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Weddings today are a do-it-yourself bonanza. We’ve all heard of DIY wedding invitations, DIY wedding favours, and DIY photo booths. But what about a DIY wedding cake? Who would dare tread there, you ask? With the wedding cake often taking pride of place at the wedding reception, it’s a brave couple indeed who would consider such a brave feat.

As can be gleaned from a mere glance at those astonishing works of art produced by our finest cake creators, creating a wedding cake isn’t exactly, well, a piece of cake. Fortunately, that’s where Helen Pratt, one of Perth’s most celebrated chefs, comes in. In addition to hosting a variety of high-end culinary courses, Helen has recently been making waves with her newest offering: a three-day cake-making course for couples who want to wow their guests by creating their own masterpiece.

Little Wed Hen caught up with Helen, who was kind enough to give our readers some insider tips on what’s involved in baking a wedding cake that will pass muster with the most discerning dessert-loving guest.

On her background and training

Helen’s love of pastry was evident from a young early age, and she quickly became known for the frequency with which she’d arrive home from a local fair clutching a blue ribbon awarded for her baking skills. And while she set baking aside to pursue an architecture degree, her culinary calling was strong enough that she later enrolled in a vocational course in commercial cookery.

“My new-found skills eventually led to my being employed in some notable French restaurants,” says Helen. “My french training spurred me on to undertake a stint of cooking in France, which was a wonderful experience for me. I returned to the east coast of Australia, and landed my first head chef position before meeting my now husband and moving to Perth, where I have been working ever since. I was fortunate enough to be entrusted with the kitchen at Bistro Felix and the people of Perth have been just so supportive of my cooking.”

On establishing Cook Learn Love, her private culinary tuition school

So what led Helen to establish her culinary school Cook Learn Love? Helen laughs before saying, “I was about to get married and I just wanted some sleep! My new husband and I planned to start a family and we felt that working 14 hours a day wouldn’t be conducive to achieving that. That’s why I set up my own private culinary tuition business—so that I could be mistress of my own time.”

Helen adds that she’s always loved teaching apprentices, so the school was a natural extension of this. “I love that I can now offer this kind of learning to those who don’t wish to make a vocation out of cooking.”

The experience that led to an idea

Helen’s Cook Learn Love tuition provides a variety of cooking workshops, but the one in particular that caught our eye was her wedding cake course. What made her decide to offer classes on DIY wedding cakes?

“I wanted to make the wedding cake for my own wedding, but everyone—and my fiance especially—convinced me not to. They were certain that I wouldn’t have time and that the last thing I wanted to worry about was stressing about icing a cake. I relented and booked someone else to make it. When the wedding drew nigh, however, I regretted that decision and decided to make a groom’s cake.”

It was a decision that to this day Helen is glad she made. “We ended up having two cakes. One was as ordinary as it was expensive and the other tasted amazing. It even smelled amazing as you walked by it!”

Helen adds that the cake she made cost a fraction of the price of the other one. “And it was such a heartfelt and personal addition to our wedding celebration.”

The benefits of making your own wedding cake

Having been to the same situation herself, Helen knows the dilemma involved in deciding whether. However, she assures her clients that the outcome will assuage any concerns.

“By helping couples through the cake making process from start to finish, I remove all that uncertainty. By working together with the couple, I can guarantee a homemade wedding cake that’s beautiful to behold, unbelievably good to eat and contains more love than any other.” Helen assures us that there’s nothing intensive about it: the course is designed so that even the most novice baker will come away with a finished result that’s nothing short of stunning.

So how exactly does a couple go about creating their own cake?

“The initial consultation involves the couple working together to come up with a design they both agree on. The actual making of the cake happens over the course of three short lessons. The first session involves baking the cake, the second to split and fill, and in the final class we ice the cake and ensure that it’s appropriately reinforced.” Helen ensures that all of this is completed several days before the wedding, allowing couples to focus their attention on other last-minute tasks instead.

Given that the couples themselves are in charge of the design process, does Helen see all manner of cake designs, or do the designs instead reflect current trends? Helen affirms that she sees some variety in the designs. After all, she notes, those who opt to create their own wedding cakes are those who value good food, generally enjoy cooking and are fairly independent when it comes to their wedding celebrations.

But even so, chocolate prevails. “The most popular cake is a three-tiered white chocolate, Grand Marnier and raspberry cake finished in white chocolate ganache and decorated with stunning fresh flowers,” she says.

On reducing the trial and error involved in making your own wedding cake

Before finishing up, we ask Helen if she has any tips, techniques or suggestions that inexperienced bakers might take on board in order to guarantee a successful result. Helen offers the following:

- Avoid designs that involve sponge cakes. Sponge cakes typically don’t keep well and aren’t the most sturdy choice for a tiered cake.
- Cupcakes dry out much more quickly than a single, large cake. Mudcakes are an excellent option. They are generally easy to make and don’t require much equipment. They also remain moist for longer.
- Make a few cakes–ones you already know how to make well, of course—and arrange them on vintage cake stands of varied heights, interspersed with plenty of fresh flowers. This “cakescape” looks inviting and makes for great photographs.
- Avoid unnatural ingredients like fondants, pastillage (sugar-based dough), and artificial colours.
- To ensure the cake remains fresh, keep it in the fridge up until the final coating, which can be done a few days in advance of the wedding day. Once the final coating has been applied, keep the cake in a cool environment with good air circulation.
- To transport your masterpiece, it’s best to keep the tiers separate. Try using a big, lidded tub with a layer of nonslip rubber matting to stop the cakes sliding around on their wooden bases. The assembly should be done where you plan to cut the cake.
- Don’t be afraid to try a fruitcake. A fruitcake harks back to tradition and familiarity, and are a delight on the palate: a good fruit cake is moist, flavoursome, and keeps well.

Ready to create your very own wedding cake?

Visit Helen Pratt’s website at CookLearnLove.com.au, or stop by her Facebook page–and don’t forget to say that we sent you!


Image credits: images by Jessica Shaver

Floral design by Zinnia Floral Designs

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