Wedding Cakes: Practical advice for ambitious bakers

cakeinplacefromfront

Are you the cake baker? The go-to birthday/anniversary/school function/retirement party person-who-brings-the-cake person?

MebangingoutcakeOr are you just the loving mom/aunt/grandmother/friend who’s always wanted to express your caring with the gift of a special cake for the most special of days?

It’s almost upon us: wedding cake season. And any minute now the baker’s hotline phone calls will start.

Caller: “I said I’d make a wedding cake for 150 people, I’ve never done this before, and I need a recipe!” Baker’s Hotline: “When’s the wedding?” Caller: “Next week!”

My test-kitchen colleague and former baker’s hotline member Frank reminded me this morning of the wedding cake calls we love: the ones we get in January for a wedding the following September. Those are the folks who

  • know this is going to take some time;
  • realize they’re going to have to do some practicing;
  • want to make their biggest mistakes BEFORE anyone can see them.

But it’s May already, and it could be that you’ve been too busy, or too nervous, to face the prospect of what you’ve agreed to do. I’m hoping I can help. Here’s your first checklist:

  • how many people are you planning to serve?
  • what flavors do the bride and groom want? Are there any guests with dietary restrictions?
  • what recipes are you going to use?
  • how many layers are you planning?
  • do you have enough refrigerator/freezer space?
  • where are you going to bake/frost/assemble the cake?
  • what will you need for infrastructure?
  • does it have to be transported? How far?
  • will you be able to set up the cake yourself, or are you handing it off to someone?

Before you get too intimidated, I can tell you that half the time you’re going to spend on this project is going to be in the planning, shopping, and strategizing. And it’s time very well spent.

For years, I’ve been recommending a small, but enormously practical book by Dede Wilson, who teaches at our Baking Education Center from time to time. It’s called Wedding Cakes You Can Make, and it’s one of the best tools any go-to cake baker can have in their arsenal. Some of what I’ll tell you here is reiterated in Dede’s book, but here are some of the highlights.

Cake is to be eaten. It should taste good, and it should look like food, not like some perfect plastic thing. You can easily make yourself crazy trying to get every last bump, bubble, or blemish out of the cake’s surface, then turn around and drag your elbow right through it. Forgive yourself in advance for the likelihood of gravity, close quarters, or in my case, spelling mishaps having their way.

Mom's80thcake

This is the cake I made for my mom’s 80th birthday party. Kahlua-soaked chocolate layers with coconut-flavored Italian buttercream for top and bottom tiers; vanilla layer with strawberry filling for the center tier. Note that I wasn’t able to get all the letters in “birthday” on top. Sigh.

Almost any mistake you make is fixable, with a little advance planning.

Some tools and equipment are indispensable for this task. Cake boards, offset spatulas, a cake turntable or lazy Susan, a wooden or Masonite cake base for big layered cakes, cake boxes, pastry bags and tips, some kind of support for stacked layers (pillars, milkshake straws, wooden dowels).

Let’s go after the checklist above; I’ll give you my best hints for dealing with the questions I’ve raised.

How many people? Most cakes I’ve done have been for weddings with between 80 and 200 guests. Dede has good guidelines in her book for how many servings you can expect from what size layer; I generally make more than I think I’ll need. If it’s good cake, the staff at the venue will be most grateful to have a piece.

What flavors? My writing partner Gwen and her now husband Ben (our Web designer) wanted something light, sort of citrus-y, but a little different. We settled on white cake soaked with citrus simple syrup, filled with passionfruit curd and frosted with passionfruit Italian buttercream.

I’ve done chocolate layers with vanilla frosting, and alternated raspberry and mocha fillings in the layers. I’ve made gluten-free tiers and separate gluten-free cakes for some weddings. The flavors are kind of the fun part. Once you know what they are, our baker’s hotline will be able to help you find recipes to make them come true.

