How to make a wedding cake
When some good friends of mine announced their engagement, I found myself offering to make their wedding cake. "How hard can it be?" I thought. I like making cakes and I turn out a pretty mean chocolate cake. Thus began my initiation into the world of wedding cakes and believe me, it's a whole other world. So, if you're thinking of making your own wedding cake or for a friend, here's my step-by-step guide.
If you haven’t made a cake like this before - even if you think you’re a good cake-maker - it’s worth practicing with a smaller project to develop your skills and confidence. Also, bear in mind that it will take several days to make the cake and you’ll need to assemble it on the day of the wedding, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. Perhaps you could bake the cakes and someone else could decorate them?
My first wedding cake
What kind of wedding cake?
Is the wedding cake going to be traditional or something a little different like cupcakes or macaroons? Spend some time searching for wedding cakes in a search engine and put together a mood board of cakes that you think the bride and groom will like the look of. There are certain things you need to decide:
Round or square? Bear in mind that round wedding cakes are easier to cover with icing. You’ll need to either hire or buy the necessary cake tins.
How many tiers? A three-tier wedding cake is traditional and will feed about 100 people (that’s for a round, 15cm/6in, 23cm/9in and 30cm/12in cake). If you’re catering for a large wedding, you can also bake an extra tier and leave it in the kitchen for cutting and feeding more people. This guide is useful for working out portions.
Which flavours? Fruit cake is traditional and has the benefit of being made in advance, however vanilla, chocolate and lemon are all popular choices. (Dousing your cakes in sugar syrup will help them to stay moist for longer.) Think about having different flavours for each tier to suit everybody’s taste.
Which recipe? It’s best to use a recipe specially written for a wedding cake as it will be in the correct proportions and also give you tips on how to assemble the cake. We’ve got lots of wedding cake recipes on the BBC Food site, including this fabulous recipe by baking expert Dan Lepard.
Filling and icing the cake
Ready-to-roll fondant icing is the easiest option for covering a wedding cake to give it a smooth, white finish. For best results, you need a cake with a level top and straight edges. If you’re making a fruit cake, the best way to achieve this is to cover the cake in marzipan first. For sponge cakes, you can cut the cake into layers, then fill and ice it with buttercream before covering in fondant icing.
Decorating the wedding cake
There are many options for decorating a wedding cake. The simplest is to wrap ribbon around the bottom. You can then use fresh flowers (your florist can provide these) or crystallised rose petals for easy, yet really pretty decoration. For advanced cake-makers, sugar paste flowers or piped designs will make the cake look really impressive.
Assembling the wedding cake
To assemble your wedding cake, you’ll need some specialist equipment, which is all available from specialist cake shops. These shops are also a great place to ask for advice. You’ll need:
- Thin cake boards: to give the cakes a sturdy base
- Large rolling pin: this will make it much easier to roll out the fondant icing
- Cake smoother: this helps to smooth and polish fondant icing
- Dowelling rods: these are used to provide stability to a cake so that you can stack several layers on top of each other
- Cake boxes: it’s best to assemble the cake at the venue and you’ll need cake boxes to transport the cakes
- Cake stand or thick cake board: to display the cake (the venue may provide this)
- Cake spacers or pillars: you can either stack the cakes directly on top of each other, or use cake spacers or pillars to create height
Dan Lepard shows how to use dowling rods to assemble a multi-tiered wedding cake in this video:
Leave plenty of time to make the wedding cake, preferably in your own kitchen or in a kitchen you’re familiar with. You’ll also need plenty of space. Make a time plan and a detailed shopping list. Check with the venue where the cake will be displayed. Will it be on a sturdy table? Do they have a tablecloth and cake stand? Will they provide the knife for the ‘cutting the cake’ picture?
- Up to three months ahead: fruit cakes can be made up to three months in advance and need to be fed with brandy every four to five days
- Two weeks ahead: cover the fruit cake with marzipan
- Four days ahead: make the sponge cakes and wrap in plenty of cling film
- Three days ahead: place the sponge cakes onto thin cake boards and ice with buttercream
- Two days ahead: cover the cakes with fondant icing and insert dowelling rods
- On the day: stack the cakes and decorate once the cakes are in place
So over to you, have you made a wedding cake before and can you offer any advice? Or are you planning to make a wedding cake for the first time this summer and do you have any questions? I’ll do my best to answer them.
Rachel Manley works on the BBC Food website.