Pros: Helpful tips on selling cakes professionally
Cons: Some areas could use more detailed information
Aaahh..the wedding cake, a source of so much stress for so many brides-to-be. And a nice source of extra income for so many aspiring bakers. Wedding Cake Art and Design by Toba Garrett is a good reference book for someone thinking of going into business creating wedding cakes. The book covers many of the basics from step-by-step instructions for initial consultations with a prospective client to suggestions for finding professional kitchen space.
The bulk of the book is divided into chapters on different cake designs, with each section dedicated to a sample couple. Garrett describes the couple's background, size of the wedding and their preferences. She outlines three potential cake designs for each couple and shows what the rough sketches would look like. Each cake may be made up of different sized tiers to equal the approximate number of servings needed. Then the subsequent pages are spent showing how each sketch would be made into a cake, with great photography detailing the decorations.
The cake designs themselves appear quite approachable. Many are somewhat traditional tiered cakes, often round, covered with rolled fondant. There aren't pillars separating one tier from the next, or crazy sculpted cakes. Though I found some of the designs more appealing than others, I did really appreciate that so many of the techniques were well illustrated and not so advanced as to intimidate a novice.
There is a lot of helpful information included for someone just starting out. If you can't draw well enough to present sketches to clients, no problem, there is software available for that. There are recommendations for industry magazines, trade groups and supply websites. The book also includes helpful tidbits such as the difference between using fresh egg whites and pasteurized in the final texture of royal icing. Apparently many cake artists use powdered or pasteurized for much of their decorating for safety reasons, but designs that need fine lines or fragile, freestanding lacework are best done with fresh egg whites. Pasteurized whites leave tiny holes, so the work won't be as strong.
For all that is included in the book, there were a few things I was expecting, but didn't see. There are diagrams for serving the cakes (how to get the required number of pieces out of larger tiers), but none for splitting and filling. leveling or using cake strips. No advice for how to get a smooth layer of buttercream under the fondant or for applying the fondant itself. Perhaps that was left out because the book is targeted towards someone already familiar with those basics and ready to become a professional.
Towards the back of the book, there are several recipes for the cakes, fillings, buttercreams and icings. and a chart of possible flavor combinations. In this chart, Garrett lists raspberry puree as a filling suggestion for several of the cakes, but there is no recipe for this. Earlier in the book, under the sample consultations, she also mentioned frozen raspberry puree filling. I was curious what this was. My first thought was the frozen raspberry puree I have used at several restaurants where I have worked, but those are all somewhat tart and far too thin to be used as a filling without some doctoring first. Perhaps she is referring to some prepared filling that is purchased frozen, if so, it is not described or listed in sources. Some of the recipes included could use an introduction. There is confectioners' glaze and quick glaze, modeling chocolate and modeling chocolate paste. What are the differences? That is not explained. There is a recipe for sieved apricot jam, but in looking through the book, I don't see that called for anywhere. I can guess that it would work well as a barrier if brushed onto the cake layers before they are filled, but some instruction on this would be welcome.
The first cake I tried was the peanut butter cake. The measurements are all given in weights, which I find easiest to use. Though I did chuckle when I saw that 4 oz of packed brown sugar was called for in this recipe. There was no volume measurement included, so why on earth would you pack the brown sugar? The recipe was otherwise very simple to follow and I was truly impressed that the cake baked off level. Most cake recipes I have made dome at least slightly in the middle and need to be trimmed before they are decorated. This can be challenging to do completely level on the larger tiers, so I appreciate this quality. In her chart of flavor combinations, she suggests pairing this cake with a filling of creamy peanut butter or raspberry puree. Well, there is that puree again. So, I decided to avoid that and stick with the peanut butter, but I see that she means straight peanut butter, not a peanut butter flavored filling. That strikes me as an odd suggestion and I decide not to use it on the entire cake. Instead, I fill one section with the suggested peanut butter, but choose a chocolate ganache for the rest. As I suspected, the peanut butter filling is inedible. The cake itself is good, but one bite of it with the peanut butter makes me think I am going to choke. The combination of cake and peanut butter is just too dry and hard to swallow. The filling needs to be cut with something and I have my doubts that she really serves this as a wedding cake option as described.