Because I know you’ll ask me, I’ll tell you here: I used some passionfruit purée that our merchandising team had on hand, as well as undiluted passionfruit juice concentrate from Welch’s (from the juice section in the grocery store freezer aisle) to flavor the buttercream.

How many layers? Three tiers are pretty workable for most wedding cakes. They’ll give you enough to make a nice presentation without too much anxiety. Whether square, oval, or round, the cake will look best if you have at least 2″ and preferably 3″ difference in diameter between tiers. The cake below has a 6″ top, 9″ center, and 12″ bottom layer. I almost always make a half-sheet cake of all the same flavors to have in the kitchen to cover weddings of more than 100 people. Banquet staffs appreciate it (easier to cut) and it saves you a lot of time and aggravation, believe me.

matt's cake

This was Matt and Emily’s cake for a fall wedding. Chocolate layers, coconut buttercream, chocolate plastic triangles for the base. When this cake was served, more than 100 Italians got very quiet. They were paying attention to the cake, and I took it as one of my proudest culinary moments ever.

Refrigerator/freezer space: This is one of the things that doesn’t occur to people until they’re way down the pipeline. I’m lucky to work at King Arthur; we have a two-door freezer with lots of shelves in it that can almost always be reconfigured to accommodate five cake layers of varying sizes. I also have a spare “project fridge” in our garage at home that gets turned on for these sorts of things. If you don’t have that luxury, it’s time to book space in the refrigerators and freezers of friends, neighbors, or family.

Frosting and assembly: Crumb-coating layers and putting on a finish coat is pretty simple, and most people will have no trouble with the top two tiers; they’re a manageable size. Once you get to a 12″ layer, you’re going to need more table space and elbow room around it. Also, it’s important that your assembly space is either air conditioned or has plenty of refrigerator space at hand. Putting together a wedding cake in the back of a panel truck when it’s 90°F out is not a good place to be.

Hammerdoweldown

Ben and Gwen’s cake was five tiers tall, and offset so the backs of the layers lined up.
I used wooden dowels to support the middle two layers, and milkshake straws to support the two above that. Then I hammered a long wooden dowel down the center to keep the layers in place when I moved the cake. The top tier isn’t yet in place.

Notice how “imperfect” the surface of the layers are. I’ll be piping frosting with a leaf tip to cover the seams, and placing both white chocolate plastic roses and piped buttercream flowers on the cake; that’s what people will notice, not the slight track marks my offset spatula left in its wake.

frostingpalette

I decided to do a riff on ombre, going dark to light as the layers went up, and using contrasting light to dark for the piped ribbons around each base.

Infrastructure Notice the Formica-covered board that the cake is sitting on. It has feet (very important, so you can get underneath to pick it up). My business card is also taped to the bottom, so I have a chance at getting it back!

If you don’t want to invest in such a thing, you can buy foil-covered cake bases at most party or decorating supply stores. They’re made of several cardboard cake circles stacked together (kind of like a laminated beam) and wrapped with food-grade pretty foil. The cake above weighed about 45 pounds in its assembled state, and was getting moved all at once, so a reliable base was absolutely essential.

Other infrastructure considerations: If you want to separate your layers, you can buy sets of pillars and cake separator plates, and cut the pillars so they stick up out of the layers by about an inch. This leaves you a nice gap to put flower stems into if you’re planning to finish the cake off with fresh blossoms. You can see that in action here.

If you’re stacking the layers on top of each other, the same pillars will work, but they’re usually white plastic and can be hard to find and take out when the cake is cut; I like milkshake straws for holding up any layers 10″ in diameter or smaller. They’re easy to cut, easy to see, and don’t cost too much.

Transportation: This can easily be the most nerve-wracking and traumatic part of the process. Ideally, you’d be able to box each layer and assemble them on the presentation table wherever the wedding takes place. For Ben and Gwen’s cake, I moved it in assembled form. Before I took it out of the kitchen, I got my car set up.

