Drying hydrangeas

A short blog post to show you how easy it is to dry hydrangeas.

These beautiful flowers look as lovely indoors, dried, as much as they do in the garden. Personally I do not like the blousy brightly coloured varieties, the sky blues and bright pinks, but there are plenty of gentle, antique-coloured hydrangeas. Of course, it’s up to you what you grow, but my favourites are the light green of Little Lime, the rich russet-maroon of Ruby Tuesday and I’ve picked up a plant of Vanille-Fraise this year, which should start properly flowering next summer (this is a panicle – pointed – variety that’s mainly white with strawberry coloured edges) .

There are also varietal types to describe the flower and leaf patterns, such as lace cap or panicle. Lace caps do not look as great as the others dried, because by their nature not all the flowers open, but they’re still cute.

It’s perfect to pick and dry hydrangeas at this time of year – late autumn/early winter (I’m writing this in November).

Uses of dried hydrangeas

Dried hydrangeas are great ornamentals in the home. I also use them in my festive wreaths.

Dried hydrangeas will look good for at least twelve months, so perfect for your replacements in a year’s time!

Drying in water

  • This sounds counter-intuitive but does work so easily!
  • Pick your flower heads with a fairly long stem
  • Remove all leaves
  • Trim a bunch of flower heads to the same stem length
  • Place in a vase and fill with water
  • After about 10-12 days when the water has evaporated (do not top up) the flower heads should be dried and ready

Drying without water

  • Pick your flower heads with a fairly long stem
  • Remove all leaves
  • For each flower head cut a circle of baking paper or printer paper roughly to the same diameter as the flower head
  • Cut a small hole in the centre and feed through the stem
  • The paper circle stops the flowerhead from sagging, keeping it in it’s round form
  • Place a few together in a vase and leave to dry
  • Do not leave somewhere too hot or they may brown too much, it’s best they dry slowly.

A note about hang drying

You can also dry them by hanging them upside down, but frankly I’ve had less success with this and often even when it’s worked the flower heads look misshapen, however you may have better luck.

Using a flower press 🌸

Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Pressing plants, leaves, herbs and flowers is an ancient tradition across almost every culture to preserve their beauty for keepsakes, crafts and gifts.

There are two most often used methods of pressing to preserve plants: between the pages of an old heavy book (I once bought a second hand copy of Alice in Wonderland and found a pansy in the leaves – which was very sweet), but the most convenient and useful is a proper flower press.

You can actually also iron plants (carefully!) although I only employ this technique for a quick ‘set’ to start off with rather than for full drying myself. There are also some ways use a microwave (I’ve no intention to try this, so I can’t comment on whether it is effective). I like that flower pressing takes thought, time and patience. The rush of doing it in minutes detracts from its inherent gentle nature and seems an anathema to me. However, if you needed dried flowers as part of a business, such as hand making paper, I understand the speedy results appeal.

I’ve given you some ideas here on how to get the most out of a traditional style flower press, but most of these suggestions are relevant to using the weighted book method too.

This article includes helpful hints and tips on:

  • Blotting material choices
  • Preparing the plants
  • Placing plants in the press
  • When is it ready?
  • Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (craft and project suggestions)

To make your own proper flower press very easily and cheaply, please see my post on Making a flower and herb press

Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Blotting material choices

You’ll need to press your flowers and plants between two sheets of a type of paper to help wick away any moisture and dry them out. There are a number of options, some of which need to be chosen carefully dependent on which plants you are pressing:

