5 x ingredients for Easy vanilla cake (see 'Goes well with' recipe below)
5 x ingredients for Basic vanilla buttercream (see recipe below)
340g/12oz jar strawberry jam, optional (I used Tiptree Strawberry & Champagne)
340g/12oz jar apricot jam, warmed and sieved
4kg white ready-to-roll icing (I used Regalice)
15cm, 23cm and 30cm thin round cake boards
40cm thick round cake board
a roll of baking parchment
a flat baking sheet or cake lifter
icing sugar, for rolling out
string, for measuring
8 x long plastic dowels
3½ m x 1½ cm white satin ribbon
tube of UHU glue, or similar
12cm and 15cm polystyrene cake dummies
18-gauge floristry wire, cut into about 20 x 10cm lengths
15-20 white and pale green hydrangea heads (get some smaller, some larger, if you can); your florist can advise
40cm, 30cm and 18cm cake boxes with lids, if you're transporting the cake
MAKING THE CAKES: Make the basic Easy vanilla cake recipe (see 'Goes well with'), following the instructions below for each tier, then cool and drench with the syrup. The cakes can be frozen ahead, without icing. However, if you bake them three days before the wedding, the cake will be fine until the big day.
For the bottom tier, triple the quantities for the basic cake mix, then spoon into a ready-lined deep round 30cm cake tin. Bake for 2 hrs 15 mins on the middle shelf until risen and cooked through as before. While this cooks, make up a quadruple batch of the syrup - this will be enough for all three cakes. Cool and drench the cake with syrup as before.
For the middle and top tiers, double the quantities for the basic cake mix, then spoon it into ready-lined 15cm and 23cm cake tins, filling each to about two-thirds full. Bake them together on the middle shelf, taking the small cake out after 1 hr 15 mins, and leaving the larger cake to cook for 1 hr 30 mins in total. If you know that your oven has hot spots, quickly move the cakes around after 50 mins. Cool and drench with syrup as before.
LAYER AND COVER THE CAKES: Make the buttercream as in the basic recipe. You will need 5 x basic quantity - this is a lot, so split your weighed-out quantities in two before you start mixing. You may have some left over, but better too much than too little. Weigh out the buttercream - you will need approximately 400g for the 15cm cake, 600g for the 23cm cake and 1.3kg for the 30cm cake. Spread a little buttercream over the 15cm cake board. Level the top of the cake if you need to, then upturn the 15cm cake onto it. Split into three using a bread knife. I like to mark the front of the cake on each layer before lifting it off, using toothpicks, so I can reassemble it in exactly the right way. Take the top third off first (what was the bottom of the cake) and set aside. Carefully cut the middle layer and set that aside, too. A flat baking sheet or cake lifter can be very helpful here to slide the cake layers off and then back onto each other.
Spread a layer of buttercream over the cake on the board. Return the middle layer, lining up the toothpick markings, then spread another layer of buttercream on top. Add a little jam if you like, dotting it over, then spreading evenly. Top with the final piece of cake, then dust off any crumbs on or around the cake. Now brush the whole cake with a thin layer of apricot jam. This should stop you getting too many crumbs in the buttercream. Sit the whole cake on a large sheet of baking parchment.
Spread the rest of the buttercream over, starting with the top, then smooth and paddle it around the sides and down to the board. Repeat the whole process with the remaining cakes, using the corresponding boards and the different quantities of buttercream. The cakes are now ready to be iced. You can leave them overnight if needed, loosely covered with cling film.
COVERING THE CAKE WITH ICING: You will need about 500g icing for the 15cm cake, 1kg for the 23cm cake and 1.7kg for the 30cm cake. Dust the work surface with icing sugar, knead the icing until pliable, then use your rolling pin to roll it into a circle large enough to cover the sides and top of the cake, with a little left over. Use string to check the size. Use your rolling pin to help you lift the icing over the cake.
Smooth the icing around the cake with your hands, easing it over the edges and down to the board. Then trim off the excess with a sharp knife, flush with the bottom of the cake board. Smooth any marks with the flats of your hands, buffing the icing to a slight shine.
Once you've iced all the cakes, cover the thick base board. Lightly brush with cooled boiled water, then lay the icing over. Trim to the edge of the board with a knife (I tend to do this like I would a pie crust, holding the board in my left hand, and knife in my right), then leave the board and the cakes to dry overnight.
STACKING THE CAKES: Dowels, which are basically plastic sticks, provide stability and strength to tiered cakes, and polystyrene blocks allow you