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Alternative Wedding Cake

Apr 03 in General

Some friends of ours recently got married and decided to have what you might term an “alternative” wedding. They both love nature and walking in the woods so they decided to have what they termed a “flash mob” wedding in the woods! The idea was that they would go to the registry office early in the day, just the two of them, to do the legal bit but then later in the afternoon, would take their guests to a special place in the woods where they would have a humanist ceremony in the open air with nature all around them. The ceremony was to be conducted in a clearing in the woods where the trees would be strewn with colourful organza and the ground covered with a simple hessian cloth. There would be mulled wine to greet the guests and certain parts of the ceremony would have an African theme to take account of the bride’s South African roots. The only confetti would  be crushed up leaf litter mixed with rosemary flowers, because it was important to the bride and groom that no damage was done to the area and afterwards, everything would be left exactly as it was before with no sign that we had all been there at all.

It was  decided that an alternative wedding needed an alternative wedding cake so a tree stump wedding cake would be appropriate. I have made tree stump cakes before, but to be honest, I have never been completely happy with them as they always seemed to come out a bit “cartoony” and I wanted this cake to look as realistic as possible. So I spent some very pleasant time, researching trees and tree  stumps whilst walking my dogs in the woods. Doing research for this cake I discovered  that tree trunks are not actually brown! Tree bark can be grey, green, blue (!), rust , cream,  black,  and okay, yes, a little bit of brown too! The colours vary depending on the type of tree, but even two trees of the same species do not always have the same colour trunk. It depends on whereabouts in the woods they are, the level of light they receive, the amount of damage the trunk has sustained during the trees life, whether there is moss or algae growing on the tree, and presumably also on the overall health of the tree. So I took a lot of photos of trees and their bark because I wanted my tree stump to have realistic looking bark. The texture of the bark varies a lot depending on the species so I considered quite a few different ones before deciding how my bark was going to look.  I also spent time examining the cut/broken ends of trees and logs. It would be easy to assume that just making a spiral shape for the cut end is all that is required, but by studying the cut ends I discovered that the texture is far more subtle than that and that they often have cracks running from the outside edge towards the centre. I looked at the forest floor trying to work out how I would replicate it in sugar. I also decided I wanted to add some bracket fungus growing up the trunk and some moss and ivy, and maybe a little wood mouse and a couple of birds.

So back at work I drew up a quick sketch of how I hoped my finished tree stump would look, incorporating all the bits and pieces I wanted to include so I had it to refer to when I was constructing the cake. When I do sketches for cakes the cake doesn’t always come out precisely as the drawing, sometimes there are construction problems that are not  apparent at the design stage,  or sometimes it just doesn’t look quite right when transferred to 3D and I find the need to tweak the design on the hoof, but this is all part of the fun.

The next job was to bake all the cakes. Six round cakes ranging in size from 10inches to 5inches in diameter and each 2.5 inches deep. These had to be split, filled and assembled into the trunk with cake boards in between and food grade plastic dowel supports to prevent the whole thing sinking under its own weight. The shape was smoothed off to get rid of the “steps” between the different sized cakes. The base two cakes were shaped further to make the shape where the tree roots disappear into the ground. The whole thing was covered in buttercream and put in the fridge to firm up a little whilst I worked out how best to proceed.

I then added a layer of sugarpaste , first a disc on the top which with texturing and colour, I made to look like the cut edges of the logs I had photographed and then I added black sugarpaste to the trunk. This bit didn’t need to be neat as it was to be covered later by the bark and only small amounts of the black would show through.  Once this layer had had a chance to firm up a bit I started to add the bark in a light beige colour texturing it as I worked . I would add more colour to it later using an airbrush, mainly green and black with just a touch of brown. The bark looked really good and I was then able to transfer the cake to the cake board which I had previously covered in black sugarpaste.

I made some dark green ivy leaves which I wired into a branch and added to one side as if it were growing up the trunk. I made some bracket fungus which was growing up the other side and added a butterfly just to add a bit of interest at the base on this side. I also added a little moss to one side.

Turning my attention to the forest floor I first made a few dry oak leaves which I coloured in various shades of brown. I used some brown sugar around the base of the tree but it was too bright in colour so I airbrushed it lightly with black to get a mottled, almost sphagnum moss type of effect which I was really pleased with. Whilst rummaging for something else in my store room I found some dark chocolate curls which worked brilliantly as leaf litter when added to the oak leaves on the forest floor. At this point I was really pleased with how realistic it was all looking.

All that was left to do was to add  a little mouse at the base and two little brown birds on the top. These I made with  modelling paste and  coloured the bodies using powder food colours and added the finer details with a paintbrush.

Tree Stump Wedding cake

Standing back to assess my finished work it occurred to me that this was no ordinary wedding cake and not the sort of thing many couples would request, but then this was no ordinary wedding and certainly no ordinary couple!

It had taken hours and hours of work to produce this cake, but it was well worth the effort for the “Oooohs” and “Aaaaahs”  it got at the reception and the bride and groom were very happy, so much so that they didn’t want to cut it, but I said not to be silly as that is what it was for!

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