Friday, April 04, 2008

Make Your Own Wedding Cake

I've had cakes on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share the best cake I ever made, my wedding cake. I made this cake almost six years ago now. The entire reason I learned anything about cake decorating or invested in any decorating supplies was so that I could make our cake for the wedding when Ben and I got married. We got married two weeks after we graduated from college, so we had no money for a big wedding. Everything was done on a budget, and if we couldn't afford to buy it, we didn't have it or I made it.

Truthfully, I'm not even sure how much a cake like this would cost from a bakery, because we didn't even check before deciding I'd make it. Even $100 dollars would have been too much for our budget, and I'm pretty sure they cost much more than that. But even though it was an economical consideration for me to be responsible for the cake, it became much more than that. My husband really appreciates that the cake was so personal, and my in laws still tell me how good it tasted. Maybe a bakery cake would have tasted as good, but it wouldn't be as memorable and definately wouldn't still be gathering compliments.

And it was not as difficult as it looks or seems! Following are some tips about making your own wedding cake (or making other people's wedding cakes, I guess, though I've never done it for pay). I never took any classes, and I just read the Wilton books a lot to learn how to do this. And to tell you the truth, I'm terrible at piping, those star covered cakes are beyond me, but you can still make a nice cake with a little practice and lots of planning.
Specifics for this cake: three full cake mixes on the bottom (12 inch round), one cake mix for top (6 inch round), royal icing drop flowers, bead trim piped with round tip, frosted in buttercream, and a homemade cake topper.
The first thing to remember about making your own wedding cake, or learning to decorate cakes, is to give yourself plenty of time. You'll want to practice for at least a couple of weeks, and if at all possible, do a trial run of the entire cake. In addition to practice time, bear in mind that a cake like this one will take at least two days to complete and that you definately don't want to be finishing it on your wedding day. So plan to bake the cakes, let them cool and frost them two days before your wedding, and then do the decoration and constuction the day before. Once a cake is covered in buttercream and before it's cut it will stay delicious at least a couple of days, so you could even do this three or four days before the wedding.
Use cake mixes! This is perfectly acceptable, they taste great and they stay moist for a good long while. They also make a cake that's easier to handle and move around. It's also crucial to level the cake layers. A cake leveler is a great investment when making pillared or tiered cakes.

A pillared tiered cake is very impressive looking, but it's not as difficult as everyone will think it is. The Wilton decorating company is a great company and has tons of resources for home cake decorators. Their cake dividers and pillars make it very easy to make a tiered cake. They even come with supports, so you don't have to cut dowels to put in the bottom cake. One thing to remember when using pillars is to make sure they're all facing straight when you put them on, because they're nervewracking to adjust once you get the top cake on.

You will need to buy the correct supplies to get great looking results. The cardboard cake circles really are worth the investment, since they make it so much easier to move the frosted cakes. You'll want a turn table to use while icing and decorating. Of course, for a tiered cake, the separator plates and pillars are a must. Disposable bags are convienent but aren't an absolute need. You'll want tips appropriate to your decorating plan. On my cake, I use four different sizes of writing or piping tips (round openings to make the bead-like borders and flower centers), two different sizes of drop flower tip (the little purple flowers), and two different sizes of leaf tip (pretty self explanatory, two sizes to correspond with the scale of each tier). You might want to invest in a whole set of tips so you can practice and experiment.

How can you buy all these things, plus the specially sized pans without spending just as much as you would buying a cake? Well, considering how much a bakery cake costs, you have a long way to go, but the best plan is to pick them up one at a time over a course of a few months with the 40% and 50% off coupons that craft stores issue. Michael's usually puts a 50% off coupon in the paper every week, and this can save you a ton of money if you're willing to buy your supplies a week at a time.

After you've got your supplies, you'll want to hone a few techniques to be sure that your cake looks professional. Learning to frost your cake so it's very smooth is the most important part of turning out an elegant and professional looking cake. Of course, you could use fondant, but I think it's kind of hard to work with, but more importantly, buttercream tastes better!

So how can you get a beautiful smooth finish with butter cream icing? There are a few tips I can give you. Use a nice long icing spatula to spread the frosting. Pile a bunch on top and work it around and over the sides and down. Wipe your spatula clean very often. This may seem wasteful, but it crucial to a smooth finish. Use a very fine mist of water on the surface as you are doing the final smoothing. This will help the spatula glide and keep it from sticking and pulling up peaks. After the frosting has dried overnight and has a crust on it, put a piece of plain paper against it and rub it gently to smooth out any small imperfections.

Royal icing is a kind of icing that dries hard, like candies. This is a great property to take advantage of when planning your cake. You can make lots of decorations, like flowers or bows, weeks ahead of time, store them in air tight containers and just add them to the cake when it's time to decorate. This takes a lot of the pressure off of you, since you can always make lots of royal icing decorations and then just pick the best ones for the cake. Also, since you're not piping them directly on the cake, you don't have to worry about big mess ups.

If you do make a mistake while piping on the cake, don't panic. As long as you've let the frosting sit out and dry over night before the decorating was started, you're in good shape. You'll find that most times, fresh buttercream icing can be gently wiped and scraped off of dried buttercream with hardly a trace left behind.
One tip about the bead border on my wedding cake. If you, like me, have a hard time piping nice smooth beads with no peak on them, just pipe a row, and then with a finger dipped into powdered sugar, and a light touch, go back and smooth down all the peaks, making nice round beads.

We put the topper together ourselves, because anything we could afford was sort of tacky looking plastic, and the more elegant ones, though pretty, were impersonal and very expensive! Our topper is just a keepsake box that's been painted and filled with personal momentos of when we met and our dating days. There are pictures, a figurine he bought me, rings I made us in a jewelry making class I took, ticket stubs from some of our first dates, and a necklace he bought me soon after our engagement.
For our Convalidation ceremony last spring, I went in a different direction with the cake toppers. I made wire and bead wreaths to decorate the tops of those cakes and to be the borders. This was a great solution, since it really simplified the decorating. Here is a picture of that cake.

You can see that by using a fancy cake stand (50% off at Michael's!) and fresh flowers along with beads and wire, I managed an elegant cake with minimal decorating hassle.

So with this post I've either finally gotten cakes out of my system, or I've talked myself into doing a step by step eBook of simple wedding cake making! It is so much fun, sometime I wish I had more occasions that require these pretty fancy cakes.

Has anyone else made their own wedding cake? Or have cake pictures to share?

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Melonie said...

WOW - yes!!! You should definitely do an e-book of this - and post it over at Crystal's Biblical Womanhood as a Frugal Friday post.

With June coming up fast and furious, there are a lot of young ladies (okay, ladies of any age!) who could make good use of this in today's economy!!!!! GO FOR IT!

If you need an editor, just holler. We'll chat. :-P

Molly said...

How I wish I had read this post this morning. . .I was asked to make a birthday cake for our church and I haven't decorated one for a long time. I got some advice from my mom, who is like a cake decorating genius, but I am not AT ALL. I could not figure out how to get the icing smooth! I used a crumb coat--but I did not know the water trick. Rick took a picture with his blackberry so I'll see if I can send you a picture via e-mail and you can check it out and give me some advice, if you don't mind!
Thanks--I love your blog!

Bethany said...

Melonie, thanks for the encouragement. I've already started editing this into a longer more understandable form, and I'll definately let you know if I ever put it into ebook form with pictures and all.

Molly, I'm sure your cake turned out great. If you do ever try the water thing, a little bit goes a very long way, since you don't want to accidentally thin the icing.

disa said...


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