It was a long old time ago that I came up with my Vanilla Yogurt Cake. It was back when I still hadn’t conquered the Victoria Sponge (like a lot of apparently simple things, to do it spot on takes quite a bit of practice!) and what the new cake delivered was a well risen, golden sponge with the extra bonus of being very vanillary and it had a beautiful soft moist texture thanks to the yogurt. It’s worth pointing out that I use Greek yogurt and my own vanilla extract, not vanilla flavoured yogurt which is too thin and has lots of extra sugar in it. As it stands, it makes an excellent teatime treat and I do urge you to go check out the original recipe I posted two and a half years ago now. However, what I want to talk about today is how I took this recipe and developed it into a cake good enough to be made into a multi-tiered, naked wedding cake. And how to adapt it to become dairy free, should you need it to be so. Go grab a cuppa – this one is going to be a long one!
A lot of readers have contacted me in the intervening years since publishing my Vanilla Yogurt Cake asking how to adapt it into celebration cakes of various dimensions. It’s really popular come birthday time, I mean, who doesn’t love vanilla? I’ve made upwards of a hundred of them now, throwing in an extra egg, more or less yogurt, more or less flour to meet the specific needs of the particular occasion so I feel confident in saying you can trust this finished recipe. What follows is similar to the original but I found a richer cake, with a higher proportion of sugar made for a better texture and colour to the final bake, especially when you are making a naked cake which needs a consistent appearance as there is only so much icing sugar you can cover imperfections with! Also, and perhaps the most key recipe change, is the type of flour and amounts of raising agents I use. Back in the beginning, I used a 50:50 blend of plain to self-raising flour also with extra raising agents. It was a nod and a wink to The Primrose Bakery cupcake recipe I used for my own wedding cake (a tower of amaretto cupcakes with a 6 inch layer cake to top it) but after a lot of tedious maths and more stress than you need when making large celebration cakes, I sat down and worked out the overall proportion of both baking powder and bicarbonate of soda needed if you only use plain flour. So much simpler – apologies for ever giving such a high maintenance sort of recipe! Here’s me and Hungry Hubby and The Cake on our wedding day almost 6 years ago ♥♥♥ …
If we were to get married again today, the naked cake look is definitely the way I would go too – I can totally see why our friends have asked me to make them a tower of sponges filled with soft and fluffy buttercream and decorated very simply with seasonal berries. I’ve never been a fan of sugarpasted cakes as the sugar paste is purely decorative (in my opinion) and therefore gets peeled off and discarded as you eat. With a naked cake, the whole thing is utterly delicious, especially with extra berries on the side to serve. Rustic, homely and inviting – why wouldn’t you want to serve that to your wedding guests? There are a few points to bear in mind when planning such a wedding cake mind you, as it doesn’t have the keeping qualities of a sugar pasted rich fruit cake that is actually better made month in advance. Assuming you are a home baker like me, making this cake for a friend or yourself (if you are superwoman!). Here we go:
- If you want fruit on the layers, you will need a minimum of 3 inches difference per tier or you will be lucky to fit a blueberry and a few currants on the exposed cake. 3 inches overall means only 1.5 inches around the cake, if they are stacked directly on top of each other. The cake on the left (pictured above) is stacked with one cake centred immediately over the other – the cake on the right is stacked towards the back, giving a bit extra space around the front to pile on fruit and flowers.
- Both brides wanted a good thickness of sponge and the overall look to be “tall” for their wedding cakes. Odd numbers look best but I would say, if you went up an inch to 4 inches size difference per tier to give even more room for the decorations, then I would be tempted to split the sponges in half and have 6 layers of cake per tier to give the height needed, or it would become quite short and stocky looking – never good on your wedding day!
- This is crucial – don’t just talk to the happy couple about their cake, speak to the venue directly yourself, well in advance, even at the planning stage. You need to know where the cake is going to be set up and if it will be moved during the course of the day, other than when they slice and serve it. The dowels will offer support to the cakes but any fruit and flowers are placed on the cake, so will shift if the cake is moved (unless they have it on a trolley which can be wheeled rather than recruiting half the wait staff to lift a precarious 50kg display cake!). If moving it is essential for the venue, I urge you to think twice about the decorations especially if you won’t be there to correct any slips as they happen.