  • Blotting paper – this is ideal and not as hard to get hold as you’d think online or in stationery stores. The advantage of proper blotting paper is that it usually comes in larger sheets so you can cut the perfect size out for your press. It’s also quite thick and can normally be used multiple times before it needs replacement. I’ve also successfully dried used blotting paper out in the sun and continued to extend its useful life
  • Kitchen tissue paper – while this does the job of drying plants out well and has the advantage of being cheap and easy to obtain, it normally comes with an imprinted pattern on. This is fine for more robust leaves or waxy petals, but will leave the pattern on delicate plants. Also go for a plain white kitchen tissue if you do use it – and colour might transfer to the plant. Best to experiment on something not so important first. Alternatively, this can be used in conjunction with a thinner paper (such as tissue paper) as a wadding layer for thicker plants
  • Acid free tissue paper – a great option, but it’s not always easy to find the acid free version though. Use a number of sheets to provide a thick layer (one or two layers won’t work). Needs replacing in the press more often than other materials
  • Toilet tissue – don’t use the imprinted kind (see the note about kitchen paper). Useful as an emergency find! Bear in mind not to put the perforation line over a plant – it’s best used for smaller items that are covered entirely by the size of one sheet. As per kitchen tissue, use plain white
  • Printer paper – most printing paper is quite smooth and doesn’t work that well. Can be used at a pinch but may not dry out the plant that well and may need frequent changing
  • Newsprint, magazine paper etc – to be avoided. The print technique for newspapers does not set the ink with heat and it’s very transferable (how many times have you read a newspaper and got the ink on your fingers?). Magazine printing is heat set but the paper is glossy and flimsy and basically useless. Avoid
  • Watercolour paper and handmade paper – the flat type works brilliantly but this is difficult to come by (most papers of these type are textured). A rather expensive paper just for pressing flowers!
  • Hand tissues – these can work OK, but stick to white and un-embossed ones
Separating herbs and petals, so they don't touch, on blotting paper as a layer in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Laying out on a blotting paper layer within the press – notice that many items can go into each layer, but try not to let them touch and don’t go over the confines of the paper (here are fennel fronds and cornflower petals)
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Preparing the plants

  • Take the most perfect flowers and leaves you can find
  • Flowers, leaves and plants that are naturally flattish or are delicate work best of all
  • For bigger blooms or large flower heads consider picking off all the petals and pressing these flat, rather than the whole flower head
  • Large, thick items can be sliced and dried – such as half a flower head, or a slice out of a rose or poppy head (such things make an interesting scientific-botanical style dried specimen)
  • Pick flowers and plants ideally when they are dry (without dew or rain on) but still plump and glossy and not starting to fade or go limp from water loss
  • If you can’t avoid picking when wet, dab off what you can gently and hang them up or stand upside down on tissue (see below) for an hour or two till bone dry
Ensuring plants are dry before putting them in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Ensure flowers, plants, herbs and petals are thoroughly dry before they go into the press (drying wallflowers, clematis flowers, violas, fennel and cornflowers)
  • Don’t put any plants in a press (or book) which are at all damp (note that you won’t be able to avoid any wetness from the end of cut stems completely)
  • Give the specimen a good look-over – imagine how do you want it to appear when dry. Pick off any leaves that will stop it from pressing flat or buds, smaller leaves etc that you don’t want or that are damaged. Often you can arrange the petals or leaves a little to make the finished specimen look its best
  • Thick flower heads and thick waxy leaves don’t press that well and may take a very long time to dry. This means they are susceptible to going brown at the edges or encouraging the growth of mould. That said, do experiment with specimens that aren’t precious (in case you have to discard them) to find what works (I’ve had some good successes with whole rose heads for example)
  • While not necessary as a step when using a press, you can give the flowers a ‘head start’ into the position you want by giving them a quick iron! Place them between two sheets of your blotting material and put the iron on its lowest setting. Press down for a few seconds, let go for a few moments to cool, then repeat two or three times. This is particularly helpful when you want to put a thicker flower in a press (I used this technique with the roses mentioned above) or want a stem or leaf stalk to dry in a particular position
  • Some flowers and leaves fade after pressing, while a few seem to become more intensified in colour (pansies and violas are great for this). The best thing is to experiment and jot down your own notes about what works for you
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Placing plants in the press

  • Try and press as quickly after picking as you can (bearing in mind any drying off you need to do) to capture the plant at that moment
  • If pressing multiple items in one leaf of your press (for example you might be able to fit a number of leaves or pansy heads in one leaf) make sure they don’t touch each other
  • Make sure no part of a plant hangs outside the blotting paper/press
  • Prepare each ‘leaf’ of your press like a sandwich: you should have the cardboard inner, then a sheet of blotting material, then the plant(s), then another sheet of blotting material, then the next cardboard inner (which is then used as the base for the next flower sandwich)
  • Put all your weight on the press while tightening the wingnuts/screws to ensure it’s as tight as possible
  • Place your filled and clamped flower press somewhere dry
  • Check periodically during the drying period that the press hasn’t loosened. Tighten the screws up accordingly
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

When is it ready?