For my next recipe choice, I decide to select a classic, but was surprised to find no recipes for a white cake. That seems like a popular option to me, but I selected the High-Yield Yellow Cake recipe instead. This was also an easy cake to make, though the method was a bit different than I have encountered with other cakes. The recipe called for using either a KitchenAid or Hobart mixing bowl and twice said to mix on low for a certain time, then to mix on the next higher speed. To me this is not clear. My KitchenAid has ten speed settings, so the speed next highest from low, speed two, is still quite low. But on Hobarts I have used in the past, there are only three speed settings, with the next up from low being a medium, much more comparable to a KitchenAid speed 5. When mixing at this speed for two minutes, I would think the effect of the speed differences would be noticeable on the final product. This cake also baked off impressively level and even though it used whole eggs, the resulting cake was light enough to pass as a white cake. The texture was a fine crumb, not terribly dense, but tight enough to cut nicely without much crumbling. The recipe instructions did call for the air bubbles to be knocked out of the batter before baking. Though I followed this step, I was apparently not aggressive enough when banging the cake pans on the counter, as I did end up with a few large holes in the cake.
This kind of cake could be paired with endless filling flavors, but I opted for Garrett's suggestion of using lime curd and was very pleased with the results. The lime curd had just the right balance of tartness with the sugar to compliment the cake. To me, the real test would be to see how it held up in the fridge for several days. Garrett explains that cakes are often prepared three to five days before they are delivered. So to truly test the cake recipe, I left one piece, well wrapped, for four days in the refrigerator and it held up quite well. The lime curd helped the cake stay moist and was still good. The yield on the lime curd recipes was listed as 2 ½ lb and I noticed several of the other fillings described by weight as well. If I were doing a three tiered wedding cake to serve 100 people using lime curd, how many pounds would I need? This information would be helpful.
Garrett's filling options avoid the more perishable choices like mousses and puddings that tend to have a short shelf life. Though she does include a recipe for pastry cream that is said to last for three days. She also does not address any concerns with how the cake is going to be served. I am assuming that some cakes or decorations would not hold up as well at an outdoor wedding where conceivably the cake could be warm for several hours. Though many of her buttercream recipes do call for a small amount of shortening to be used along with the butter. This could be to help the frosting hold its shape in warmer temperatures, but I am not a fan of cooking with shortening or the mouthfeel it leaves behind.
The book could use a little more description in certain areas, but overall the information that is included is helpful and I especially like the decorations she chose to showcase. Her instructions are easy to follow and many of her designs are based on methods that do not require advanced experience in cake decorating. I expect that this is a cookbook I will make good use of over time.
Recipe: High-Yield Yellow Cake
Yield: Four 8-inch cake pans, three 10-inch cake pans, or two 12-inch cake pans
Baking Time: 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch cake pans, 60 to 70 minutes for 10-inch cake pans, 70 to 80 minutes for 12-inch cake pans
1 lb, 6 oz (682g) cake flour
2 lb (907g) sugar
1 ounce (24g) baking powder
1 tsp (5g) salt
1 lb (454g) soft butter, half completely melted
8 fl oz (237 ml or 227g) whole milk
16 fl oz (473 ml or 454g) buttermilk
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
20 oz (591 ml or 567g) whole eggs
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Vegetable-spray and parchment-line the cake pans.
Measure the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a KitchenAid or Hobart Bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix for 3 minutes to sift and blend the dry ingredients.
Add the butter and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Then mix on the next-higher speed to fully incorporate the butter.
Return the mixture to low speed and add all of the whole milk. Mix until incorporated, about 2 minutes, and then mix on the next-higher speed for 1 minute.
Whisk the buttermilk, vanilla, and eggs in a separate large bowl. Return to low speed and add the milk mixture in four increments.
Mix on the next-higher speed for 1 minute once all of the milk mixture has been incorporated.
Add the batter to the cake pans (about two-thirds full). Hit the pans against the counter to burst any air bubbles and clean up the sides of the pans. Smooth the top of the batter with a small metal offset spatula.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake shrinks slightly from the sides of the pans.
Let cakes completely cool in cake pans.
Yield: 2 ½ lb
8 large eggs (approximately 14 oz or 397g)
2 egg yolks (approximately 1 oz)
1 ½ lb (680g) sugar
Grated zest of 10 limes
Juice of 10 limes (12 fl oz/355 ml or 340g)
12 oz (340g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-in. pieces
Beat the whole eggs, egg yolks, and sugar together in a stainless-steel bowl until well combined. Add the zest, juice, and butter.
Cook in a double boiler over simmering water, stirring constantly, until the curd starts to thicken, about 20 minutes. The curd is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Strain immediately and cool over an ice bath.
Store the curd in a plastic container with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Then cover with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate until ready to use. Will last for two weeks in the fridge.
Note: More limes may be needed to equal 12 fl oz (355 ml or 340g).