- Befriend your local grocer and tell them you need fruit worthy of display, to be picked up the morning of the wedding. Order extra to allow for spoilage – I would get 25% more than you think in case of doubt. The surplus can be served alongside the cake by the venue (or take it home and make some jam). If you are in Sheffield, I can’t recommend Beanies enough – they have never let me down and the fruit is both beautiful and very flavourful to eat.
- Allow a day just to bake the cakes – it took me pretty much 8 hours of solid baking to make the last one I did as I timed the mixing of each lot of batter so as one cake finished baking, I could get the next in the oven. I have done this around my day job previously but it was infinitely less stressful to take the day before the wedding off, having scrubbed the kitchen, oven and all my cake tins, prepped the kit I would need and done one last stock check two days before.
- With regard to the baking – and I’ve said this before – get an oven thermometer. They are super cheap and will revolutionise your bakes. This one is the one I have and trust: Master Class Wireless Stainless Steel Oven Thermometer. Be wary that opening and closing the oven will affect the temperature within so do avoid unnecessary door opening plus domestic ovens can be imprecise when kept on all day. It’s a pain but checking the dial through the door (if yours is glass) is well worth it at frequent intervals.
- Once baked, cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes then place on a rack the right side up until stone cold. I lightly cover with a clean tea towel to prevent the surface drying out whilst they cool. Wrap in clingfilm and leave somewhere cool until the next morning. They must be stone cold first or they will sweat.
- I like to make the jams myself which I do weeks in advance and store in sealed, sterilised jars. The baking has to be done as close to the day as possible – the day before is ideal, two days at a pinch (it’s a wedding – you want the cake to be at it’s very best so it’s worth the extra effort). But know that this cake has excellent keeping qualities and will be delicious up to 5 days after (i.e. if you have overestimated the amount needed, the family can take a tier home and it will be good for a few days after; this is a cake that keeps on giving!). The morning of the wedding is when I fill with jam and buttercream, dowel the tiers and then drive them to the venue to assemble and decorate on site. An extra pair of hands in the car with you would lessen the stress of transportation. And yes, it will be an early, early start!
- When at the venue, the first thing to do is lay all the fruit and any flowers out on lots of kitchen roll to dry them off. The industrial fridge my grocer has means there’s quite a bit of condensation on the fruit so bringing them to room temp, drying the surfaces out and also getting rid of any spoiled ones is essential.
- I much prefer wooden cake dowels which don’t slip when transporting such a cake like plastic ones can – sugarpasted cakes are more solid and less likely to slip around. I place them at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions, 1-1.5 inches in from the outer edge of the cake to be placed on top. A top tip is to cut a circle of paper (any will do, the thinner then better) and place it on the lower cake, exactly where you want the next tier up to go. Mark the positions in pencil then push the dowels though. I cut them with pliers for a nice clean cut. I use these: PME Bamboo Dowel Rods, Pack of 12
Now to the bit I think my cake maker friends (like Mel and Caroline) have been waiting for – the amounts you need and the time each layer of cake takes to bake. I should point out by “layer” I mean each individual sponge and by “tier”, I mean assembled layers of the same dimensions with their jam and buttercream. I have found baking the 6 inch cake all in one and slicing it produces a better finish and is less work than making three very small mixes, but all the other sizes I make, I bake one layer at time for best results.
- I cut bake one very tall 6 inch cake using a deep tin lined with a very tall collar of baking parchment lined foil. I slice it into 3 once baked. All other sizes, I bake the layers individually.
- Yes, I use less egg for the 9 inch even though it is otherwise the same as the 6 inch recipe. You can use 3 small eggs if you have them in but 3 large ones makes it too eggy and risks it rising then falling on baking.
- The stated times are a guide but I find them remarkably accurate in my oven with my thermometer – start checking for doneness 10 mins before and be adaptable (and don’t forget to write it down so you know how long each layer needs in your oven).
- For the raising agents, all measures are levelled off, flat teaspoons.
