Special of the day:The Cake that Mattered

04 Jul Special of the day:The Cake that Mattered

The Cake that Mattered


It’s not an exaggeration to say that I started early on this cake. That would be three months early, to be exact.  It was way back in March when I began the training for baking, assembling, frosting, and decorating “The Cake That Mattered”.

But, wait, let me back up and start at the beginning.

I had been anxiously anticipating seeing our dear friend Kelsey and congratulating her in person on her engagement last summer when her dad spilled the beans and mentioned that she had something to ask me.

Kelsey was a beloved babysitter of ours for years when our girls were little.  To give you an idea of how much we had come to care about Kelsey, when playing “Game Table Topics” recently, our younger daughter Madison drew a question card that asked, “If you could add one person to your family, who would it be? And the unanimous response was- Kelsey.

When I eventually bumped into her, and she did indeed have something to ask me, I thought for sure Kelsey was going to ask me to do a reading at their wedding, so you can imagine my surprise when instead, the words that came out of her mouth were, “Sydne, would you make our wedding cake?”

Maaaaake…ouuurrrr…WEDDDDDDDINNGGGGG caaaaake….? The words seemed to echo endlessly around in my mind. But I didn’t make wedding cakes. Why in the world would she think of me to make their wedding cake?

And then it all became clear.  I remembered the series of consecutive anniversaries Kelsey had spent watching the girls while Mike and I went out for dinner before coming home and enjoying Almond Celebration Cake with Raspberry Buttercream  (a replica of the top layer of our wedding cake) together. Instead of leaving when we got home, Kelsey would join us for cake and the annual viewing of our wedding video, a well-established anniversary tradition on our house.

The cake she had in mind for her wedding?  Uh, that would be almond cake with raspberry buttercream.  And so, of course, I said yes, all the while thinking I hope I don’t mess this one up…

                I always do better when I have a plan, so when the calendar told me the wedding was just around the corner, I signed up for the Wilton Basic Cake Decorating Class at Michaels, along with my pal, Jame who graciously offered to take it along with me, providing much-appreciated moral support.

Suffice it to say, I was not the instructor’s class pet. Cake decorating, it turns out, requires a great deal of patience and an even greater supply of white Crisco, which was something I had never purchased and actually had a heck of a time locating in the grocery store.

Pre-filling decorator bags with frosting sans couplers, making my dimensional dots in advance, and the coup de grace- managing to plant a perfect hand print in the frosting of my final project cake as we rounded the corner enroute to Michaels as I saved (?) the sliding cake before it smashed into the car door- it seemed like every Tuesday was marked by a new and different disaster in terms of decorating.

We survived, after all, and acquired some useful tidbits we never would have known had we not signed up for the class.  Chalk it up as another case of no pain, no gain, I guess.

I had relied on Rose Levy Beranbaum’s foolproof Neoclassic Buttercream recipe for years and because of this, I trusted her recipe for a three-tiered white wedding cake to serve 150 would be just as delightful.  Spending some time reading her Cake Bible and discovering her miraculous method of using plastic straws for support, I began to think that asking the expert might be the wisest way to go, especially because I needed some good advice on assembling three tiers separated by pillars and space for fresh flowers.

If you never ask, you’ll never know, so I gathered up some courage and crafted an email to Rose Levy Beranbaum herself asking about her straw method of support, secretly hoping there might be a chance she’d respond to my question.

Happily, the very next morning, a friendly email landed in my inbox from none other than Rose herself saying, “It is astonishing how much weight those plastic straws support. I can’t see pillars making any difference, though some pillars have long plastic prongs so that would be extra support. Best of luck with the cake. Do send a photo!  Best, Rose.”

Just the support I needed. Straws it would be.