I’ve learned over the years that the right vehicle (my Subaru Forester has a generous flat cargo space in the back) is important; you need something with a lot of flat space in it. If your seats don’t fold flat, best to borrow a vehicle that has the space you need. MAKE SURE IT HAS WORKING AIR CONDITIONING! Buttercream is not too terribly heat tolerant.

Prechilledcarbackedup

The wedding day is here. 83°F and about the same for humidity. My car is backed up to the door, and the air conditioning is on full blast before I go get the cake.

Put signs in the car window. It decreases the potential for road rage from other drivers. When they come up on you driving your white-knuckle 25mph, they’re aggravated at first. Then they’ll see the “Wedding Cake on Board” sign, and you’ll probably get smiles and waves.

cakeonboardsign

I put cake on board signs in both sets of side windows and across the back.

Luckily, the test kitchen is also in the warehouse building. I had plenty of boxes to choose from when looking for one big enough to fit the cake base.

cakeonthemove

One last, important thing: our rolling mats and/or Silpats have a hidden talent. If you put them on a flat surface and put any kind of cake box on top, the cake box DOES NOT MOVE. It’s amazing and wonderful and lets you turn both left and right, and go up and down hills without fear of anything sliding around.

silpatboxshot

Another piece of very useful advice from Dede that I heartily endorse: before you drive off, make sure you have a cake repair kit with you. It should have extra frosting in whatever colors you need already in pastry bags; a small and large offset spatula; any extra piped or shaped decorations you have, and some paper towels for wiping off any surface or your hands. That way, heaven forbid, if the cake is jostled or bumped into, you can make whatever fixes you need once you’re at your destination

Setting up: If you’re handing the cake off to someone, that’s really all you have to do. Make sure they don’t put it in a cooler with a bunch of fish! To taste its best, the cake should be given some time to warm up to room temperature. The bigger the cake, the more time this takes. Usually, if the cake is on display before people come into the room for the reception, it works out – as long as the room isn’t sweltering. See the notes below about getting your equipment back.

If you’re setting the cake up yourself, give yourself 45 minutes to get the cake in the door, set up, and the table decorated (maybe an hour if you’re also a guest at the wedding. Best to set up the cake first and put on the glad rags after).

If you’re just handing off, be sure you make arrangements with someone specific to get your pillars, separator plates, and base back. In particular, get the banquet salesperson’s name as well as the banquet captain’s, and let them know you’re expecting to get everything back. Then tape a note to your car keys or your car’s steering wheel to remind you to collect the stuff.

For Gwen’s wedding, I also made cupcake seating card holders in their flavors and colors.There was a little bit of extra setup time for that, too, putting everyone’s name card in place.nameplacecupcakeGwen’s cake had fresh flowers in addition to the piped and chocolate ones. The first thing I did after putting the cake on its table was put a ribbon around the base to help tie the colors of the roses into the presentation.

cakeinplacefromback

This is the cake from behind, looking out at the room. Their adorable cake topper was from Etsy.

Then I placed the rest of the roses in front, some petals for more fun, and breathed a very big sigh of relief.

Rose closeupAfter a lovely ceremony and tasty meal the big moment happened: cutting the cake! In this case, most people had a little sneak taste preview from their name/table seating cupcakes.

Ben-Gwen-0685It was an honor to have the chance to make the best cake I could for these two wonderful people, and to be part of their special day. So far I’ve had that privilege for Matt and Emily, Allison and Sean, Ian and Jordan, and Jen and Dan.

If you’re the cake baker, I’m sure it will happen to you, sooner or later. If it does, I’ll leave you with these words of advice.

Make a sample cake for the couple, so you can practice the recipe and they can give you their feedback and you can make use of it. An 8″ layer is a good place to start. It’s big enough to give you a sense of what you’re getting into, small enough not to scare you to death. I guarantee that after you do this one cake you’ll realize three or four things you want to do differently when it’s time for the real show.