If you want to make this a dairy free cake, then after many trials I found using Alpro Soya Yogurt in place of cow’s milk Greek yogurt worked very well and as for the butter, I like to use Pure Dairy Free Spread. Old fashioned English bakers will be familiar with ‘baking marge’ and will know how reliable the rise is – you can see in the photos of the two wedding cakes side by side above that the one on the right is very even, the colour is the same on each layer and the texture very regular. This was the dairy free version. You cannot substitute the flavour of butter but if eating it will make the happy couple ill, then there is no choice but to use these dairy free substitutes. A way to bump up the flavour is to use real vanilla, measured generously (scrape the seeds out of a pod) for the cakes and the buttercream, as well as making the jam yourself as store bought versions do not compare to the real deal. When eaten together, you will have one delicious cake. A lot of vegan recipes use coconut based products but as most of the people in my life tend to actively dislike the flavour of coconut, these vegetable oil based products are the next best thing. To make dairy free buttercream, I use half solid Stork (which is dairy free – the soft version in a tub uses buttermilk) to half Trex in the place of the usual butter. With these solid-at-room-temperature vegetable fats, you have far less risk of splitting as you beat them together with the sugar, plus for such a large cake, the buttercream must be solid or it will run out under the weight of all that cake and fruit. I use a little unsweetened almond milk to give a slightly softer, fluffy texture (use the rest in your smoothies) plus I use vanilla powder as I found adding vanilla extract can split dairy free buttercream as you mix it in.
And one final tip before you get the recipe – a dish of water in the bottom of the oven provides a little steam and helps with the rise and colouring of the cake. Trust me, it’s the small things which all add up to making the perfect wedding cake.
- 200 g softened butter*
- 250 g caster sugar
- 245 g plain flour
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 200 g Greek yogurt*
- 100 g soft butter**
- 200 g icing sugar
- Optional - 2-3 tsp milk unsweetened almond if going dairy free
- 3-4 tbsp jam of your choice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla powder if making this dairy free - see notes
- Icing sugar
- Oven thermometer essential!
- 6 and 9 inch cake boards 2mm thick
- 12 inch cake drum about 8-10mm thick
- 6, 9 and 12 inch cake boxes
- 8 wooden dowels
- Large piping bags
- 1.5 cm plain icing nozzle
- Approximately 1.5kg fresh berries and flowers as liked
Place an ovenproof dish (I use an enamel one) filled with about an inch of cold water on the floor of the oven.
Preheat oven to 160°C and set the shelf so the cake tins will be no higher than halfway up the oven.
Grease and line two 20cm loose bottomed sandwich tins. Baking parchment lined with foil is fantastic as it is nice and thick so helps with even browning. I spray the inside of the lining (have the parchment against the cake batter) with oil - you don't want any stickage for a naked cake look!
Cream butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, which will take several minutes for butter. CAUTION - for the dairy free version, this will take a mere 60 seconds and you should use the spread straight from the fridge. Beat it too long and it will split and curdle.
Sift the flour and raising agents together twice.
Beat in one egg, plus a spoonful of the flour, then repeat for the remaining eggs.
Sift over the remaining flour, scrape in the yogurt and vanilla then mix until no streaks remain. Do not over mix.
Divide the mixture between the two tins, spreading the mixture up the sides of the tin so there is a hollow in the middle. This helps them to bake nice and flat. Bake for 35 minutes.
Cool in the tins for 10-15 minutes then unmould and finish cooling on a rack. I lightly cover them with a clean tea towel. If not filling until the next day, wrap the stone cold cakes in clingfilm and store someplace cool.
When ready to sandwich, beat the butter until lightened then sift over the icing sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Again if making a dairy free version, this takes a fraction of the time and do stand and watch to ensure you catch it before it splits. Add in the vanilla and a little milk if not soft enough.
Use a little buttercream to secure one of the cakes to the cake board then spread the cake with the jam of your liking. Place the rest in the piping bag with the nozzle fitted and starting at the outside edge working inwards, pipe in concentric circles, leaving just half an inch of cake around the edge to allow for settling when stacked.
Top with the second cake and press down to secure - you can use a very clean spirit level to check it is level if you like. The beauty of this recipe is I've never had to trim a cake as it rises perfectly flat.
Dust heavily with icing sugar and top with the fresh fruit.
(If stacking with other cakes, push the dowels through the cake at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions about an inch in from the outline of the cake to be stacked upon it. Trim level with the cake using pliers. Use a little extra buttercream over the exposed dowels to secure the next tier with.)
I use vanilla extract in the cake, but vanilla powder in the dairy free buttercream as it will split otherwise.
** = for dairy free buttercream, I use 50g solid Stork and 50g Trex instead of the butter.
If making the entire wedding cake, you will need 500g butter (or 250g solid Stork plus 250g Trex) plus 1kg icing sugar plus 1 tbsp vanilla extract (2-3 tsp vanilla powder for dairy free buttercream) plus approximately 50ml milk/almond milk to loosen the texture enough.
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