Tiers and Tears

Eleanor & Bill's Wedding Cake
Photo by John G Moore

I was asked recently to write a little bit for Cake Masters Magazine. They were doing a piece on people who had made their own wedding cake. In another guise I occasionally design wedding cakes for people. It’s an enjoyable and creative experience (sometimes). This cake was made years before I ever ventured to make one for someone else. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to write the piece  – but I thought I’d go back and think about the experience now.

What was it made of?

It was three tiers of delicious, boozy, chocolately fruit cake made by my Mum.

How long did it take?

It took months! I think we started in April for a June wedding. My Mum made the three deep fruit cakes, and practice fruit cakes too. We tested quite a few. We ate so much fruit cake I now know why that word is a synonym for crazy. All the flowers were hand made – hundreds of them – over several weeks. My mum and I made them together from home-made gumpaste (Nick Lodge’s recipe).

Why did you make your own?

I saw Peggy Porschen’s Paperwhite Narcissus cake in a wedding magazine and immediately loved it. While I would have loved the kudos of ordering it from Peggy herself, the price was out of my league … plus delivery from London … well that was not going to happen. I thought, “I could do that!”

To try and find how to make it, I bought all of Peggy’s books. Although there were instructions for mini cakes with that design, the big tiered narcissus wedding cake wasn’t in any of the books. Brides get fixated on things. There were other fabulous cakes in the books but I wanted that cake! So I worked out how to do a variation of it myself. Or so I thought.

Like a lot of brides, I saw the prices advertised for wedding cakes and thought “£600! For a bit of sponge? I’ll make my own”. Oh dear!

What was the experience like?

A great book by Kathy Moore called Cakes from Concept to Creation was my main source for the instructions on how to construct a wedding cake.

It very soon dawned on me after I’d spent about £300 on books, cake tins, and heavy-duty boxes and cake boards (still not including oven time, decorating time or ingredients here) that there is a reason why wedding cakes are expensive.

I made a big gumpaste dome and attached flowers. I had planned to attach more narcissus flowers to gumpaste semi-circles and to attach those to each tier the cake on the day of construction. The gumpaste semi-circles shrank and did not fit the cake! Panic! My Mum phoned a local baker with our plight. He suggested rolling fondant into long sausage shapes on each tier and putting the flowers on cocktail sticks into that. On my wedding day! He saved the day with that advice.

I hadn’t anticipated I would have to construct the cake on my own wedding day. The hotel didn’t want it done the night before.

(Venues do that. You speak to one person for weeks and they say it’ll be ok to set up at such-and-such a time. Then that person goes on holiday – another wedding planner takes over and suddenly it’s not all right. They say things like “Oh we put cakes together all the time. We can do it.” Really – so you’ve constructed three tiers of about 400 paperwhite narcissi before? Bridezilla or what?).

So me, my bridesmaid Sandra and my Mum and Dad stayed in the hotel the night before. We got up early before the hairdresser and makeup artist arrived and decorated that cake in hundreds of flowers. (The hotel compromised and said I didn’t need to do it after my wedding ceremony. Cheers for that.) And you’ll notice I entrusted my hair and makeup to experts at the going rate … but not my cake. Madness!

Would you do it again?

No! Believe me, you do not need that kind of stress when you want to be getting dolled up for your wedding. Let someone else do it. We could not have achieved it if it hadn’t been fruit cakes.

That said, I couldn’t have afforded a £1000-1500 cake from Peggy Porschen. And that cake has been a talking point for years. It inspired me to make them for others.

Peggy, you didn’t get a wedding cake order but I’ve bought all your books, don’t hate me.

Photo by John G Moore Photography

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