It was a first-class wedding all the way around. The owners of the wedding location in the Malibu hills are the couple’s personal friends. There were food stations by Grace, an acclaimed LA restaurant, featuring thoughtful, delicious fare. The groom had been a mixologist at Grace, and he is passionate about wine and spirits; they served fine, smooth sparkling wine and 100% agave tequila. We danced to personally choreographed music playlists by the couple’s industry cohorts. The bride’s bouquet was stunning and simple, just like everything else. And I was honored to contribute.
Last January, when my niece Tricia and her fiancé JP came to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival we got a glimpse: of the magical party location, how many invitees and so forth. The guest count would be close to 200, but as Tricia pointed out, about 15% of them were Hallorans–my parent’s progeny. Right then I volunteered to make their cake, to share in their celebration using my pastry chef skills.
Tricia and JP's art project
Over the next six months, until the August 22 day, we exchanged cake detail emails. Tricia sent a scanned photo of a magazine wedding cake she liked, and in the countdown weeks, I received their “art project”, a paper mockup showing their newly purchased cake pedestals with just the perfect tiering. Wedding guests would have two choices, chocolate truffle cake or lemon raspberry cake.
It was at the grocery store, when I was buying more raspberries than the norm, that another shopper asked why so many. When I told her they were for the filling of my niece’s wedding cake, she said, “That’s a nice gift.” Yes it was—a gift of love, a wish for many years of wedded bliss.
To allow plenty of time, I divided the work into stages, over three days. And because I was transporting the cake, from Utah to the wedding in California, the first baking day was much earlier than my recommended three days before the wedding day–I baked the lemon cakes three weeks ahead and froze them in Deer Valley’s walk-in freezer.
The chocolate cakes I baked a week out. While they were in the oven, I made coffee syrup, truffle filling and a batch of vanilla-flavored meringue buttercream. The next day I filled and assembled and crumb-coated the chocolate cakes, triple-wrapped them in plastic wrap, and hauled them to Deer Valley’s freezer.
From there, the frozen lemon cakes came home with me–to thaw overnight, and I prepared the lemon cream and lemon simple syrup so they’d be ready. The next day, I filled and assembled and crumb-coated the lemon cakes, and wrapped them really well for freezer storage.
It was time for a breather–the cake was 85% complete until wedding day decorating.
On Thursday of wedding week, 10 pounds of dry ice and our biggest picnic cooler became the new freezer, and for travel, Robbie stuffed Styrofoam “popcorn” into the spaces that weren’t taken up with cakes or dry ice. Along with our suitcases and bikes in the back of Robbie’s pickup truck, we packed another large container—for my stand mixer, cake turntable, a pastry bag with assorted tips, frosting spatulas, apron, rolling pin and fondant rolling mat. We became a bakery on wheels, and headed south into a heat wave.
It was 103 degrees Farenheight at 9pm in Mesquite Nevada, our sleeping stopover for Thursday night. No problem for these cakes though. On Friday morning we opened the cooler for a look. Since the dry ice was underneath the cakes I decided to switch them around, moving the ones that had been on top to give them some time next to the ice. It proved a good ploy–when we unpacked the cooler at about 11am at the wedding house on Saturday, all of the cakes were still cold. The largest lemon one was even a bit frozen in the middle. But since Tricia and JP weren’t cutting the cake for 8 more hours, the cakes could continue to thaw.
At Rebecca and Yosef’s hilltop house, we commandeered the huge kitchen island, a 6 by 6 foot square butcher-block table. Robbie was an able assistant, ready at every step, and cleaning up in between. Both of us pretty much kept our noses to the grindstone for 4 hours, stopping here and there for a sip of beer or to hug early arriving relatives we hadn’t seen in years. For anyone and everyone that walked through the kitchen, we were entertainment.
Sometimes I decorate wedding cakes with a crisp-smooth finish coat of buttercream, and sometimes I use the popular rolled fondant. For Tricia and JP, I tinted rolled fondant, a soft, light celery green. Roll, wrap and smooth, roll wrap and smooth. Seven tiers of cake, fondant-wrapped and stacked.
