Cake puddle avoidance.
June 7, 2011 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I am baking my first wedding cake. 4 tiers. In July. Frosting dilemmas ensue:

FACTS: The wedding will be July 9th in Cleveland, a 200 guest backyard wedding (it is a very, very, large backyard). Cake would be outside, in the shade from 5:30-7:30, approx. or less. The cake will be in the refrigerator until it is moved outside for viewing. Cake will be vanilla buttermilk with homemade raspberry jam and lemon sabayon filling, soaked/spiked with homemade Limoncello and raspberry liquor, and vanilla buttercream frosting. Oh, and I’m the Maid of Honor, so I can’t do any final hour cake-things- it will be frosted and assembled the night before.

I made a practice cake with swiss meringue buttercream in April and it turned out fine. But, it was April and indoors. I want to frost the cake in swiss meringue buttercream. But it’s outside in July. And butter melts around 90F. So, questions:

1.) Straight from fridge, what are the chances the cake would even have time to come to room temperature and then melt in the 2 hours it is outside?

2.) Any chance swiss meringue buttercream made with half butter flavored Crisco might work?

3.) Should I just resign myself to a shortening-based icing, stabilized with Dream Whip powder, as suggested by Wilton for high-humidity?
posted by IWoudDie4U to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Your practice cake looks fantastic.

If you refrigerate the cake the night before, the thing will be seriously cold, and take a long time to come up to temperature. I made my brother's wedding cake, using a swiss meringue buttercream, and that was actually a problem, since I needed to clean up the frosting a bit. (The cake was inside, but the house was un-air-conditioned.)

So, I think your chances are very good to go ahead as you planned. Why not do a practice one-layer, put it in the fridge, and then set it up outside to see how it does?
posted by punchtothehead at 8:25 AM on June 7, 2011

Have you seen the wedding cake posts on Smitten Kitchen? She also used Swiss buttercream, and she mentions in this post that the frosting on a test cake held up well all day in an unairconditioned room.
posted by messica at 9:14 AM on June 7, 2011

According to the National Weather Service, the high in Cleveland in July 81-82 degrees and the daily low averages 61-62 degrees.

We keep buttercream cakes on our counter in Florida, where our house is only 78 degrees with the a/c ON, and they're fine, so putting a cake that has been refrigerated all night out in, at most, 81-82 degree weather (and probably less, and in the shade) should be just fine for a couple hours.

Your practice cake looks delicious! Good luck.
posted by misha at 9:32 AM on June 7, 2011

seconding the smitten kitchen wedding cake posts. She's fantastic!
posted by bluesky43 at 9:32 AM on June 7, 2011

Response by poster: I've seen the Smitten Kitchen post, or rather, all google search results for "DIY wedding cake." But inside, even unairconditioned, is a different beast from outdoors when it could be 90+ and the frosting is pretty much all butter.
posted by IWoudDie4U at 9:34 AM on June 7, 2011

Could you freeze a block of ice, that could be in a box that the cake sits on?
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2011

You still have some time until the wedding. Why not make a small cake and test it under similar conditions? You just need to test the frosting, not the filling, so a small plain cake would be fine for testing.
posted by annsunny at 9:51 AM on June 7, 2011

Why does the cake have to be outside for two hours? Can't it stay inside until the reveal?
posted by radioamy at 10:12 AM on June 7, 2011

You're going to have to cut the butter with shortening if you want it to hold up. Not because it's impossible, But because you want to enjoy the wedding, not stand there worrying about the cake the whole time. Unless there's someone who can set the cake up for you that you deeply, deeply trust, I can't imagine jumping from the wedding in a bridesmaid dress to setting up the cake, unless they do the reveal right before the cake cutting.

Can you do a frosting-only test run? Mix a bunch of batches of test frosting, make some frosting roses, put 'em in your kitchen the next time you're running the oven with a pot of water boiling (so you get test humidity) and then find the acceptable taste/fortitude tradeoff that's acceptable to you?
posted by Gucky at 12:37 PM on June 7, 2011

Response by poster: It looks like the only way to do it is to do test runs with the frosting. I just hate the idea of having to use a thick, powdered sugar, crusting buttercream on this cake. An ice base would only really help the bottom, which will be the least vulnerable layer. The cake has to be outside for some period of time so the guests have a chance to see it- not much point spending three days crafting a 4-tier cake if it's only glimpsed for cutting and then whisked away. The cake is movable built, so at least there's no setup. Anyone ever made swiss buttercream with shortening?
posted by IWoudDie4U at 12:58 PM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: Yes, you can substitute some shortening for butter. I would definitely NOT replace all the butter with shortening, but if you replaced about a third of it (so you still had a 2:1 butter:shortening ratio) that would be a good balance of providing some stability and still giving you a good buttery taste.

If you can, look for hi-ratio shortening instead of just plain Crisco, it has a better mouthfeel and I greatly prefer it in frostings. It comes in liquid and solid forms and obviously you'd want the solid variety.

Also, is there a reason you're making Swiss meringue and not Italian meringue? IMO Italian meringue is more stable and better able to withstand high temps, although it will probably also droop in the summer heat...just not as much.

If you sub some shortening for butter and keep it refrigerated for the better part of the day, you should be fine. Honestly, I'll bet that the center of your bottom tier will still be quite cold when you're cutting into it. Giant tiered cakes keep cold like whoa.

(And you ARE using lots of dowels in your cakes, right? That's half the battle with sagging cakes right there.)
posted by Bella Sebastian at 6:44 PM on June 7, 2011

Response by poster: I'll try cutting in some shortening to my swiss meringue this weekend. I prefer swiss since I am lazy and can make it all in one bowl (kitchen aid bowl works as my double-boiler top) and Italian splatters all over my counters. Unless there's a heat wave and it's going to be in the 90's, I'll just stick with that, in which case it'll have to be all shortening and powdered sugar. As for structure- yes, the cake is filled with cardboard, tons of plastic dowels and finished with a giant wooden dowel speared through all four tiers. Thanks everybody! I'll post pics after the wedding if it doesn't collapse.
posted by IWoudDie4U at 12:49 PM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: 1/3 shortening in my swiss buttercream worked like a dream! The cake didn't melt and the high ratio shortening tasted pretty OK. If only the cake topper hadn't blown askew in the breeze. Wedding pics, including cake shots are located here.
posted by IWoudDie4U at 1:29 PM on July 25, 2011

Your cake was beautiful!
posted by misha at 1:46 PM on July 25, 2011

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