Not-so-lockdown wedding

During the past few months I have been doing some serious bridesmaid-ing. If you read my first blog post, you'll know about Martha and John who I was bridesmaid for, just after lockdown restrictions started to lift in Northern Ireland. At that time, we turned the wedding around in just one week and ten people were allowed to attend an outdoor ceremony.

However, I was also bridesmaid to the lovely Laura and Matthew, whose wedding was supposed to be on the 2nd May. Obviously, due to the pandemic, this was not able to go ahead, but as more restrictions began to lift, the couple decided to get married a week ago, on 18th July.

What we could and couldn't do was continually changing during the fortnight before the wedding. Initially it was going to be an outdoor ceremony, but about a week or so before the event, the law changed so that it could be indoors. This made the planning process a LOT easier as we could decorate the venue the day before and with the unreliable Northern Ireland weather, it guaranteed that we would not get absolutely drenched.

Trying to find a suitable venue was interesting, but in the end, Laura and Matthew booked the Killymoon Castle near Cookstown, which was an absolutely stunning choice. In the original wedding, they were meant to have their wedding photos taken here, but it was the natural choice for the ceremony as it could accommodate both indoor and outdoor events.

You can see from the photo how grand the ceremony room was, requiring very little decoration from us other than the tulle bows on the chairs and the flowers on the registry table. It was so so beautiful, and I will definitely be back to the Killymoon for afternoon tea some time soon!

Thankfully this gave us more time for all the other preparations that needed to be done! On the Thursday before the wedding, I baked their wedding cake, a two-tiered creation made of vanilla and carrot cake. The key to this was planning out all the ingredients and equipment that you need and having it all ready to go first thing in the morning.

Anyone that knows me, will know that I love Mary Berry recipes because they always produce reliably lovely sponges, so I would recommend her 'Baking Bible' for anyone that's looking to get started in baking. On the Thursday, I had cakes in the oven all day, and made a vast amount of plain and carrot sponge. The bottom tier was plain vanilla and jam, a classic, and to stack these, the key is to let them cool and then put them in the fridge a while so they are less likely to crumble before cutting them. To 'level' the cake, go around the whole circumference with a ruler and mark a set distance from the base to the top, say 3cm. Once you've marked the whole way around, use the bread knife to cut between the marks you have made. You essentially want to get rid of that risen dome in the centre (which is then great with a cuppa later on).

Once you have levelled all 5 sponges, it is time to stack them. Make a vast amount of buttercream, which is 100g butter to 225g icing sugar and 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract. But scale this up to use 500g of butter, for example. Use a palette knife to spread the jam on the layer, and then fill a piping bag with buttercream and swirl it on top of the jam. It doesn't really matter about how neat the swirl is in between the layers at this point, as the weight from the layers above will squish the buttercream neatly.

Once you have stacked the layers to a sufficient height, it is time to cover the whole outer surface with neat buttercream. The best way to do this, I have found, is to pipe all over the surface of the cake, avoiding a spreading action at this point, as you want to avoid crumbs getting into the icing. If you have a turntable, this is very useful.

Once you have piped all over, use a palette knife to smooth all the piping together into one smooth surface. If you have a turntable, keep your palette knife relatively still, and turn the table instead of moving the knife. To help smooth the surface, dip the palette knife into freshly boiled water and run this over the buttercream. Scrape any excess icing off the palette knife before moving on to the next area.

I repeated this process for the carrot cake, which was of a smaller diameter. On the bottom tier then, I inserted six dowels (tip for this, is use a pencil sharpener for the end you're inserting) and this will help to support the weight of the upper tier. Once the smaller cake was on top of the larger, I placed a huge blob of buttercream on the 'ledge' between the two cakes and on the very top - this is to help the decorations to stick.

The next morning then, my long-suffering Matthew drove me and a two tiered wedding cake the hour's drive to Killymoon castle, which was so so stressful - every roundabout or speed bump could ruin the cake, so I was definitely relieved when we pulled up outside the Killymoon Castle!

At this stage, as you can see, I had inserted some greenery and lindor strawberry chocolate balls, as these wouldn't fade like flowers would.

Then, on the wedding day itself, after the ceremony, I went into a side room in the castle and inserted the flowers into the buttercream blobs to decorate. Laura's sister Dawn bought a beautiful wooden cake topper as well with "Mr & Mrs Hobson" and the date and these really added a lovely personal touch. I brought the cake round to the outdoor reception and everyone seemed to love the cake, the carrot flavour was a particular favourite!

The next preparation to consider on the day before the wedding was the flowers! Laura wanted pink and white roses to dominate the wedding, which was such a beautiful choice. I bought florist wire, florist tape and ribbon from Hobbycraft, and the flowers were sourced from various supermarkets. It was a bit daunting to become the florist for the wedding considering I had literally never made a bouquet in my life and the first one I was to make was for the bride!

Surprisingly, it's a relatively simple process. Greenery is so important to fill out the bouquet and give the bunch a natural look, so I began with that. I had cut greenery from my fence and hedge in the back garden, so used any nice-looking leaves, then added stalk flowers, white and pink roses, and gyposophila, which is such a beautiful white flower for a wedding which fills out the bouquet in a white cloud. I kept the bouquet held very tightly at one point, interlocking the stems of the flowers for support, then wrapped 2 florist wires tightly around this point. Then I wrapped florist tape tightly around the bouquet, from just below the flowers to about 10 cm below that point. This is where Laura would hold the bouquet. Then, I covered the florist wire with a pink ribbon and bow. At this stage, I left the stalks below the ribbon long, so that they can sit in a vase until just before the wedding, at which point, we trimmed the stalks off.

Also on the day before the wedding, Laura, Dawn and I constructed the flower arch which stood at the entrance to the castle. Again, greenery is key! The first thing to do is to wrap as much greenery around the frame as possible, a mixture of artificial and real is actually grand for the greenery parts, and very kindly, Dorothy from the castle offered us some artificial greenery that added to it. Once the greenery was on, with string and florist wire, we attached and threaded as many flowers as possible on to the arch, visually balancing the pink and white as we went. It was definitely a team effort and we were all pleased with how it turned out!

By the time we got finished up and home on the Friday night before the wedding, everyone was exhausted but very happy and excited for the following day. Laura, Dawn and I had a girly hour doing our nails and enjoying Laura's last night as Miss Wilson!

The morning of the wedding then, I got up early and made the buttonholes for all the men, as they have to be freshly made on the day. A sprig of greenery, a cloud of gypsophila and a single rose pulled together to create the buttonholes. I used florist tape tightly wound around the stems to hold it all together, then covered this with a ribbon, pinned in a the top, being careful that the end of the pin doesn't stick out the front of the buttonhole! This was then pinned on to the men's suit lapels just before the wedding. Obviously Matthew got a special pink rose!

At the end of the day, all the prep was completely worth it, as Laura and Matthew had an absolutely beautiful wedding. Laura has been my best friend since the first day we moved into our university halls in first year, and it's amazing to think that I was standing beside her on her wedding day as her bridesmaid, six years later!

When she introduced me to Matthew at the start, I had high expectations of him to date my best friend, but thankfully, he passed with flying colours! They are both quiet, funny and kind people and Laura and Matthew are just so perfect for each other. I am so delighted for them that they are now Mr and Mrs Hobson! Cheers to the bride and groom!

(Also, doesn't she look STUNNING folks???!!!)

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