As Julia Childs once said, ‘A party without cake is just a meeting’ so what’s a wedding without a wedding cake?! When you start thinking about your wedding cake and contact suppliers for quotes the most common reaction is ‘How much?! For a cake?!’ If you don’t have a single baking bone in your body or have your heart set on the a certain designer then a price of £500+ can be justified but for the budget savvy bride, a DIY wedding cake can save you mega bucks if you’re willing to put in the time. There are lots of options for a DIY wedding cake ranging from buying budget cakes from COSTCO and glamming them up to making your entire cake from the hand carved topper to the red velvet bottom layer. What’s important is to go with the option that best suits your ability and time frame. Here I have shared some of my top tips I have learnt first hand from DIYing wedding cakes.
1. Know Your Cakes
It’s important to do your research on the shelf life of cakes as this can save you a lot of time in the frantic weeks before the wedding. So long as you store it correctly fruit cakes can last for months, even years, so you can make these well in advance and leave them in a tin on top of your cupboards until the big day. In fact they usually taste better the longer they are left to mature. Meringues can typically be kept in a sealed container for 2-3 weeks plus if you have any of those silica gel sachets you get in new bags lying around pop them in the tin and you can extend the shelf life by up to 2 weeks. Make sure you bake your meringues until they are fully dried out though as any moisture left in them will drastically reduce the shelf life. Sponges can be kept for a lot less time. Typically, due to their lovely moistness, they are only good for 1 week. However you can freeze sponge layers and cupcakes for a couple of months so if you have space in the freezer you can make these months in advance – just make sure you leave enough time for them to defrost though!
Make these fab meringues using this recipe
2. Think About Your Climate
Every couple hopes for sunshine on their big day but this can spell disaster for your cake. When choosing your cake’s icing think hard about what the weather is likely to be like and what sort of room you are going to be keeping your cake in. For example my cake was going to be in a yurt in the middle of June so the likelihood of it being hot was high so I had to avoid icings that would easily melt like butttercream or Swiss meringue. Royal icing is by far the most hardy of the icings but is difficult to make and master so practice is definitely required. Buttercream is often the tastiest but will melt easily so if you want to use this think carefully about where you keep your cake and add extra dowels to keep it all together. I made a naked cake for my brother’s wedding in the middle of August and used a swissbuttercream that was a lot stronger than your standard buttercream. Even then it started to melt pretty quickly so it is definitely worth doing a tester run by making a standard cake with your chosen icing and leaving it for a day in the climate you are hoping for and see how it fares.
I used Swiss meringue for my brother’s August wedding – it was much more sturdy than buttercream but it still began to melt quickly! Photo – Florence Fox
3. Time is Money
Your time is money. Quite literally. Making your own wedding cake takes hours of practice, preparation and baking so really think about your wedding time frame. If you are going for a traditional 3 tier cake you need to allow at least two days to bake, cool, ice and decorate your cake. You can definitely save time by making your layers in advance but it’s still a lot of work. If you’re doing fiddly things like making sugar flowers or using gold leaf you need to allow even more time. Sometimes it’s easier and less stress to cheat a little bit. A middle range budget option would be to order your basic cake layers from a supermarket and then decorate them yourselves. M&S and Waitrose do fab cakes and have lots of different options or you could even go mega-budget happy and buy a load of cakes from a wholesaler then add some decorations yourself. Do whatever you feel most comfortable with and if you do a couple of trials and they’re all a disaster don’t worry, it happens to all of us, and it’s ok to just pay someone else to do it!
One of M&S’s options – at £249 for 4 tiers it’s not a bad deal if it saves you days of baking drama.
4. Stack Em Up
Before I attempted to make a 3 tier cake I had always assumed you could just stick one cake on top of the other and hey presto you have a wedding cake! How wrong was I…. In fact if you did this you are going to end up with a collapsed cake mess. To avoid cake drama you need to dowel your cake. I’ve found a great video here that shows you how to do it. If you can’t find a cake board to fit your cake then I found you could improvise by drawing around your cake tin onto some thick cardboard (corrugated is best), cutting out the circle and then covering it in foil.
I couldn’t find a cake board to fit my top layer so I improvised and made my own – Photo: Jessica Raphael
5. Think Ahead
When planning your wedding cake you also need to think about how does your cake actually get to the venue in one piece! To avoid tempting fate with any cake drama it’s best to assemble your cake on the morning of your big day but you’re probably going to have bigger things to deal with than fiddling with a cake so make sure you plan ahead. If you’re using a venue that will set up for you give them clear insrtuctions on how to assemble your masterpiece to save disappointment on the day. If your venue is more DIY then assign someone with a bit of cake knowledge to be cake lord and ask them to take your cake to the venue and construct it on the day. You also need to think about how you are going to serve your cake. Speak to your caterer and see if they would be able to slice your cake up and serve it after the cake cutting ceremony. Or maybe ask your mum or aunt to be in charge of cake distribution. Just make sure everyone gets their cake and eats it!
This DIY bride asked her Mum to bake her 3 tier cake and she then covered the middle layer with gold leaf before handing it over the Co-Ordinator at Elmore Court
6. Decorate In Advance
Depending on your decoration choices you might be able to save yourself a lot of time and stress by pre-making your decorations. If you’re making sugar flowers these can be done months, even years in advance so long as they are kept in an airtight container and not exposed to any moisture. Things like gold leaf can be done a couples of days before if being applied to a royal iced layer – but beware, once the leaf is applied do not touch the cake as it will mark very easily! Other decorations like a buttercream effect have to be done the day before so do your research and plan your time accordingly.
I made my sugar flowers 6 months in advance then assembled them into a wreath with a week to go. Photo – Jessica Raphael
7. Practice Makes Perfect
Practice as many elements of you cake as possible. Obviously it’s not cost effective to attempt to make the entire cake unless you’re really hungry but it is definitely a good idea to try and make each layer individually before you attempt the real deal. This is especially important if you are attempting layers you haven’t baked before. I did this for my brother’s cake when they decided they wanted a sweet potato based layer. I was so glad I did a trial run as it turned out the recipe was far too wet and needed a lot of tweaking before I attempted the final cake. If you are using icing techniques you are unfamiliar with definitely have a practice run and watch some tutorials so you understand how it works. All great cakes are the product of a lot of trial and error so allow time to experiment and get to know your layers.
I was so glad I practiced with the unusual ingredients used in this cake! Photo: Florence Fox
8. Think Outside the Cake Box
Don’t be constrained by tradition and go for a full blown wedding cake when neither of you even eat cake! Think about what you both like best and have whatever you want. If you’re a donut fan how about a donut wall?
Donut Wall Inspiration from Oh Happy Day
Or if cream tea is your bag what about a scone station?
Scone inspiration from The Natural Wedding Company
Or even skip the sweet altogether and go for a cheese cake. Literally.
Cheese cake inspiration from M&S
Whether you decide to blow half your budget on your dream cake or handcraft every single detail of a 10 layer cake remember, it’ YOUR day and YOUR money so spend it on what YOU want and you most definitely CAN have your cake and eat it.
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