Homemade Wedding Cake
With a per-slice cost of $3-$7 or more, a professionally designed and delivered wedding cake is another costly addition to your event’s overall bottom line. While not for everyone, with a bit of practice (which you get to eat!) you can make your own wedding cake one to remember, save money and learn a new skill. A few suggestions for anyone considering this most noble of D-I-Y projects, based on my experience as a non-professional wedding cake baker.
Tip #1: Consider Your Event
Are you having a formal black tie event or a more casual affair? Casual events lend themselves best to the use of homemade cakes, where rustic design elements are likely to fit in more naturally. Will your reception be indoors or outdoors? Indoor events offer a stable thermal environment for your cake station; direct sun or excessive heat of an outdoor summertime wedding is a recipe for icing disaster. Also consider how many other wedding elements require your direct attention in the week before the wedding; the cake should be constructed the day before the event. If the type of party you’re having and your schedule seem to mesh well with the idea of a homemade wedding cake, then…
Tip #2: Assess Your Kitchen Prowess and Equipment
As numerous pop culture cooking gurus have noted, “homemade” is a relative term. While scratch cakes feature a delicate crumb and nuanced flavor, good quality cake mixes may save you much time and headache, especially if you are not picky about specialty flavors.
For incredible scratch cakes with pictures of creative presentations and unique flavors, The Cake Bible and Rose's Heavenly Cakes, both by Rose Levy Berenbaum, are fantastic resources you’ll enjoy using long after your wedding day. The Cake Bible also contains a section on making wedding cakes. If scratch cakes intimidate you, King Arthur cake mixes (e.g., King Arthur Flour Chocolate Cake Mix, Gluten Free, 22-Ounce (Pack of 3) are dependable and tasty, provide options for gluten-intolerant guests and are your most cost-effective option with plentiful five-star reviews.
Money-saving tip: think about the culinary equipment you already own. Heart-shaped cakes might sound romantic, but buying several new pans will eat into your savings.
Tip #3: Consider Your Guest List
Are you hosting 30 or 300? Calculate the number of servings you will need, assuming about 75% of your guests will ask for a slice. Servings vary by cake shape. Keep in mind that you may want to save the top layer to enjoy at your first anniversary.
Money-saving tip: If you’d like a centerpiece cake but are intimidated by the number of layers needed, plan to make a small, manageable two-tiered cake, then bake or ask a few friends or family to help out by providing iced homemade sheet cake(s). While the overall presentation will be less impressive, the reduced cost, planning and effort associated with this plan makes it a winning option for many couples.
Tip #4: Look Around
If, after considering your event, culinary skill and number of guests, you are more excited about the idea of making your own cake than ever, start brainstorming about your design. Think generally about:
- Shape: round, square, oval, diamond, heart… or more exotic ideas like roulade or bundt
- Height: stacked tiers, separated tiers, cupcakes, or several cakes of different flavors presented on cake stands of different heights
- Finished look: smooth ganache or fondant vs. creamy or textural buttercream.
Which designs most appeal to you? Are unique flavors important to you? Is a smooth finish with piped decoration your ideal, or do you like fresh flowers and berries as a garnish? Inspiration is everywhere and almost any design, color or thematic element can be incorporated into your cake design. Make a list of ideas, then let it evolve as your wedding plans develop. Once you have an idea of the look you'd like, make samples or buy the individual components to hone in on the best cake for you! Non-icing decorative elements such as natural flowers, berries, truffles or candies are beautiful and simplify the decorating process.
Tip #5: Practice and Implementation
Making your own cake for an outdoor, formal wedding requires extra pre-wedding preparation and practice. Ensuring sufficient refrigerator space at the event and assigning a helpful, kitchen savvy and industrious friend or family member to take care of last minute concerns related to the cake presentation are both wise ideas, no matter what type of event.
You can typically bake your wedding cake three weeks to a month prior to your event, then wrap it carefully, freeze it and decorate during the week of your wedding. However, to ensure a successful final product, a trial run is a good idea for novice bakers.
- Bake the recipe you have selected, then freeze it for at least a week and subsequently thaw it completely to assess any flavor concerns.
- Practice leveling the cake, applying the crumbcoat, working with your selected icing and filling and using appropriate internal supports where necessary.
- Taste the elements together to ensure the final flavor meets your expectations!