  • Thinner specimens may only need up to a couple of weeks, for example gysopfila, viola, borage flowers, calendula petals, dill or fennel, coriander leaves, nasturtium petals or similar
  • Larger or thicker items may take up to a month (especially any plants that are designed to hold on to water in a dryer climate). For these, peek at them after two weeks to check they’re not browning or going mouldy and that the blotting paper doesn’t need changing. Discard anything – including the blotting material it is in – that is going brown or shows mould and start again
  • Change the blotting paper only if it appears damp or very discoloured from the plant. I have seen other instructions that say replace often, but I’ve found it’s not necessary to worry too much about changing this. After all, if you were pressing using a book, you’d just leave it in there. Only change if you think the drying process would benefit from new blotting material
  • The plants will be ready when they look and feel ‘crisp’. But be gentle! They’re now very brittle and stems, leaves and petals can snap or tear and destroy those precious weeks of waiting
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (crafts and projects)

  • Birthday and other cards
  • Wedding invites and place cards
  • Bookmarks
  • Gift tags
  • Decorating journals
  • Pressed into wax candles or soaps
  • Arranged in glass frames
  • Laminated
  • Edible plants that have been pressed can be stored and used for cake, bread and other food decorations or ingredients. A few words of caution: please be careful and consult a recognised list of edible plants. Also, bear in mind only some parts of a flower might be edible – for instance tulip petals can be edible, but other parts of a tulip are toxic. Also, even though a plant or flower is edible it may just be a dusty, dry old piece of paper to eat after pressing and only worth using as a decoration!
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Don’t forget to visit my post on making your own flower press!

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Make a flower and herb press

Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Welcome to an article that will help you make your own flower press from two old cork-backed placemats ~ although you can use these instructions with any boards/ply that is cut to size.

Dried, pressed flowers and herbs can be used in a variety of crafts, and as this is such an easy make, why not create your own pretty flower press?

It’s a simple make but one that will last you forever.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Notes

I’ve also given additional instructions for preparing the boards for painting, should you wish to customise your press once complete (as I have done in some of the images). However, by using a placemat with an existing image, it will still look good.

You will need a sturdy surface on which to make the press, as you need to both drill and hammer. A solid or portable workbench with clamps is ideal. However, you can still make this at home if you have a strong working surface that will survive being pummelled with a hammer. Better if you have some scrap wood over which you can drill holes without damaging any surface.

Please do go on to read the hints and tips on this accompanying article on how to use a press and dry pressing plants.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Equipment and materials

  • Two cork-backed placemats, typically 29 cm x 21.5 cm (or two 4 – 8mm depth boards, cut to a similar size)
  • Cardboard or an old cardboard box – enough to cut out six pieces of card using one of your placemats as a template
  • 4 carriage bolts (M6) and wing nuts – 6mm thread x 65mm bolt length is ideal (and what I have used)
  • 8 washers to fit the carriage bolts (and wide enough to cover the drilled hole, as this will depend on the drill bit size used)
carriage bolts, wing nuts and washers needed for the flower press
The four carriage bolts, four wingnuts and eight washers necessary for the flower press
  • Cutting mat or other surface protector
  • Sharp craft blade
  • Straight edge
  • Pen/pencil
  • Centrepunch (or a large nail) and hammer
  • Half moon cutter (if you have one – this is not essential but will give you the same results as my example)
  • Drill and 8 or 9mm wood drill bit
  • Sanding block or medium sand paper (about 120 grit)
  • Clamps, if possible (though I did test that you can handhold the placemats as you are drilling, as they are simple and quick to drill through)
  • Scrap piece of wood (to use as drill guard)

Additional equipment if painting the boards:

