“Mom, I’m getting married…”

This is a story about a wedding. And a very special wedding cake.

One that took two bakers, working at different sites miles apart, to pull off – to perfection.

Interested? Read on.

We’ll let the mother of the bride, Dani, tell the saga.

Last January I got a call from my daughter, Kate. She was visiting Israel and Jordan, and called with exciting news:

“Mom, I’m getting married.”

A proposal in the romantic setting of ancient Petra led to a plan to have a wedding just 4 months later in New Hampshire, followed by a second wedding in Israel.

The engaged couple carefully planned every aspect of what was a lovely, sincere, and very personal celebration here in Lyme, NH. They considered the feelings and wishes of each family member. One wish – from this mother – was that there be a wedding cake… something they were willing to forgo. Ori, the groom, isn’t fond of sweets; Kate’s gluten-intolerant.

After visiting a few local bakeries, the bridal couple was even more uncertain. No one in this area was offering gluten-free wedding cake.

To help out, I offered to take the cake “off their plate.” I had baked and decorated a wedding cake 20 years earlier for my sister. What I remembered most clearly was a lot of last-minute fussing.

I was worried that while entertaining out-of-town family and helping my daughter get ready for the wedding, there’d be no space on my to-do list for fussing with a cake. I was also worried about baking a gluten-free cake that would be pleasing to the palates and the eyes of 80 guests.

I was worried about making my daughter’s dream wedding come true.

Lucky for me, I live near King Arthur Flour, and count PJ Hamel as a friend. After several consultations she gave me the confidence to take this project on. PJ suggested that I bake the cake, find someone to frost and decorate, then I assemble and do the final fresh flower decorations.

In the end there was a beautiful homemade cake, inspired by the vision of my daughter, and decorated by the hand of a talented caked designer, King Arthur baker Susan Reid.

Several weeks before the wedding, Susan sends me detailed directions, with a shopping list of items I need.  She also kindly lends me large base pans for baking.

I spend a long day baking cake layers. These are just a few of the 15 layers I ended up baking: side cake, base layers, middle layers, two gluten-free top layers, and extra layers in case something went wrong. Each layer is cooled, placed on cake cardboard, and double-bagged. The bags are carefully labeled “gluten-free” or “Yellow Cake,” then put into a zero-degree freezer.

Let me pause and share some of what I learned along the way.

•Take time ahead to try several recipes. Gluten-free baking isn’t that hard, but there’s a learning curve to get things right.

•The flour mix you use makes a huge difference in texture and flavor. I tried my own flour mix, Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free mix, Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix, and King Arthur gluten-free flour mix. In the end I used the King Arthur flour mix, with a recipe that PJ gave me.

•Be sure your baking powder and vanilla are gluten-free. King Arthur carries Sonoma Syrup Company’s Vanilla Bean Crush, which is gluten-free, as is Penzey’s vanilla extract.

•Don’t grease the side of your baking pans – you get better volume in baking without. Do use parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.

•GF baking doesn’t stay fresh for very long. Freeze baked items after they cool; they defrost well and taste fresh. Freezing doesn’t seem to seem to affect texture.

•I tend not to wash my dry measure cups. It’s easy to forget that you stuck a measure into the flour bin,  and then use it later for sugar. If you’re doing regular GF baking, you need to wash everything, every time, after every use. If you’re just an occasional GF baker, open fresh ingredients: sugar, baking soda, etc.

Better yet, use the many new mixes on the market. King Arthur has a new line, and I’ve tried all of them. They’re easy to use and delicious; even non-GF guests smile at the yummy baked goods coming from my kitchen.

•Finally, if you’re using fresh flowers, order a few ahead of time. It would have helped Susan if she had the exact shade of rose while she was decorating the cake.

In the end, it all worked.

A week before the wedding, all the frozen layers are put in coolers and transported to Susan at King Arthur’s test kitchen. Now let’s see how Susan decorates those 15 layers.

First up: lemon curd filling, made from scratch.

Here’s the gluten-free cake, which was the top two layers.

Susan carefully keeps it away from any gluten, using specially washed tools.

Next, the regular layers. Here’s the cake’s second tier, getting its coat of buttercream icing.

And here’s the bottom tier. It takes a LOT of icing to make a gorgeous cake!

In the fridge: gluten-free cake (carefully segregated, bottom left); the other round tiers, and the rectangular “side” cake, which won’t be part of the “presentation” cake, but will be plated and served to guests separately.

Next: a ribbon of white chocolate will encircle each of the tiers.

“Chocolate plastic” – a combination of white chocolate and corn syrup – is used for both ribbons, and hand-shaped flowers. Here Susan is marbleizing it with pale peach and yellow coloring.

Fold…

…roll…

…then flatten into a ribbon. Here it is, being temporarily held on with toothpicks.

