I don’t know why I tend to offer my services for things that I know nothing about but this wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Sometimes it works out well and sometimes not so well, but it always pushes me to learn something new. Saliyapa, our housekeeper, is getting married. She had her traditional wedding the end of June but the church wedding will be in October. We’ve been talking a lot about it lately, especially about all the things that she needs to purchase for this celebration. Since Saliyapa comes from a rural community in one of the twenty poorest countries in the world, I have been really surprised at the price tag attached to a local church wedding. One big expense is the wedding cake, and when she told me what she needed to pay for the cake, it made me wonder how anyone in her community can afford to get married.
When I asked her more about what kind of cake she needed it sounded a lot smaller than the standard U.S. wedding cake so my first thought was I could do that, and I didn’t just think it – I said it. Then I asked her if the cake she needed was about the size of Boo’s birthday castle cake and if the same idea, iced white with centered layers would work. Sali got very excited at this and said that the cake would be about the same size as that birthday cake so we agreed that I would make it. I started looking for a white cake recipe since I’ve only ever made chocolate cakes from scratch and we were all happy. That is until Sali met with her wedding committee and brought back a picture of the wedding cake she needs and it turns out it’s a lot bigger than Boo’s castle cake. Now I’m nervous! It’s still not as big as the cakes I’ve seen at U.S. weddings but it’s definitely much larger than anything I’ve ever attempted. That castle cake was a stretch for me and I’ve had enough cake disasters to know that not every cake I touch will turn to gold.
Since I needed to learn how to make a wedding cake, I figured Sali might as well learn too. She wants to continue working for us after she is married but she will be moving from her parents’ village to a small town after the church wedding which will significantly increase her commute. I know she is also planning to try for children shortly after the wedding and I have a suspicion that the commute, along with the added demands of marriage, and possibly parenthood might prevent her from continuing with this job. I spoke to her about going into the wedding cake business as a way to make money on the side and she was really into the idea so Sali and I are busy learning this new skill. There is a lot more to it than I thought. I found all the supplies we needed in town and plan to give them to Sali as part of her wedding gift but we still have to figure how to put it all together.
Last week we took advantage of having Kwamvera here to help and Sali and I made a practice wedding cake. I used a white cake recipe from allrecipes.com, and we started out by doubling the recipe which only gave us about half of the batter we needed. We put one ten inch, one eight inch, and one six inch cake in the oven while we made another double batch of batter. The layers turned out alright but I think I’m going to triple the recipe for each set of layers when I make the real deal because they still looked a little thin to me and we’ll lose some when we level them out. We didn’t cut the rounded tops off the cakes before layering with our practice cake and it is apparent that we do need to do that if we want a level cake. Butter is an expensive import here and the three cups of butter for the cake alone will cost about $15 so I’m starting to realize why wedding cakes are not cheap in this part of the world. I’ll use butter for Sali’s cake and icing but I’m hoping that the long life margarines that are so popular (and much less expensive albeit also much less tasty) here will work when she starts making her own cakes to sell. If anyone has a good white or yellow cake recipe that calls for vegetable oil instead of, or along with, butter please pass it along.
I used my mother-in-law’s icing recipe that sets quickly. It worked really well but I’m hoping it will stand up to October’s hundred degree heat and doesn’t end up melting on the way to the wedding. We iced the top two layers in the white icing and the bottom in chocolate because the plan was to send Sali home with the top two tiers so that the wedding committee could taste them and let us know if they would be acceptable. The bottom tier we kept for some company we had over the weekend and my family is definitely a chocolate family.
I found the notion of a wedding committee really interesting. Sali has appointed eight people to the committee and her fiance has appointed another eight. These sixteen people will break themselves into groups and each group will be responsible for finding or organizing something that the couple needs: dresses for the bridesmaids, outfits for the groomsmen, wedding dress, cake, seating at the church, food, decorations, etc. They have already started meeting and will continue to meet once a week leading up to the wedding. Sali and her fiance are responsible for providing them with drinks for their meetings and for paying for the items that this committee decides they need. Sometimes members of the committee will make a financial contribution to the wedding but that is not expected, the main contribution is their time.
After icing the layers it was time to assemble the cake. Thank goodness for YouTube. When I offered to make the cake, I was planning to just plop the layers on top of each other but apparently there is an art to assembling a wedding cake. You need to have a cardboard base under each layer and place wooden dowels in the base and the middle tiers to support the cake placed on top of it, otherwise your cake will sink into the layer underneath it. Once you have assembled the cake you need to put a stake through the center of it and through each layer of cardboard to make sure that the layers don’t slide off when you are transporting it to the wedding site. Luckily I found this video by epicuriousdotcom on YouTube that walked us through the whole process. It took me an hour to download the four minute and eleven second video because of our terrible internet connection, but it was well worth the wait. We practiced assembling the cake using disks cut out of a cardboard box and some bamboo kabob skewers. Then we practiced piping icing to cover the seams and when we finished we removed the first two layers and restaked them for Sali’s trip home.
Sali told me that the wedding committee has approved of the look and the size of the cake but that wedding cakes here are supposed to be marbled – white cake marbled with chocolate cake. My husband thinks I can do this by separating my batter into two and adding cocoa powder to one half before folding it into the other half. I’m afraid that I’ll just end up with a muddy looking cake so if anyone knows how make a marbled cake please let me know, meanwhile I’ll be googling it. The cake also needs to be decorated so we will have to start looking for a cake topper.
Saliyapa has just told me that the cake will be sold at the ceremony. The MC will auction off very small pieces of it starting at really high prices and then discounting it until the cake is gone with all proceeds going to the bride and groom. The weight of this added responsibility to produce a cake worthy of sale (and sale at high prices to people who don’t have a lot of disposable income) must have shown on my face when she was explaining the tradition to me because she told me not to worry. She said the committee is so pleased that I am making the cake and that the MC can start at prices even higher than usual because everyone will want to try a piece of muzungu cake. Muzungu is a word used here to describe white people and apparently muzungu cake is a coveted item.