  • White primer aerosol paint
  • Paints or permanent markers of your choice
  • Matt clear aerosol varnish

Additional materials for use

  • Blotting paper or alternative – please see the guide on Using a flower press for a run down of materials and suggestions

Method

  • First of all, cut out the six cardboard inners, using one of the placemats as a template. Draw an outline round the placemat onto the cardboard and cut out with your craft knife. Now use this first one as a template for all the others: draw round it, cut out and repeat until you have six pieces
  • Next, mark where the drill points will be on each placemat: at each corner measure in 2 cm in from both edges and make a mark with your pen or pencil (you can cut a 2 cm x 2 cm square of card and use this as a guide if you wish)
marking the drill holes for the flower press
Marking the drill holes for each corner
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on a robust surface, such as a concrete floor, over a table leg (protecting the table first) or a workbech. Place the centrepunch (or the large nail) on one of your corner marks and hit the centrepunch with the hammer. This will make a guide indentation for your drill, to stop the drill from slipping. Repeat until all eight marks have been punched (four at each corner of both placemats)
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on the scrap piece of wood (if using). Position one of the punched marks over your scrap piece of wood and overhang the work surface (so you drill through into thin air, not your table!). Clamp down if possible
  • Position the tip of the drill bit into the punched mark, and drill through the placemat right into the scrap wood. By using some scrap wood underneath you minimise tearing of the cork (though some may still happen – don’t worry this won’t affect the press’ use – see the next point)
  • Drill all eight holes and then sand off any burrs and rough edges. (If the cork has ripped or torn at all during drilling, don’t worry! Just trim off the ripped edges with your craft knife and sand down. It won’t affect the press at all if some cork has been shorn off as this is outside the actually pressing area)
  • Place a washer on each of the four carriage bolts and push them through the holes of one placemat – make sure the picture side of the placemat has the bolt heads (and the cork is “inside” the press)
The carriage bolt (with washer, unseen, on the underside) pushed through the newly drilled hole in the mat for the flowerpress
A carriage bolt through the newly-drilled hole (a washer has been placed between the bolt head and the board, which is on the unseen underside. Note that the cork layer is on the ‘inside’
  • Now slice off a triangle on the corners of all six cardboard pieces. Just cut enough so they can fit in the press (if you have a half moon punch, as I have used, you can do this instead)
Cutting the corner off the cardboard inners, note that it's close to the drilled hole so that you keep as large an area of card for pressing as possible
Punching out the corner so that the card inners fir within the carriage bolts – you don’t have to have a half moon punch, just slice a triangle off each corner instead
  • Place all six cardboard pieces in the press and put the second placemat on top, feeding the carriage bots through the holes on this placemat. Keep the picture side upwards, so the cork is inside
Layering up the sized and cut inner cardboard inners
  • Pop the remaining washers on the bolts, then screw on the four wingnuts
the finished corner - with carriage bolts, washers and wingnuts in place and all six layers of carboard inners
How each corner should end up – a board, six layers of cardboard, the other board and all fixed with a carriage bolt, washers and wingnut at each corner. Note how the cork side of each board is facing inside

Your press is now ready!! However, you can customise/paint the placemats. To do this:

  • take off the boards from the press
  • sand down the picture side of the placemat
  • wipe off any dust and spray with the white primer (remember to do this in a well ventilated area)
  • paint, draw, decoupage or decorate the placemat as you see fit
  • once dry reassemble the press

To use (briefly)

  • Sandwich plants, leaves and flowers between two pieces of blotting material (see advice here) within each layer of the press
  • You can utilise up to seven layers for pressing plants, so you can do as little or as much as you like at the same time. You have two layers that are cork and cardboard, and five spaces between the cardboard laters (remember to use two blotting sheets with every layer)
Separating herbs and petals, so they don't touch, on blotting paper as a layer in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
  • When you have loaded the flowers into the press, push down on the boards as much as you can with all your weight using one hand while screwing on the wingnuts with the other (or get someone to push down for you). This initial weight/pressure will enable you to tighten the press more and facilitate the flattening/drying process
  • Plants will need at least two weeks to dry, thicker/more succelent-type plants will need longer
  • Keep somewhere dry
  • Check the press regularly to see if it needs tightening as the moisture is lost from the plants (you can do this without disturbing the plants)
  • Replace the blotting paper when it becomes discoloured or damaged
  • You may need to replace the cardboard layers from time to time as they become indented from use

