The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
How to make your own wedding cake
Leah Hyslop meets the expert who will give you all the skills and advice you need to create a dream confection
When it comes to making a wedding cake, most people leave it to the professionals. In these straitened times, however, couples are doing everything they can to save a few pennies – even if it means they spend the night before their nuptials up to their elbows in icing. Two of my closest friends, Matt and Chris, recently got engaged, and are keen to get married on a budget. Cleverly, however, they’ve avoided having to master the art of piping by asking me if I’d do them the honour of creating their cake. Now, I’m a keen amateur baker, but the idea of creating a wedding cake fills me with even more fear than an ugly bridesmaid dress. Thus I find myself standing in the south London kitchen of awardwinning wedding cake designer Rosalind Miller, who promises me that with a little practice, I can create a wedding cake worthy of The Great British Bake Off. “People often make their own,” says Rosalind, a bubbly ex-graphic designer who runs regular wedding cake masterclasses. “It seems intimidating, but it’s all about practice – and you can make it up to a week before. You can even freeze the cakes, like we do here, and decorate closer to the time.” Because making a wedding cake takes several days (ideally, you leave each stage to dry completely), Rosalind has kindly done the “easy” part – ha! – of making the cake and covering it with a base layer of marzipan, before I arrive. She does, however, give me plenty of tips for this first leg of the wedding cake journey, including baking the cake at just 130C, so it doesn’t rise too much in the centre, and to think carefully about flavour. “Very few people want a fruit cake these days,” she says. “Our most popular flavour is raspberry sponge, but we do a lot of vanilla too. People often want different flavours for different tiers, but make sure the most popular flavour is the big base tier, and don’t have too many. It creates a lot of work for the waiting staff if people have to choose between flavours.” Today, I am constructing a threetier vanilla sponge, but like many wedding cakes, the top two tiers are actually “dummy” layers made from fondant-covered polysterene. Over a cup of tea, Rosalind and I chat about how best to decorate my creation. Rosalind is best known for her beautiful sugar flowers but because my friends are men, they are anxious not to have something too feminine. We agree on a regal-looking pale blue cake covered with rococo golden swirls and medallions, which Rosalind sketches out at lightning speed on squared paper (that graphic designer background clearly lives on). My first task is to roll out the fondant icing to place on top of the cakes. “Always knead the fondant thoroughly, and work quickly because it cracks as it is exposed to air,” Rosalind tells me. Although my immediate instinct is to drown the work surface with icing sugar, to prevent the icing from sticking, I learn that anything more than a small dusting will actually dry out the icing and make it liable to crack. Asides from cracking, the big danger with fondant is trapped pockets of air, but Rosalind is a woman on a mission to burst those bubbles. She keeps a pin tucked into her chef whites, which she uses to pierce any bubbles that form while I’m rolling, and she insists that every speck of the base marzipan coat is slicked with water, so the fondant attaches neatly. When the icing is on, we use smoothers to press the fondant close against each tier, to create very straight sides and sharp edges – a neat, contemporary look. After the fondant has dried, we turn to the next task, and the one I am most terrified of – stacking the tiers. But Rosalind makes it look simple. The crucial piece of equipment is dowels, little sticks of plastic which you insert in each layer of cake. Four of five of these (plus a generous dollop of royal icing) will support the next layer, and prevent your cake from collapsing. I can’t help but hold my breath as we sandwich the final layer on, but the end result definitely looks sturdy enough to survive a taxi journey – and maybe even a collision with an inebriated wedding guest. The most fun part of the day is the decorating. To make the elegant swirls, Rosalind uses silicone moulds, which are easily bought from online retailers. “You can get very intricate effects with very little effort, and you can even make your own from things like a nice piece of jewellery using silicone putty,” she explains, showing me a cake she decorated with little handmade bird moulds. I spend a very relaxing hour pushing modelling paste – a type of icing used for making delicate decorations – into these moulds, which we attach with edible glue. After a little piping, it’s time for the finishing touch – dabbing gold paint on all the decorations. Some of my piping is decidedly wonky, while the paintwork has more the look of primary school art project than Michelangelo, but the overall effect is impressively regal. “Always remember there is a back of the cake,” Rosalind tells me reassuringly. “When you’re viewing at a distance, you won’t notice little mistakes.” Relieved by how manageable it all was, I head home confident that by the time next year rolls round, I’ll be a wedding cake whiz. The happy couple just better not expect a present, too.