Make three batches of frosting. Then make one more. There’s nothing worse than running out/dropping a layer/having to bang out another batch on the fly. And there’s nothing better than having a stash of good buttercream in the freezer, should you be lucky enough to have left over.

You’ll be doing this four times: (three tiers plus a side cake): Measure, mix, and bake layers (45 to 60 minutes); soak with flavored simple syrup (20 minutes); chill layers to firm them up before handling (20 to 30 minutes); fill; stack; crumb coat (20 to 30 minutes), and finish coat (30 to 45 minutes). Those time estimates are for a fairly confident and organized baker. Allow more if you’re going down this path for the first time.

Give yourself twice as much time as you think it will take. If you add up my estimates for simply getting the cake made and nominally frosted, we’re talking between 2 and 3 hours per tier. Not to scare you, but we’re up to 8 to 12 hours already. Add to that the time it takes to buy your ingredients, gather your materials, hoe out the refrigerator, buy flowers if you’re using them, and make a ton of frosting. We haven’t said a word about decorating anything yet, either. This is not something you can leave for the last minute.

Stay in your comfort zone when decorating. And do some practicing on that sample cake. Choose a technique that comes easily to you. Not every wedding cake has to be super formal. Some of the best looking ones I’ve ever seen were frosted with nothing more elaborate than the back of a spoon.

IanandJordan'scakes

Chocolate cake with mocha buttercream, left; and almond cake with raspberry filling
for my nephew Ian and his wife Jordan’s wedding. It was a hot one, and I’d just come out of the kitchen where I was also doing the food for the reception.

Enjoy the process and put some love in that cake. I spend a lot of time when I do a wedding cake thinking happy thoughts about the couple, wishing them good things, and putting my hope and care for their future into what I’m doing. No matter what happens (and something always does), you’ll know you did your best for a couple you care about. And everyone will be able to taste that.

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Reid
About

Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently enjoying her fourth career after stints in advertising, running restaurants, and teaching at the New England Culinary Institute. She joined King Arthur in 2002 to ...

comments

  1. sharon

    My husband and I made our wedding cake which served 150 people. We found the recipes for the cake , frosting ,and filling in the Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. That book was perfect for creating a wedding cake. I really wanted to send pictures of the cake to her. I still regret that I didn’t. One thing that really helped us was renting a cake stand, that had room for all 3 layers. So it had the traditional appearance of a 3 tiered cake, just the cakes were not resting on each other.

    One other thing i would recommend is to give both partners a chance. I had always baked and frosted cakes. However, I was very happily surprised when i handed over the pastry bag to my then fiance. Turns out the lines of how a basket weave goes together, made sense in his head. He did an excellent job. He had never used a pastry bag until we made one of the test cakes. There were many test cakes.

    One of the other big helpers was decorating the cake with real flowers. I had watched a friends mom make his wedding cake. She took a small glass and outlined it on the top tier. she traced around it and then basically cored the cake. she then put the glass in the hole and it served as a vase for the lovely flowers that topped the cake.

    I am so glad that we made our own wedding cake. We look back on it with great pride. Yes, it was a little stressful-but we did it together. Everyone told us we were nuts to make our own wedding cake. we are so glad we didn’t listen to them. We would do it all over again–with Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Wow, Sharon, I’m so impressed! Good for you. There are as many ways to go about this as there are bakers, and the key sentence I saw above was “There were many test cakes.” I don’t think you can emphasize enough that this is something that is a)very doable but b) NOT a last-minute endeavor. And hey, you can put the pictures on our facebook page, I for one would love to see them! Susan

  2. Suzanne

    This was a great post; I really enjoyed reading it.

    What struck me as most interesting was your referencing how the baking and preparation process can be “nerve wracking.” I’m new to baking and have yet to tackle anything complicated and find myself getting a little “frenzied” now and then when I’m trying a new recipe. I thought I must be a little crazy for feeling that way, but now I realize that I’m not!

