Saturday, January 31, 2015

A wedding cake and Tiramisu

This happened a while back, but it's definitely a story that should be preserved for posterity. 

It was Christmas 2009, my stepdaughter Maya was in town with her family.  She had been talking about getting married to her long-time fiancé that year, but as far as I knew no date had been set - and we were quickly running out of year to make the event happen. 

It was during during an informal family Christmas celebration on 12/28/09 (Monday) that she told the family about the small wedding she was planning for that Thursday (12/31/09).  The wedding was going to take place at her cousin Ryan's house and Maya's best friend was going to perform the ceremony.  She was inviting close family only, so she was expecting about 20 people. As I heard it the first time that night, that plans sounded good. 

After the Christmas party the I took the grand kids home with me, because they wanted to spend the night at Oma's house (i.e. my place).  We had a busy evening.  

My own wedding had been a small affair: justice of the peace, bride, groom, two witnesses and a red rose... so I didn't really think much more about the upcoming wedding that night.  

It wasn’t until the next day (Tuesday) I that I started thinking about the actual details of that little wedding get-together Maya was planning.  There were going to be 20 people at that house.  They were going to need something to eat or drink....

I decided that I'd buy some snacks, maybe some champagne, but then – as I was standing in front of a Black Forest cake at the bakery section of Sam’s club with my granddaughter - I suddenly realized that the traditional food for a wedding was actually – a cake….  Why had I not thought of that earlier? 

Hmm, wonder if Maya liked Black Forest cake?  Wonder if Maya was planning on buying a cake?  Wonder if Maya was planning on anything with regards to food and drink?

I called Maya from the store to inquire as to what her plans were – and if she liked Black Forest cake.  No luck on the Black Forest cake.  But as it turned out, Maya would like Tiramisu.  In terms of cake, she thought that it would probably be a good idea to have one.  She checked with her fiancé and found out that he didn't care one way or another about a specific cake flavor.  However, Maya informed me that she did not like the generic cake icing. 

At least I had a direction....

Now, where do I find Tiramisu?  On the way home I checked a few grocery stores for Tiramisu.  I figured that somebody would be selling it, but no such luck.  Maybe I was just going to have to make that myself.  Problem was that I had never made Tiramisu before.  Truth be told, I had never baked a cake either.... 

A few grocery store, liquor store and bakery store visits later, I gave up finding either Tiramisu or a cake at a store. 

That same evening (still Tuesday) I talked to my niece Ryan when she picked up my granddaughter from my house.  She had been thinking about food and drinks for the guests and she had bought some champagne for the wedding.  We decided that I was going to bring some extra champagne, glasses – and try my hand at cake and/or tiramisu.

The same night I found a recipe for Tiramisu on-line and on Wednesday morning I headed out to gather the necessary ingredients.  Turns out, making tiramisu was easy.  The most difficult thing was to find mascarpone cheese and lady fingers, but I found both eventually at Liquor Barn. After one final trip to Meijers to buy a suitable pan the Tiramisu was going to be “a go”.

Now on to the cake: As mentioned before, I had never baked a cake before, but baking a cake could not be that difficult to do.   My niece (the host) had assured me that baking a cake from a mix was no more difficult than making brownies.  Since I make a mean brownie from a mix, I figured that I could probably manage a cake.  After all, any cake I came up with was better than not having a cake at all……

First I needed to find the equipment for making cake.  Turns out, since my Mom bakes at my house, I actually have a lot of equipment for making cakes: The KitchenAid stand mixer complete with flat beater, wire whip and dough hook, 3 nesting spring forms and 3 cake carriers in different sizes – 2 tall, and one short.  It's all there.  In my pantry, I also had 3 different cake mixes (white, yellow and chocolate) that Mom had left when she was here last time.  I’d been looking at the mixes for a while but never felt inspired to actually make a cake.  This was my opportunity.

I decided to bake all three mixes for a 3 tiered cake - one flavor per tier.  That way, I would cover all possible flavor preferences that the guests may have. Luckily, I had all the other ingredients I needed to bake the cake mix. 

Last but not least, I needed to figure out how to make a non-traditional icing. Maya said she liked cream cheese icing.  Ryan suggested the whipped icing from the can – but I really wanted to attempt the German butter cream torte icing.

For the latter I needed a recipe… Thanks to the Internet, I found a recipe for the butter cream icing.  It called for Dr. Oetker vanilla pudding.  Since I didn't know how different American pudding was from the German Dr. Oetker vanilla pudding, I needed to get my hands on the real thing. 

By now it was late.  I knew that Meijer’s had an international section that may carry the pudding.  My other option was the Liquor Barn.  I also needed something to cut the cakes into layers and to spread the icing.  I had a vague memory of Mom using a long flat knife-looking-thing for that purpose. I found the pan for tiramisu and spreading knife, but not the pudding at Meijer’s.  We also picked up some seedless jam to spread between the cake layers, skewers to separate the tiers and some whipped frosting in the can, just in case.  My daughter and I got to the Liquor Barn just as it was closing and they would not let me in store on account of the blue laws in this town.  I even tried to argue with the guy at the door:  I explained that I didn't even want to buy alcohol there – just vanilla pudding - so clearly the blue laws didn't apply to me! I needed it for a wedding the next day, so clearly this was an emergency!  To no avail - he would not let me in.