Finally I whipped up royal icing in my trusty Kitchenaid mixer, filled my pastry bag and piped a bottom border that resembled just a little the tucks in Tricia’s Vera Wang dress. For a bit of filigree, I piped a continuous “ccccc” around the side of the chocolate cakes and a continuous “lllll” around the side of the lemon cakes; the bride and groom’s 6-inch cake got “JPJPJP”, like on their invitation, for Patricia and JP. Aura and Lila, adorable young daughters who live at the wedding house, spent several hours at cake central, asking lots of questions and sneaking tastes of the fondant. They added their bit of love with the final gilding and arranging, of voluptuous yellow-green and white orchid blossoms.
Here are recipes for a sampling of the cakes—a 9-inch lemon raspberry cake and a 9-inch chocolate truffle cake. The meringue butterceam is enough for a crumb-coat and buttercream finish on both cakes.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature (70 degrees F.)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
8 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon oil, optional
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush two 9-inch round pans with melted butter and dust lightly with flour, or spray generously with cooking spray. Line the bottoms with circles of parchment or waxed paper.
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until very pale and little tails form as the beater goes around.
Add the sugar and lemon zest and beat well, until mixture is fluffy.
Scrape bowl well. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend before adding the next one.
On low speed, add the dry ingredients, lemon juice and lemon oil, if using. Mix just until incorporated, being careful not to over mix.
Divide into prepared pans. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, until light golden in color and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out with just a few crumbs on it.
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan, gently swirling the pan until the sugar dissolves. Cook just until the syrup is clear, do not boil. Cool. Flavor with lemon juice.
6 egg yolks
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Put the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar and butter in the top of a double boiler. Place over gently boiling water; upper pan should not touch water. Cook, whisking often, until the curd thickens, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a clean container. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, so it touches the hot curd, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate. You can keep lemon curd, refrigerated, up to a week. It also freezes very well.
1 1/2 cups lemon curd, room temperature
3 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur
2 1/2 teaspoons (about 1 envelope) powdered gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
Put the lemon curd in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. If the lemon curd is very cold, let it sit at room temperature for about a 1/2 hour, so the warmed gelatin will incorporate easily into the curd, without seizing.
Pour the liqueur into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it, and allow to soften, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whip the cream until it comes to soft peaks that hold their shape. Set aside.
Place the bowl of softened gelatin over barely simmering water and stir until the gelatin melts, about a minute.
Whisk the liquid gelatin into the lemon curd. Immediately whisk in 1/3 of the whipped cream; then fold in the rest.
Lemon Cake Assembly:
You will need about 2 1/3 cups meringue buttercream flavored with 1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur and 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Have the cakes, lemon syrup, lemon cream and one pint of fresh raspberries at the ready.
With a serrated knife, trim any dome from both cakes so they are flat, not rounded. Trim the sides of the cake if they seem dry. Keeping the knife level and parallel to the bottom of the cake, split each cake in 2 equal and even layers.
Put one of the cake layers on a cardboard circle or a flat serving plate. Moisten it with a quarter of the syrup. Spread on roughly 1/6 of the lemon cream. Press 1/3 of the raspberries into the cream, and then top with more cream—just so it covers the raspberries, using no more than 1/3 of the lemon cream in this layer. Gently flatten a second cake layer on top and brush it with another 1/4 of the syrup.
Repeat the layering, ending with the last cake and syrup. Wrap the assembled cake and refrigerate for about 1 hour, to let the gelatin filling set.
To crumb-coat frost the cake:
Beat room temperature buttercream until it is very smooth. Add more liqueur and/or lemon juice, to your taste. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and place it on a cake turntable. With a sharp serrated knife, trim the sides of the cake, just enough to even any sharp angles, brushing off any loose crumbs.
With an icing spatula, frost the sides and the top of the cake with the buttercream (less than 1/4-inch thick) to seal in the crumbs and lemon filling. Refrigerate (ideally) overnight to let the buttercream get hard.
