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Pumpkin and Mocha and Berries, Oh My!

[Photos without a credit in this post were taken by Lindsay Pour, otherwise known as the most awesome best friend a person could have. Credited photos, as noted, are by Timmy Samuels/Starbelly Studios, who shot our wedding fantastically and for a ridiculously reasonable price.]

First up in our crafty wedding DIY madness posts is something we can all appreciate:* CAKE.

You may think I am crazy for having made my own wedding cake, but I promise you I’m not. Well, I guess it’s debatable, but given how much I like to bake and my history of making really yummy cakes and the price of cake when you buy them from a bakery (starting at $6/slice, really?!) compared to the price of me making it ($100ish, including the pans) it just made sense. And, as you know, we are practical people. (Also? Theatre people, and therefore, pretty much perpetually broke.)

Now, lest you think we dove into this baking adventure mere days before our wedding, I should remind you, we are stage managers. So we’re good at planning and rehearsal. It so happened that about six months before our wedding I was putting together an opening night party for a production of Brecht’s The Wedding. What’s that? You think that sounds like a perfect event for a wedding cake test drive? Exactly. It worked out well, and even made us change our minds about which flavor deserved to be the largest tier.

The whole cake project took place the day before the wedding. With the help of my best friend Lindsay and my younger sister Jeanne, I baked a total of 8 layers for 3 tiers and I went through about a half a dozen eggs and I’m really not exaggerating when I say at least 4 pounds of butter. Seriously, Jeanne had to run to the store to buy more. It was in the name of perfecting the frosting, which was delicious.

While this was happening, Julia was finishing up some details on our dresses, Lindsay was stitching binding on my corset when she wasn’t helping with the cake, and our friend Jay was sitting on our couch composing the little notes that he then attached to the white knots we asked our guests to wear. Busy day, that.

At times, I baked so fast the camera could not catch me.
At other times, my baking frenzy was interrupted for dress fittings. And dancing.
{How to attack a wedding cake.}

Midway through the baking and stacking process, I noticed that the layers for the top tier had risen significantly more than the bottom two tiers, and were going to make it at least an inch taller. I had a near-breakdown about the possibility of uneven tiers (because you CANNOT have uneven layers. It simply will not do.) After leaving the kitchen to go try not to cry about it, I ultimately decided to bake a third layer of the pumpkin and chocolate so that once it was all stacked up it would be uniform.

Smooch Break!

I know you want to drool over all the yumminess, so please allow me to describe the actual cake. (Possibly I am just really proud of myself and I want you to want to eat my cake.) The bottom tier was Pumpkin cake with Ginger Buttercream.

The middle tier was Devil’s Food cake with Mocha Whipped Cream filling.

The top tier was vanilla-almond cake with berries and pastry cream inside.

The frosting covering the outside of the whole cake was my trial-and-error love child of French, Italian, and Swiss style buttercreams with some extra whipped cream added. I decorated it with what is known in the world of Wilton cake decorating magazines from the seventies as Cornelli lace. It’s the little squiggles all over. It takes a LONG. TIME. to do. Then we put some fresh strawberries on top for a splash of color.

The first few squiggles.
Two hours later, I am still making tiny squiggles, while Lindsay adds strawberries on top.

Nearly ten hours after starting, we packed up the cake in a box for the five block car trip to the restaurant where our reception would be.

Accoutrements of our wedding: cake, our rings, and a pile of white knots

I should note that when you make a layered cake like this, you’re supposed to put a couple dowels through all the layers so that they don’t go sliding about. I knew this, and had purchased said dowels. But once it was all stacked up, it seemed really sturdy… so I decided that I didn’t really need to put them in. You know where this is going, right?

Yes, you do. We drove over, carried it into the restaurant’s walk-in fridge, and as I turned to go, the manager asked if I was aware that my cake had fallen over.

I was not.

When I looked inside, I saw that the top two tiers had shifted and the entire cake was now squished up against one side of the box. Now at this point, we were already an hour late to go watch fireworks from a hotel rooftop with our families and the restaurant was about to close. So there was absolutely nothing I could do about it at that point.

Now you might think, given the fiasco of the uneven layers, that I was freaking out. But for reasons I do not understand – maybe because I’d been making cake all day, maybe because my wedding zen magically appeared, I don’t know – I found this to be utterly hysterical. I laughed. Guffawed, even. And then I reached into the box, pushed those top tiers back where they belonged, and walked out the door with a plan to bring icing and tools to fix it in the morning.