Susan painstakingly pipes Swiss dots all around the chocolate ribbon, top and bottom, on all three tiers.

It helps to draw a circle right where you want the second tier to rest.

It also helps to add some wooden supports. Nothing like the top-heavy tiers of a wedding cake sliiiiiding sideways as you’re driving it to the wedding!

Here’s the “chocolate plastic” for the flowers.

Hand-shaped…

…and carefully applied one by one.

Here they are, waiting to be placed.

You begin to see the final effect.

Notice the gap between layers. Cake decorator’s secret – you need to leave room for the stems of the fresh flowers that’ll be added as final decorations.

Each flower has its own stem hand-piped.

Lovely!

Even the “side” cake gets its edges Swiss-dotted.

Susan VERY carefully puts the decorated layers into large plastic containers, each with a non-skid silicone base inside.

She boxes everything up, and even puts together an emergency kit of extra frosting, flowers, and tools – just in case.

The day before the wedding, the groom’s parents and I drive to King Arthur. With some fanfare from the office staff, we load the decorated and boxed layers onto a cart, and transport them to my car. It’s 95°F, so the AC is running full-tilt.

We put blankets around the cake, and a big WEDDING CAKE IN CAR sign in the back window, and have a slow, 20mph drive up Vermont Route 5. The speed limit is 50mph. Drivers behind us tailgate, until they see the sign – then they smile and back off.

The staff at Dowds’ Country Inn, where the ceremony and reception will take place, take the cake from the car to their cooler.

As an extra touch, Susan had carefully labeled the boxes with unpacking directions, including a critical step – EXHALE!

We assemble the cake just a couple of hours before the wedding. That’s the groom’s mom, Reli, on the left; me on the right.

A little repair work makes it absolutely perfect.

BIG sigh of relief. Ready for its flowers. I’d picked up roses, ordered weeks earlier, from our local coop. I worry and wonder if theyll match the cake.

But, the wedding’s about to begin. Onward and upward!

The ceremony’s held beside a small pond and stream.

Here comes the bride! Kate is radiant, wearing the dress I was married in.

My mother recites a sonnet. I had it typed for her, but she never looks at the paper – she says it all from memory.

“You may kiss the bride” – Kate and Ori.

The roses had been placed on top of and around each layer. Phew, they match! I’d forgotten to put some of the roses on the bottom layer – too much going on.

But I think I’m the only one who notices.

In the end, it’s the glowing and happy couple who take the spotlight.

The first cut.

So far, so good – the gluten-free tier looks like it held up just fine.

Now, for the taste-test –

Not sure how much they’re actually tasting, but they’re certainly enjoying it!

Good to the last crumb.

The staff at Dowds’ does a great job helping us store and assemble the cake. They’re careful to cut and serve the GF cake before cutting the non-GF cake. They even set the plated slices on separate tables, so our GF guests are comfortable. For some GF folks the slightest cross-contamination, like a knife used on both cakes, can create a major digestive upset.

Guests dance across the lawn…

…and later enjoy cake.

In fact, the guests go back for seconds and thirds. A guest I don’t know tells me later that she’s a pastry chef in New York City. She carefully compares the GF/non-GF cakes, and declare both to be of great texture and flavor.

OK, it really is all about the bride and groom, but I have to say, that comment made me smile almost as much as my daughter’s happiness.

In the end, having a daughter get married is a happy occasion. Having a gluten-free wedding cake is entirely possible – even easy – with some planning.

And having the help of good friends and loving family makes the whole thing a joy.

Thank you, Susan. Thank you, PJ.

Ed. note: And thank you, Dani, for writing this blog!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Kayler Clarke-Willson

    What special preparations do fresh flowers require? Can I just lay them directly on the buttercream or do the stems and flower backs have to be coated in something? Should I wait to place the fresh flowers on the cake until right before the cake cutting or place them earlier?

    How long can a cake covered in Italian Buttercream sit out at room temperature? The ceremony is in a differnt location from the reception, about two miles away. Should I wait to take the cake out of the refrigerator until after the reception starts? I plan to stack the tiers on top of each other only after they come out of the refrigerator and are already set up in their final location. How long does it take a cake to come to room temperature after it comes out of the refrigerator? I am making your Elegant White Cake (from your cookbook).

    How many recipes of Italian Buttercream does it take to fill and frost a two layer 9″X13″ cake, for example? The main cake will be three tiers, two layers each, and I will make two spare cakes. The main cake’s bottom tier will be a 13″X13″ square, the middle tier will be 8″X8″ and the top tier will be 4″X4″. The spare cakes will be one two layer 9″X13″ cake and one 8″X8″ two layer cake. So far I’ve made 10 batches of your Italian Buttercream. Is that enough?

