A few weekends ago I had the honor of photographing two of my closest friend’s engagement photos. If I’m being honest with you, I truly do not understand the appeal of portrait photography. I applaud photographers like Brad, Alisa, Bethany, and Astrid who have such a burning passion for capturing the human experience and emotion so beautifully and with such purity. Myself personally, I much rather capture the emotion brought about by a slice of cake with a dusting of powdered sugar, but to each their own! Though when I was approached by my friend Tyler to do his and his girlfriend (now fiancé) Nicci’s proposal/engagement photos on campus, I couldn’t say no! So I made a cake, grabbed my camera and we had ourselves a wonderful, fun, intimate, tear-filled proposal session.
So a little backstory: I met Ty and Nicci last year when I transferred to EIU. My first year or so of college was tough. I was in this state where I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I was going in life. I felt lost, confused, and stuck. When junior year came and it was the eve of orientation, I distinctly remember praying that I would find good, kind-hearted, quality friends. People I would be able to trust and grow with emotionally as well as spiritually. That first week my prayers were answered and I met some wonderful people, two of who were Ty and Nicci. I had briefly met Ty at church the semester before during a campus visit, but it wasn’t until my first semester on campus that I got to know the two of them and find out how incredible they both were.
From that week on, we have all been great friends. The two of them started dating the spring semester of my junior year and I was there (with camera in hand) to capture the evolution of their relationship. From chilly mid-winter shoots in the woods to a spring farm-style shoot, we shared so many laughs and memories. For the proposal, Tyler surprised Nicci with messages written in chalk leading up to these large stone steps on campus which read ‘Nicola Mae Colucy will you marry me?”. He got down on one knee, she screamed, and there was not a dry eye in the room. It was such a wonderful experience to be a part of. Even though I have known the two for less than two years, it feels as if I have known them for a lifetime. They are such amazing, wonderful people and I am so excited and happy for them. They have such a wonderful future ahead of them. Congrats Ty & Nicci! 😊
To celebrate the happy occasion, I wanted to make a cake. Besides being incredibly delicious, this cake is both gluten-free and vegan. The orange blossom water does wonders to this cake. It adds such a lovely subtle floral aroma to the cake which melodically dances through each soft, tender layer. Then clouds of fluffy, sweet salted caramel buttercream are spread over each cake layer. This salted caramel buttercream is the real deal. This stuff tastes AMAZING. Ugh! It’s so freaking good. The combination of flavors in this cake is unreal for sure. This cake just beckons spring, which is helping me get over the bitter cold of winter. With a side of coffee and friends to share with and you have my perfect kind of occasion.
Orange Blossom Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream (Vegan & Gluten-Free)
Cake recipe adapted from Allrecipes & Buttercream recipe adapted from Tikkido
For the cake
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 ½ cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 cup organic granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup canola oil
¼ cup orange blossom water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the buttercream
½ cup organic granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons maple syrup
½ cup coconut cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
2lb confectioners’ sugar
1 cup vegan butter, softened
For the cake. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour four 6-inch cake pans (I use these here)
In a large glass measuring cup, stir together the almond milk and vinegar. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and allspice.
Add the oil, orange blossom water, lemon juice, and vanilla extract into the milk mixture and stir with a fork to combine. Stir soy milk mixture into flour mixture until the batter is lump-free. Pour batter into the prepared cake pans.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Allow cakes to cool on wire racks before removing them from their pans.
For the buttercream. To a medium sauce pan, mix together the sugars, water, and maple syrup together. Bring this mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to turn an ember brown color. You want to stop stirring when this happens or the sugars will crystalize and sad times will happen for all.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the coconut cream, until the cream is completely incorporated into the sauce. Whisk in the vanilla, lemon juice, and salt (for taste). Allow the sauce to cool slightly before transferring it into a heat-proof container to cool completely. Note: I put my caramel sauce in the fridge overnight so it would be completely cool. The nice thing about this sauce is that it won’t get super stiff in the fridge. That way it is super chilled for the buttercream.
In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and in 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar. Beat until combined then add in all the caramel sauce. Finally, add in the confectioners’ sugar (1 cup at a time). If the icing is too stiff, just a bit of coconut cream until the icing is the consistency you are looking for.
For assembly. Place one cake layer onto your cake stand or plate. Evenly spread some of the buttercream on top. Repeat this process, carefully placing the other cake layers on top of each other until the cake is assembled. Place naked cake in the freezer for 10-15 minutes, or until the cake is chilled. Remove from the freezer and ice the cake with the remaining buttercream. Transfer to a refrigerator to set for an hour. Garnish as desired 😊, I would recommend a little drizzle of caramel sauce.