Making your own wedding cake

Have you ever wanted to do something that everyone told you was a bad idea? I’m not talking about a bad idea because you might get hurt (physically at least), but a bad idea because you might not be able to do it.

For me that bad idea was making my own wedding cake.

Everyone told me it was a bad idea. That I wouldn’t have time, that it would be too challenging, too stressful, too much work and too much to worry about the day of. I knew they all meant well, but…the idea that they thought I couldn’t do it pushed me from indecision to determination. (And the $700+ price tag for a professional wedding cake helped too.)

About one hour before this photo we were just finishing up the frosting of the cake…

The only problem was I had almost no experience baking a multi-layer cake. I’d made dozens of cakes – one or two of them had layers – but most of them had some structural issues. They typically sunk in the middle and were often more than a little gooey.

I started with google. My first mistake.

I found article after article telling me the same thing my friends and family had.

“The one part of your wedding you should never do yourself,” I read, swallowed and decided to ignored.

Luckily in my searching I found one incredibly helpful series of articles by Michelle Profis at Country Living. From her I learned that the way to prevent layers from crushing each other has little to do with the cake – there are cardboard cake circles and dowels inside those layer cakes! I had no idea. The second thing I learned was that each layer is really two layers. Two cakes and a filling.

My first time reading through her 3-part series I was overwhelmed. Could my freezer hold all these layers of cake? Would I be able to transport it? Would the frosting melt? My wedding venue was an hour from my apartment (and kitchen). I decided that I could compromise. I could make several cakes instead of one large cake.

My second time reading through her 3-part series I through my first thoughts away and decided to go for it.

Two guests asked me where we got the cake from, so I’ll take that as a sign of success.

I’m not going to re-write Profis’ wonderful article, but I will offer some advice/humor, modifications and hopefully realism to the whole thing.

#1: Actually follow the directions

In September I made a trial cake. It was just 3 layers and none of them were double layers with filling. As is my habit, I rushed it. I didn’t let the cakes fully cook through. I didn’t let them fully freeze. I hadn’t bothered to buy dowels or cake circles. I just stacked them, sliced it and (predictably) it collapsed. The one good thing, I learned the recipes I used were delicious.

#2: Make sure to clean out your freezer BEFORE you start baking. (I ended up with some very mushy no-longer-frozen peas.)

#3: Don’t bake all the cakes in one day

Thanks to my sister-in-law for the early wedding present of my kitchen aid mixer. The cake would have been near impossible without it.

I took two days to bake the seven “cakes.” I didn’t take any days off before my wedding, so all the baking was in the evening. Making sure I could wrap up in three to four hours was essential.

#4: Cut your cake circles to the right size using the pan BEFORE your put the batter in. Trust me, it’s a lot easier that way.

#5: Make twice as much filling as you think you need

Extra never hurts. You can save it for later (or you can eat it then and there), but either way if you have extra the cake won’t suffer. I ended up making two different fillings, a chocolate ganache and a caramel. On my bottom later I had to use both because I didn’t have enough of either! If on-the-fly baking decisions stress you out, make extra frosting.

#6: Assemble the layers at home, but the cake on site.

I thought the cake could travel as one big tower, but thankfully I was convinced otherwise. Once you make each layer (by combining two cakes with the filling) wrap it up tightly with plastic wrap and pack for travel.

#7: Make twice as much frosting as you think you need

Read point number five if you forgot already. YOU WILL NEED WAY MORE THAN YOU THINK. Thanks to my best friend and a farmer’s market we were able to finish frosting just hours before the wedding.

#8: Use twice as many dowels as any directions say (catching the theme???)

More structure is better than less – especially if you have to carry it far from the storage room to the reception area.

#9: Taste over appearance

I’m happy with how the cake turned out (appearance wise), but I’m thrilled with how it tasted. And that was my goal. Prior to my own wedding, I’d only once thought the cake at any wedding I’d been to was good. I don’t like fondant, I don’t really like vanilla, I don’t like fluffy. I wanted dense, rich chocolate cake, so that’s what we did. You CAN make the cake you want, you don’t have to pick between just a few options someone is trying to sell you.

#10: Ask for help

I couldn’t have done this myself. I asked a former colleague if I could store the cake in his refridgerator the night before the wedding. I asked my best friend to buy frosting on her way to the venue. I asked two wonderful guests with culinary degrees from Johnson & Wales to cut the cake. I asked my mom to find a cake stand, and she found an upside down tray that worked perfectly. I asked a dozen of my friends and family members to make back up desserts incase I couldn’t pull the cake-thing off. I baked it, but it wouldn’t have come together without help.

I learned a lot of things while wedding planning. I learned what was important to me – more people over more things. I learned there is always a cheaper way to do things than the first option. And, I learned not to doubt myself even if everyone else does.

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