    I can only aspire to be able to create masterpieces like those featured in this article. Looks like I have a lot of baking ahead of me. I can’t wait! :)

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      One cake at a time, Suzanne! Just stay with recipes you can trust,and you’ll be fine. Enjoy your cake journey, and we’ll be here to keep you company along the way! Susan

  3. Leah

    I made my own wedding cake and had my husband and a sweet friend frost it while I napped (I was three months pregnant at the time and tired all the time). It was only one layer – we had a very small wedding, only five people – but still just as nervewracking as these fancy layered ones. :)

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Ok, so now you have to tell me what flavor! If my wedding had been that size I’d have made my own, too! Susan

  4. Sarah

    This is such a helpful (and timely!) article. I’ve been asked to make the groomsman cake for my sister-in-law this summer, and this gives me a good starting point of what I need to ask her. (She didn’t give me much to go on). Do you have any suggestions for baking/decorating away from home? I live in WA and the wedding is in RI, so it’s not realistic to bring my whole kitchen with me.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Hi, Sarah. If I were in your situation, the first thing I would do is build myself a box to send to myself in Rhode Island. I’d measure all the dry ingredients for whatever layers I needed into plastic bags, and label them: “Dry ingredients for 9″ layer.” I’d also put in my large and small offset spatulas, maybe a cheap plastic lazy susan to use for a cake turntable, cake circles for the sizes I know I’m going to need, a drum for the base, pastry bags, tips, pastry brush for soaking layers, and any colors I might use. I’d print my recipes(twice), put one set in page protectors in the box and another in my carryon. Meringue powder if you’re making Italian buttercream. Most party stores have a decent selection of pans, but they’re not that heavy to ship. I’m compulsive enough to put in the 9″ pan, the parchment and cake circles inside it, and the bag of dry ingredients all together before putting in the box. Somehow it’s always easier to get that stuff together from your home base than it is to find it onsite.
      Line up the use of a stand mixer, kitchen, and refrigerator space for 2 days. Hopefully you’ll only need one, but it’s always good to have a cushion. And unless there’s someone you can trust to wash dishes without bending your ear or distracting you, see if you can limit the amount of visitors who “just want to see how you’re doing.” Hard enough you’re in a strange kitchen, even harder if people want to watch you the whole time.
      Make your “on site” shopping list: the things you’ll need once you’re on the east coast. Sugar, flour, eggs, milk, butter. Lots of butter.
      Make your layers, and while they’re baking put together your simple syrup for soaking layers. Then go nuts on the buttercream. By the time it’s ready, the layers will be cool and you can assemble and crumb coat at least one of them before you take a break.
      The more prepared you are and the more things you can set up before you leave home, the better things will go and more fun you’ll have. Good luck, and I hope you send us pictures!! Susan

  5. bill

    I’m not very good at cake baking. Can you recommend a basic book on the subject? I’ve seen books like Cake Bible, but, to be honest, that level of cakery intimidates me!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      I totally understand. Frankly, I’d start with a couple of the guaranteed recipes on our website to gain some confidence. We also have an online cake decorating tutorial that talks about the basics of finishing a cake. And lastly, if you’re going to go after something fancy, I would once again recommend Dede Wilson’s books. The best thing you can do is practice, and take notes about the recipes you have good results with. Susan

  6. Jennifer

    I have made two wedding cakes for family members using American buttercream. I am making a cake for a friend in June and just discovered your Italian buttercream recipe. Questions: Can layers be frosted and held at room temp Friday for a Saturday wedding? Or should they be kept refrigerated until transport and set-up time? And how long can the frosting hold the day of? I plan to add the 1/2 c. Crisco to the recipe to stabilize the frosting. With one month til the wedding, I should not be learning a new frosting, but it sounds so wonderful, that I just have to give it a try. I plan to make a practice cake this week.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello Jennifer – The frosted layers really should be refrigerated over night (even if you are using an American buttercream). They will be much more durable and forgiving should there be a rough transport and/or set up at the site. Once assembled on site, the cake will have ample time to come to room temperature for optimum flavor/mouth appeal prior to the cutting of the first piece. I am not sure where you are in the world nor whether the cake will be placed outdoors, but June can be pretty warm! Adding some shortening may not be such a bad idea when the temps are warm and you have some intricate piping to do. Generally, outside in 80 plus temps, Italian meringue buttercream should do just fine for 6-8 hours. If you are in a venue equipped with central air, add 1-2 hours. In either case, shortening will help preserve the integrity of the decorations. In my opinion, you still have time to master Italian Buttercream. It will be time well spent. Trust us…it has a wonderful flavor and a dream to work with when made properly. Elisabeth@KAF

