One of the nation’s most celebrated creators
of wedding cakes shares her secrets with
home bakers so that you, too, can create a
masterpiece for any celebration.
Haven’t you been to a bridal or baby shower, special
birthday, retirement party, or wedding where you looked at
the cake and thought, “I wish I knew how to do that.”?
You can. Kelly Delaney is a celebrated wedding cake
decorator with 15 years of experience as a pastry chef and
over 7,500 wedding cakes to her credit. She and her crew at
Cakes For Occasions in Danvers, MA won a contest for the
best wedding cake on “The Today Show.” She has created
hundreds of perfect cakes for that all-important day, and
each has reflected the couple’s tastes and aspirations for the
future. Kelly received her culinary education at the
Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland and the Cordon
Bleu School in London. After returning to the states, she
trained at the Ritz Carlton in Boston and now brings her
worldly experience to all of New England.
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We sat down with Kelly and asked her to share her secrets you don’t have a lot of time, don’t be afraid to use a cake mix
with us, and she did so quite willingly. — any cake will work. My favorite type of cake to work with
in general is a sponge cake because it is so versatile. Sponge
cake is a great cake to soak with simple syrup (See
What kind of cakes make the best celebration or Techniques, p. 15) or with a Grand Marnier liqueur.
Can you freeze a cake a few days before an event to keep
Kelly: When baking a cake for a wedding or any occasion
when you’ll need to stack layers, the type of cake doesn’t it fresh?
come into play as much as how it is assembled. The
construction of the cake is where you need to be extra Kelly: We make all our cakes fresh. However, you can safely
careful. So, go ahead and use your grandmother’s recipe or if freeze a cake several days prior to an event. For some reason
the word “freezer” has become taboo. Everybody thinks that
if something is or was frozen it must be dry. This is simply
not true. As long as it went into the freezer fresh, the
defrosted version should not be any different.
If you plan to freeze a cake, there are a few things to
consider. Store it in a freezer that is not your everyday
freezer to avoid a fluctuating temperature. If you have to
store it in the freezer that is part of your fridge, avoid
opening the door much while the cake is in there. You want
an even 0ºF or below to be maintained. Wrap your cake
securely with plastic wrap. Don’t wrap in foil; this doesn’t
lock in moisture, and don’t store in Tupperware.
I recommend that you pull your cakes out of the freezer
the day before you decide to decorate the layers and let
them defrost in the refrigerator. When the cake is thawed,
remove the plastic wrap and frost each tier individually. You
can feel comfortable completing your cake 48 hours in
advance. Actually, the longer it stays in the refrigerator,
ready for transport, the more stable it becomes. My advice is
that you NOT stack the cake, decorate and deliver all in the
Tier A (put the dowel in, mark with your fingernail, and cut
How do you assemble multi-layer cakes?
the dowel 1/8 inch shorter than your measure). Cut three
Kelly: The construction of a wedding cake is the most more dowels that exact same length. Put one dowel in the
crucial part in making the cake besides the decorating, center of the tier B, then the other three in a triangle around
which obviously requires special attention. Remember, in a the cake, but not outside the area where tier C will sit.
multi-layer cake, you need to have a support system inside Remember, the tiers actually sit on cardboard, not on top of
the cake layers in order for them to sit on top of each other the actual cake. Of course you don’t put any dowels in tier C,
for an extended time. that’s the top of your cake.
I use wooden dowels, which can be purchased at your
local hardware store. I use 5/16th-inch dowels (about the
How do you cut a cake that has so many dowels in it?
diameter of a straw) and use a “dowel cutter” or “branch
cutter” to cut them evenly so they don’t split. The trick is to
Kelly: Cutting the top is easy—it has no dowels. That might
submerge the dowels in water for about 10 minutes before
be the piece that you save for the bride and groom. Remove
you cut them; this makes the wood more pliable and easier
it from the cake with the cardboard on the bottom. When
to work with.
you take the cardboard off as you remove it, you’ll expose
Using the full-length dowel, insert it directly into the
the dowels in tier B. Take them out, and cut tier B as you
middle of the bottom tier. Using your fingernail, mark or
would any round cake. After you’ve cut tier B, remove the
hold in place the exact point where the dowel is the exact
cardboard that it was resting on, and you’ll expose the
height of the cake layer. Then gently remove the dowel
dowels in tier A. Remove them, and cut the cake.
straight up, holding in place the mark where you need to
cut. Cut about 1⁄8 inch down from where the height is so the
layers will sit more securely. How do you transport your cakes?
The number of layers that are to be stacked will
Kelly: Delivering a cake is like delivering plutonium, you
determine the number of dowels you will need. Here’s the
have just one shot. There is no magic trick to delivering the
guideline I follow:
3-tier cake: 5 dowels in bottom tier, 3 dowels in middle tier. cake other than being safe and driving like you have a three-
4-tier cake: 6 dowels in bottom tier, 5 dowels in second day-old baby in the car with you. Even after 15 years of
delivering over 7,500 cakes, I am not truly relaxed until my
tier and 4 dowels in third tier.
