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Appetites: Making wedding cakes with love

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Say your friend asks you to make a wedding cake. Are you qualified? Probably not. Should you do it? Amy Thielen is here to say: Yes! Absolutely!  

The following is by chef and author Amy Thielen.

I am a professional cook, but not a professional wedding cake baker. I mean, I can bake a nice-looking cake that serves 10. But making a cake to feed 150 takes a special breed — and a bunch of different sized baking pans. That said, I've made four wedding cakes for friends. None of them were perfect, but I can tell you, the only ones I regret are the ones I didn't offer to make.

  And everyone I've made one for will take offense when I say they weren't perfect because they loved them. But a couple of them barely made it to the pedestal.

An ornate wedding cake.
An ornate wedding cake.
Credit Florence Bretz Photography

Cara and Eddie's perilous delivery

I transported this cake sitting in the back of a RAV4, with the cake between my legs, driving down dirt roads to the reception. Every time we hit a bump it shook and I winced — it was like I was giving birth to it. Lifting it to the pedestal, it wobbled and almost fell. Divine intervention made me catch it. They don't know this, by the way.

Recipe-wise: I'm all for yellow cake over white cake, and buttercream over fondant. But technically you've got to go with the couple's wishes. To solidify the buttercream, add a dab of Crisco, and use a special high-fat butter, like Hope from Minnesota or Kerrygold. The frosting is about 90 percent butter; it should be a good one. For a splurge, use real vanilla bean to flavor it.

Filling-wise: I'm big on fruit. Homemade strawberry jam. Passionfruit. Lemon curd. I think that a tart filling cuts through all of that butter and sugar.

Baking: I wish I could say that I followed an exacting formula when baking the cakes. I start out that way, but eventually just start making batter by the double batch and filling pans. Fill them all three-quarters full and throw them in the oven. If you have too much cake, you have too much cake, no big deal.

Hyun and Jamie's cake with a fly fishing theme.
Hyun and Jamie's cake with a fishing theme, made by Amy Thielen.
Courtesy of Amy Thielen

Decorating: I don't go in for sugar flowers — because honestly, I don't know how to make them. I use real flowers. But I do try to get creative for the topper. For one, friends who had fallen in love while fishing together, I found antique fishing lures and propped them in the top like a bride and a groom. Another time, my husband Aaron carved a little wooden topper — a small cabin in the woods. Sweet toppers like this really make the cake.

The thing is, by the time the bride and groom get to the cake cutting-part their nerves have been blown wide into giddiness; the cake is always the release valve. It's the fun part. The sweet part. At my own wedding, I licked the knife, which is ridiculous. I was just so glad that everything had gone well and we were married and my parents were happy, my grandmas, etc. ... it's all just too much. So whatever you make, the couple will love it. Just bake your heart out.