Project Wedding Cake

wedding cake love

When my little brother Timothy asked me to make his wedding cake, I was intimidated but also intrigued. While cake-making has become a hobby over the past couple of years, I’d never attempted a tiered cake or transported a cake more than an hour away (he and his now-wife Kelsey got married in middle Pennsylvania, a good 6.5 hour drive from us). But I figured I had some time to practice, plus it was an honor to be a part of their special day — so how could I say no?

Well, the big day finally rolled around last weekend. My baby bro is now married…and Project Wedding Cake was a success! I thought I’d share a little about the process, both for myself (should I — *fingers crossed* — get the chance to make another one) and for any other first-time wedding cakers out there.

wedding cake closeup

wedding cake cutting

Cake Flavors and Design

I had a bit of freedom with the cake recipes. Tim and Kelsey requested earl grey as one of the layers, but other than that the flavors were up to me. I eventually went with cardamom and strawberry for the top tier (6-inch) and earl grey and lemon curd for the bottom (8-inch). Both tiers were frosted with white chocolate mascarpone buttercream. I was initially nervous about using a frosting with cream cheese and mascarpone on a cake that would be in an non-air-conditioned room for several hours in the summer, but the lady who made my wedding cake (plus many others) recommended it — and it held up beautifully!

For the cake layers themselves, I developed recipes based off my favorite vanilla cake — a formula I love because it’s moist, sturdy, and keeps well for a few days refrigerated and/or frozen. Since we were traveling a fair distance, I made the cakes a couple days ahead of time and froze them, wrapping each layer in plastic wrap and foil. I also made the fillings (roasted strawberry balsamic jam and lemon curd) at home and brought those along. Kelsey’s family was kind enough to let me use their kitchen to make frosting and assemble the individual tiers, which I did the day before the wedding. Each cake layer was also brushed with simple syrup / earl grey syrup during assembly for extra moisture and flavor.

To match the overall wedding theme (they got married on a farm), I kept the decor simple with a rustic finish for the lower tier and a semi-naked finish for the upper. Their florist provided some gorgeous fresh blooms and I am thrilled with how the final design turned out!

Top tips:
If you’re using fillings, pipe a thick frosting dam! During my trial run some of the filling oozed out while I was icing (I just used a thicker layer of frosting on the outside so it was all fine in the end), so for the actual wedding cake I doubled up the dam ring just for extra security. No leaks! I also spread a thin layer of buttercream on each layer before piping the dam and filling with jam/curd, which added stability.

Use an inverted cake pan to store your cakes in the fridge between frosting coats. Normally I just keep my cake on the turntable between the crumb and final coats, but because I was doing two at the same time I didn’t have that luxury. Most fridges have a little lip on the edge of each shelf that makes it tricky to slide cakes out, so it’s definitely a good idea to pop them on something elevated to make your life easier.

Tiering and Transportation

Stacking and transportation were my biggest worries for this whole project, because prior to this month I’d never stacked a cake! To prepare, I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube and ended up doing a trial run the week before just to put my mind at ease. The “dress rehearsal” really helped the real deal go very smoothly. (My sister-in-law and her fiance had a big BBQ the weekend before so there were people to help eat that one, hehe.) Plus, this cake was pretty small in the scheme of things — just two tiers. But a great size for a small (under 80 people) wedding and a beginning wedding caker!

wedding cake ready to decorate

I built the bottom layer on a very sturdy 10″ cake drum and used five bubble tea straws as dowels. I definitely recommend the straw method — they’re sturdy, cheap, and slid in really easily.

I built the top layer on a six-inch cake board taped to an eight-inch board, just for easier moving. I moved the individual tiers to the venue in cake boxes in a cooler (they fit really snugly) and stacked them at the venue the evening before the wedding. The cake was kept in the venue kitchen overnight, and the final decorations and moving were done the morning of the wedding around 9am. The cake was cut and eaten around 2pm. Yay!

Top tips:
Chill, chill, chill. It really helped to chill the cakes as much as possible — before doweling, before moving, before stacking. Cakes are so much sturdier when cold, and you can handle them with your hands without worrying about messing up your frosting.

Use cake boxes for transportation! They were inexpensive and honestly took the stress out of moving the tiers. Just make sure you get sizes that exactly fit your cake boards so they’re super snug!

Use a cake board to mark out where your tier is going to land. To make sure the top layer was centered, I just plopped a six-inch board on top of the frosted and chilled bottom layer and marked a few spots with a knife as guide marks. Way easier than trying to eyeball it.

Have a repair kit on hand. I packed extra frosting, a piping bag with a small tip, my offset spatula, and an icing comb for touch ups at the venue. I didn’t need to do any repairs, but I did pipe a bit of frosting on the bottom layer to “glue” the top layer on, plus some around the seam where the two tiers met.

