50th Wedding Anniversary

My parents have been married for 50 years and I think that this is pretty incredible, so I decided to throw them a party in our hometown in New Brunswick. Of course a party means a big cake–a really big cake–much bigger than our small party warranted, but 50 years deserves something special!

Is that Elvis? No, it's my father, Joey, and my mother, Vickie, on their wedding day, August 26th, 1961.

At first I thought of doing a cascade of pearlized white sugar flowers down a white cake, but somehow that morphed into a much more simplistic design. I can’t help it, I like simplistic cakes, although I marvel at the detail that some designers can get onto such small surfaces and still have it look magnificent. My mother loves peonies so they became the flower of choice for the project. Finally, I decided on a white and gold theme with a Fleur-de-Lis-style design. I had grandiose visions of lace appliqué, piping and borders painted with gold; but in the end, time did not permit. I don’t know how other cake decorators do it. I spent 3 days of my vacation on this cake and it is rather simple; but I will console myself with the fact that several people told me that it was the best cake that they ever tasted. To me, this is the point of cake decorating, not only does it have to look good, it must taste excellent as well.

Since I spent hours baking, creaming, smoothing and ganaching, let’s spend a moment on the flavours. The flavour of the largest tier was a request of my father’s: Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache, Peanut Butter Buttercream and Mini Peanut Butter Cups. Okay, so that’s not what he asked for in so many words. He’s a pretty simple guy and he loves peanut butter. When I suggested peanut butter buttercream with chocolate cake, he didn’t know if the two “would go well together.” I responded, “Hello? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?” The second largest tier was my mother’s request: Lemon Cake with Lemon Buttercream. Always a crowd pleaser. The two smallest tiers were Coconut Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Vanilla Buttercream. I believe that this one was my favourite since I love the Coconut Mocha Frappuccino at Starbucks, although I don’t love how long I have jog afterward to get rid of the calories! I think if I can find an adventurous friend or customer, I will try this cake flavour again, but with coffee buttercream.

I meant this blog entry to be a tutorial on properly preparing the cake for covering with fondant, but I’m now realizing that it will get overlong, so I will post that tutorial soon. Preparing the cake properly is essential, which I had to explain to my grandmother and aunts as I worked. I was working in my dad’s mother’s kitchen, which is large, with lots of counter space, and she owns a Kitchen Aid, an essential tool for both Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMB) and Royal Icing. This situation allowed me to spend quality time with my grandmother and eat her delicious lunches (and quaff large amounts of Keurig-brewed coffee); but the drawback being that I was like an animal on view at the zoo with the peanut gallery on the other side of the fence. “Why do you trim the cakes? What a waste! Don’t throw that out! You missed a spot over here.” Two aunts in particular were shocked to see me trimming the edges and tops off of the cakes; but that sure didn’t stop them from Hoovering the scraps. At home I throw all that stuff in the garbage. Yes, I know, it shocked me too when I first saw this practice on Ace of Cakes; but really, I would puff up like a Pillsbury Crescent Roll if I ate all the scraps in my kitchen. I just take a small piece to make sure that the taste and texture are correct. When I botched an experimental recipe of SMB mixed with cream cheese (DON’T use light cream cheese for this!), they wouldn’t let me throw that sloppy mess out either, they just ate it along with the cake scraps. They all agreed that it was a good thing that I am not there every week making cakes.

Sugar peonies in three stages of being taped together.

How long does it take to produce a 4-tiered cake like this one? I can only speak for myself and admittedly I am not the swiftest worker as I aim for perfection, which in my mind, I always fall short of. The sugar flowers I produced in stages, over two weekends, and it involved cutting, thinning, furling, wiring, veining, drying and taping over 100 petals for 6 flowers; altogether, at least an hour per flower without the drying time. Baking the cakes, a total of 10 cake layers, took approximately 4 hours. I have a 30″ oven with extra depth and 3 racks; the largest that I could get without losing counter space. It’s a convection gas range that can accommodate about 6 cakes or 6 dozen cupcakes, although I rarely have a need for that scale of baking. The most laborious–and annoying–part of the operation was the day of buttercreaming, filling, masking, smoothing and dowelling, which took me nearly a full 8 hours. This step is crucial because if there are lumps and bumps in the cake or buttercream then it will show in the fondant. Covering with fondant took me about 3 hours and although I was generally satisfied, the top tier had a flaw in the shape that I did not detect and it showed when finished; but with party preparations to take care of, I had run out of time to fix it. The stenciling took another 2-3 hours of stop and start work as the design had to dry between applications. This runs up a total of 24 hours, which is why these cakes cost so darn much! With time, ingredients, decorations and supplies, it is no wonder that a cake like this would cost almost $600.

A close-up of the sugar peony.

For this cake I used Fondx, a product that I had purchased once before and was uncertain as to whether I truly liked it; but this time I was very happy with how well it worked and I was able to roll it very thin. The gold risers in between the tiers were 1″ Styrofoam pieces purchased from Flour Confections, covered with a thin layer of Satin Ice sugar paste, dried and painted with PME edible gold spray paint. This spray paint was about $10 USD; but it was fast and the colour was truly gold. I also used a gold highlighter dust on the peonies after spraying with the gold paint; the highlighter gave a more solid gold colour than the luster, shimmer or pearl dusts that I tried from various companies. The stencil was also purchased at Flour Confections, but as far as I can tell, a stencil from an arts & crafts or painting store would work just as well. I also used a Cake Wrap Kit, which is basically a roll of self-adhesive tape and two clips with instructions.

So what about the party, you might wonder? It was a blur to me since I spent most of it in the kitchen with my aunts and various other family members, heating up hors d’oeuvres and putting out plates of delicious nibbles. The Delaneys know how to put on a party with lots of food. However, at the end I was wholly satisfied when I heard my dad say, “Well, Vickie, I don’t know about you; but I enjoyed my party.”

A labour of love for a special couple.