I've come a long way since I posted my first adventure in cake decorating here (which wasn't my first ever adventure in cake decorating by far—I can recall Funfetti icing that turned gray by mistake— but was my first since maintaining a blog, and I suppose my first at trying something out of the ordinary). Since then, I made a bowling-themed cake for Len's 30th birthday, and it involved bowling pin cookies and a three-dimensional bowling ball. Really fun to make and pretty cool looking, if I do say so, but definitely room for improvement. Then I was the designated baker for a friend's very small wedding reception, and I was much more pleased with that finished product than I was when I made those baby block cakes for a friend's baby shower. And then I created a cake that looked like a book to celebrate Len's earning his teaching certificate, and I was really excited about that outcome. Oh, and so many ideas I want to try!
First let's flash back to March 2012, the small, casual wedding reception, because those are the photos I have handy at the moment. We'll get to the other cakes in the near future.
As is often my MO when I want to focus all of my energy on the look of the cake, I started with boxed cake mix. I enjoy baking from scratch, but the box just saves me some time and creative energy. You can get the mix on sale for a buck, you already know that it's going to taste good (better than a store-bought sheet cake), and you can trust that it will come out looking and feeling like a cake should. I even went with canned frosting this time, too. Again, it's frequently on sale, it tastes all right, it's easy to work with, it saves me some dishes, yada yada yada.
For the wedding cake, I chose Devil's food chocolate cake and vanilla buttercream frosting. And, I started the night before the event.
Friday night, I baked one 13x9 and two 9x9 one-layer cakes and let them cool. The two 9x9s would be the two-layer bottom tier. Out of the rectangular cake, I cut four squares—two medium and two small—to make the top two two-layer tiers. Using a bread knife (useful for trimming cakes because it's long, flat, and serrated) I trimmed the tops and sides of all six squares to make them flat and even all around. (The cake scraps and any leftover icing would become a small batch of improvised cake balls.)
Then I piled on the icing—but just for between the layers at this point! When I had three separate two-layer cakes (bald except for icing in the middle), I did the crumb coat. I thinned out some icing just a little bit with some milk and spread a thin layer around every exposed edge of the cakes and let them dry out until morning.
While the cakes were baking, I rinsed bunches of green and purple grapes and then rolled them around in sugar. Some methods for sugaring grapes call for egg whites, but I found that just the water from rinsing them was enough to hold the sugar on. It will, however, give you an uneven coat that sprinkles off anytime you touch the grapes, but if you're just going for the simplest method possible... Anyway, I let the grapes dry overnight as well.
Late Saturday morning: Learning my lesson from the baby blocks, I used a lot of icing. The crumb coat helped a little bit with keeping the chocolate crumbs from mixing into the cream-colored icing, but either I'm still not doing something right or I'm expecting the crumb coat to harden more as it dries than it actually does, because crumbs still came loose unless I gave myself a really thick icing buffer. I frosted the bottom layer first and when it was totally covered, I dipped the spatula in hot water between swipes to smooth out the icing around the sides, giving the cake a cleaner look like a sheet of fondant would.
Using cardboard squares cut to the size of the each tier and covered with foil and little wooden dowels cut just barely higher than each tier, I first stacked and then frosted and smoothed the middle tier and then the cute little top tier. Then I piped a dotted border, just to hide imperfections and give the cake a cleaner more finished look. Then I carefully placed the grapes.
I transported the whole thing in a giant box and drove so carefully! One bunch of grapes fell off in transit, smearing some icing. So I just rearranged some of the other grapes once the cake was in place on the restaurant table, and no one was the wiser. Mostly.