Straw supports

The week of the wedding, things seemed to progress according to plan. Chocolate sheets cakes were baked early in the week and frozen. Next came the bottom layer, Big Daddy.  Following Rose’s recipe to a T, I made friends with my digital food scale as I weighed each and every ingredient, and then wrapped the 14-inch round cake pan with Magi-strips soaked in cold water, providing insulation which ensured even baking and a crack-free cake top. Mamacake and Babycake followed flawlessly. Letting each layer cool and then slicing them straight across with my newly acquired cake splitter, I separated halves and sprinkled them with The Cake Bible’s almond syrup to ensure a moist middle. Things seemed to be rolling along, without a hitch.

Big Daddy

All was quiet the night before the wedding, as Big Daddy, Mamacake and Babycake rested comfortably in the garage freezer on shelves below the four chocolate sheet cakes.

Freezer full of cakes

It takes a village to make a wedding cake, and as luck would have it, I had lots of help that day. The morning of the wedding, I got up and got right to work on the buttercream, systematically filling and frosting each layer and then dabbing on dimensional dots according to the design in the photo Kelsey gave me.

My pal Karen kindly took our dog Shadow along on the field trip with her dogs, Luna and Groovie.  Mike dutifully dashed to the store not once but twice, first for butter, then to replenish the plethora of powdered sugar I plowed through making frosting for the cakes. And just after completion of the decoration phase, my wonderful mom brought us lunch to enjoy.

Right on schedule, our older daughter Mackenzie and I carefully loaded the layers into the back of the car and delivered our unassembled “Cake that Mattered” to the site of the reception.

It was then, to be honest, that… all hell broke loose. Lifting the layers off the cart, each cake seemed heavier than I remembered and the temperature in the dining room seemed to soar by the second. Straws were too long, and so, the snipping began. Plastic pieces flew from the scissors and adhered themselves to the painstakingly-smoothed sides. Whoops.

We worked together to sink the straws into Big Daddy, fit the pillars over the bundle of straws and then snap the pillar fittings into the base of Mamacake. It seemed a little wobbly, but we forged ahead anyway, fitting Babycake on top and arranging the gorgeous natural green hydrangeas between the layers, which dramatically dressed up the exterior of the cake.

I stepped back and eyed that “Cake that Mattered” and noticed that it was clearly off-center.  Acknowledging that most of us have a better side, I foolishly thought rotating the cake might help the overall appearance. That was my biggest mistake.

As soon as I started to turn the cake, the top two tiers began to topple and before we had a chance to react, both Babycake and Mamacake became dislodged and flopped face-first onto the tablecloth smashing dimensional dots and frosting finishes in one fell swoop. Ouch.

It happened in an instant, and the effect was so drastic that the only words I could muster up were, “Is this your worst nightmare?” to Mackenzie, who was now trying hard to stifle her laughter. (Okay, right after a reactionary four-letter word not fit for print. Forgive me. This was not one of my shinier moments.)

That saying about letting go and the importance of focusing on how you weather the storms in life flooded into my brain, and I directed Mackenzie to go and get me a mug of hot water, a serrated knife and a glass of Prosecco. She was back in a flash. Mission accomplished.

We did our best to reassemble, now racing against the clock, madly smoothing frosting with warm water and carving wavy lines into poor Mamacake, who had suffered serious injuries in the fall.

No, “The Cake that Mattered” was not perfect, as I had hoped it would be for Kelsey on her big day.  Actually it was quite battered and bruised. But it was still standing when time came for the bride and groom to cut it (what a relief!), and it was delicious, if I do say so myself, all credit due to Rose’s reliable recipes.


The Cake that Mattered


And as Mackenzie so eloquently declared in her noble effort to comfort me, “It doesn’t matter what’s on the outside, Mom, it matters what’s on the inside.”

Wishing Kelsey and Shawn love, laughter and happily ever after and extending my heartfelt thanks to Rose Levy Beranbaum for sharing her wonderful wedding cake recipes with us, I give you this week’s Special of the day: The Cake that Mattered and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipes for 3-Tier White Wedding Cake to Serve 150 and Neoclassic Buttercream and an Almond Icing recipe of my own.  Happy baking!

3-Tier White Wedding Cake to Serve 150  (I made this recipe twice to make the 14-, 12- and 9-inch layers.)

