Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Long-Awaited Wedding Cupcakes! (Also, a discussion between me and my husband)

I know, I fell off the face of the planet again. I apologize; school and work and wedding desserts ate up my time. (Also, I went to Savannah for St. Patrick's Day and it went about like it sounds such a trip would, only possibly with more green beer. However, that is a topic for another post.) So onwards to a new post, and the food porn (don't lie, I know that's why you're really here).

But first, a conversation between me and Alex, via e-mail, which I feel admirably demonstrates our relationship:

Me: FYI, you smacked the hell out of my hip last night in your sleep. This is the third or fourth time lately, and it's only a matter of time until you get my face, and I am TOTALLY gonna tell people you beat me when that happens, because it WILL BE TRUE. It's your subconscious, isn't it?

Alex:  When I decide to beat you, you won't have to explain it to people. They'll understand.

Me:  I'm saving this for my future legal filings.

And now, the wedding dessert post I know you have all been waiting for!

So as I mentioned in my last post, my friend Marie had courageously asked me to make her wedding cupcakes. We had gone through some variations to work up to what she wanted, but of course I only documented the end result, and not even in a well-lit photo. So when I went to make the real thing, I actually remembered and took (only slightly better-lit) photos of the whole process. I know, everyone is very proud.

First, I needed to make the sugar cookie toppers during the week ahead, because they were to be flood-iced and would have to dry properly between stages. In the first go-round I had issues with the little cookie cutter that was meant to look like an orchid -- the extra petal looked funny on the cookie, I thought, so I skipped it. This time, it came out closer to right, so I went with it.

As always, I used Sweet Sugar Belle's sugar cookie recipe, because it has been fail-safe and the one batch made enough for all the toppers plus extras.

This is a time-consuming step, because you have to roll out the dough like 80 bazillion times to cut out all these tiny (in the case of the petals) cookies. If you will notice, the petal sheets are rolled much thinner than the flowers; this addressed part of the "looking weird" problem from my previous try at this, that the petals were too thick and it made them out of proportion to the flower. HOWEVER, please note that this means they cooked in like 1/3 the time of the cookies. I put two on a cookie sheet as a tester first, and then baked the rest of them, out of paranoia over burning an entire sheet of tiny petals, cut out in a very painstaking manner over the course of several hours. (BTW, I use a very thin spatula-thingy to slide under the cookies and get them out of the cut dough. I have tried using the icing palette-knife type things, but I find them too narrow.)

So then you end up with, basically, rows and rows of tiny sugar cookies. I was attempting to get a bit more shape out of the petals by smushing them slightly, as shown above, but they still baked up a bit too fat to see it. (Also, in the top picture you can see my previously mentioned hoarding disability in the form of bulk paper towels. Ignore that.)

After they baked (which took up one evening), I let them dry overnight, and the next evening I started flood-icing them. This... took forever. There is no other way to say it. I filled, and refilled, and refilled, a small squeezy bottle with white royal icing and a #1 tip, and iced for about three days while Alex watched sports on TV. For three days, I had a grippy "claw" for a hand when I went to bed. BUT. They iced up so beautifully! I mean, look how nice! Also, they were all white, so I didn't have to fool with colored icing that had separated, which is always a pain.

Next, on Friday morning (I took the day off work for this) I laid them all out in rows on paper towels backed with newspaper on Alex's giant coffee table.

(Side note: I hate this table. It is heavy, and HUGE, and ugly -- this mid-brown lacquered-wood style that I deeply despise -- and it takes up SO much space in our tiny condo. It is, however, Alex's #1 favoritest piece of furniture in the entire world, because it has wheels and lifts up to TV-tray height to enable him to eat at the couch, whilst watching TV. Making 150+ cookies for Marie's wedding has been the absolute only time in our entire marriage that I have found it to be useful. But I digress.) Anyway, here are the cookies laid out:

I had one pearlized light blue lustre spray from PME Sugarcraft (I had to get it online) and one Wilton purple food spray (available at most craft or baking stores).

Remember, I was trying to match to this orchid:

  So first I did a layer of light blue over all of them. Then, I went back in with the purple, trying to hit the edges only (this is very tricky with a canned spray and not an actual spray gun).

Lots of those little suckers, aren't there? yeah. And for some reason, the pictures I took didn't really show how purple-y they were, but here's the best shot I've got:

So that part was done, but then I had to turn to the actual cupcakes. I had split this part out with three other wonderful women (thanks Shannon, Lauren and Eli!!), who baked 24 cupcakes apiece, and since I had the day off and the boxes to transport, I made up the difference. Marie wanted 125 chocolate cupcakes but the way the recipe broke down, I ended up with extras (which is always a good thing anyway). Then, Eli graciously offered up her house for us to meet at and do the decorating in an assembly-line fashion (first we were going to be at Lauren's, but she had to take pictures with her fiance for their engagement shots -- congrats Lauren!! -- so we rescheduled).

