This was a busy and happy summer for my family, since my baby sister Tara and her boyfriend Jim tied the knot over Labor Day weekend. I was beyond flattered (and admittedly a little terrified) when she asked me to make her cake, but she stressed it would be a small wedding, and I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. In truth, Tara was the opposite of a Bridezilla. With every step of her wedding planning her main response was to just shrug her shoulders, make the decision, get it done, then move on. She just wanted to be married already. How lovely is that?
With free rein (I did get her to choose lemon for her filling flavor), I immediately knew I wanted to make a traditional tiered cake with a homemade topper. Since the wedding would take place on a boat and had a loose “ocean” theme, I went with that as a guide.
I settled on the right combination — yellow cake with lemon curd and butter frosting — then got to work testing recipes. First and foremost, the cake needed to taste good, but it also needed to be durable for handling. In turn, the frosting also needed to taste good, but hold up in hot weather and spread smooth and easy. I found both recipes in the fool-proof Baking Illustrated from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Sparing myself the extra stress, I opted to use good-quality jarred lemon curd.
My big sister Courtney provided the dream kitchen for me to work in before the wedding. I only had to repeat baking one layer, when I tried to flip one of the 10-inch cakes off the cooling rack and onto the plate after “relaxing” with a few glasses of wine. Fortunately, I had left plenty of time for just such a mishap, and another cake layer was quickly baked.
After baking and cooling, the cakes were each split in half and filled with lemon curd, then stacked so each tier was 4-layers tall. After a light crumb coat of frosting, the cakes were chilled in the fridge, then frosted again with the benefit of a lazy susan to evenly distribute the frosting.
When I wasn’t working on the cake, I was working on the cake topper. I made bride and groom felted whales to fit the ocean theme. My crafty thumb isn’t my strongest but I wanted her to have something homemade for the topper so I could stick with a simple frosting design. There wouldn’t be a lot of time on the boat before the ceremony to stack and decorate the cake, so simple (and quick!) was key!
Plus, leading up to the ceremony, all I wanted to do was enjoy the prep time in the hotel with the beautiful bride while she put on her dress (with help from Mom and Courtney) and got ready to walk down the aisle. Always a special time, and not to be rushed!
Special thanks to my brother-in-law Jon and my stepdad Arthur for getting the cakes from Courtney’s house, into Boston, and onto the boat while I was away with the bride getting my hair and makeup done!
As soon as I stepped onto the boat it was all business. I kicked off my shoes, put on an apron, and got to work cutting the wooden dowels that would support the weight of each layer of cake. I had prepped the bags of blue frosting ahead of time, and once the layers were in place, a quick wave design was all I needed to add to fill the gaps.
Then I rushed to the upper deck to walk the ring bearer (their toy poodle Paxton) down the aisle for the beautiful sunset ceremony. Just before the cake cutting I sneaked in for a photo with the finished product.
Then it was time for the spotlight with the bride and groom! Thankfully they loved the cake, it didn’t topple over (I was worried) when they cut it, and many people said they enjoyed eating it, making operation wedding cake an official success!
Congratulations to my beautiful baby sister and my new brother-in-law Jim. You guys are the best, and it was the ultimate honor to contribute such a special part of your wedding day. I love you both and wish you many, many, many years of happiness ahead!
With lots and lots and lots of cake!
Yellow Layer Cake with Butter Frosting
Adapted from Baking Illustrated by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine
Makes 1 9-inch layer cake
1 3/4 cups (7 ounces) plain cake flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 16 pieces
1 batch butter frosting
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and adjust the rack to the lower-middle position. Generously grease two 9-inch cake pans, cover the pan bottoms with rounds of measured rounds of parchment paper, then grease the paper and flour the pans, tapping out the excess. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork. Measure out 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat at the lowest speed for 30 seconds, then add the butter one piece at a time. Mix until the butter and flour begin to clump together and look sandy, with the largest pieces of butter the size of peas.
- Add the reserved one cup of egg mixture and mix at the lowest speed until combined, then increase speed until medium-high, then beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Add the remaining egg mixture in a slow stream, taking about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then continue to beat until thoroughly combined and the batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds.
- Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and smooth tops with a rubber spatula. Bake 20 – 25 minutes, or until the cake tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cakes will “deflate” slightly out of the oven.
- Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the pan to loosen before inverting onto a large plate. Remove the parchment, then invert back onto the wire rack. Repeat with the other cake, and allow to cool completely before frosting.
- Fill, frost, and decorate as desired.
For the Butter Frosting
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
4 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Beat the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer at low-speed until the sugar is moistened. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat until creamy and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes.