Introduction: Making a Wedding Cake

About: I'm a twentysomething baking obsessive, working as a baker and cake decorator, and gradually fattening up my housemates one recipe idea at a time.

Considering I've made quite a few wedding cakes, my procrastination on putting together this instructable is slightly shameful. Making a wedding cake is fun, boring, painful, exciting, tiring and something that will fill you with pride, whether it's for yourself or a friend. There's little better than watchign people enjoy something you've created.

The cake in this instructable is a two tier fruit cake, decorated with gorgeous bright red poppies. This is a design specific to my friends' desires, but I have attempted to expand the instructable to cover making wedding cakes in general, from the ambitious planning stages to the nervewracking final set up. This may have led me to ramble a little more than I should, but buried amongst that are the little tips &  tricks I've picked up a long the way.

The only way to learn is try, fail & try again, so get out there & give it a go.

Step 1: Ingredients and Equipment

For the fruit mix (makes enough for a 9 inch round cake):

800 g sultanas
320 g raisins
185 g currants
155 g glace currants, quartered
250 g pitted prunes, chopped
125 mixed peel
250 ml brandy (this can be partially or completely substituted with fruit juice)
55 g brown sugar
80 g marmalade
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tbsp ground cinammon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1/1 tsp ground nutmeg

For the cake batter:

250 g unsalted butter
230 g dark brown sugar
2 tsp grated orange zest
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp black treacle
4 eggs
250 g plain flour
60 g self raising flour

You will also need spoons, scales or measuring cups, bowls, and other general kitchen equipment, and cake tins. For the cake pictured I made a 9 inch and a 7 inch cake, both of which were quite deep, which used 2x the fruit cake recipe in all. Adjust this according to the size of your tins.

For those without scales, a good weight to volume converison guide can be found here.
For the poppies:

Flowerpaste (red and green)
Wires (gauge 30 and 24)
Poppy petal cutters
Edible glue (CMC)
Petal dust (red, black and green)
Modelling tools
Pliers and wire cutters
Florists tape
Petal veiner (or a modelling tool and some patience)

For icing the cake:

Sugarpaste (fondant)
A cake drum for the base (I used a 12 inch)
A cake board for the top tier (I used an 8 inch)
Posy picks
Cake smoother (optional but very handy)
Turntable (optional, I manage without one at home, but it does help to get a smooth even finish)
Rolling pin
Small sharp knife
Cake boxes if you will be moving the cake to another venue

Step 2: Planning

When making your own or someone elses wedding cake, timing is key. You will need to work out how much time you realistically have in the week leading up to the wedding and plan things accordingly. Decorations such as flowers, toppers and some royal icing shapes can be made quite a while beforehand to remove the stress in the immediate lead up to the big day.

Planning your time can affect everything about your cake, right down to the flavour. Filled sponge cakes are best baked as close to the day as possible, and baking enough for a couple of tiers can take a lot of hours in mixing, baking and cooling. Opting for a traditional fruit cake, on the other hand, allows you to make the cake in advance. In fact this is preferable since an important step in making fruit cake is feeding it with a regular spoonful of brandy or sherry every few days for at least a couple of weeks, to make it gorgeously moist and alcoholic.

The type of cake and tightness of time will also affect your icing decision. While it doesn't have the best taste, and is often left on the side of the plate, sugarpaste (fondant) will keep a cake fresh under it's protective layer for a couple of days, and provides a smooth, clean surface to adorn with decorations. On the other hand buttercream or ganache, while tasting delicious, should be applied as late as possible, the night before at the earliest, which could leave you panicking over last minute problems.

Once you have decided on the cake flavour, you've got to make sure you've got enough of it. I have provided a table of rough portion guides for a few sizes of cake, based on the small servings you typically get at a wedding. If you are planning on being generous, make more cake, it's pretty simple.

Once you have those initial considerations out of the way you can start planning. Look for inspiration, take it, twist it and make it your own. Sketching out a rough idea of the cake, even it ends up looking little like it, can help keep you focused throughout the process.

Step 3: Inspiration

When you know what cake you're making, and how it will be iced, you can think about other decorations. These are usually matched to the colour, theme and flowers of the wedding, sometimes picking out a brides favourite blooms or choosing a colour to tone with the dress or bouquet.

Professional wedding cake makers sites are a great source of inspiration, and it's amazing what can be done with sugar in the right talented hands. Use them to inspire you, rather than intimidate, and if you're feeling a little scared just look at the prices & feel smug at what you're saving, at the sacrifice of your free time of course.

Some beautiful sites for inspiration by London cake makers are:

Little Venice Cake Company
Maisie Fantaisie
Peggy Porschen

If you're looking to stand out rather than make a traditional centrepiece, Charm City Cakes is always full of crazy ideas

Step 4: Decoration

A cake can be decorated in any way you can imagine, as you can soon find out through a google search, but wedding cakes tend to keep to the traditional lines of flowers and piping.

Flowers can come three ways; sugar, silk or fresh. Silk flowers are artificial, and can be bought from many cake or florist stores. They are very easy to work with, and to reuse, but can look quite fake. Fresh flowers add an instant wow, and can be perfectly matched to the rest of the wedding flowers. However certain types of flowers, such as lillies, are poisonous and cannot be used on cakes. Sugar flowers are handmade from flowerpaste, a very pliable sugarpaste that dries hard and brittle. This can be manipulated and coloured, and if made by a good sugar artist the flowers are indistinguishable from real ones until you take a close look.

I find making sugar flowers calming, there's simething quite zen about the repetetive task of making petals, and it gives a great sense of achievment, but it does take some time. If making your own flowers it's best to start early. The cake I made uses my friend's favourite flowers, poppies, made from sugar, and making 12 of these took me a good couple of days. The method for the poppies can be used for other open petalled flowers, such as open roses and anemones.

The most traditional flower, of course, is the rose. These can be made using the same method as in my chocolate roses ible, simply build up the layers of petals until you're happy with the size and look of the bloom. For any other flowers, an internet search will find you hundreds of tutorials, or invest in a good book with high quality pictures.

While I'd love to go into  the many options of cake decorating, right now I don't have the time, so just a brief mention of royal icing. This is made using icing sugar and egg whites, or from a pre bought mix, and is a pipeable icing that dries very hard. It can be coloured before piping, or painted after, and is great for adding detail such as beads and borders to cake. While I used none on the poppy cake, a sprinkling of piped pearls or a bead border around the top edge can be great for covering up flaws and cracks in the icing, while enhancing the overall look of the cake.

I've rambled on a bit here, but it boils down to this. Whatever decoration you choose, study it, plan ahead, and have fun doing it. Otherwise, what's the point?

Step 5: Making Poppies: Preparation

Sugar flowers are beautiful things. With care and patience they can be delicate fascimiles of real blooms, created using an edible medium which will last for months if kept dry and cool. As well as cakes they can make good display pieces, a sort of floral sculpture. The flowers are made from flowerpaste (gumpaste) , a very elastic sugarpaste that can be rolled and mainpulated into realistic petals that dry hard and brittle.

As with sugarpaste, flowerpaste can be made at home with the addition of strengtheners such as gum tragacanth, or bought from any cakecraft shop. Once the made the flowers are very fragile, so take care. I've had many painful moments when a rose has slipped out of my grip, and there are only so many flaws leaves and royal icing can hide.

It's best to prep a few things before beginning work on the poppies, First get some edible glue, or mix some up easily by adding a small amount of CMC (a powder kneaded into sugarpaste to give strength and flexibility) into some hot water. Allow to cool and it will thicken up into a clear glue. This will keep for a few days.

Next work out how you will dry the flowers. The flowerpaste will take a few hours to dry out enough to not lose it's shape (longer if the room is humid). It is often best to dry flowers hanging upside down so the petals fall nicely, though this does depend on the type of flower. To do this bend the end of the wire a little and hang them off whatever you have handy. The could be a rail, jewellery stand, tacked up piece of string or my latest discovery, a martini glass.

Now you're ready to start.

Step 6: Making Poppies: Seedheads

When making any flower you start with the centre and leave it to dry hard to provide a stable base for the creation. For the poppies the centre is the seed head. This is made using some pale green flower paste. Either buy the paste coloured or colour it yourself by adding a small amount of green food colouring paste and kneading it through to an even shade. Take a 24 gauge wire and use some pliers to bend a small hook onto the end.

Take a small ball of green flowerpaste, roughly half an inch diameter, and roll it into a cone. Dip the hooked end of the wire into your edible glue and then insert it into the pointed end of the cone. Pinch the paste around the wire to secure it, and then smooth downn the sides and flatten the top out a little.

To make the seedhead markings, take some tweezers and pinch small lines into the flat top of the seedhead in a cartwheel type pattern.

Hang up the heads to dry, ideally overnight.

Step 7: Making Poppies: Stamens

While the seedheads are drying you can start work on the stamens. These tend to come in bunches of around 100. Divide these into smaller groups of about ten. Take one group, make sure the heads are roughly level, and brush the middle and up to a centimetre from each end with edible glues Squeeze the stamen threads together to bind them, and let dry. Do this with each small group.

Once dry cut each group in half, and trim so that when placed at the base of seedhead the stamens protrude a little over the top.

Now you can attach the stamens. At this point edible glue will probably not be strong enough, so use some high tack non toxic glue such as PVA. For each seedhead you will need four or five small stamen bunches arranged evenly around the head. Glue the stamens to the base of the seed head, squeezing the end tight to the base and the wire to make them stick.

Leave to dry.

Step 8: Making Poppies: Inner Petals

Poppies are quite a simple flower to make because they only have four petals, two inner and two outer, The two inner petals will wired to give them support.

To make the petals take some red flower paste. Roll it out fairly thin, but leave a raised ridge down the middle. Cut out an inner petal.

Take a 30 gauge wire, dip it in edible glue, and carefully insert this into the raised ridge. Gently pinch the edges of the petal to give them a little realistic frill. If you have a petal veiner, lay the petal in the venier and press down firmly. This will give the petal veins and contours to make it more realistic, This can also be acheived with some patience and a thin modellling tool.

Hang the petal up to dry, and make some more. You 'll need two inner petals to each flower you're making. On this cake I used 9 poppies, but made 12 to be on the safe side since delicate flowers and my clumsiness are not a good combination, so made 24 inner petals.

Once dry you can attach the petals to the stem using florists tape. Tear off a length of the tape. Position the two petals just below the seedhead, and wrap the tape tightly around the three wires. It can be tricky to get started, since the petals get in the way, but once the tape has looped around and begun to stick to itselff you can push it up the stem a little bit to the base of the petals. Cover the length of the three wires in tape, wrapping it around tightly.

Step 9: Making Poppies: Outer Petals

The outer petals of the poppy are not wired. Simply roll out some red flowerpaste thinly and cut out two large outer petals. Frill and vein these in the same way as the inner petals. Brush a little edible glue onto the base of the petals.

Take your partially completed poppy and secure a large outer petal to each side, filling the gaps bewteen each of the inner petals. The outer petals will be attached to the base of the inner petals and a little of the wire by the glue, completing the structure of the poppy.

Hang the flowers up to dry.

Step 10: Making Poppies: Leaves

The poppy leaves use a generic leaf shape to give a little more interest to the flowers. They are wired in the same way as the inner petals.

To make the leaves roll out some green flowerpaste quite thinly, leaving a ridge down the middle. Take a 30 gauge wire, dip it in some edible glue and insert it carefully into the ridge. Cut out your leaf with a craft knife or some small scissors. Alternately you can buy a variety of leaf cutters from any cakecraft shop.

Using a thin modelling tool or small knife, gently score in some lines to vein the leaf. Make at least one leaf for each poppy and leave them to dry.

Step 11: Making Poppies: Adding Colour

To give the poppies a vibrant colour and realistic sheen, you will need some petal dust. This is a coloured powder that is brushed onto sugar flowers to deepen or enhance the colours. To use it, simply tip some of the powder onto a piece of kitchen tissue, dip a small dry brush into it and dab off the excess on the tissue.

Gently brush red petal dust all over the petals of the flower. Use black dust to add detail to the centre of the seedhead and the base of the leaves around the stamens. Use a deep green dust for the leaves.

The dust can be pretty messy, and will brush off your flowers and mark your cake if it is not set. To set the colour, steam the flowers. Boil a little water in a saucepan, and hold the flowers over the steam one at a time for a few seconds, until they have a satiny sheen. Hang up the flowers to dry. Do the same with the leaves.

(To get more accurate patches of colour you can mix the petal dust with a little clear alcohol to make a paint. This can be used to add delicate detail to petals, such as the spots on a lily, or to paint a design onto the fondant of the cake itself.)

Step 12: Making Poppies: Assembly

To finish off the poppies attach one or two leaves to each stem by securing the wires together with flower tape, in the same way the petals and seedhead were joined.

Trim the stems with some wire cutters to the appropriate lengths. You'll want a fair few short stems to make the posy for the top of the cake, around six flowers. The extra flowers to adorn the sides can have longer stems.

Step 13: Making the Cake: Fruit Mix

For this particular cake, both the flowers and the cake can be mad quite far in advanc, which removes a lot of stress from the weddng week itself. Like all traditional fruit cakes the cake is made in advanced and soaked in small amounts of liquor ( I used brandy) over a few weeks or months. This will be familiar to anyone who has made a christmas cake.

The base of any fruit cake recipe is the fruit mix. The cake batter is essentially just there to hold all of the dried fruit together. Although I have provided the recipe I used, as long as you end up with roughly the same total weight at the end you can alter the proportions to your taste. In this recipe I was short on mixed peel and currants, but bulked up with dried apricots scrounged from my baking cupboard. It's a very flexible type of cake.

Weigh out all of the dried fruit ingredients and put mix them together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl whisk together the alcohol, sugar, marmalade, cocoa powder and spices. Pour this over the fruit and mix together well. Cover the bowl with some clingfilm and leave overnight, to allow the fruit to soak up all the flavours.

Step 14: Making the Cake: Cake Batter

To finish off the cake mix, make the batter by beating together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each one to avoid the mixture curdling.

Once the eggs are fully mixed in, stir in the lemon & orange zest and the treacle. Add the flour gradually, folding it into the mix.

Stir the fruit mix into the finished batter, making sure to coat all of the fruit.

Step 15: Making the Cake: Baking & Feeding

To prepare the cake tin for baking, lay it onto a sheet of baking parchment and draw around the base, then cut out the circle. Cut a long strip of parchment a little taller than your tin. Fold over one long edge of this and cut slits every inch or so. Grease the tin and line the sides with the long strip, laying the flaps on the bottom of the tin. Cover the bottom with the circle. Once fully lined, do this all over again. Double lining the tin will prevent leakage, and give a little extra insulation to the cake.

Fruit cake cooks long and slow, so preheat the oven to 150 C (300 F/Gas 2), and put the cake tin on some newspaper on the oven rack to give extra insulation to the bottom. Bake the cake for around 3 and a half hours, until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Once cooked, leave the cake to cool in the tin. When cool, remove from the tin and place on some baking parchment. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of brandy (or your other chosen liquor) over the cake and wrap it up tightly in parchment and clingfilm or foil. Every few days unwrap the cake to feed it with another spoonful of liquor, then wrap it back up and return to a safe, temperate storage space.

(If you are making a sponge cake, bake it using your preferred recipe a maximum of three days before the wedding, as if left too long it will begin to dry out. Cut the cake into layers, fill it with buttercream/ganache/jam/curd etc. and stack the layers. Ice with sugarpaste in the same way as described in the following stage.)

Step 16: Icing the Cake: Marzipan

When the week of the wedding finally comes around, you are ready to ice your cake.

For a fruit cake, the cake is first covered in a layer of marzipan, to add some almondy goodness and also to smooth out some of the bumps. If you are making a sponge cake skip this step, unless you really love marzipan.

Covering a cake in marzipan uses exactly the same method as covering it in fondant. Stick the cake to the cake board with a small ball of marzipan. Now, take roughly enough marzipan to cover your cake. This can be hard to judge and is a matter of practise, so if in doubt always use more. Knead the marzipan a little, until it is smooth and pliable. Roll it out into a rough circular shape, about half a centimetre thick.

