two or three layers and remove crumbs. Cut off rough edges so that the cake is straight and smooth.
*The quantities for the ganache and icing are enough for one cake. You can double or triple it according to your needs.
Bittersweet chocolate ganache icing
Makes enough to cover one cake.
200 ml. sweet cream
250 g. bittersweet chocolate (at least 55% cocoa)
Pour the cream into a pan and bring almost to a boil. Add the chocolate and wait 30 seconds. Mix well until smooth and shiny.
Makes enough for one cake.
250 ml. whipping cream
1 Tbsp. instant vanilla pudding powder
100 g. Nutella
Whip the cream with the pudding powder until smooth and firm. Fold in the Nutella and mix well.
Sugar Paste icing
Use 700 g. sugar paste to cover cake, with a little cornflour for rolling it out.Tipascale
• If you’d like your cake to be parve, substitute water, parve cream, soy milk or orange juice (1 container of cream = 200 ml.) in place of the sour cream.
• If you’d like to make a chocolate cake, replace some of the flour with 100 g. cocoa powder made from 1 cup of Shokolit chocolate powder and 50 g. (1/3 cup) cocoa powder, sifted.
• If you don’t have large pans, you can use jachnun pots instead.
• If you plan on using real flowers, cover the stems with scotch tape so that they don’t contaminate the cake.
• It’s best if you use two pans that are 5 cm. high. Line them with baking paper that reaches over the edges of the pan. Baking time would then be reduced to 60 minutes.
• All baking utensils and materials can be purchased in specialty stores.
• These cakes are heavy, and so you will need to add cake dowels in all supporting layers. Use plastic or wood dowels with a diameter of 0.5 – 1 cm. This way, any upper tiers won’t cause the cake below it to cave in. Text and styling: Pascale Perez-Rubin
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