Check out my some hints and tips on using your flower and herb press in the following article:

Using a flower press
Ensuring plants are dry before putting them in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Naked wedding cake

Naked wedding cakeThis was the first wedding cake I’ve ever made. I’m pretty pleased with it and it drew quite a number of really nice comments. The cake was made for the wedding of some close friends.

I pre-assembled most of the cake before we left and packed it up into four separate boxes. As all four of us were also attending the wedding (my husband was best man) I had a stress-inducing drive down the motorway and into to London with the car parked to the ceiling, expecting to find a smashed mess of crumbs and buttercream. It survived. Phew.

I’m not going to detail the recipe here – I used one from Good Housekeeping, as the tin sizes/volume matched perfectly. You can access that recipe here. I also cheated and bought-in buttercream, but I will explain how much I used in case you need to know this in order to buy the correct amount.

As the cake needed to be covered in fruit and flowers, I wondered what to put on the top of the cake – it seemed wrong not to have something. Traditional wedding cakes all have something, even if it’s just the slightly clichéd bride and groom figurines. I saw a few cakes with some banners or names of the bride and groom poked into the top of the cake. I didn’t like any of these but this gave me an idea, coupled with the slightly vintage-y theme to the wedding and I created some mini bunting.

Mini bunting for wedding cakePreparation

  • As mentioned above, I used the recipe from Good Housekeeping to make the cakes.
  • I made a 10″/25cm cake for the base tier, an 8″/20cm cake for the middle tier and a 6″/15cm top tier.
  • Each tier was comprised of two sponges each cut in half to make four layers per tier.
Equipment:
  • Cake dowels, for keeping the layers stacked (otherwise the cake will collapse in under its own weight)
  • Cake boards to fit the three tiers (a thicker 10″/25cm board, a 8″/20cm board and a 6″/15cm board)
  • The bunting (see below for how to make it)
Ingredients
  • Jar of apricot jam
  • Sugar syrup – lemon and vanilla
    • Put 500g of caster sugar and 500ml water in a pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Then boil (not on a very high heat) for one minute. Leave to cool.
    • Divide into two bowls of cups – have roughly 2/3 in one and 1/3 in the other. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the larger amount and 1 teaspoon lemon juice to the smaller amount. Swirl and set aside
    • Paint the vanilla sugar syrup onto the top of each of the layers for the middle tier (that’s four 8″ sponges) and the top tier (that’s four 6″ sponges) using a pastry brush
    • Do the same for the lemon sugar syrup on all four of the 10″ sponges
  • Six 400g buttercream tubs (you could get away with five if you are using all the same flavour I think):
    • For the base tier, I used one and about a third 400g tubs of vanilla buttercream and one 400g tub of lemon. I put the vanilla between layers one and two, then lemon between two and three and vanilla again between three and four
    • For the middle tier I used one and about a half 400g tubs of chocolate buttercream (I had a little bit left over from two tubs). I made this tier completely chocolate all the way through
    • For the top tier I used one tub of salted caramel buttercream and the rest of the vanilla buttercream left over from the base tier. I put the salted caramel between layers one and two, then vanilla between two and three and salted caramel again between three and four
  • Fruit
    • I used two punnets of redcurrants (I wanted white currants too but couldn’t find any). Remove the first few currants (the end that would have been attached to the bush) so that there is a 5cm or so stem. This is so you can push the currants into the cake to secure them
    • A punnet of raspberries
  • Edible decorations:
    • Roses and rose petals – to match the colourway of the wedding. Leave a 5cm stem on the roses
    • Lavender – a handful of the prettiest sprigs you can find, shorten the stems to 5cm
    • Mini meringues. I made some lemon mini meringues to my own recipe – which you can find here
  • “Semi-edible” decorations
    • Gypsophelia (or Baby’s Breath) featured a lot in the wedding and in the bouquets so I added some. The flowers are edible but the stems are not (though they are non-toxic and can be used on the cake). Baby’s breath is also brilliant at covering the bases