    The bride wants various shades of purple for each of the three tiers of the main cake. I plan to frost and freeze each tier ahead of time. How will this affect the color of the frosting?

    Wow, 15 layers for this cake? That’s a lot of cake! I am figuring that each 9″X13″ cake will feed 20 people, so a two layer 9″X13″ cake will feed 40 people. Am I correct?

    Thanks for any help you can give me. I’m baking a wedding cake for August 4th. Sorry for all the questions! This is my first time making a wedding cake and it is scary!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re asking good questions, Kayler, and we admire your determination to get this done well! We’ll try to get through each question one by one.
      1. You can put flowers directly on the buttercream, but try to do it as close to the cake reveal as possible. Flowers start to wilt the second they’re cut so the longer you can keep them in water, the better they’ll look on the cake.
      2. Cake with buttercream can be at room temperature (68°F to 72°F) for up to four hours. Ideally, you’d want it to be out for at least an hour or so before cutting so the buttercream doesn’t crack when sliced.
      3. A double batch of Italian Buttercream should be enough for a 2-tier 9″ x” 13″ cake, leaving you a little bit of extra. It sounds like 10 batches should be fine, but if you felt like making a couple extra batches for insurance, it’s always better to have too much buttercream on hand than not enough. You can view a helpful chart of frosting to cake ratios here.
      4. For whatever reason, purple pigments fade faster than any other color, so they may come out of the freezer not quite as vibrant as they were going in. One thing you can do to help with this is add a touch of vinegar (white or apple cider) to the buttercream. Vinegar sets colors, so adding just an 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon per batch should keep that purple nice and bright without noticeably altering the flavor. If you’re concerned about the flavor, make a mini test batch to see. It would also be a good idea to make a little cake and frost it with purple frosting, and pulling it out a couple weeks later to see how bright the color still is. It should be fine, but testing is always safe.
      It is a lot of cake, but we’re sure it’s for a lot of people! The portions will honestly depend on the preferred portion size of whoever is cutting the cake. In the wedding-biz, a single layer 9″ x 13″ cake serves 29. If you’re layering 2 different 9″ x 13″ cakes to make the two layers, than yes, it would be double. If it’s a single cake that was cut in half to be stacked, it would stay at that 29. There’s a helpful chart of portions per cake on Pinterest. Depending on how each cake is sliced, it could feed between 82 (using the typical, everyday slicing we do at home) and 186 (according to the chart linked earlier.) That’s a big difference! If you’re curious how I got the number 82, that’s 20 slices per 9″ x 13″, 12 slices per 8″ x 8″, 16 slices for the 13″ x 13″, and 2 slices for the 4″ x 4″.
      We hope we’ve answered all of your questions and you can reach us here or call our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline is available at 855-371-BAKE (2253) if you have any more.
      Best of luck — we know you’ll do an amazing job! Annabelle@KAF

  2. CakenGifts.in

    Great cake Article! It is a wonderful information about the cakes and also get good knowledge and ideas from this article. Cake looking very beautiful and delicious. Thanks for sharing nice cake article.

    Reply
  3. juliane t

    I’ve been practicing for the wedding making different flavors of cake, and yes, Susan, I love DeDe Wilson’s book- I call it the Wedding Cake Bible…lol
    Anyway, the website (FB) has a picture of my most recent practice cake, for future Son-I.L.’s birthday- Strawberries and Cream cake… they liked it well enough to choose it for at least one of their tiers…

    Anybody know of any other interesting flavor combinations?
    I don’t think our bride and groom are into lemon…
    Thanks again for the great info!

    Reply
  4. Dani

    Thank you for all your lovely stories and comments. I’m sitting on a mountain top in a small village in northern Israel; enjoying the shade of olive and fig trees, and thick grape vines. This afternoon Kate and Ori will exchange vows for a second time, with two happy families and a large group of friends. After a celebration meal made from local vegetables, honey, and cheese, we will gather around a campfire to sing and dance. No cake this time, but we’ll enjoy baklava, with a GF cheesecake for Kate and Reli.

    Picture and post when we find an Internet connection.

    PS Reli, mother of Ori, Is the woman helping me set up the cake. Tami, owner of Dowds, is poising with the cake and kids
    PPS In Metula, northern most settlement in Israel. pictures later

    Thanks, Dani – I’ll fix the words under Reli’s picture. Thinking of you and I know we’re all enjoying this second wedding from afar- PJH

    Reply
  5. Aaron Frank

    WOW… Great story. Congrats to the bride, groom, and bakers.

    This story was just what I needed today.

    I’ve made two wedding cakes once (for one wedding), one of which was an Australian fruitcake that took me a month to get right (and numerous taste tests of miserable cake by a good, Aussie friend).

    Thank you for this. You made my day!

    Thanks, Aaron – 🙂 PJH

    Reply

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