How to Make a Wedding Cake

Photo by Sunflower Productions

Once upon a time wedding cake was made of fruitcake and royal icing.  It was the equivalent of bricks and mortar to put together.  Fruitcake being very dense would stack up – no problem, each cake on top of the next with only the cake beneath to hold it up.  Royal icing becomes very hard once it has set so it too could withstand the weight of the cake on top.  These days wedding cakes come in all shapes, sizes and flavors and are rarely fruitcake.  This means they require some special treatment in order to stand up tall for hours before they are cut.

Base: For the base of the cake I use a round piece of wood which is approximately 2″ bigger than the largest layer of the cake and about 3/8″ thick.  I cover this with white contact paper and then use double-sided tape to adhere satin ribbon all round the edge for a finished look once the cake is delivered.  I have several of these rounds in various sizes and if there is a separation between the layers I use the smaller round which is slightly thinner with thinner ribbon for that tier.

Support: Modern wedding cakes are made of any type of cake and usually either buttercream or cream cheese icing so they require support in the form of either commercially purchased plastic pillars or, my personal favorite, the 1/4″ thick dowel rod.  I learned to use dowel rods for support in Culinary School, so while it may seem odd to put something you buy at the hardware store in a wedding cake, it’s okay.  The great thing about wooden dowel rods is that they are soft enough to score and cut with a French knife on a cutting board.  You only need the dowel rods for cakes which are supporting another cake.  So you will not need them in the smallest top layer.

To measure the height to cut the dowel rod simply push the dowel rod down into the fully iced and decorated cake and when it reaches the bottom twist it just a bit so that the icing marks the top of the cake on the rod.  Remove the rod from the cake and score the dowel rod all the way around with your French knife on a cutting board.  Then continue to roll the dowel beneath the knife until it either cuts through or you are able to break the dowel off.  Tap the dowel rod on the cutting board and use the side of the knife to flatten the end until it is smooth.  Use that dowel to measure all the rest for that cake tier.  Cut about 7 dowels for a 14″ tier of cake supporting a 10 or 11″ tier and about 5 dowels to support an  8″ or 9″ tier and 3 dowels to support the top tier of 5″ or 6″ cake.  Measure the dowels individually for each cake, though your layers are probably all about the same height they may vary by 1/4″ or so.  You will want the dowels to sink into the cake and be perfectly flush with the top of the top layer of icing once you put them in.  Put the dowels into the cake so that they will be underneath the next tier of cake, evenly spaced and about half way from the center of the cake to the outside of the cake being supported.

Timing: I recommend making the cake two days prior to the wedding, filling it and covering it with a thin layer of icing (and wrapping it completely) the day before the wedding and then early the morning of the wedding putting on the final icing and decorations.  The final icing and decorating can take 3 to 4 hours and you will want to have the cake back under refrigeration for another 3 to 4 hours before you set it up so work backwards in your mind about when to begin the final phase.  The last piece is that you will want to deliver the cake about 2 hours prior to the wedding reception in order to give yourself time to stack and decorate and clean up before the guests start to arrive.  The times given here are for a large cake for about 150 to 200 people, if it is a smaller cake then you can adjust your timing. Example: For a 5 pm wedding reception, begin final decoration at 8 am so you are finished by 11 am, allowing 3 hours for the cake to chill, then plan to arrive at the reception location by 3 pm for set up.

Delivery: Whenever possible transport the cake in separate tiers each sitting on the flattest area of your car. I have an SUV so the back area folds down to be completely flat which is great.  Bring icing, icing spatulas, decorating tips and bags to make any borders or in case you need to fix anything once you get there. Also bring the double-sided tape and ribbon to finish off the base.  While driving try to accelerate and decelerate as smoothly as possible and take corners slowly.  In general, the cakes are heavy enough that they don’t move around much so you should be fine.  Once you arrive find out where the cake will go before taking in any of the tiers.  Sometimes there is a closer entrance and you will want to carry the cake tiers as few steps as possible to avoid any issues – besides they are usually pretty heavy.

Finishing on Site: Place the bottom tier on the cake table and then using the icing spatula put just a little icing over each dowel rod before placing the next cake layer down on top.  Use a clean icing spatula to support the cake as you release it down slowly onto the tier below and gently pull the icing spatula out from between the layers holding it horizontally. Use either fresh flowers which the bride has provided or you have brought along to decorate the area between tiers or pipe a border around the seam between one tier and the next.  Even if you pipe a boarder it is still fun to add a few fresh flowers on the other tiers.  Fresh flowers are great on top of the cake too if their is not a bride and groom statue.  Most of the time fresh flowers are the way to go.  Although sometimes a creative bride and groom will have something else like a bicycle built for two, etc.  Once you finish the cake be sure to clean up all the flowers and get a few photos.  I was a guest at this wedding and so had to go change and never actually took a photo myself so I would like to thank Sunflower Productions for sharing these photo which they took with me.  The last thing to remember is to talk with the bride and groom or directly to the catering staff about how to get all your bases back.

Photo by Sunflower Productions

The cake I made in June was 4 tiers high with each tier stacked upon the other.  Sometimes cakes have separators in the center for space and flowers, etc.  In those cases the crystal pillars and plates which are available commercially are great and very sturdy.  I loved the style this bride and groom choose for their cake.  The wedding was in a barn – a real barn on a real farm – with chickens out back where you parked and a John Deere tractor for the kids to play on out front.  They had made a base for the cake which was from the stump of a tree.  They wanted the icing to mimic the base’s bark.  This was a fun and simple way to decorate a cake.  I loved how they brought nature into the theme of the cake and how it fit into the surrounding atmosphere of the raw wood sides of the barn.  It was a beautiful day and so being inside the barn with the sun streaming through the spaces in the wood added to the charming country atmosphere.

The most important thing to remember when making a wedding cake is to breathe.  Weddings are always so happy and icing is pretty forgiving so as long as you have everything you need with you to make any last minute adjustments and plenty of flowers to decorate or cover any areas you cannot adjust, things will turn out great.  Good luck and happy baking!


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