To construct the layers and tiers:

  • Set aside or mark out the best ‘top’ for each of the three tiers – that’s one of each size
  • Trim any domed layers (apart from the very top 15cm/6″ layer) with a bread knife so they are as flat as possible. Brush off excess crumbs
  • For the base tier:
    • Place the first 25cm/10″ layer on its cake board and brush with the lemon sugar syrup. Spread on a layer of apricot jam then pipe or spread on the vanilla buttercream
    • Place layer number two on top and brush with lemon sugar syrup. Add a layer of lemon buttercream
    • Place layer three on and treat the same as for layer one: lemon sugar syrup, jam and vanilla butter cream
    • Place on layer four (the one you identified as the best) and brush with lemon sugar syrup. Do NOT add buttercream
  • For the middle tier
    • Place the bottom layer on and brush with vanilla sugar syrup and cover with chocolate buttercream
    • Place on layer two, again add vanilla sugar syrup and chocolate buttercream
    • Place on layer three also has vanilla sugar syrup and chocolate buttercream
    • Top with the fourth (best) layer and add the vanilla sugar syrup. NO buttercream!
  • For the top tier
    • Place the bottom layer on its card and brush with the vanilla sugar syrup. Top with the salted caramel buttercream
    • Place on layer two and add vanilla sugar syrup and a layer of vanilla buttercream
    • Place on layer three, cover in vanilla sugar syrup and top with salted caramel buttercream
    • Finally add the last layer (the one you reserved and did not trim) and cover in vanilla sugar syrup
  • This is the point that I boxed up the cake – I did the final assembly at the wedding venue

Making bunting

  • You will need to cut out enough diamond shapes from coloured card as the letter you need to use. The diamonds need to be about 3cm tall and about 1.5cm at their widest part. Alternatively if you have a graphic programme you can print out diamonds with the letters on (which is what I was able to do). I used ‘just married’ and the couples’ first names
  • Remember each strong of bunting has to fit on a 15cm/6″ cake (the top tier) so don’t use more than about twelve letters per string or it will be too wide
  • Cut out and fold over the diamonds so that they turn into triangular flags. If you weren’t able to print them out, space them out on a table and draw on your letters as neat as possible
  • You will need two wooden skewers for each row of bunting and a length of nice string (I used kitchen butcher’s twine)
  • Lay out one long length of string and glue the inside of the paper for the first letter fold the paper over the twine. Press down on the bunting flag so that the glue fixes, but ensure the twine is at the top where it folds.
  • Make sure you get your letters in the right order (and that all the letters are on the same side!) and complete your first bunting string
  • Put a blob of glue near the top of a skewer and tie the twine to it as close as you can to the first letter. Repeat with the next skewer close to the end letter. Trim the loose ends of the twine
  • Set flat until the glue is dried. Repeat if you are making two bunting strings

Final assembly

  • Taking the dowels, you will need about 5 to 6 for the bottom layer. Push one dowel in to the cake about a quarter of the way in from the edge and mark where the cake stops. Withdraw the dowel and cut it to size. Use this to trim the other dowels. Push them all in, spacing them in a circle halfway into the cake.
  • Take a little of the leftover buttercream and put a blob or two on the top of the cake. Set the middle layer on the bottom layer and make sure it’s central
  • Repeat the dowels on the middle layer – you’ll need one less (unless you’re very cautious). Place the top layer on the middle layer one the dowels are in
  • Shake a little icing sugar over the layers (not essential)
  • Take your fruit, flowers and edible and non-edible decorations and arrange on the cake as you see fit. The stalks you left on the currants and flowers can be pushed into the cake or between the layers or boards to set them in place. Use a little leftover buttercream to fix the mini meringues on to the cake
  • Reserve your nicest flowers for the top tier
  • Place the bunting in place by pushing the skewers into the top of the cake

Naked wedding cake