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This show-stopper wedding cake is our second most requested recipe from 20 years of Sainsbury's magazine.

The cake freezes well if each tier is kept in an airtight container, un-iced and wrapped in a double layer of foil, for up to 8 weeks. Defrost overnight at room temperature. Alternatively, make the cakes up to 1 week ahead, wrap in a double layer of foil and keep in airtight containers in a cool place. Ice them up to 5 days ahead and store in individual Tupperware-type boxes (put the cake on the lid and click the box into place over the top) in the fridge or a cool place. If stored in the fridge, remove 4 hours before decorating so that any condensation on the cakes will disappear.

Serves 70-80

Special equipment list:

biggest mixing bowl you can find (for mixing the largest cake)
electric hand whisk
loose-bottomed 15cm cake tin, 7.5cm deep
loose-bottomed 23cm cake tin, 9cm deep
loose-bottomed 30cm cake tin, 10cm deep
The base and sides of each tin should be greased, then lined with a double thickness of greased baking paper; a double thickness of brown paper tied round the outside of each tin with string.
plenty of baking paper and extra-wide foil
fine bamboo or metal skewer
3 cooling racks, plus 3 flat plates or a tray to fit underneath each one
3 Tupperware boxes large enough to fit each tier (if preparing ahead)
sharp, long-bladed knife
long-bladed palette knife
pastry brush
cake lift, from Lakeland (lakeland.co.uk), or similar
2 x 45cm muslin squares for the cake board, plus 8m if decorating the stand
35cm cake board, 1cm deep (plus another if decorating the cake stand)
dressmaker's pins
heavy-duty sticky tape
water spray (for the fresh flower decorations only)

For the lilac and roses cake*

10-12 sprigs white lilac
10-12 crimson roses
8 white ranunculus
10-12 white lisianthus
camellia buds, or other flowers
4-5 strings redcurrants
fresh raspberries

For the ribbon cake

selection of ribbons at least 2m long, in different widths and colours; some should be wire-edged, others lightweight
wired velvet and silk flowers

For the trailing ivy cake*

1 trailing ivy plant
16 coral roses
12 dark orange roses
1 bunch hypericum (St John's wort)
5 sprigs viburnum berries
fresh cherries

* All the decorations, including the ivy, are not poisonous, but should not be eaten. As an extra precaution, wrap the tips to be inserted into the cake in florist's tape.

For the 15cm cake

225g Belgian luxury dark chocolate
1 large egg
4 large eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
110g ground almonds
1 level tbsp finely ground coffee

For the 23cm cake

400g Belgian luxury dark chocolate
2 large eggs
8 large eggs, separated
350g caster sugar
225g ground almonds
1 rounded tbsp finely ground coffee

For the 30cm cake

1kg Belgian luxury dark chocolate
5 large eggs
20 large eggs, separated
800g caster sugar
570g ground almonds
1 heaped tbsp finely ground coffee

For the icing

1.15kg dark chocolate, at least 51% cocoa solids, broken into squares
2 x 250g packs unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 x 454g jar apricot jam

METHOD FOR EACH OF THE CAKES
Don't attempt to make all 3 cakes together, as a domestic oven and equipment will not be able to cope with the quantities. Each cake follows the same method. However, when making the largest cake, whisk the egg whites in three batches, folding each batch in as soon as it has been whisked.

1 Preheat the oven to 170°C, fan 150°C, gas 3. Place a shallow dish or baking tin on the bottom shelf of the oven, then fill it with near-boiling water (it isn't safe to fill it before placing it on the shelf). The shelf for baking the cakes should be placed a third up from the bottom of the oven, just above the water.

2 Break the chocolate into squares and melt in a large heatproof bowl set over a medium-sized pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate or it will turn grainy.

3 While the chocolate is melting, put the whole egg(s), the egg yolks and sugar in another large bowl. Beat with an electric hand whisk until thick and creamy. With a large metal spoon, quickly stir the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, along with the almonds and coffee, until well mixed.

4 In a scrupulously clean large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry (see note, above, regarding egg whites for the largest cake). Using a large metal spoon, fold 1 heaped tablespoon of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it. Quickly and carefully fold in the rest, using a figure of eight motion, until just combined.

5 Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and lightly smooth over the surface, then place on a baking tray. Cover each of the 2 smaller cakes with a double thickness of baking paper and make a hole in the centre of each the size of a 50p piece. Cover the 30cm cake with a double thickness of extra-wide foil with a hole made in it, as above.

6 Bake the 15cm cake for 55-65 minutes; the 23cm cake will take 75-85 minutes to bake and the 30cm cake will take about 2¾-3 hours.

7 The cake is ready when well-risen, with a nicely set crust, and when a bamboo or metal skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven, take off the baking paper or foil, cover the cake with a damp, clean tea towel and leave to cool in the tin for 1 hour. Then turn it out on to a wire rack to cool completely, and remove the baking paper.

For the icing

1 When all the cakes are made and have cooled completely, make the icing. Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a medium-sized pan of hot water over a low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until melted, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.

2 Add the butter, bit by bit, stirring gently until melted. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool until the icing mixture has started to set to the consistency of double cream.

3 Meanwhile, if the tops of the cakes are uneven, trim with a sharp, long-bladed knife, then turn upturn on to wire racks so that there is a flat surface for icing. Brush away any loose crumbs and place flat plates or trays underneath each rack to catch any drips of icing.

