A sweet ceramic cake topper, vines, and sweet peas decorate this homemade wedding cake.
Baking a cake is not hard but it does take some practice. Luckily, most people love cake and will not object to having several practice cakes around the house (they won’t last long!) So try it, and if it’s not something you feel comfortable with, look for other ways to save money on a cake. (See How to Save Money on a Wedding Cake.)
Baking a cake for a wedding is quite an undertaking, but if you have some experience and you love to bake, it can be very rewarding.
Limit your efforts to a three or four tiers. If you need more cake, serve it from an additional cake kept in the kitchen.
When considering a design, try not to be intimidated by the fancy (and expensive) cakes you’ve seen in magazines. A very pretty cake can be created by a novice baker. Choose a simple design highlighted by fresh flowers, ribbons, or a special cake topper. Many professionals also lean toward simplicity. Follow their lead.
Don’t feel the cake must be perfect. If you were to look closely at the cakes from a local bakery or in magazines you would find that many are also a bit off. This is edible art after all, and people will be attracted to the cake as such. No one will be as judgmental as you are.
Consider the best use of your day. If you work full time, when will you do the baking? It can get hot in the kitchen and you may end up working into the cooler hours of the night, especially important when frosting the cakes.
You will probably need to reserve more space in the refrigerator for the cake layers. Everything else may end up being stored temporarily in another fridge. If you have a family to feed you may need to eat out for a few days.
If the weather will be warm on the day of the wedding, keep the cake tiers refrigerated until the last possible moment. A cake wrapped in fondant will fare better and should not be refrigerated, but you should always choose a cool spot out of direct sunlight.
When setting up the cake, take your time, catch your breath, and go slowly. Try to arrive at the site before any guests. Think about how the table will be decorated. A pretty tablecloth may be enough or you may wish to accent the table with fresh flowers or greenery. Rose petals are easy and add instant appeal. Simply sprinkle them around the table, and perhaps on the cake as well. Bridesmaids’ bouquets are often put to good use and arranged around the cake, making for beautiful photographs when the cake is cut.
Tips for Great Cakes
Know your oven. Use an oven thermometer to test the accuracy of your temperature gauge. Ingredients should be at room temperature. You may warm cold eggs by placing them in a bowl of warm water while you assemble the other cake ingredients.
Cake chemistry is tricky. You should never substitute ingredients in a cake recipe. Always use large eggs, never medium or small. Buy fresh baking powder. (After about three months you should discard any unused amount as its leavening power is reduced with age.)
When selecting flavorings, use real extracts, not imitation. There is a noticeable and unpleasant aftertaste with imitation flavors. You want your guests to rave about your efforts and this is one time you mustn’t cut corners. Measure carefully. Dip into flour and level with a flat spatula or knife. Never pack or shake flour to settle it.
Use cake pans with 2-inch sides which are straight from top to bottom, not tapered. Grease cake pans with shortening, not butter. (Shortening provides more even coverage than butter which is mostly milk proteins and water.) Apply generously using a crumpled piece of waxed paper. Fit waxed paper to the bottom of the pan. Grease the paper, then dust the pan with flour.
Fill pans half full, or to a depth of 1 inch. Mark a toothpick to use as a guide. Rap the bottoms of filled pans flat on the counter a few times to release any trapped air bubbles.
Make sure cake pans are arranged at least three inches away from the sides of the oven and one inch from each other. Test a cake by inserting a toothpick into the center. If the cake is done, the toothpick should come out clean. You should also see the sides of the cake beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Cool a cake in the pan for about ten minutes before removing. As the cake cools, it will shrink away from the sides of the pan. You may assist by inserting a knife to loosen any stuck parts, but resist running the knife around the edges until after it has had time to cool. You will have fewer crumbs. To remove the cake, place a cake rack over the top of the pan and invert.
When the cake is completely cool (do not rush it or your frosting may melt) you may frost or freeze it. To freeze, place the cake on a foil-covered cardboard cake base. Then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. To assemble a cake, allow frozen layers to come to room temperature before unwrapping.
You may use packaged cake mixes to make a wedding cake. Stick to traditional favorites like yellow and chocolate. Add 1 tablespoon of real vanilla or real almond extract for richer flavor. Using milk in place of water and melted butter in place of oil will also lend a homemade flavor to a mix. Always test the mix ahead of time to be sure you like it.
Homemade frosting is delicious and easy to prepare. The best frosting is good old fashioned “buttercream” made with confectioners’ sugar, butter, and flavoring. (Some bakers reserve the term to mean an icing made with butter and fresh eggs which is more difficult to handle, tends to melt, and raises health issues because of the eggs it contains.)
For the most delicious frosting always use butter, not margarine. If you should need to purchase additional butter, look for the same brand. Butter contains a natural yellow food coloring and different brands use varying amounts—the color of your frosting may be affected. Warm butter to room temperature to soften; do not melt. Melted butter is essentially a liquid and it will make the frosting runny.
If using food coloring, tint all of the frosting needed for your cake at once. Colors are difficult to match. Also be aware that some food colors add a weird taste. It pays to have a test run of all your intended choices—the recipe or mix, frosting, flavors, and fillings—long before the big day arrives. You don’t want your efforts to be spoiled by an unnecessary additive.
Assemble your tools and purchase ingredients a week before the wedding. Make sure you have what you need. Begin baking the cakes two or three days ahead of time. When the cakes have baked and cooled completely you may wrap them in plastic wrap and assemble them the next day.
A day or two before the wedding is the time to frost and decorate the cakes. For a Saturday wedding for example, you would bake the cakes on Thursday, then frost and decorated them on Friday. If you are making a stacked cake it should be stored in a clean, odor-free refrigerator as separate tiers and assembled at the site. If the cake layers are domed or very uneven you can straighten them out by cutting off the tops with a serrated knife. (Replace the cake in the pan and use it as a guide.)
Place the bottom layer of each tier onto a foil-covered cardboard cake circle, top (or cut side) facing up. Frosting smeared on the cake circle will hold the cake in place. Now you are ready to frost and decorate your cake. Learn more about frosting a cake here.