My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary over Memorial weekend. Their actual anniversary is June 6, but the whole family was available over the holiday, so a fete was had by all, and all had a wonderful time, most especially the happy couple.
The get together was no surprise–we went to The Stables Steakhouse in Terre Haute. Twenty family members attended and it was quite the shindig. However, Mom and Dad decided to renew their wedding vows and I had my own little surprise up my sleeve.
David, my brother, asked me to be in charge of the cake. I don’t know if this is because I can bake and he knows it, or because it needed a little creativity to fill the bill, or something else entirely, but there it is…he asked me. I let is slide for quite some time, but about two months out I decided I should really do something about it. I considered bakers. There is Baesler’s in Terre Haute. There is the gal that made my wedding cupcakes and my brother Matt’s wedding cake. There are people here in Indianapolis. But the thought of paying for it made me consider…why not make it myself? I snooped around for an image of their wedding cake. It was a three tier cake set on columns. “heck,” I thought. “Surely I can do that.” And the decision was made that I would make the cake myself!
My dad is not really a cake person, so I carefully considered what could be both cake like and not cake like all at once. As I scrolled through my mental recipe box of desserts I have made and that my dad liked, I settled on Strawberry Shortcake. He likes strawberry shortcake. Now, all I had to do was turn it in to cake! Then I got the bright idea that maybe I should test bake this first, both for the sake of trying a homemade recipe and to see if I could sneak some down to Terre Haute on some pretense to see if my dad liked them. Enter: Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (or, as I have decided to call them, Strawberry Shortcake Stack). I put together an almond pound cake, a strawberry pie filling, and a stabalized whipped cream, made them into cupcakes, and then carted off a few to Terre Haute while running a different errand to the family farm. My pretense? “Hey, I have some extra cupcakes we made over the weekend. Shall I bring some?” Never fails. *smile*
I was nervous at first. Dad’s only comment on the cupcakes was, “Fair to middlin’.” This did not seem like a good sign. But later, unprompted, he said they were quite good. Very rich, but good. I smiled and inside heaved a sigh of relief. My plan could go forward. I went home and did some research about what kind of things I would need to create a three tiered, columned wedding cake. One trip to the local craft store later and I was outfitted with cake plates, cake boxes, an icing knife, cake pans, and an icing piping bag complete with 5 different icing tips. This was serious business!
The week of the event, I bought my groceries and on Wednesday nervously began making my creation. Because it was making a three tiered cake I had to multiple the original recipe 2.5 times. This meant I added five sticks of butter and 18 eggs among other things. Eighteen eggs!!
That first day I didn’t do anything but make the batter and the strawberry filling. That was enough for one day. Everything went into ziplock bags and found a resting place in the refrigerator until Friday night. After all, I wanted fresh cakes–not to mention I didn’t need to have three cakes taking up room in my fridge all week!
Friday evening rolls around and the baking begins. It actually went fairly quickly. The hard part was putting them together and icing them. I was a nervous wreck, as Jeremy would testify. I was so worried I would screw up the filling or the stacking or some such. Turns out, I did just fine. They centered on the cake plates easily, I made a few mistakes in over filling the cakes, but the white icing managed to cover it up rather then being stained red or pink as I feared. I must admit, I am no professional cake decorator, but all have testified that it looked wonderful and they loved it. It did not, however, look anything like the original wedding cake beyond being three tiers, on columns, and decorated with white icing. I guess 2 out of 3 isn’t bad, right?
Saturday morning I got up at 7am, but we still didn’t manage to leave for Terre Haute before 11. I got the cakes boxed up and very carefully (and nervously) placed them on the floor of our little Hyundai for transport. I told Jeremy I would drive because if anything happened to the cakes, I would never forgive him and it would be far better if it were my fault! Off to the Haute we went, straight to the steakhouse to drop off the cakes. I was SO relieved once they had been placed in the coolers at the steakhouse safely. Then, back to the farm for family time before the party. At 4pm I declared we needed to get ready early so we’d have time “to pick up the cake” since I was still creating a cover for myself and my surprise cake. In reality, it gave me time to get there and assemble the darn thing. Again, very nerve wracking! However, it turns out that stacking cakes on column isn’t so hard when one uses cake plates. A waitress helped me a little just to keep things stable, but it turned out to be a fairly easy task and I had 20 minutes to spare before everyone arrived.