4 Melt the apricot jam in a small pan over a low heat, strain to remove any lumps and then, using a pastry brush, brush over the surface of the cakes to prevent any loose crumbs from spoiling the icing. Heat the jam again if it starts to thicken up too much.

5 Starting with the largest cake, pour over a thin layer of icing and then, using a long-bladed palette knife, quickly and evenly smooth it over the top and sides. Repeat with the remaining cakes and chill until set – about 30 minutes. If your fridge is not big enough, you will need to set them aside in a cool place instead and allow longer for the icing to set.

6 Put the remaining icing back over the pan of barely simmering water to melt again, then remove and allow to thicken, as before, and give the cakes a second coat. Chill until the icing has set, then repeat the process for a third and final time and chill for about 1 hour. Any spare icing on the trays can be saved and used at the last minute to disguise any marks – just melt it, then pass it through a sieve into a small lidded container to remove any crumbs, and refrigerate.

7 When the icing has set, remove the cakes from the fridge and, using a small sharp knife dipped in very hot water, carefully cut them away from the cooling racks. Using the cake lift, transfer each cake to a tray lined with baking paper and chill, uncovered, overnight.

8 The following day, lay 2 x 45cm muslin squares on a clean surface, place the cake board in the centre, white-side down and, using the dressmaker's pins, attach the muslin to it. Snip off any excess fabric, then cover the pins with the sticky tape to protect fingers and surfaces. If you will also be decorating the stand, cut 2 x 90cm lengths of muslin, then cut the rest into 45cm lengths and tie into bows, which you will attach to the draped muslin once you have decorated the cakes.

9 When you are ready to decorate the cake, place the largest cake on the muslin-lined board and stack the other two tiers on top, in order of size, using the cake lift and making sure they are evenly positioned. You can decorate the cake up to 6 hours ahead if you have adequate refrigeration or a very cool storage place. Bear in mind the choice of flowers – sweet peas and peonies will wilt much faster than roses.

To decorate the lilac and roses cake

Before you start, have an idea of where you plan to place the flowers – once on the cake, it will be difficult to remove them without leaving any tell-tale signs.
You may only need to decorate the front half of the cake. However, if the cake is to be displayed in the centre of the room you will have to allow for 30-50% more flowers. If decorating half of the cake only, decide on which half the icing looks best and make this the front of the cake. Then, starting with the top tier, decorate the back of the top of the cake with a few of the flowers (the fruit goes on last). Next, work your way down the front of the lower tiers, arranging the flowers so that they point outwards and upwards. You may need to carefully push the stalks into the icing to secure them.
At intervals around the base of the top tier arrange a few flowers to hide the join between it and the middle tier, pushing the stems into the cake. Try to spread the roses out evenly, so you don't end up with a high concentration of colour in one place and none in another. Repeat for the other tiers. At this stage, less is more – you can always add more flowers, but it's not as easy to remove them. Trail the lilac between the tiers to soften the effect, then lightly spray all the flowers, being as careful as possible not to spray the cake.
Finally, pick out long strings of redcurrants and arrange them so they tumble between the tiers. The raspberries should rest in small piles in any spaces on the cake and around the base.

To decorate the ribbon cake

You will need to have a fairly good idea of the positioning of the ribbons before you start. It will become very difficult and messy if you have to make several attempts at getting it right, as the chocolate may mark the ribbons. Decide which ribbon(s) you want to wrap around the cakes and which one(s) to cascade down the tiers. The flowers can be positioned afterwards to fill any gaps.
Start with the thickest ribbon(s) and wrap it/them round the cake. Here we have used two ribbons in complementary colours, back to back. These were swathed around the tiers of the cake, starting from the top tier and working down. The ribbons were positioned in such a way as to hide the joins between each tier. At the bottom tier, the two ribbons were separated and wrapped around the base of the cake. The ends were then pinned at the back (to the cake board) to secure the ribbons. When doing this, make a note of exactly where the pins are for removal before serving.
Using a more lightweight and gauzy ribbon, we formed pleats and secured these to the top of the cake with dressmaker's pins (remember to remove these before serving, too), allowing the remaining length of ribbon to tumble down the cake. To finish, position little bunches of silk and velvet flowers and leaves around the cake and the base.

To decorate the trailing ivy cake

Cut all the rose stems to 6cm, the ivy into long pieces and the hypericum and viburnum berries into sprigs, then lightly spray each rose with water.
You may only need to decorate the front half of the cake. However, if the cake is to be displayed in the centre of the room, you will have to allow 30-50% more flowers. Think about where you want to position the flowers first, then carefully push the stems in. I find it most effective to start from the top tier and make a swathe down and across the cake using the coral roses, then build up the design by filling in with the dark orange roses. Decorate at intervals with the hypericum and viburnum berries, then finish off by poking the ivy into the top tier and trailing it down to the bottom and around it. Lightly spray all the flowers again, being as careful as possible not to spray the cake.
If you are going to make the cake stand, turn the 30cm (12in) cake tin upside down on the table. Place the second cake board on top, drape over the reserved pieces of muslin, tucking any frayed edges under, then place the board with the decorated cake on top. Finally, using the pins, attach the muslin bows at regular intervals around the muslin stand. Arrange the cherries in clusters around the cake board, placing a few more on the cake itself.

To serve the cake, divide each tier into quarters, then cut into 5cm (2in) wide wedges and cut each in half.

 

About the author

Sarah Alcock