Finish the cold cake with another thin coat of buttercream, or rolled fondant. Decorate with a buttercream or royal icing border and optional design.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups organic cane sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cold water
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush two 9-inch round pans with butter and dust lightly with flour, or spray generously with cooking spray. Line the bottoms with a circle of parchment or waxed paper.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, vanilla, and water; then add to the dry ingredients. Mix for 2 minutes–with a hand whisk or with an electric mixer on low speed. Divide into the prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, until the centers of the cakes spring back when touched with a finger. Cool completely
Chocolate Truffle Filling:
1/2 cup plus 1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces, and set aside in a medium bowl.
Heat the cream on medium-low until it is very hot (do not boil). Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and allow to sit for a few minutes. With a spatula, stir gently until all of the chocolate has melted and the “ganache” is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool.
When the ganache is cool to touch but not cold, add one quarter of the cream, gently whisking until smooth. Add the remaining cream and whisk by hand until the chocolate cream holds a soft shape. (Be careful; if the ganache is too warm or if you over-whip the ganache and cream, the chocolate cream will curdle.) Refrigerate the chocolate cream until it is very cold and you are ready to assemble the cake.
Coffee Simple Syrup
1/2 cup hot strong coffee
1/2 cup sugar
Mix the sugar into the hot coffee, stirring until the heat of the coffee melts the sugar. Cool.
Chocolate cake assembly:
You will need about 2 1/3 cups meringue buttercream flavored with 1 to 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract. Have the cakes, coffee syrup, and the chocolate truffle filling at the ready.
With a serrated knife, trim any dome from both cakes so they are flat, not rounded. Trim the sides of the cakes if they seem dry. Keeping the knife level and parallel to the bottom of the cake, split each cake in 2 equal and even layers.
Put one of the cake layers on a cardboard circle or a flat serving plate. Moisten it with a quarter of the syrup. Carefully whisk the cold truffle filling, a few strokes at a time, until you can pull your finger through the filling and it holds good shape. Spread a third of filling on the moistened cake. Gently flatten another cake layer on top and brush it with another quarter of the syrup. Repeat the layering, ending with the last cake and syrup. Wrap the assembled cake and refrigerate for about 1 hour, to let the filling set.
To crumb-coat frost the cake:
Beat room temperature buttercream until it is very smooth. Add more vanilla extract if you wish, to your taste.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator. Place it on a cake turntable. With a sharp serrated knife, trim the sides of the cake, just enough to even any sharp angles, brushing off any loose crumbs.
With an icing spatula, frost the sides and the top of the cake with the buttercream (less than 1/4-inch thick) to seal in the crumbs and truffle filling. Refrigerate (ideally) overnight to let the buttercream get hard.
Finish the cake with another thin coat of buttercream, or rolled fondant. Decorate with a buttercream or royal icing border and optional design.
1 1/3 cups plus 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons corn syrup
6 egg whites (2/3 cup)
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 to 4 tablespoons liqueur or 1 teaspoon extract flavoring, optional
In a saucepan, mix the 1 1/3 cups of sugar with the water and corn syrup. Place over low heat and gently swirl the pan until the sugar dissolves into a clear syrup. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (240°F on a candy thermometer.) Do not stir after the syrup begins boiling.
As the syrup boils, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until they are foamy. Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and whip until they form soft peaks. You want the syrup to reach soft-ball at the same time the egg whites form soft peaks, so begin whipping the whites when the surface of the boiling syrup is thick with bubbles.
When the syrup reaches soft-ball stage, with the mixer running, pour the syrup in a thin stream over the whites. Aim the syrup between the bowl and the whisk, taking care not to let it run onto the whisk, which spatters the syrup onto the sides of the bowl. Continue beating about 10 minutes, until the egg white and syrup mixture–the Italian meringue–is cool.
With the mixer running, beat the softened butter into the meringue, a little at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl and continue beating until the mixture becomes a very smooth, spreadable buttercream. Beat in desired flavorings.
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