  7. bakeraunt

    I also find The Cake Bible intimidating. My one attempt to bake a cake from it (three layers as a practice wedding cake) was a disaster. Of course, it might have been my mixing technique, as I was very new to cake baking at the time and did not own a stand mixer. The cake literally broke apart after I assembled it (but the pieces tasted great). I then turned to Susan Purdy’s The Perfect Cake, which was also recommended by the friend of a friend who has done a number of special occasion cakes and uses it as her go-to book for “crucial cakes.”. I find it friendly and encouraging, and I ended up using the Anna’s Butter Cake for my wedding cake, along with a simple buttercream frosting from the Culinary Institute of America’s baking book. After that practice cake turned out so poorly, I re-thought doing tiers, and using large pans, especially as I was not going to be baking from my house and in my own oven. What I did instead was use a mini-tier Wilton set that used one recipe of the cake. The plastic holders for the tiers have plastic dowels that attach to the bottom and go into the cake below. I did those tiers as double layers, and that cake went onto an elevated holder. I then baked three, three-layer cakes which I positioned on the front and on each side of the mini-tier cake. I refrigerated each cake as I finished frosting it, and the next day I transported them and assembled them on site. (I almost dropped one when assembling. Beware of how covered cake boards will slide off large metal spatulas!) I went simply on the decoration–a cake top ornament and some artificial trees from a model train store, as my husband has a particular obsession with trees. People still tell me how delicious that cake was. My stepdaughter has told me that she wants me to do her wedding cake, and she wants chocolate with white chocolate frosting. I have a few years to practice for that since she is not dating anyone right now. Fortunately there is a chocolate variation on the Anna’s butter cake….

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I certainly commend you for all your efforts and persistence, and I hope this blog can give you a little extra help to make your next cake a delicious and beautiful success! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  8. Kathleen

    Hi, I’m making my niece’s wedding cake. I live in Boston and the wedding is in Burlington. I would like to make it the weekend before and freeze it. Is it possible to do this and only have minimal loss of freshness/taste? I’ve never frozen a wedding cake before– I’ve Always been able to make them within a couple of days of serving so I don’t know how to freeze a cake. Do I put the crumb layer on and then freeze? Do I frost all the way? How do I wrap it?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You certainly can make both the cake and the icing ahead and as long as both are well wrapped/sealed and air tight you should be able to keep them nice and fresh. For the cake, I would make sure to double-wrap the layers and I would also thaw them overnight in the refrigerator the night before you would like to assemble the cake, and I would keep your frosting in the refrigerator as well and then just bring it back to room temp the morning of the assembly. You also could potentially do the crumb coat before the initial freeze, but that may cause issues when you try to thaw and unwrap the layers so I think it would be best to keep the cake and frosting separate until you are ready to fully assemble. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact our Baker’s Hotline at 1-855-371-2253 (Monday-Friday 8:00am-9:00pm EST, Saturday & Sunday 9:00am-5:00pm) and we’d be happy to talk you through any other question you have at that time. Good luck and happy baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  9. Elise

