dani’s cake portfolio


AVIS WEDDING February 28, 2009

Filed under: wedding — dani @ 12:00 pm

This cake was made for the wedding of Blake’s sister, Lucy, and Dan Avis on February 28, 2009 at the romantic Villa Del Sol D’oro in Sierra Madre, CA (next to Pasadena).

Design The original design was to have chocolate branches wrapping around all the layers with molded, faceted hard candy leaves based on the wrought iron tea light branch centerpieces that they had for each table. I was really exited about the challenge to make the original design a reality.  Blake and I spent hours and hours brainstorming ideas, researching and figuring out logistics.  We even built a full scale cake mock-up out of styrofoam disks to see if our design was feasible. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted the original design to work, it proved to be just too complicated considering the fragility of the decorations and the fact that they needed to survive a 6 hour car ride from Mountain View to Pasadena without breaking.  Since the wedding was so far away from all my tools and my own kitchen space, we decided that it was just too risky.  So a month before the wedding I came up with another design based on the wedding invitations.  I was relieved that Dan and Lucy liked it even more than the original design because it tied the wedding colors and invitation design into the rest of the wedding decor and would make it to LA without major catastrophe. Their invitations were deep blue with a pair of contrasting white doves and stylized laurel wreaths arranged in a modern organic random pattern and the RSVP cards were white with blue wreaths in a similar pattern.  So I scanned their invitations and RSVP cards and created several design options on Adobe Photoshop software for them to choose from.  They picked a design with 12″, 10″ and 6″ white tiers and a double high contrasting 8″ blue tier (actually two four-layer 8″ cakes tiers stacked and covered in fondant).  The blue matched the blue of the invitations perfectly.

Cake Four 1″ layers of rich, dark chocolate black-out cake.

Filling Three 3/8″ layers of creamy white chocolate Italian meringue buttercream with fragrant vanilla undertones.

Originally the cake was supposed to have white chocolate mousse filling, however, when we arrived at the Villa on Friday at 1pm to assemble the cake, we found that the mousse had hardly thawed and was no where near a spreadable consistency.  There is no hurrying the thawing of mousse.  You cannot microwave or otherwise heat it because it causes the solids and liquids in the whipped cream to separate.  We only had 5 hours of kitchen time at the Villa on Friday to torte, fill, crumb coat and frost the cakes,  so there was no time to wait for the mousse to thaw properly.  So, with a broken heart, we decided to use the white chocolate buttercream for filling as well as frosting.  By the next day, the mousse eventually thawed out in the cooler and a dollop was served with each slice of cake at the reception.  So not all was lost, but it was not quite the way I had envisioned it.

Since I have not often used mousse as a cake filling, especially for weddings where the cake sits out for long periods of time, I researched and tested 6 different white chocolate mousse filling recipes to determine which ones could withstand 6-8 hours at room temperature without watering out.  Though I tried recipes with various ingredients for stabilizing whipped cream and chocolate including egg whites, egg yolks and/or gelatin and various methods for combining those ingredients, it turned out that the most reliable, best consistency and best tasting mousse was also the most simple recipe which utilized only cream and white chocolate.  After some research I found out that the cocoa butter in chocolate is a natural stabilizer for whipped cream.  In all honesty, a mixture of just chocolate and cream is really a ganache, but when the proportion of cream to chocolate is high and depending on how it is combined, it can have a lighter, airier texture more like a mousse than your traditional heavy chocolate ganache.  I eventually made a full size 8″ test cake to make sure everything would work in the same environment and within the same time table that we would be making the real wedding cake.  I hope my colleagues at work thoroughly enjoyed my test cake efforts.

Icing White and blue fondant over white chocolate Italian meringue buttercream.

Servings Serves 125 – 150, depending on how you cut it and if you keep the top tier for the 1st anniversary.

Decoration Hand piped royal icing stylized laurel wreaths and color flow bird topper to match the wedding invitations. I piped for several hours each night until my hand would cramp and I could literally do no more.  The decorations were made by piping royal icing onto clear cellophane over templates I had created in Photoshop. I probably broke half of the decorations trying to get them on the cake because they were so fragile.  The slightest pressure from my hand when applying the icing “glue” or from my fingers when trying to stick them on the cake and they would literally shatter into tiny pieces.  It took me a solid 3 hours to place the decorations on the cake and pipe the borders.  The circular white shell leaf wreath mirror I found at Target made a perfect cake base because it repeated the circular laurel wreath design motif on both the invitations and on the cake.  And each slice of cake was served with a dollop of white chocolate mousse and a hand molded white chocolate dove-in-flight to symbolize the newlyweds exciting new future together.

Schedule We had to keep to a strict cake work schedule on top of our hectic career work schedules to make sure everything was finished on time.  Besides the time it took to design and redesign the cake, we also had to shop for and buy an appropriate cake base, supplies, fondant and wet/dry ingredients; research decorating techniques, chocolate molds and mousse recipes; test mousse recipes, and make a test cake; make royal icing decorations, buttercream frosting, mousse filling and bake the cakes all before departing for LA 6 hours away.   2 weeks before the wedding I made the royal icing decoration templates.  8 days before I began making royal icing decorations after work for 5 consecutive days in a row.  6 days before we made the buttercream and froze it.  We also made the white chocolate doves.  Three days before we made the mousse and refrigerated it for one night and froze it the next night to help stabilize it for travel. Two days before the wedding we baked the cakes and packed the car with practically all my tools including a stand mixer, just in case. We packed the filling and frosting in a cooler with ice and double wrapped the cakes in plastic wrap and stacked them in cake boxes. The day before the wedding we woke up super early and drove straight to the wedding venue in LA to begin assembly. I truly felt like a sardine. The day before and the day of the wedding reception were all about assembling and decorating the cake.  Prior to that, it was all about making the kit-of-parts ready for assembly.  I put a ton of effort into this cake to make sure it came out perfect.  In the end, I missed the rehearsal dinner and the wedding and finished the cake just in the nick of time at 3:15pm and the reception started at 3:30pm.

Challenges We faced many, many challenges with this cake besides the challenge of the original branch design, the distance factor and a hectic, tight schedule. We had Plans A, B, C, D, E and F but thankfully only had to go to Plan B with the design and to Plan C with the buttercream filling in lieu of the mousse  filling.  Other challenges we faced included the limited time we could use the kitchen at the Villa (I had to do some work at Blake’s grandmother’s house), the fact that Blake kept disappearing because of groomsman duties, the fragility of the decorations and the fact that the bird toppers had not completely dried due to the high humidity from the constant rain that week.  In my humble opinion, despite the challenges, the cake turned out super beautiful.

Thanks I cannot thank Blake enough for his help on this very special cake for his sister.  Despite having to work around his intense job and the responsibilities of being a groomsman in the wedding party and sneaking in a little time with his family, he spent every other spare moment he could helping me including chopping 9# of white chocolate, making the white chocolate mousse, making the white chocolate doves, preparing all the cake boards, cutting parchment rounds for baking, coloring and rolling out fondant, applying the fondant to the cake and basic clean-up and decorator support duties.  I must also thank Angela, Blake’s grandmother, for allowing me to take over her kitchen at the last minute to finish up loose cake ends the night before the wedding.  And finally I must thank Sandy, one of the owners of Santa Anita Gardens Catering, for allowing us to use the kitchen at the Villa for 5 hours on Friday afternoon and 4 hours again Saturday morning before her catering staff arrived.  I felt so bad because for liability reasons she had to be there to chaperone while we were there using the facility.   Also, the catering staff were so accommodating, friendly and helpful and their support and compliments made all the difference to me that day.