A few years ago I flirted with the idea of making my own wedding cake. It can be easy to feel absent from the creative process when planning a wedding, and the idea of having a tangible contribution was appealing. Because it is edible, the cake has to be made in the few days before it is eaten, and that was a deal breaker. But the desire to prove I could make a tiered cake remained, and so last weekend I did.
To begin with, there is no formal definition for a “wedding cake,” except that it is a cake served at a wedding. Generally, a wedding cake consists of several layer cakes stacked in tiers and decorated enough to be gazed upon by wedding guests. It should also be delicious.
Step 1: Bake a Lot of Cakes
Time: One hour prep / bake plus two hours cooling. Depending on the number of pans you have, repeat two or three times.
A layer cake is a series of cakes stacked on top of one another with filling between the layers. You need at least two layers of the same size for each tier, but three or four is not uncommon. Find your favorite cake recipe (or box), make several in the sizes needed, and let them cool. After they are totally cooled, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Step 2: Filling and stacking
Time: 30 minutes plus time to make filling if needed, then 4 hours cooling.
To assemble the layer cakes, you need filling between the layers. Frosting or jam are easy choices, but anything thick enough to set up into a layer will work. Nutella, fresh fruit, or lemon curd would all work. For our cake, the 10-inch tier had a strawberry-rhubarb jam mixed with rhubarb that had been sauteed with sugar water until cooked. For the 8-inch tier, we used plums sauteed in brandy.
To assemble the cake, put down one layer, spread filling to within 1 inch of edge, and then place another layer on top. Repeat for more layers as needed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Step 3: Sell Your Soul to Frosting
Time: How much do you care about this cake? Probably 2 hours.
Make frosting for the outside of the cake. Buttercream is a great choice as it tastes great and holds up well. Frosting is very difficult to get smooth, and that is where a professional cake maker will really shine. One easy alternative is to cover the cake in fondant — a sugar paste with gelatin and glycerine — for a smooth modern look. However, fondant doesn’t taste very good and is usually removed from a cake before eating. After the cakes are smooth enough, place uncovered in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
Step 4: Good Grief, There Is More. Now Decorate It.
Time: Your whole night, and all your dreams. Probably 2 hours.
Now to assemble and decorate the cake. You will need more frosting (colored if you wish) and a vision for how to decorate. You can decorate the tiers separately and then assemble, or assemble and decorate as a whole. Refrigerate overnight and consume the next day.
The final verdict? The cake was successful. It tasted moist and delicious and it looked passable for a first attempt. But it wasn’t worth the effort. It would be far, far more rewarding to spend your time baking a series of small molten chocolate cakes and taking a day and a half at a spa.