When we came home around 10:30 PM (on Wednesday) I started on the cakes.  I needed to bake 3 cakes.  I could make them 2 at a time.  Now I needed toothpicks to check for doneness.  Unfortunately, my dog had just eaten my baggie with tooth picks a few days before.  What to do – what to do?  There were still a few toothpicks on the floor in the living room that had not been picked up after the dog incident.  Maybe I could wash and use those…. Luckily I found another box of tooth picks in a drawer before I had to resort to that option.  While the 3rd cake was baking I attempted to get the first cooled cake out of the spring form.  It fell apart on me at the edge. Apparently they were serious about the instructions to “cool completely” before removing from the form.  I got smarter on the other two – just loosened them at the edge and went to bed at about 2 am on Thursday (! - the day of the wedding for those of you paying attention).... 

Before falling asleep I looked up the construction of multi tiered cakes and found that people don’t just set them on top of each other.  They are separated by a board.  The Internet instructions suggested that you could just cut our cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil.  I had storage boxes in the basement that I could use for that purpose.  The empty box I found in the basement seemed reasonably clean with exception of the cat tracks on the top of the lid.  In my overtired state I figured that it could work out anyway since it was going to be covered in aluminum foil...

Thursday morning I got up at 9 am or so – the wedding was at 7 PM – and made a run to the Liquor Barn for pudding.  How many did I need? 6 sounded about right.  I made another trip to Michael’s for cake rounds and materials to pipe the icing.  I decided against the cardboard box since I figured that Maya would neither appreciate cat tracks – nor the discovery of the notation “Tat’s stuff - basement” on another support….

On to make the butter cream:  I made the pudding according to the recipe. Despite literally stirring constantly it still almost burned. Since I had never made pudding before, I didn't know that it was that sensitive. Put the pudding in the fridge to cool.  Then we wait – for the pudding in the fridge to reach the same temperature as the butter in the kitchen cabinet.  That took a while – and time was something I had very little of... 

While the butter was warming and the pudding was cooling I removed the cakes from the spring form, cut them into 2 layers and put jam onto the middle layer.  With the first cake I could not remember how the layers went back together after cutting the cake apart and spreading the jam between the layers.  Thanks to the uneven cutting I could figure it out though.  With the second cake I got smarter and put a toothpick above and below the cut to mark the location.  The smallest cake needed some fixing around the rim.  I cut it smaller using a cereal bowl as a guide. At this point I also cut the cake rounds to the right size and covered them in aluminum foil.

Finally I decided that the butter was the right temperature.  I attached the wire whisk attachment to the mixer and started adding small pats of butter to the bowl.  The first pat of butter got stuck inside of the KitchenAid's wire whisk attachment; the second pat did the same thing.  I was hoping that they’d eventually come back out once there was enough butter in the bowl, but no such luck.  3 sticks of butter later - all of the butter resided inside of the wire whisk.   Maybe this was not the attachment of choice…..  I retrieved the butter from the inside of the whisk with the help of a chop stick.  Then I tried my luck with the flat beater attachment. 

Tatijana’s boyfriend walked in about that time and asked me, if I had softened the butter?  Now you tell me! ….  I stuck the butter in the microwave for a minute and put it back in the mixer.  This was more like it.  Now we were making progress….  Finally, I added the pudding to the butter by the spoonful. At some point I was worried that there may not be enough room in the bowl.  But in the end I had a mass of icing with a pudding like consistency.  Pudding-like!  That's a problem, because - pudding does not pipe…..  This stuff was also more yellow than I remembered from my childhood. What if this did not work out? It was 3 PM by now.  The wedding is at 7 pm…..

Oh well, it is what it is…. I put some icing on the smallest cake (the 3rd tier) for starters.  Adding it to the edge was harder than I thought, but in the end, the cake was iced with the pudding-like icing.  On to the next cake: Maybe there was just not going to be any decorative piping….  When I put the second tier into the fridge, I took a look at the first tier and it had hardened nicely.  Oh, that was how this worked? This stuff just needed some fridge time?  Maybe there was hope…..

While I was icing the third cake I put a little bit of icing in the piping bag and stuck the bag in the fridge.  I was not sure that it would truly pipe when it got cold.  It better, because it surely was not piping at room temp. 

Once the icing cooled down we were finally getting somewhere.  It turned out that piping little flowers was easier than piping squiggly lines.  I piped little flowers around the top edge of each tier and some flowers along the edges.  Then came the question of the top:  How to decorate it?  Writing Maya & Kevin came to mind, but I had not bought the necessary tip for writing.  Maybe I could just cut the tip of the bag and write with that.  It took a bit of trying, but I finally managed to get it cut so that I could sort of write a letter – M and K it was.  For color contrast, we decided to dust some cocoa on the top of the cake(s) and write the letters on top of that. 

Now I had to assemble the whole thing and transport it to Ryan’s.  I broke skewers into pieces to serve as supports and placed the second tier on the first tier.  To my dismay, the supports turned and slipped.  The tier was too heavy to be supported by skewers.  The second layer had to just sit right on the cake.  Since the icing was hard, that should not be a problem. The third tier was supported by the skewers.  We were ready to go.

After putting the tiers together, I wanted to put the carrier lid on, but the cake was too high.  Oh well, I was just going to carry the third tier separately.  When I tried to put the lid on again, I realized that the bottom tier was too wide to fit under the lid.  What?  This was a regulation size cake, why did it not fit on a regulation size carrier?  Luckily I had the third carrier that was shorter but a little wider than the others.  This cake was just going to be assembled on location…..

That’s how the cake made it to the party….

While it was not the most beautiful cake, it was a beautiful intimate wedding. 

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