My mom, when she walked in, exclaimed, “Oh my goodness!” at the size of the thing. And then exclaimed it again when I said, “Happy Anniversary! I made you a cake!” My dad was also surprised, and the whole family thought it turned out pretty as a picture. When it was time for dessert, everyone affirmed that it tasted even better than it looked. I couldn’t have been happier with the whole kit and kaboodle!
Now then, in case all of this has made you want cake, I thought I’d share the recipe too. In the below format, you can make a more reasonable 24 cupcakes or a single, two layer 9″ cake. Or, you can go for broke and make the recipe huge for a crowd. It was adult and kid tested and approved–even with half the sugar (except in the whipped cream)!
I have cobbled this recipe together from many sources. The short cake originally came from this cupcake recipe I found on pinterest. The strawberry filling is from a family recipe I’ve had for over ten years now. The stabilized whipped cream was another pinterest find. But, put together in one place for your convenience and along with any modifications I made, here is my Strawberry Shortcake Stack (oh, and it’s equally good as cupcakes!). A single recipe makes 24 cupcakes or one two-layer 9″ cake.
- 1 c. unsalted butter–room temp
- 3 c. cake flour
- 3 c. granulated sugar (if you like it less sweet, you can cut this by as much as half)
- 6 eggs–room temp
- 1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
- 3/4 c. blanched, sliced almonds
- 1 tsp. bourbon vanilla
- 1 1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
Begin by running the almonds through a food processor until finely ground. Then place almonds in a heavy-bottom saucepan with the cream. Heat until boiling. Remove from heat and allow to cool until it is warm. When warm, blend for two minutes*. Set aside and allow to cool completely, then add vanilla and almond extract. Stir to blend.
While waiting on the almond cream to cool, beat butter and sugar on high speed until white and very fluffy, about 10 minutes*. Slow mixer to lowest setting, add eggs to butter and sugar one at a time, mixing until just combined after each addition**. Next, gently fold in flour and almond cream, alternating between them in two batches.
It is very important to watch this recipe carefully so that it does not overcook. The center should feel firm and springy, and the surface may even feel a little sticky (but no more than the surface!). Do not wait for the cake to turn golden on top, remove them while they are still yellow! This is about 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, and 30 minutes for cakes. However, I just set the timer for 20 minutes and added time as necessary. I was too afraid to burn them otherwise! Once out of the oven, allow to cool on a wire rack.
- 1 pint of strawberries
- 1 cup of sugar (if you like it less sweet, you can cut this by as much as half)
- 3 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 3 Tbsp. lemon juice or juice of 1 lemon
Begin by cutting the leaves off the berries and slicing them in half and placing in a heavy-bottom sauce pan. Then mash berries. If putting this filling in cupcakes, the berries do not need to be mashed until smooth. The texture is actually kind of nice. However, if using as filling in a cake, I recommend using an immersion blender and blending until smooth. Next, add remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Place on medium heat and cook until thick and bubbly. Stir often to keep the sauce from becoming too thick on the bottom and burning. Once bubbling, remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
- 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin powder
- 4 tsp. cold water
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
In a small pan, combine gelatin and cold water; let stand until thick. Place over low heat, stirring constantly, just until the gelatin dissolves. Remove from heat; cool but do not allow it to set. Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar until slightly thick. While slowly beating, add the gelatin to whipping cream. Whip at high speed until stiff. Makes about 2 cups of whipped cream
*This is the first time I’ve ever encountered a recipe with specific mixing times. Let me tell you, FOLLOW THE TIME SPECIFICATIONS! SET A TIMER! I would have stopped blending the butter and sugar well before 10 minutes, thinking it was fluffy enough. Not so, dear readers, not so. I was very impressed with how much fluffier it got between the 7 minute mark and the 10 minute mark.
**If you are using a stand mixer, you may find that some of the egg settles to the bottom. I didn’t have this issue when I used a handheld mixer. It was easily resolved by stirring with my spatula.