Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Wedding: The Cake is Key

Do you have any idea how long it took me to make this last weekend?

I'm just teasing, of course. That's a photo of OUR wedding cake, taken as we were cutting into it. (Do you really think I could build something like that? Not a chance.) I will tell you right now, with no apologies, that I have NEVER seen a more beautiful cake than the one we had at our wedding, and I have NEVER tasted one nearly as scrumptious as ours, either, before or since. I'm not kidding. It was literally melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Imagine the most delectable cake you've ever tasted; it was a hundred times better than that.

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little. My brother-in-law's wedding cake was beautiful and delicious,

and so was my brother's.

Anyway, enough about those; on with the blog post.

A wedding takes careful planning. You've got to set a date, choose a venue, decide who will perform the ceremony, find a place to have your reception, and figure out who will be seated with whom. (What a nightmare THAT is.) Some couples go to marriage preparation classes. The bride has to find a dress and choose bridesmaids and then decide what the bridesmaids will wear. Flowers have to be purchased, the groom needs to pick the groomsmen and figure out what THEY will wear and arrange for rentals (the groom has the easy part, because that's pretty much all he has to do). The couple must decide what kind of music to have, maybe hire a DJ or a band, choose a menu, purchase more flowers, pick out the invitations, send the invitations, decide where to register for gifts, choose china and crystal patterns, register for a gazillion other gifts from towels to pots and pans to throw rugs. Then there are the details of the wedding ceremony to sort out: What will be the songs chosen? Will anyone be singing? Will we have a flower girl and a ring bearer? Oh, and let's not forget to get gifts for all the bridesmaids and groomsmen, and put out favors for all of the guests. And what about who to invite and who not to invite? Will there be alcohol served? Rice or birdseed? You have to choose a photographer, and hope and pray that they'll take good pictures without charging you out the wazoo. And whether or not you want to hire a videographer--in our case we asked a dear friend who had done such a good job taking amateur video of another friend's wedding, we asked him to do ours. For payment we gave him the same cheesy monogrammed beer stein that all the groomsmen got. He's still our friend.

My mother has said that the most important thing to consider when planning your wedding is the cake. A cake, she says, can make or break a wedding. You could have the most beautiful ceremony, delicious food, and great music; but if your cake tastes like sawdust it can ruin the whole thing. She says she has been to a number of weddings with cakes that looked absolutely stunning, but have been completely inedible. Personally I've never tasted a wedding cake that was THAT bad, but certainly some cakes are better than others. Mine being the best, of course.

Why am I telling you all this? In Nicholas Sparks' The Wedding, our hero Wilson, his wife Jane, and their daughter, Anna have exactly one week to plan a wedding. I had an entire year. Luckily they already had the perfect place, his father-in-law's stately house that Wilson has been renovating. They know people, too, and are able to pull some strings to find a caterer, a photographer, and they manage to find dresses for the bride and bridesmaids quickly. (Although, if you read the book, you might guess that someone had been planning it for longer than they let on--but I don't want to ruin the surprise ending.)

Nick doesn't mention what type of food is being served at this wedding, but he does say that the cake will be vanilla, two layers, with sour cream frosting.

Well, I thought when I read that, I've just gotta make one of those.

I browsed through all my cookbooks for recipes for vanilla cake and sour cream frosting, found one or two, but decided to turn to the Internet to see what I could find there. This cake from Kaboose.com looked perfect:


• 2 cups (500 mL) sugar
• 4 eggs
• 2-1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
• 1 cup (250 mL) milk
• 3/4 cup (175 mL) vegetable oil
• 2-1/4 teaspoons (11 mL) baking powder
• 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla

Cooking Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line two 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pans or one 9x13-inch (23 x 33 cm) rectangular baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper and the sides of the pan well.

2. In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs together until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add flour, milk, oil, baking powder, and vanilla and beat for another minute, just until the batter is smooth and creamy. Don't overbeat. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan(s).

3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick poked into the center of the layer comes out clean. (A single rectangular pan will take longer to bake than two round ones.) Loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a thin knife, then turn out onto a rack and peel off the paper. Let cool completely before covering with frosting, if desired.

Servings: Two 9-inch (23-cm) round layers, or one 9- x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) rectangular cake.


So far, so good...

AllRecipes.com had a great one for sour cream frosting:


• 4 tablespoons butter, softened
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, sour cream, vanilla, lemon juice and salt. Stir in confectioners' sugar, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. (source)

I will say that the next time I make frosting I will probably go with a simple buttercream, because this one tended to melt and run off the cake unless it was refrigerated. I even added extra powdered sugar to thicken it up a bit, and it was still pretty messy. I decided not to ice the sides of the cake; only the top and in between the layers. But it sure was delicious.

I had just brought home a bunch of fresh strawberries from the farmer's market the day before; they told me they were the last of the season and there wouldn't be any more next week. Inspired by the photo on the cake recipe's web page, I decided to decorate the cake with them.

I asked Joe if this tasted like wedding cake. "Should it?" he asked. I suppose not, since it didn't look much like a wedding cake.

Want to know a secret? It did taste good enough to be a wedding cake; I cheated and had a bite. And it was even better the next day; I know because I snuck ANOTHER bite. But not as good as our own wedding cake.

I had a gluten-free cupcake that I had in my freezer, made from Namaste gluten free vanilla cake mix. And a teensy bite of the big cake.

Wilson and Jane, even though they only had a week, tried to plan the perfect wedding for their daughter. They wanted the day to be special, because you see, thirty years ago Jane had wanted a big church wedding with all the trimmings, but Wilson had been an atheist at the time and wasn't interested in putting on a show. (Don't worry, he isn't an atheist anymore.) They had eloped and were married by a justice of the peace instead. Since the wedding was taking place on their own anniversary, it was even more important to make it perfect.

Sixteen years ago (almost), I was thinner, and Joe had more hair than he does now. And Father Joe (yes, Joe is his real name), our priest? He had more hair too.

(I promise I did not edit this photo. Whoever snapped this picture really did cut off our heads.)

Last September we took the boys to the Southern Maryland church where we married, and even took a drive by the hotel where we had our reception. Click here for photos and thoughts from that day.

You might be wondering what's so exciting about a book that seems to be all about planning a wedding. Well, for one thing, there is a little side story about Wilson and his father-in-law, Noah, who likes to go out every day and feed a swan that swims in the creek behind his retirement home; and why he is devastated when one day it doesn't show up for its daily Wonder bread. And of course, Nick always likes to throw a plot twist into every story; in The Wedding, the twist is a happy one. I know some people who have literally thrown certain Nicholas Sparks novels across the room when they finished them; I assure you, when you close this book you'll have a smile on your face.

Coming up, I'll tell you about an easy pasta dinner I prepared one night, inspired by True Believer; I'll also show you my first attempt preparing barbecue North Carolina style; and I'll share the recipe for the egg-free, dairy-free vanilla cake I made for Moe.

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