    I too made my own wedding cake. Five 10″ layers of different flavors plus a sheet cake for 175 people. First, have a friend who teaches home ec and borrowed her school kitchen. The school was great to be air conditioned and unused for lots of counter space. Second, froze all the layers for three weeks, using double layer plastic and foil on top of that. Third, my dad welded me a wrought iron cake stand for all five cake layers (still using for flowers in the yard). Then I could have a trusted friend move and assemble before reception without me going crazy worrying about transport. I stayed simple on decorating. Too much surface area to be elaborate, and German chocolate cake needs very little.
    Yes, it took a lot of planning and lists. But, my advice to anyone attempting this for the first time. Slow down and ask baking friends lots of questions. Bake and bake some more. You are right about lots of butter and cream cheese for my project.
    Well worth it in the end and anytime our wedding comes up, people remember the cake!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Big kudos to you Elise, it sounds like you had a lot of wonderful support. Thanks for sharing your advice! ~ MJ

  10. Laura

    Browsing through the KA site I spotted a wedding cake that reminded me of mine, clicked and ended up here. Reading through this post made me realize how crazy I was to have made my own wedding cake! It was so rewarding though, and to be fair….I had help from my talented mother-in-law….and in the end our local small town florist:) The cake we made was adapted from a Martha Stewart book…I think. My mother in law made it for Easter the year of our August wedding(knowing I wanted to make my own), and said…”what do you think?” It was a delicious yellow cake with lemon curd and syrup soaked layers with a white chocolate/cream cheese frosting. Yum! I was sold. To be honest, we did not bake another sample after that, and made the cake itself only about a week or so before the wedding. She made the cake, and used her own “go-to” traditional Austrian cake recipe(sponge) that used a ton of eggs, and she made it in sheet pans. As she cranked out the cake, I did all the cutting, assembling, and icing. We had a tiered cake tower, so I did not have to worry about stacking, but we did have to bore a hold through each layer(how did we do that? hmm can’t totally remember) so that we could screw it together with a center post. I made each layer on a cardboard base, then iced it, and did some simple piping around the top and bottom. Froze it unwrapped until hard, then wrapped each layer in several layers of plastic. I think the key was the fact that the cream cheese and chocolate icing was sturdy enough to handle being frozen, piping and all. The other thing that really made it all possible was the reception was in the same building as the kitchen I baked in, which is a big beautiful old building that the family owns and runs a furniture store out of here in Maine. So it only needed to be transported up stairs. I was planning on finding and cutting my own flowers to top each layer(for the bouquets too), but two days before the wedding when I realized that I was running out of time and energy, I stopped by my local florist who saved the day. She ordered me some beautiful un-sprayed flowers….and here’s where living in the small town really pays off. It just so happened that my caterer(also a local) had already recruited her to wait tables at the reception, and so she agreed to put the cake together and top it with the flowers. Phew…I was off the hook! She also ended up putting together the bouquets last minute too, and they were beautiful! Had she not stepped up, I the cake and flowers would not have been nearly as nice.
    In the end, we ended up making a sheet cake too(last minute) just in case, and good thing we did because there wasn’t a single piece of cake left(except of course the top)! Everyone raved about it, and even my toughest critic, my Dad, who is a chef and has catered many weddings, said it was the best wedding cake he ever had. It was totally worth it. So…one way or another, even overly ambitious projects have a way of coming together:) My advice…go for it, ask for help, and have a back up plan! Now I want to eat that cake….think I might have to recreate it for our 5 year anniversary this summer….

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Oh, what a great story! Believe me, Laura, I know how it feels at that point where you’ve been at it for hours and realize you’re nowhere near close to done and start thinking, “what have I gotten myself into?”! What a wonderful memory, and somehow it’s really empowering to know you can recreate your wedding cake whenever you want, only with a lot less angst :-) Susan