Recipe from THE CAKE BIBLE, reprinted with permission from William Morrow; Copyright © 1988 by Rose Levy Beranbaum.


(Have ingredients at room temperature before starting.)

11 ounces large egg whites

1 pound 3.75 ounces milk

21 grams vanilla

1 pound 8.5 ounces sifted cake flour

1 pound 8.5 ounces sugar

38 grams baking powder

12 grams salt

14 ounces unsalted butter (must be softened)

Grease the pans, line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper, and then grease again and flour.

For very even cakes, use Magi-Cake strips.


Arrange 2 oven racks as close to the center of the oven as possible with at least 3 inches between them.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine the whites, ¼ of the milk, and the vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine all of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute to blend.

Add the butter and the remaining milk.

Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Beat at medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) for 1 ½ minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.

Scrape down the sides.

Gradually beat in the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure.

Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans, filling about halfway, and smooth with a spatula.

Arrange the pans in the oven so air can circulate around them.

Do not allow them to touch each other or the oven walls.

Bake 25-35 minutes for 6-inch layers, 35-45 minutes for 9-inch layers, and 40-50 minutes for 12-inch layers or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed  lightly in the center.

In the 6-inch and 9-inch pans, the cakes should start to shrink from the sides only after removal from the oven.

The 12-inch layers should bake until they just start to shrink from the sides.

To promote even baking, turn the 12-inch layers 180 degrees (halfway around) halfway through the baking time.

Do this quickly so the oven temperature does not drop.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes (20 minutes for 12-inch layers).

Loosen the sides with a spatula and invert onto greased wire racks.

To prevent splitting, reinvert and cool completely before wrapping airtight with plastic wrap and foil.

NOTE: Do not underbake the 12-unch layers.

When preparing the cake more than 24 hours ahead of serving or if extra moistness is desired sprinkle layers with 3 cups syrup (page 505 of The Cake Bible).


Neoclassic Buttercream for a 3-Tier Cake to Serve 150

(I made this recipe twice to make the 14-, 12- and 9-inch layers.)

Recipe from THE CAKE BIBLE, reprinted with permission from William Morrow; Copyright © 1988 by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

(Makes 8 cups)

(Have ingredients at room temperature before starting.)

7.75 ounces egg yolks

10.5 ounces sugar

11.5 ounces corn syrup

2 pounds unsalted butter (must be softened)

Optional: 2 to 4 ounces liqueur or eau-de-vie of your choice

Have ready near the range a lightly greased 2-cup heatproof glass measure.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the yolks until light in color.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar and corn syrup in a medium size saucepan (preferably with a nonstick lining) and heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and comes to a rolling bowl. (The entire surface of will be covered with large bubbles.)

Immediately transfer to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

Beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream.

Do not allow the syrup to fall on the beaters or the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl.

Start by pouring a small amount of syrup over the yolks with the mixer turned off.

Immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds.

Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup.

Beat for 5 seconds.

Continue with the remaining syrup.

For the last addition, use a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure.

Beat until completely cool.

Gradually beat in the butter, then any of the optional flavorings.

Place in an airtight bowl .

Bring to room temperature before using.

Rebeat if necessary to restore texture.

Don’t rebeat chilled buttercream until it has reached room temperature or it may curdle.

Almond Icing  (I made this recipe four times to frost the 14-, 12- and 9-inch layers.)

Recipe by Sydne George

1 ½ cups soft butter

4 cups powdered sugar

½ cup + 1 teaspoon heavy cream

½ teaspoon pure almond extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter.

Add remaining ingredients, place a towel over the mixer and bowl to contain the cloud of powdered sugar and beat on low to incorporate.

When incorporated, remove the towel and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.

You may need to add additional heavy cream to achieve the desired consistency.

(You want thin for icing the cake and medium consistency for making dimensional dots. See what I learned…)

I found it easiest to bake the cakes, let them cool, slice them in half, sprinkle them with syrup, wrap them tightly in foil and freeze them before filling and frosting.


Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at sydnegeorge@hotmail.com . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at https://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.



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