If you're a relatively experienced home baker, the actual baking and decorating are probably not going to be that big of a deal to you. But the amount of cleaning and running out at the last minute to buy more ingredients can be exhausting, and that's where your friends and family can be useful. If you need more powdered sugar at 8 p.m. the day before the wedding, don't waste an hour on yet another trip to the grocery store — send someone. Or let someone else wrap the cakes in plastic wrap before they're stored in the freezer. It's a big project, and the more hands, the better — particularly if you're making your own wedding cake.
Another thing to note about cakes, the more detailed the cake design, the higher the price will be. And, just because a cake looks like a “simple” design, doesn’t mean that it is. I know there are many amazing cakes online, and in magazines and with cake artists pushing cake design to new limits, it’s easy to fall in love with so many of the beautiful cakes we all see. Things like hand painting, edible gold, sugar flowers, tons of little sugar pearls on the cake, all translate into beautiful designs, but also a higher cake cost. Some of these cakes can run as much as $15 per serving…gasp! But think about it, you go out to dinner at a chain restaurant and pay $15 for a so so meal, that was probably frozen and took about 20 minutes to make. A cake artist can spend HOURS from start to finish on your wedding cake, and we think our time is worth it. Cake decorating is an art and not just anyone can do it. Not to mention ingredient costs, like fresh fruit, butter and eggs! That stuff is expensive!
The tiers should reflect the number of guests you would like to feed, as well as personal preference. This is another of the often overlooked hidden costs attached to a bigger guest list. Expect to pay more not just for your venue hire and wedding breakfast themselves, but also for larger cakes, more table centres and additional bottles of wine too.
When making your own or someone elses wedding cake, timing is key. You will need to work out how much time you realistically have in the week leading up to the wedding and plan things accordingly. Decorations such as flowers, toppers and some royal icing shapes can be made quite a while beforehand to remove the stress in the immediate lead up to the big day.
I usually fill and frost the cake the day before the wedding, so there's plenty of time to fix mistakes. Using a serrated bread knife or cake leveler, trim your first frozen cake layer so it is as level as possible. Place the cake on a cake board with about a half-inch clearance on all sides (you can always trim the cake board down if you don't use that much frosting). Pipe a circle of frosting around the circumference of the cake, and then neatly pipe in your filling. Place the next layer on top, and repeat until all the layers in this tier are stacked. Then use your icing spatula to apply a thin "crumb coat" of frosting all over the cake. Put this tier in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set. After 30 minutes, you can apply your top layer of buttercream or smooth fondant over the cake if you're using it. Repeat with all your tiers.
Think ahead of how you want to decorate your cake and practice piping or icing ahead of time. You can easily make extra icing and practice shapes on test cakes (or even on silicone mats). Secure a wedding topping, flowers, or other decorative items well before the wedding. If you are using fresh flowers, be sure to order exactly what you want from a florist. Lastly, you will need to clear a large space in the refrigerator, perhaps taking out a shelf for the cake. You'll also need to arrange transport for the cake to the wedding venue. Speak to the caterer or venue manager about cake transport and refrigeration details at the event.
In the world of frosting, there are two big hitters: buttercream and fondant, and there are pros and cons to each—including cost. Buttercream is typically less expensive. Fondant, on the other hand, requires extra steps and materials, and can be difficult to work with, making it more expensive. But do your due diligence regardless and don't assume your cake will be less expensive with buttercream: You might want a smooth, seemingly simple appliqué finish on a buttercream cake, when in reality, this pristine style requires precision and time. Long story short, you may not save as much as you'd hoped. And some bakers may charge you extra for fondant, especially if you're requesting a lace appliqué or a detailed pattern design, so it's good to ask your baker these questions up front.
Sadly, your cake isn't going to be preserved in a wedding cake museum for all time — or maybe not so sadly since that would be such a big waste of butter — so be sure to take lots and lots of photos. Most wedding photographers will take lots of shots of the cake, too, and you can ask the bride or groom for those later. And make sure to get one of yourself with the cake!
Before you even offer to make a wedding cake for someone, make sure your heart is really, truly in it. No matter what, there will probably be moments along the way when you think, "Man, I really wish I hadn't signed up for this" or "Wow, buying a cake sure seems easy right about now." But if you're hesitant from the start, forget about it. Whether you want to do this as a unique gift for the bride and groom — and by the way, don't count on it being a cheap gift — or you love baking and see it as a fun challenge, know your reasons for committing to making a wedding cake before the sugar and flour start flying.
You should use a recipe specifically designed to be a wedding cake as it will ensure that it is sturdy enough and that it makes the right amount of batter and icing. For a three-tier cake, you need to make three cakes of 12", 9" and 6", as well as a massive amount of icing. Most three-tier cake recipes have a step-by-step schedule for when you will need to bake and assemble each part.