Three Tiers of Terror

By no stretch of the imagination could I claim to know every last cake decorator on earth, or even in the US, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that they all have one thing in common: They are absolutely crazy.  Especially those who specialize in wedding cakes, let me tell you.  That job requires a heightened level of madness, a degree of which I still have yet to fully comprehend.  I know this for sure because for however brief, I joined their ranks.

Still jet-lagged and bleary-eyed the day after returning from Paris, it was game time, and a trial cake had to be baked.  Never before had I made a wedding cake, nor even a round cake bigger than 10 inches in diameter, and somehow it seemed sensible to have only one test cake.  The madness had already begun to descend, you see.  Lacking the time to make the whole assembly, it was really just for reassurance that the recipe would still work when baked in a 3-inch thick layer… But of course, lest I get too comfortable with the concept, even the smallest top tier ballooned like a soufflé and promptly fell like a bombed out mine field.  Meanwhile, experiments with creating the perfect low-sugar frosting weren’t going any better, the whisk of my mixer dejectedly pushing around a thin, soupy icing that refused to gain any volume.  What a fun situation to return home to.

But there wasn’t enough time in the day to fix all of the kinks (ie, everything), and exhaustion began to set in, so in favor of not ending up face-first in a vat of cake batter, all I could do was high-tail it off to bed.  Never mind that the whole cake would need to be baked and crumb-coated tomorrow.

Simple enough, right?  Take all day and bake a cake.  But it’s no little birthday cake, no cute little two-layer affair.  These monstrous rounds require somewhere around 70 total cups of batter, and the largest layers took nearly two hours to bake, each.  Then, they must cool, and have you ever sat around waiting for a 14-inch round, 3-inch tall cake to cool?  Absolute torture.  At the very least, nothing had exploded in the oven, and I was making some progress.  Did I mention that this cake would be due at noon the next day?  Not that I was stressing over the deadline at all, no way.

Some how, some way, at the end of the longest day of my life, there actually was a wedding cake.  A feat in itself, but it was even on time and exactly as ordered!

While I’m normally opposed to using non-edible items on a cake, I could hardly argue with the bride’s request for fresh flower decorations. Besides, it saved me the heartache of trying to pipe some crude squiggles that might have only looked like flowers if you closed your eyes. At that point, I was just happy to throw some roses and such on it and be done with the thing.

After that maddening experience, it’s clear that only a very unbalanced, somewhat delusional, and absolutely obsessive person would choose to make wedding cakes for a living. And of course, I say that with great admiration.

67 thoughts on “Three Tiers of Terror

  1. It looks beautiful!

    My mom was a caterer who specialized in weddings (yes, wedding cakes, eek!) for 20 years and I grew up watching her wrestle cakes heavier than me into submission on a weekly basis. Go you! That was no small feat!

  2. It’s simply beautiful! The fresh flowers are perfect. I applaud you.

    I made ONE wedding cake and I was 7-8 months pregnant at the time. Pure madness I tell you. I had never did a tiered cake before and did not practice. But I am one of those weird people that can make something as long as I can envision the steps and how it’s done. I have watched a lot of Food Network and read a lot of books on cakes. The bottom tier was 12 inches and you are right about how long it takes to bake. I used a funnel in the middle that helps the cake bake evenly and then added that piece back in when I was assembling.

    I have an absolute fascination on finding out things are made or done. It’s all stored in my head. It doesn’t surprise me that I ended up in art school and became a jeweler. I am also super handy when it comes to fixing things in the house.

  3. Haha… Well you managed and you’ve even managed to make it look fabulous and delicious (which I am sure it was) I happen to go around in the weddingcake area since I do some photowork for a cake magazine and I have seen many creations which would even give me nightmares just thinking about possibly making something like that! So well done for you!!

  4. That cake is stunning! I love the clean, elegant lines – well done! My best friend is a wedding cake maker and I forwarded her this link, she will love it! And yes, she is crazy!

  5. Good Lord! That is quite a feat! It’s all the more impressive that you have a wedding cake under your belt, though – and regardless of the madness, it looks smooth and gorgeous.

  6. Oh my gosh! You are amazing! What a ‘crazy’ project haha. But it does look amazing, and the real flowers look beautiful. Well done :)


  7. Wow! I always wondered what it would be like for a nonprofessional to bake a wedding cake. Thanks for the story! Even with all the hectic-ness the cake turned out beautiful!

  8. That’s totally gorgeous! I don’t think you give yourself enough credit. That looks like it was made by a seasoned pro.

  9. The result of all that madness was beautiful!
    I did a trial wedding cake once – just to see how fast and how well I could do one. The result was ok. I realized there is an awful lot that goes into the symmetry of the decorations. I removed the cake tiers (3) from the freezer thinking they would defrost as I decorated. They did… I thought. When I put it on the dining room table – the finished result(Oh So PROUD!), we were eating lunch and heard a BOOM! The dowels inserted finally fell thru when the cake FULLY defrosted and the whole thing went tumbling onto the carpet.
    Live and learn!