A note here on the transportation of mass amounts of cupcakes. I have carriers, but I could only easily move probably 84 in all my carriers, and I can't leave them with the caterer. I have no idea how professionals do it. I asked a bunch of people (some professional, some real and some online), and every last one said, "Oh, we just cram them into a box really close together so they don't move." This (understandably, I think) sounded terrifically unstable and unreliable to me. And I was not, by God, spending a week making cupcakes that would arrive at the venue tipped-over or with smushed icing. So I sat down and thought about it, and I decided that what I needed was a matrix. Kind of like what wine bottles come in when you get them by the case (not, of course, that I EVER do that... Completely unrelated: Hi, Trader Joe's! I do love your 3-buck-chuck!), but smaller to fit the cupcakes. I'd need long, narrow boxes for this, and I ended up getting them at The Container Store (if you read my blog, you already know about my addiction to this place), because they sell tons of sizes of boxes, all nice white ones with shiny outsides, for like $2. Not really knowing how many would fit until I baked the cupcakes, I bought 8 that were 4" high and something like 24"x48" (I don't remember exactly, sorry). Then I spent the time while my cupcakes baked and cooled putting together a matrix by sacrificing two of the boxes to use as cardboard strips with notches cut out. This sounds difficult, but here are some pictures that should help:

They aren't perfect or particularly pretty, but they just had to hold the cupcakes securely, yet not too close. This ended up being 2"x2"-ish. So I filled mine up to take all the boxes over to Eli's place on Saturday morning.

In between all of this, I also made Charlie's groom's cake. He wanted a big chocolate chip cookie cake. Not one of those flat things you get from the mall, but thicker, and not a cake, but actual cookie. I'd made blonde brownies last fall that were exactly what he wanted, so I just used that recipe in a round pan.

Looks yum, no? I might have eaten some of the dough during this process, but only to make sure it was fit for human consumption. I swear!

Anyway, once it was cooled, I flipped it out onto a plate, then back over, and then I had to decorate it. Charlie's request was, "Just enough icing that it looks like a wedding cake." I have no idea what this means. What I ended up doing, though, was taking inspiration from Marie's cupcake liners (shown below on top of the cake) and matching chocolate icing swirls to the design:

I think it turned out nicely, not too feminine, and it looks sooo good (which it was)!

(Warning here: The first giant cookie I made, when I went to flip it out of the pan, the very center was not cooked through and it fell apart. There is no fixing a fallen-apart cookie cake. So I made another one at the last second, which I had BARELY the right amount of brown sugar to do. It is a good thing I'm a hoarder. So anyways, moral: Cook your cookie cake until you actually think it's TOO done. Also, hoard brown sugar. You never know.)

Anyway! Back to the cupcakes.

Lauren dropped her baked cupcakes off with me that Saturday morning, and then I went over to Eli's, where Shannon met us and Eli's sweet husband took their new baby and went shopping to escape from the chatty girls and baked goods.

Oh, and I should have taken a picture of the buttercream I made Friday as well. I ended up with something like FOURTEEN POUNDS of buttercream icing (that is seven double rounds of icing. Thank God for stand mixers). It was huge, in a giant Tupperware container that was really heavy and awkward to carry, and which I almost dropped on our condo stairs. I just did not want to run out in the middle of decorating the day of the wedding. (We actually ended up with some left over, but I had to make a cake for a work retirement party on Sunday so that worked out fine.)

So I loaded and swapped out icing bags with 1M Wilton tips, while Shannon iced and Eli stuck the sugar cookie toppers on and loaded the boxes. It actually only took us about an hour to do all the cupcakes, and that included time for us to save various cupcake boxes from Eli's (determined) dog.

(This is Eli's baby and her dog. They are both adorable. I would worry about her son finding himself on the Internets later in life, but let's be honest, I'm pretty sure all babies look just like that. Only, of course, your son is cuter, Eli!)

Also, I will have you know that the cupcake matrix worked BEAUTIFULLY:

(Can you tell I had my phone again? yeah, sorry.) Then I drove them over to the venue and gave them to the caterer. I have NEVER IN MY LIFE driven so carefully. I imagine it's what my OCD will turn into when I have kids.

Anyway! The final product.... well, my photos do NOT do them justice. For that, I turn to the professionals. All of the following photos were taken by the amazing Anne Almasy. Her lighting skills are incredible, because the reception hall was dark and dimly lit by lanterns and candles and whatnot. Which makes for great atmosphere but TERRIBLE photos (I'm not even going to show you the ones I tried to take).

The tiers of cupcakes:

And the beautiful bride, eating the cupcakes:

Hoorah for cupcakes being successfully transported! And congratulations, Marie and Charlie, you guys are such a great couple and I am so happy for you!

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