How to Avoid a Wedding Cake Disaster
A Real-Life Wedding Cake Disaster
If you are getting married, and are still looking for a wedding cake supplier, please have a read through this story. It is an example of something that unfortunately happens more often than you think. This story not only applies to cakes but any supplier you chose for your big day. Elli, the owner and cake artist at The Turquoise Squirrel Patisserie, shares a story of a recent wedding cake disaster experience.
The story begins on a sunny Saturday morning…
I had 2 wedding cake deliveries that day, the first was done and dusted, and I was getting ready for my next delivery all the way in Pretoria. One of the lovely staff at Oakfield farm, where my bakery is based, came to me and asked if I can have a look at a cake that someone had delivered as it was starting to crack.
This is what I found: The cake had sunken in so much that the central ‘dowels’ poked out about 10 to 15 cm above the top layer. The whole cake looked like the leaning tower of Pisa. There was no rescuing this cake. It was just a matter of minutes before the whole thing would be on the floor!
What the Disaster Cake Looked Like
An Emergency Solution
The only solution I could see was to take the cake apart, stash the layers separately in the fridge so they could be served up to the guests later; take off all the decor, and make a fresh dummy cake for them from scratch. This was 3 hours before the cake had to be up and standing. And I still had to do my own delivery! (This trip involved getting pulled over by the police… read the full account on Elli’s Blog)
I disassembled the cake and it was much worse than initially expected. There were no cake boards separating the cakes. No dowels in the cake tiers to hold up the weight of each tier. Some of the sugar foliage on metal wires were placed straight into the cake. This is totally unacceptable – I mean it’s inedible hardware just poking into the cake – not cool! Most shocking of all: we found a MASSIVE splinter inside the cake!
I managed to do my delivery and make it back in time to finish covering the dummy cake and added the decor I pulled off from the original cake. It didn’t end up looking too bad, at least it looked like a wedding cake. I added a piece of the real cake to the back and we covered it with fresh roses, so the couple could at least cut the cake for the photos.
The Dummy Wedding Cake
The Structure of a Well-Made Wedding Cake
The first thing to note about wedding cakes is that they are (or at least they should be) soft and they get heavy. Often times my cakes end up being 10-15 kg! Now there is absolutely no way you can stack 15kg of cake on top of each other without it compressing. A wedding cake gets stacked with support dowels in each tier, so it’s pretty much built like Venice.
The cake below is held up by solid columns that carry the weight of the cake above, so very minimal weight is put on the actual cake.
To be able to be placed on the columns/dowels, each cake needs to be put on a cake board. This provides a sturdy and level surface.
What I do on top of that is place a long wooden dowel all the way through all the tiers that anchors into the bottom cake board. So even if you tilt the cake, they can’t slide off.
Below is a sketch illustrating the use of dowels and cake boards to secure the structural integrity of the wedding cake.
For further durability, I cover all my cakes in white chocolate ganache, which is semi-hard at room temperature. I easily use 3-4 kg of white choc in my ganache for an average 3 to 4 tier cake! That’s a heck of a lot of chocolate! And only after the layer of ganache do the cakes get covered in fondant or modelling chocolate.
Even if it’s hot in the venue, the ganache is very unlikely to start melting. To assemble a cake usually takes up to 1 hour – just to put it all together and make sure it’s sturdy and straight. That is not including the ganache (that can take 10 minutes to half an hour per cake).
Beware of ‘Budget Friendly’ Wedding Cakes
Taking all of that into consideration you can see how cost and time can very quickly add up. And that is excluding any cake fillings or decorations! Bear in mind that wedding cakes take time and a lot of materials to make them stackable into these sky-high gorgeous centrepieces you’ve always dreamed of.
What I want you to be wary of is ‘budget-friendly’ cakes. I am not saying you have to pay a fortune for your cakes. But if you are unsure just chat with your baker and ask them about what they use as their preferred structure for their cakes.
Examples of Properly Structured Wedding Cakes
Further, check their credibility. Research your suppliers and check if they have reviews or testimonials. If possible try to verify these reviews – chat to people you know who may have used these suppliers as well.
You might think the disaster wedding cake above was delivered by a friend of the family or something. But you would be mistaken. It was a proper company that arrived in their chef jackets.
That is why it is important to meet with them for a consultation and references when booking a supplier. Make sure that they are trustworthy and qualified to do the job.
If your wedding planner or venue has a list of preferred suppliers it is a safer bet to stick with them. They have a good reason for being on that list! And this applies to not only cakes but any of the other vendors. Although it is entertaining to look at wedding cake disasters on the internet, no one wants it to happen to them.