  10. GOOD JOB! WOW! I couldn’t image… at all!!
    It looks wonderful! You need to work for Ace of Cakes now! You’ll give them a vegan view!
    Wonderful! and Congrats to the couple!

  11. It is stunning Hannah and I’m sure it tasted amazing!

    I’ve made 2 wedding cakes, and I can totally agree that people who make them for a living must be insane. For the first one, I cried probably 3 times (it was also for my best friend from junior high so the pressure was on). I felt a lot more calm about #2, but it was still a ton of work!! Both turned out well, but I’m happy that I get to pick and choose when I do that kind of thing.

  12. I love that you are honest enough to share the whole process. It makes the end result all the more stunning. I’m really enjoying your posts lately, especially the vegan croissants. I’ve made the non-vegan kind before and this recipe looks great and guilt-free.

  13. This is simply gorgeous! You did a fantabulous job on your first wedding cake and it is so impeccably iced! Love the floral decorations too! I’m with you, I don’t think I’ll ever do cakes for a living, I’ll stick to cupcakes! :)

  14. Beautiful! I love fresh flowers on wedding cakes. And the frosting turned out stunning! One of my friends made my vegan wedding cake, and it turned out wonderfully. It looked pretty too! Mine was decorated with fresh raspberries and dark pink roses.

  15. Coming out from lurking to tell you that I cannot believe you made that as your first wedding cake! Very beautiful, very impressive. Also, you need to read the cake wrecks blog – you will see that decorators really are crazy:

  16. My mother was a cake baker/decorator for over 10 years and owned a business with her best friend. I remember hearing so many scary stories about wedding cakes, hot weather and vehicle trunks (they delivered cakes). I can’t even guess at the hours they spent squeezing out little roses and messing with rolled fondant. Your cake looks amazing. Serious kudos for such great work on your first attempt.

  17. Gorgeous! Well done, especially for your first wedding cake! Watch out, even though it’s stressful, it’s also addictive!

    Oh, and thanks for calling me unbalanced, delusional, obsessive and crazy – I take it as a compliment :)

  18. Very cool! It looks totally beautiful!

    I’m just getting a glimpse into the industry myself on my internship and there is definitely a large portion of crazy involved! It seems that its really important to follow a few key steps really carefully, chilling each layer before stacking, and all that kind of thing, which definitely helps to temper the sheer scariness of it all!

    I’m interested to know if you’ve ever done anything vegan on this scale. I’ve experimented with vegan fondant and agar just doesnt produce the same kind of product as gelatin.

  19. It is beautiful! Congratulations on a first successful wedding cake! I hate days like that, but when it’s over and you’ve achieved your goal, somehow it’s worth it. Again, congrats!

  20. What a lucky bride! I’m sure your cake was the second most talked about beauty at the wedding!

  21. looks wonderful – just a note for next time (if there is one, haha :).. the small green berries (hypericum) are mildy poisonous. maybe not the best choice for decorating an edible.

  22. Very impressive! It took me three days to make a two tiered wedding cake. I what you mean! It is a bit fun though, and an accomplishment!

  23. I found a wedding cake stand in my kitchen cabinet the other day. Was wondering if I should try making one of these, but now I’m sweatin’! LOL- your’s did turn out beautifully.

  24. Hannah, your cake looks perfect! I’ve never made a wedding cake, but did do a 2-tier birthday cake once, not quite as big as yours, but also waited around for it to cool, huge bowl of frosting (and frosting up to my elbows) etc. . . I really admire you for jumping in and creating this beauty. I bet the bride and groom were thrilled (and I bet it tasted AMAZING!). :)

  25. Holy cow. I’m more than impressed. I always thought…well, I was really ignorant, but I always thought taht cake-decoraters had it fun and easy. Just baking and decorating all day…what fun! What a fool I was.

  26. hi hannah! i am baking my friends a wedding cake in a couple of weeks, and i wonder if you have any words of wisdom about the process (besides it being crazy…which it TOTALLY is). i think my largest cake will be 15 inches! i’m excited and nervous about baking the cake, hopefully it will come out as beautifully as yours is here :-)

  27. This looks stunning! Well done you =] I’m thinking about ideas for my own wedding cake, and I love the simplicity and elegance of this :) I made a wedding cake last year, for my fiance’s mothers wedding! It was two-tired, HUGELY wide, and giraffe themed! I spent a day alone crafting giraffe-shaped bride and groom toppers! Lots of research went into different icings/fondants, and it’s rather tricky to find one’s that are vegan! All turned out well though =] I’m hoping to make my own wedding cake, as I’d like it to fit with my healthy/vegan lifestyle.. I think I might be slightly mad :P

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