In December 2018 my good friend Eli got engaged. After I had gone through all my ecstatic congratulations, he asked me a question that made my heart stop- “Will you make our wedding cake?” At first, I thought he must be joking! I really do love to bake, but I wouldn’t consider myself a professional, and I had never undertaken anything on that scale. I had always wanted to get good at making and beautifully decorating layered cakes, but I had never had an excuse to bake enough cakes to get to the level of perfection I was looking for. While I was terrified, Eli handed me a unique opportunity to develop a skill I really wanted to learn, so I dove in.
Every spare moment I had was spent practicing. At first, I didn’t realize how involved and difficult the process would be, but I very quickly learned that building (yes building!) a wedding cake is a lot more than baking a few cakes and slapping some frosting on. I can’t even tell you how many cakes I threw away (and how many tears I shed)! But after 9 months of a lot of butter, sugar and flour, countless hours of practice and prayers, I produced this:
While it’s probably not as good as a “professional” could produce, I was incredibly proud of it!
Over the 9 moths that I spent practicing, I failed more than I won, but in the end, I finally did figure things out. I thought it would be fun to share some things I learned about making a wedding cake (or really any layered cake) so you don’t have to go through as much trial and error as I did.
- You need to consider the type of cake you plan to use. While choosing flavors is fun, I didn’t really think about how heavy a stacked cake actually is. I think the final wedding cake clocked in at 20 pounds, and this was a small cake! You have to make sure whatever kind of cake you use can stand up to the weight. In general, you want to stay away from light, fluffy cakes. Look for recipes that have a bit of structure to them.
- Look for recipes you can make in advance and freeze. I used 3 cake recipes from Christina Tosi’s book, Milk, I was drawn to her cakes, because part of the process of making them is to freeze them. This makes it easy to make the cakes in advance, so all you need to do the day before the event is thaw the cake, frost it and decorate it. Pro tip: cake that has been frozen and thawed properly is moister than cake that has not. Make sure to thaw your cake in the fridge, so that the cake can absorb the moister evenly. Cake thawed on the counter could get soggy.
- Think about the weather- Temperature can dramatically affect your cake. This was not something I thought about until I was already in the process, but if you frost your cake in a butter-based frosting, and its hot outside (or even if the room is too warm) …well, you get the picture. Try to keep your cake as cool as possible for as long as possible.
- Speaking of frosting, as a novice at this “beautifully decorated cake” thing, It was really hard to get those smooth sides and sharp edges as I frosted my cakes. Not only do the smooth, straight sides look pretty, but they are a major necessity if you plan to cover your cake in fondant. I tried all kinds of YouTube tricks and bought several different gadgets, but nothing seemed to work very well, until I stumbled on Cakesafe acrylic disks. These disks are pure magic! I use the disks with the “press n’ seal method (Its easiest to look the method up on YouTube). I started getting the sharp edges I wanted every time. Pro tip: another thing that is helpful in getting perfectly smooth sides, is to use the right kind of frosting. I find that Swiss meringue frosting is the smoothest and easiest to work with, its also easy to flavor with whatever you want. I used the recipe found on livforcake.com. https://livforcake.com/swiss-meringue-buttercream-recipe/
- Fondant- Fondant is tricky, its notoriously finicky to work with. It dries out, gets something called “elephant skin,” tears, and gets bubble in it very easily. Plus, it doesn’t taste very good! However, when done right, it can really make a cake look pretty. I have found that making your own fondant is the cheapest easiest way to go. The Liz Marek Fondant (LMF Fondant) is fairly cheap, easy to work with, and doesn’t taste terrible. I found that making full batches (Even if you don’t need it all) works best with the recipe. When I would make a half batch the fondant would crack and tear, so stick to full batches of the recipe. Pro Tip: once the cake is covered in fondant, store it in a cardboard cake box in the fridge. If you have the luxury of having a second fridge, turn the fridge temperature up a little bit, so that the cake will stay cold, but not so cold that when you take the cake out of the fridge, the fondant will sweat. The cardboard cake box helps keep the cake from sweating as well.
- Transportation-if you need to take a trip in the car with your cake, you need to make sure it is very stable. You need to place a dowel through the middle of each layer. I used a set of Wilton core cake rods, because they were easier to cut and measure than dowels are. Wilton also sells cake boards with a hole cut in the center of the board to make it easier to place the core dowel.
I hope these tips and tricks make it easier for those people who are interested in making layer cakes. It was a long hard road, learned something new and was able to make something beautiful for the people I love.