Monday 25 November 2013

How to make a wedding cake (for a total beginner!)

Do you remember a little while ago, I posted about an epic project to make a wedding cake for my friend Gemma's wedding? Well, it's over, and I did it. It was a big project, and a big challenge, but one that I'm glad I stuck with. There were moments when I was tempted to give up - most notably after my first trial, in which I produced the lumpiest fondant covered cake ever - but I am not a quitter, and I did not quit.

I wanted to gather together everything I learned about making a wedding cake here so if I ever do it again - or if any of you are thinking about it - you'll hopefully benefit from my tips. So here you go...

1. Do a lot of research
You know the internet? It's bloody amazing. There is SO much information out there and here is absolutely no way I would have managed this without excessive googling.

These were my favourite posts:
Madeira cake recipe - this link gives quantities and cooking times for different size tins. Perfect for wedding baking!
Tips to cover a cake in fondant - This step looks simple but really isn't, so this post was life saving. LIFE SAVING.
Wilton - There's a ton of info on this site, from serving size to flavours - even a cutting guide!

2. Not all types of cake works
There's a reason that most wedding cake is fruit cake - fruit cake is dense, heavy and keeps really well. You can make it far ahead of time... and it has booze in it! The bride didn't want fruit cake, which I totally get, so I looked into sponge. A standard sponge isn't recommended because it's not very stable, which I didn't really get. But I was obedient and made madeira cake for the bottom two layers as it's denser and keeps quite well (I found it a little dry though).

For the top layer, which was chocolate, I used a standard chocolate cake recipe which was super moist. I highly recommend for eating... but not for a wedding cake. It was so moist that it buckled a little under the weight of the buttercream and fondant, and was really hard to level. No one else could tell, but I could - the top layer was at an angle. And that really bothered me. So listen to advice - not all cake works. That's what they mean by stable.

3. Allow plenty of time
I allowed 2 weeks, which was enough time... just about, although I was in France for four days of that. But I allocated my time carefully. I'd also moved into my parents' house to cat-sit, which was perfect. Lots of space - not just surfaces but in the fridge and freezer too (I froze each layer once cooked, so it kept well). Unless you can afford to take a couple of days off before the wedding to hardcore bake, you'll need the fridge and freezer too. A madeira cake takes over an hour to cook, and if you only have one tin of each size (like I did) you also have to allow for cooling time too before you can reuse the tin or your cake might fall apart.

4. Icing a cake this big takes for-bloody-ever
You should also allow at least one evening to do the fondant covering - don't try and do the assembly, the buttercream and the fondant in one night. It's hard to get fondant smooth and perfect looking, and if you mess up you may have to scrap the fondant and start again so buy extra, for god's sake.

Also, you really need to give the buttercream layer time to set - I popped them in the fridge then once the buttercream had hardened and I knew it wouldn't stick, covered in clingfilm. Then the next night (the night before the wedding), I got it out, brushed some water on it and covered with fondant. I'm going to mention it again - this blog post was just SO helpful, especially the tip on lifting the fondant up and in. It'll make sense when you do it.

5. Write everything down
Okay. So to make a three tiered cake of a decent height, you may need to ensure each tier is three layers, like I did. That's 9 cakes. Guys, I bought a pack of 30 eggs AND I USED THEM ALL. You have to be prepared before you start shopping. I highly recommend over-estimating your quantities, too. Oh, and on that note...

6. Shop online
I did a big Asda order and it was so the right move. Took about 15 minutes, and was delivered straight to my door. For a project like this, I 100% recommend avoiding the supermarkets. It'll make your life so much easier.

Also, don't forget about the non perishable supplies. You will need:
- Cake Boards (one per tier, but if you're freezing the layers, I recommend two per LAYER. That way it'll be protected at the top and bottom and you can just clingfilm around it.)
- Cake dowels (at least 4 per tier, but I recommend more in the bottom tier. As many as 8, even.)
- Decorations (we got these butterflies from eBay)
- A fondant smoother if you don't have one
- Cake boxes to transport the layers in
- Clingfilm - if you don't cover the layers before freezing, they'll dry out.

7. Understand the construction part
Here's the thing. If you just plonk cake on top of cake on top of cake, the cake at the bottom will not be strong enough to hold all the cake at the top. Cake's pretty heavy! From the hours of Food Network I watch, I knew that you have to put in supportive dowels in each layer. And I didn't really get how a stick of plastic would support a cake, but then I did some googling and discovered that there's more to it. Each tier is actually on a thin cake board - you can't see it, because you end up icing over it, but it's there. That means that the dowels and the cake boards are working together to support the cake. The cake itself isn't really doing any of the work, it's just sitting around the boards and the dowel rods. I got all of my supplies on ebay:

Cake boards
Cake smoother

8. Assemble the cake at the venue
Don't try and drive a multi-tier cake. Don't try and walk with a multi-tier cake. Just... don't. For a start, you'll barely be able to lift it. You'll have a nightmare drive, fretting about the wobblyness of your cake. Take it in three tiers, each in a separate ox , and assemble it there.

You'll need to stick the tiers together somehow and the internet says that melted chocolate is the best way (white, if your cake is white). Most venues have kitchens, and most kitchens will melt this for you. You should also stick your cake to the board it's on with either chocolate or icing. I forgot about this and one of my cakes wasn't stuck - I had to add a blob of chocolate to it at the venue. It was okay, but a little stressful picking up a bit of cake with no supportive board when you know that the wedding is due to start in an hour!

9. Get a second opinion
This cake was a pretty simple one, all told - the decoration was just non-edible butterflies that I attached with wire. But when you're so close to something like this, it's hard to be objective, so it was actually pretty perfect timing when two of the bridesmaids popped their heads in and gently stopped me over butterfly-ing. Ask someone else if it looks done, or if that's not an option, leave the room for 5 minutes and then come back to it. You'll be amazed what a difference that'll make.

10. Enjoy it!
Well done you! You made a big thing and it's made your friends very happy. I actually felt surprisingly emotional when Gemma and Kerry cut the cake - I hadn't realised how much of myself I'd put into it. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd VOLUNTEER to do one again, but I definitely COULD.

I'd love to know if you've ever done anything like this and what your experiences are!


  1. That cake is incredible! If I ever get married you are more than welcome to make mine :) xx

  2. So, your wedding cakes are usually fruitcake? Interesting! Ours never are. Fruitcake sounds like it would be delicious, though!

  3. Re Point 8.

    We made our own wedding cake* and it was five-tiered fruit cake. Did we think about transporting it to the venue? No. No we did not. On the day, it took three male relatives to carry it from my wife's flat, down two flights of stairs, into the back of an estate car, drive it slowly across town and heave it into the hotel.

    It. Was. Heavy.

    (*Ok, I'll admit, it was mostly - though not exclusively - my wife who made it.)

  4. this is epic! what a challenge but it looks amazing!


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