  11. Anna

    I made a wedding cake for a friend of mine, and I PLANNED. And PLANNED and PRACTICED. I made a three-tiered cake each with a different flavor, ganache as the icing, used crumb coats to ensure a smooth finish for the icing, straws to hold the tiers and I learned how to make sugar paste flowers, petals and leaves: bought the molds to make the veining in the petals, petal dusts and professional paste and gel food colorings, leaves. I spent at least 4 months alone practicing making the flowers, made the cake in my apartment kitchen by starting at 6am and not finishing until midnight–I used my 4QT KA mixer and it could only hold so much batter, plus I had to use it for the buttercream fillings. Iced each layer at home, put it in a box in the fridge and then transported it the next day to the wedding, which was on a BOAT! Those tiers are heavy! I assembled it on the boat and decorated it with the flowers. I have to say that the cake was extremely pretty and very, very good. I received so many compliments and my flowers, uncannily matched her flowers so well.
    I bought so much cream, good chocolate, pans, equipment, tools, that what I asked for in payment didn’t even cover it. But my time and talent, as it was, was my gift and she very clearly loved it, which in the end, is all that matters. I was extremely proud of myself, but I’ve said ever since that I would NEVER do that again, it is very stressful and a tremendous amount of work as I made everything the day before and didn’t freeze anything. It’s making me tired just thinking about it!
    Believe me, Anna, I know EXACTLY how you feel, which is why I’m very picky about whom I say “yes” to when I get asked about cake. I figure I have one in me per year. Any more than that doesn’t do anyone any favors :-) Susan

    Reply
  12. AbbeyW

    Great guide! I was asked by a friend to make her wedding cake a few years ago. She was a very easy-going bride so I knew whatever I came up with she’d be happy with. I ended up closely following the wedding cake that Deb at Smitten Kitchen made. Wish I had this article then! A few notes for any future wedding cake bakers…

    1. See if you can borrow a kitchen. I was able to use our church’s industrial kitchen, and it helped immensely! (especially the refrigerator storage!)

    2. I made a test cake (actually a few different layers and flavors) to practice tiering/frosting/decorating, and then had the bride and groom over for a tasting to make sure we were all on the same page (not to mention, I think they liked having that experience even though they weren’t hiring a baker). Made me feel much more confident!

    3. Lots of planning, lots of note taking (I still have all of mine!), lots of measurements and conversions. In the end, I erred on the side of having too much. When the math got really complicated, I rounded up and made cupcakes. No one complained :) and it saved my sanity.

    4. If your friends are having an outdoor reception, PLEASE find a nice air-conditioned and protected place for the cake! A different friend had a destination wedding at a beach resort, and the cake was on display under a tent at night, with bright lights on it… in the tropics. When I went to take a look, there were lots of tropical bugs that had been attracted to the light and sugar… all stuck in the frosting. The reception I was baking for was outside, so we had the cake on a table inside in a window.

    Some people run a marathon so afterwards they feel like they can accomplish anything. I’m no runner, but after I made this wedding cake I felt like I could handle anything! Good luck!

    So, so true, Abbey! One virtue of having the test cake tasting in advance is that the couple actually gets a chance to taste and enjoy the cake, without all the hoopla of being on display! Susan

    Reply
  13. andrea

    thanks for sharing the article.. it is extremely informative and educative.. i plan to start my own
    cake business from home… i have a lot from your experience shared in the post.. thanks..

    Reply
  14. Marisol Gomez

    Hi Susan,

    We met yesterday at America’s Baking and Sweets Show in Chicago just before it ended. I asked many questions about chocolate, buttermilk, flour, Italian Buttercream etc. etc. I just wanted to thank you and your colleague very much for all the advise you provided. I left very confident feeling that I am a good baker and that I need to stop being my worst critic. My 10 year old nephew was also in awe with the advise you provided and was ready to go home and try to put some of your advise to use as soon as we got home. I look forward to my first go at Italian buttercream. I will try to post a picture when I am done. Once again thank you.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid , post author

      Hi, Marisol! It was great talking to you; it’s a great relief sometimes for passionate bakers to find someone to talk to who completely understands, which I do. Good luck with your Italian Buttercream, and don’t be afraid to reach out to me or any of the bakers on the hotline whenever you need us! Susan

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