All in all, Project Wedding Cake was a fantastic experience. Developing the recipes and planning the execution was a fun creative challenge; and it was so satisfying to see the final product come together. I’m grateful to my husband for patiently listening to my cake ramblings and helping with the moving and child-wrangling, and to Tim and Kelsey for entrusting me with this part of their special day. Congrats again, kids!

wedding cake backlit

Cardamom cake with roasted strawberry jam

cardamom cake

This cake. Oh, this cake. I spent a lot of time imagining the different components before actually baking it, and was so happy that it just worked. It’s actually one of the layers of my brother’s upcoming wedding cake, where my guidelines were cardamom plus something fruity. The cake part was pretty easy — just a slight tweak to my favorite vanilla cake was all it took. For the filling I finally settled on a very lightly sweetened strawberry jam. Strawberries + balsamic is a favorite in our house, and I think it matches well with that woodsy cardamom flavor. Next time I’m making a double batch of jam — it’s so delicious, whether spread between cake layers, stirred into yogurt, or just eaten out of the jar. Not to mention easy — just mix and roast!

This white chocolate mascarpone buttercream is a grown-up version of cream cheese frosting. Normally I don’t care much for white chocolate, but here it offsets the tanginess of the cheeses nicely. (Definitely don’t skimp on the quality of chocolate, though! Good chocolate will make or break this frosting.) The mascarpone mellows out the flavor, though you can replace with more cream cheese if you prefer. This frosting spreads and pipes well if used right away too — and no icing sugar means no grittiness! Winning.

cardamom cake top

Cardamom Cake with Strawberry Jam and White Chocolate Mascarpone Buttercream

Makes one 3-layer, 6-inch cake

Ingredients

For the Cardamom Cake
Adapted from Cake Paper Party

  • 100g all-purpose flour
  • 113g cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cardamom
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 2.5 large eggs, at room temperature (I crack an egg into a bowl to weigh it, beat it with a fork and add half to my other eggs. The rest gets used in omelets or for an egg wash.)
  • 170g / 6 oz. sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 113g / 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • 4 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil

For the Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Jam

  • 1 pound strawberries, tops trimmed and halved (frozen is fine; keep whole and no need to defrost)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the White Chocolate Mascarpone Buttercream

  • 255g / 9oz best quality white chocolate, chopped
  • One 8oz package regular or light cream cheese, softened
  • 4oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 113g / 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juiceĀ (or to taste)

To Finish

Method

For the cardamom cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line the bottoms of three 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease and flour the pans.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream and vanilla bean paste. Set aside.
  3. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and sugar in a medium bowl and mix on low 30 seconds to blend.
  4. Add butter and vegetable oil to flour mix and mix on low for 30 seconds to moisten dry ingredients. The mixture should look like wet sand.
  5. Add half of egg mixture and beat on medium-high for 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture and beat on low for 30 seconds more.
  6. Divide evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset palette knife. Bake for about 25-35 minutes until the cake is well done (the top should feel springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean). Cool 10-20 minutes in pan and then turn out to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting; wrap in two layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate/freeze if using more than a day later. (I definitely recommend chilling the cakes completely before assembling.)

For the Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Jam:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a roasting pan and stir to combine well. Allow mixture to sit for 15-30 minutes to macerate. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 275F.
  2. Roast for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occasionally. The mixture should look dark and syrupy.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before transferring to a jar and refrigerating. I let the jam cool completely in the fridge and puree it in a food processor before using as cake filling. You can strain the jam beforehand if you like a thicker jam, though I didn’t find this necessary. If you choose to strain, definitely reserve the syrup for brushing on cake layers / adding to drinks / drizzling on ice cream!

For the White Chocolate Mascarpone Buttercream:

  1. Place white chocolate in a microwaveable bowl.
  2. Microwave at 15 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until chocolate is mostly melted. Before chocolate is completely melted, stir until smooth allowing the residual heat to finish the melting process. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Place softened cream cheese, mascarpone and butter in a large bowl and beat on low speed until creamy.
    Beat mixture on low speed until creamy and well combined.
  4. Add melted white chocolate and continue mixing on low to incorporate. Scrape down the side of the bowl as necessary.
  5. Add in lemon juice and beat until smooth. Use immediately.

To Assemble:

  1. Tint your buttercream and level cakes if desired. Place one cake round on a cake board and brush generously with simple syrup.
  2. Pipe a dam of buttercream around the edge and fill the center with about 1/4 c strawberry jam. Repeat process until all layers have been used, placing the last layer cut side down.
  3. Spread an even layer of buttercream over the entire cake to seal in the crumbs. If you’re doing the ruffle pattern as pictured, I suggest doing a thick crumb coat (i.e. try not to have cake layers visible). Chill cake for 20-30 minutes to set the frosting.
  4. Complete frosting as desired. I followed this tutorial for the ruffle pattern. For the top, I tinted the buttercream slightly darker and used an open star tip to pipe rosettes and stars, then finished with a light dusting of white sprinkles.

cardamom cake 2