5-tier cake: 8 dowels in bottom tier, 6 dowels in second cake is on the table.
A couple of tips:
tier, 5 dowels in third tier and 4 dowels in forth tier.
• Use a board with a rough bottom. It needs to create
Let’s say you’re making a three-tier cake. The bottom tier
friction. You don’t want your cake sliding around the
is tier A, the middle tier is tier B, and the top layer is tier C.
back of your car like a hockey puck! We use a
For tier A, cut the middle dowel as directed above and
Masonite board or particle board. We wrap the top in
cut four more exactly the same measurement. Put one
a nice foil but we don’t wrap the bottom in foil. We
dowel in the center and the other four around the cake but
want the bottom to be rough. Secure the foil with
be sure that where you place them doesn’t exceed the
packing tape underneath. You can also go to a carpet
diameter of the tier B. You want the dowels hidden
store and get the sticky material that you put under
underneath tier B. When ready to place tier B, you have it
area rungs to hold them in place. Put the cake board
on a cardboard base. Do the same measurement as with
on top of that and it’ll be less likely to move.
• Deliver the cake on a carpeted flat surface. The best
case is a mini-van or a wagon.
• Remove all items from the back area of your car.
• Make sure your air conditioning is on and your
windows are rolled up.
• Drive defensively!
What fillings would you say are the best?
Kelly: Any filling would work. I would stay away from any
plain whipped cream filling that does not have a stabilizer
such as gelatin in it. Fresh fruit works well too, but
remember that over time, berries will bleed. So take into
consideration the time of year—will the cake be in air
conditioning or outside?
the b a k e r’ s companion 13
approach as above, placing enough frosting on the cake and
How do you approach decorating a cake?
smoothing out. I like to place an additional larger cardboard
Kelly: Decorating a cake is a scary thought for many, but underneath the correct size cardboard and use that as a
when approached correctly and with patience, can actually “tray” so I can transport the tier to the refrigerator without
be a very rewarding and relaxing experience. You will need ruining the sides of the cake. Repeat this process until you
to have all the correct tools. Just like any job, the correct have all the tiers frosted.
tools make your job easier and less stressful. Step 4) Using your wooden dowel and dowel cutters,
Step 1) Make the buttercream frosting and whip it put the correct amount of cut dowels into each tier before
to perfection. stacking. Once completed, try to take a “birds-eye view” and
Step 2) Place your largest cake on a wooden board gently and swiftly place the tiers on top of each other
that is wrapped with a nice cake foil (purchased at your starting from the bottom working your way up. Try to center
local craft store). Using a heavy metal cake wheel and an the cakes as you go. Don’t do this on the decorating wheel
assortment of spatulas, put enough frosting on the center of itself, use your work bench or table to place the tiers on one
the cake and smooth out. Once you get the frosting another. Place Tier B on top of A. Put both on the wheel,
smoothed out nicely, remove the cake and board from the spin the cake around to see if it’s even, take it off the wheel,
wheel and place back in the refrigerator while you complete then place tier C on tier B. Place the whole cake on the
the rest. wheel to make sure it is evenly placed by spinning it around
Step 3) For all the remaining tiers, place the correct so you can see that each side of the cake is even.
size cardboard circle or square (depending on the shape that Step 5) Decorate your cake as desired. It is always nice
you chose to bake) underneath the tier and repeat the same to use things like fresh flowers or fresh fruit on the cakes as
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garnish. Remember, just like everything else, sometimes
less is more. I would not recommend that you garnish your
cake until you get to your destination.
What are your favorite flavor combinations?
Kelly: It’s hard for me to say exactly what my favorite
flavors are because at Cakes for Occasions we make so
many different and unique cakes. However, I do have one
that no matter how many times I steal a sliver I think “This
is amazing. I love this cake!”
It is my Opera cake. An Opera cake is a traditional
French torte made with multiple layers of chocolate cake,
ganache, and mocha filling. I put an American spin on the
cake and do a chocolate sponge cake, soak it with an
Espresso syrup (See below), fill with a layer of chocolate
ganache and a layer of mocha buttercream. And I can
honestly tell you that I have yet to come across anyone who
does not go crazy over this cake. It is truly a conversation
cake. People talk about it, people dream about it and people
crave it once they’ve had a piece.
Simple syrup is a great way to keep your cake layers
moist. Combine equal parts water and granulated sugar in
saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved and the
mixture is syrupy. You can flavor simple syrup easily by
putting in a vanilla bean or a wee bit of liqueur, such as
Kahlua or rum.
Espresso syrup uses the same technique: Make the
simple syrup above, and add two parts espresso or strong
coffee to one part simple syrup. For example, you would
add 2 cups of espresso to 1 cup of simple syrup.