It was a plan that totally would have worked. In fact, as the hours went by, I even made it better. How cool would it be, I thought, if instead of fixing it first thing in the morning, we waited until our walk over to the wedding, and stopped in on the way. Then, we could get awesome pictures of me fixing it while wearing my wedding dress!

But. When we got there, icing and apron in hand, I took one look at the cake and said, “Fuck it.” I did not care one bit that the whole side was smashed. In fact, I still thought it was funny and I loved it. We discussed it very briefly and decided that, really, who would care anyway, as long as it still tasted amazing?

Our beautiful, delicious, fabulously smooshed wedding cake!
And I couldn’t resist adding this picture because I love it so much!

*Unless you’re gluten-free, vegan, or lactose intolerant. Sorry. And for what it’s worth, we had vegan, gluten-free cupcakes from The Bleeding Heart Bakery as an alternative for those folks.

I want to talk about Bread.

I don’t think I can adequately tell you in writing how much I love bread. I like just about any kind of bread, be it in loaf, bagel, biscuit, or roll form. (Um, except sourdough. I have always, always hated that.) When I was a kid, my sister and I used to make this whole wheat bread from a kids cookbook on a fairly regular basis, and the entire loaf would often be consumed before it had finished cooling. Maybe the bread love is genetic.

Anyway… I’ve been wanting to start making bread again lately (especially after that pizza last month), so I set out with a recipe for Four-hour French baguettes. That’s a measly four hours, including all the rising time.

Loaves proofing.

It was very simple to make. After mixing flour, salt, yeast, and water (seriously, that’s ALL the ingredients… think about that next time you read the label on your bread from the store) together, kneading, and letting it rise for a bit, I shaped it into baguettes (above) and let them rise a little longer.

Bread baking.

During this last rise, I preheated the oven with a baking stone for the bread, and a pan of water on the rack underneath. The water is supposed to create steam which is supposed to help make your crust nice and, well, crusty. I don’t feel like I did a great job with the first batch on the steam part.

Finished Baguettes

But they tasted amazing anyway. I ate a whole baguette in about 5 minutes. Granted, they were not that big, but I was hoping they’d last for at least a few days…

Yum!

But, as I mentioned earlier, I LOVE bread. So… I had to make a second batch the same day. I decided they didn’t look as nice and golden as they do in the store, so to fix that problem I added a simple egg white wash before putting them in the oven, and then a second coat about halfway through the baking time.

Bread with Egg Wash

Now that looks like a bakery-worthy crust! (Though I clearly still need to work on the scoring.)

Down on the Farm: Goat Loin and Homemade Butter

Roasted Goat Loin over Kale, with Asparagus and Caramelized Onions

Last week at the farmer’s market, we were at one of the meat vendors, and we decided to give goat a try. They had some loin pieces that looked good, so we took a couple of them home with us and cooked up some asparagus to go with it. Delicious!

On an unrelated note, if you’re wondering what to do with that extra heavy cream you’ve got in your fridge, I’ll give you one word: butter. Gone are the days of sitting on a stool churning for hours and hours… all you need is your mixer and a little bit of time.

Whipping up some cream. Don’t be like me – use the splatter shield!

First, whip cream using whisk attachment until it breaks apart into liquid and clumps. (This is well after it looks like whipping cream.) When it starts to breakup, switch to the paddle attachment.

Butter and Buttermilk

Keep beating until it’s really divided into liquid and solid. Push the solid to one side of the bowl with a spatula and drain the liquid. Keep it – it’s buttermilk! Now you can make biscuits, waffles, pancakes, or various other delightful buttermilk-y things.

“Washing” the butter

Now that you’ve got your buttermilk set aside, we need to deal with the butter. In order to keep it from spoiling, it’s essential to get every last drop of milk out of it. So, we’re going to pour in some ice cold water, mix again, and then dump out the liquid. (This is not buttermilk, just milky-water, so go ahead and get rid of it.) Then repeat this until the water runs clear.

Voila – butter!
It turned out pretty well, but honestly didn’t taste much different than what we buy at the store. We were hoping it would be more like the Irish butter we occasionally splurge on – rich and creamy. Perhaps we need to use cream that isn’t processed, and we definitely think we’ll be adding a pinch of salt if we do this again!