Now from the get-go I want to make sure you know there's a difference between designing your own wedding cake, and making your own wedding cake. Both are possible, but there are considerations to make with the first if you are thinking about embarking on the second!
Cake decorating may not be as easy as you'd think; then again with practice it doesn't have to be that hard either. While making your own cake is a great way to make sure you get exactly what you want and keeps the wedding cake cost down considerably, do not underestimate the talent of your local baker or sugar artist.
Get Some Tips From the Experts
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/angiet-cakefiend/6862226467/sizes/z/in/photostream/Of course you can't consider the making of a cake until you have a design in mind. Once you've gone through this process why not check out with some local cake decorators what kind of price you are looking at; it may not be as bad as you think. If it's within your range then you don't have to worry about making it yourself, or by talking to them you just might get some tips for if you do decide to take on the project in its entirety.
Forget Online Tools - Get Imaginative
While there are online tools that can let you play around with certain virtual looks, nothing is quite the same as real pictures. This also helps you to realize your vision more fully and open up your imagination. Wedding cakes nowadays can be whatever you want them to be and looking through cake design source magazines, online galleries, and cake decorators' websites you'll be buzzing with ideas.
Fancy a Novelty Cake?
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimbach/2517781217/sizes/z/in/photostream/If you want something less traditional, and more of a novelty cake then you are almost definitely looking at a sponge cake as these can be more easily shaped and sculpted. This does mean that if you make it yourself you need to do so only a day or two before the wedding, which could be quite stressful even if you have some practice.
Or you could decide to go down the fruit cake route and merely decorate up the cake into something more spectacular rather than using a shaped cake. The advantage of using fruit cake is that it lasts for ages so you can get the wedding cake completed weeks before the big day.
Fruit cakes don't have to stick to traditional looks; you could stack up some square or round cakes and add sugar dough to make it look like a fairytale castle for example.
Consider Ready-Made Options
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/95443816@N00/1279912297/sizes/z/in/photostream/Many cake decorators or sugar artists either have a retail outlet that supplies sugar flowers and wedding cake toppers, or else would be happy to just make certain elements for you.
So if you want to buy a few different sized store bought cakes that are ready iced, or you want to make the basic cakes yourself, then you can of course do that and use the customized elements to make it all your very own. This creates a really simple but elegant look that will be exactly what you want.
As you can see from this picture, even with a 3 tiered design, you still have options, such as either stacking regularly on top of each other, using cake pillars, or as here alternating the angle as each cake is placed - a simple idea that is really effective and totally doable by yourself.
Draw Up Your Design
Much as you would go into a hair salon with a picture for a new style you want, it pays to do this when visiting bakers too. Even if you don't have a photo, if you could draw something up, or go in with very definite ideas then this will help in coming up with a design that you really want.
If you also plan on making the cake yourself this can serve as a great reminder and a cheat sheet for when you are working. You can then work out what size each tier needs to be and so on, which is vital in knowing you have enough to feed everybody, and what amount of ingredients you need to buy.
Stay Away from Chocolate Cake
The art of chocolate is a whole different ball game to regular cake decorating so if you are thinking of doing this yourself I would say... don't. Putting finishing touches to a chocolate cake can only really be done on the day of the actual wedding and I think you could without that stress.Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameraslayer/6170482137/sizes/z/in/photostream/
Even with a lot of practice the art of working with chocolate, and indeed molding chocolate is very difficult. So by all means come up with a design for a chocolate cake, and involve molded fans, swathes of chocolate fabric, chocolate roses, or even fruit, but make sure you get an expert to do the actual making. Be sure to take a look at their portfolio to make sure they have sufficient experience with chocolate work too.
Work Out How Much You Need
Consider first how many guests you need to feed. Think about if you are also going to want to keep a tier for yourself, or if you want to send cake to any guests that were unable to make it.
As a guide, an iced fruit cake that is 10 inches square should serve around 90 guests; round cakes serve fewer guests (around 75 in this example).
Remember too that fruit cakes only require small portions to be cut (around 1 inch square slices), whereas sponge cakes require a bigger slice. A 10 inch square cake that is made of sponge would only serve 50 guests.
Make Dowels Your Friend
Ever wondered how those superb stacked cakes stay up and don't collapse on each other? Whether you use the direct stacked method, or you utilize cake pillars you need to make friends with dowels.Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tracyhunter/119699295/sizes/m/in/photostream/
Dowels come in either wood, white plastic, or clear plastic to suit your needs. Stick them in the bottom tier of your cake (3 in a triangle formation for a circle cake, and 1 in each corner of a square cake but placed so the cake that goes on top will cover the holes - a few inches in).
Mark with a pencil where the top of the cake comes and remove the dowels. Cut the dowels and file as necessary. Replace into the cake and a cake board can now sit proudly on top, supported by the dowels underneath.
Now you know how to design your own wedding cake you can either go forth with your design to the cake decorator, or else get going on making your own! Just remember to leave plenty of time to get it all done. You are looking at around 3-4 months planning if you are doing it all yourself, but popular decorators may be booked up to a year in advance - Good Luck!