The proper cake pans can make all
the difference when making a cake for
a special occasion. Contoured cake
pans (shown right) make European-
Mini-wedding cake pans are
available too, and make an impressive
dessert at wedding showers.
If you’re making a large cake,
look for oversized pans at kitchen
supply stores or perhaps party stores.
They range from 10 inches to 20
inches in diameter or square (shown
right). The Baker’s Catalogue also
sells some oversized cake pans.
When baking in these wider pans, be
sure to monitor your cake carefully
for doneness. Look for the usual
telltale signs: test the center with a cake tester (it should
come out clean), and look at the sides—when they start to
pull away from the pan, the cake is most likely done.
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Revolving cake stand—This is a must for
decorating your cake. It turns like a turntable and allows
If you’re using the same bowl to whip your egg whites
you to see all sides without you having to moving around
the cake awkwardly. as to whip the butter, make sure you clean ALL of the
butter residue from the bowl before adding the eggs.
Cake decorating tips: You’ll have too much fun with
Any fat left in there will compromise your ability to
these, and will be using them for cakes, cookies, all kinds of
desserts. We think disposable pastry bags are the way to go make a meringue.
so you can spend your time creating rather than cleaning.
Kelly’s Buttercream Frosting
Yield: enough frosting for two 10-inch round layers
2 cups (1 pound, 4 sticks) unsalted butter at room
King Arthur’s Carrot Cake
2 1⁄2 cups (17 1⁄2 ounces) sugar
6 egg whites at room temperature At King Arthur Flour, this is almost always the cake of
choice among brides-to-be. It serves as our favorite cake at
In a large mixer, using a beater or paddle, whip the butter in a office birthday parties, retirement parties, baby showers,
5-quart bowl for 10 minutes, until it’s light and fluffy. Set aside. and all types of occasions. It was prepared by the director of
Combine the sugar and egg whites in another 5-quart our test kitchen, Sue Gray, for one of our young staffers, Jen
mixer bowl and heat over a double boiler or over a bain- Korhonen, for her wedding last fall. Sue said she used the
marie (warm water bath). Whisk constantly until the sugar recipe below, times four, to make the cake!
is dissolved and the egg whites are warm (testing like you
would a baby’s bottle, warm to touch on your wrist). Yield: 1 two-layer 9-inch cake, 16 to 24 servings
Whip the egg whites on
high speed until they are stiff. Cake
This makes a “Swiss meringue.” 1 1⁄2 cups (10 1⁄2 ounces) vegetable oil
Once the meringue is stiff, 2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
add the whipped butter a 4 large eggs
little at a time. Mix until well 1 tablespoon cinnamon
incorporated. The longer you 1
⁄2 teaspoon ginger
mix it, the lighter the mixture 1
⁄4 teaspoon cloves
becomes and better the 1 teaspoon salt
buttercream is to work with. 2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups (8 1⁄2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached
3 cups (10 1⁄2 ounces) finely grated carrots
1 1⁄2 cups (5 3⁄4 ounces) chopped pecans or walnuts
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Cream Cheese Frosting Frosting: Beat the butter and cream cheese together until
⁄2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter smooth. Add the salt and vanilla. Beat in the sugar. Add a
1 package (8-ounce) cream cheese teaspoon of milk or cream if the frosting is too stiff to
⁄4 teaspoon salt spread; add additional sugar if it's too thin.
2 teaspoons vanilla OR 1⁄2 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia Frost the 9 x 13-inch cake right in the pan. For the layers,
flavoring frost the top of one layer, top with the second layer, and frost
2 1⁄2 to 3 1⁄2 cups (10 to 14 ounces) glazing sugar or the top and sides of the cake.
milk or cream to adjust consistency of frosting,
Cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch
Fiori di Sicilia: At the King Arthur Flour test kitchen,
round layer pans, or one 9 x 13-inch pan.
we have to restrain ourselves from using this in
Beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, and spices. Mix the
EVERYTHING! It’s an all-natural combination of citrus and
the baking soda with the flour, and stir in. Add the carrots
vanilla that has the aroma of vanilla and flowers. Add a bit
and nuts, and mix until just blended.
to cookies, pound cake, pies, meringues, etc. This is a baker’s
Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake the cake(s)
secret ingredient. See “Where to Buy” on p. 72.
for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake tests done. Allow the
cake to cool completely before frosting it. (If you're using two
9-inch round pans, remove the cake layers from the pans
after about 15 minutes, and place them in a rack to cool.
on the Web
Want a foolproof lesson on cake decorating? Go to
kingarthurflour.com/baking/online_list.html or, go to
kingarthurflour.com, look for the “education” tab along
the top, and at the pull-down menu, click “Online
classes.” When you get to that page, click “Take a class
now” and click “Cake Decorating with Susan
Reid.” It’s like having your own personal
Or, sign up for the next Cake-Decorating
Class at the Baking Education Center in
Norwich, VT. Call 1-800-652-3334 to find
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