Melt a little marmalade in the microwave or on the stove, until it runny. Brush this over the cake, it will stick the marzipan to the cake. I find the easiest way to get the layer of marzipan draped over the cake safely is to first drape it over a rolling pin, and then roll it over the surface of the cake. Dust it with some icing sugar or cornflour first to stop it sticking.

Once the marzipan is draped over the cake, gently pull down the sides to cover any gaps. Smooth the flat of your hand down the sides, pressing the marzipan to the cake and amoothing out any creases or overlaps, Rub the flat of your hand or a cake smoother over the top firmly to flatten and smooth the surface. Smooth out the sides in the same way. Trim off any excess marzipan around the bottom of the cake with a sharp knife and peel it off the board. This can be kept in an airtight bag or container for use next time.

Give the cake one final go around with the cake smoother or your hand. The smoother this under layer is, the smoother your outer surface will be.

Step 17: Icing the Cake: Fondant

Once you have done the marzipan layer, the fondant layer can be applied in exactly the same way.

Knead some fondant until smooth, and roll it out. Apply a light coat of water to the marzipan to give the fondant something to stick to. Press the icing onto the cake and around the edges, then rub over the smoother or the flat of your hand to smooth it out. Trim off the excess icing with a sharp knife, and smooth out any remaining bumps.

Step 18: Icing the Cake: Neatening Up

Once you have your smooth surface you can take care of any flaws that are left. Marks and cracks in the icing can be hidden by taking a small ball of icing, dipping it in some cornflour or icing sugar, and rubbing it over the problem area. The icing sugar will fill the crack and blend it into the surface, smoothing it out. Other marks such as cake smears or food colouring can often be removed by brushing on a little clear alcohol, such as vodka, and then rubbing lightly with some kitchen towel. Once the liqour has dried smooth out the surface again.

To cover the edge of the board, roll some fondant into a long sausage, and roll this out into a flat strip. Trim one long edge with a sharp knife to give a crisp edge. Dust the icing with cornflour and roll it up. Brush the board with a little water and unroll the icing strip around it, pushing it up to meet the bottom edge of the cake. Cut the strip when it meets the first end, and smooth out the join with your fingertips. Using you hand or the cake smoother, smooth out the icing on the board, Use a sharp knife to trim the excess from the edge of the board. Smooth down the edge with your finger tips.

Now you can cover the otherr tier in exactly the same way. The smaller tiers on cakes are usually on boards the same size as the cake, so you don;t need to worry about the final stage of covering the board here.

Step 19: Icing the Cake: Dowels

A tiered cake means that the weight of your top tier (or tiers if you're getting extravagant) rests on the bottom tier. To prevent everything sinking into the cake and ruining your beatifully smooth icing, you need to put in some dowels. These can be foodsafe wood or plastic and are available, like everything else, from cakecraft shops or the internet.

In genreal use five dowels for each tier (more if the cake is especially heavy), one in the middle and four arranged in a cross around the centre. Insert the dowels in the cake and mark where they protrude from the icing. Remove them from the cake, trim them down to size, and reinsert them.

Check the surface is level by resting a board or piece of card on top. If it wobbles when you test it you may need to trim or sand down one of the dowels. Alternatively, when you stack the cake you can fill in the gap with a bit of fondant or royal icing.

You can also insert a posy pick into the centre of the top tier at this point. This is a small plastic tube to insert the flower stems into, so they don't get pushed into the actual cake for hygiene reasons.

Once covered and dowelled, leave the cakes to set overnight. This will ensure that the icing is firm enough for the cakes to be stacked and flowers arrnged without marking up the smooth surface.

Step 20: Assembly

Once the flowers are made and the cakes are covered the whole thing can be assembled. Even if you are transporting the cake to another venue and assembling it there, it is best to do a dry run first to check how everything will look. Start by wrapping a length of ribbon around the edge of the board and the bottom of each tier. Secure the ribbon to the board with a couple of pins, and to thecakle with some edible glue or royal icing. This instantly neatens up any dodgy edges.

For the top posy, trim some of the flower stems quite short, and insert them into the posy pick. Arrange five of them in a circle, and stick one upright in the middle to cover the top. Arranging flowers is mostly down to patience and a delicate touch. Just keep adjusting the placement until you have something you are happy with.

To get the positioning of the other flowers right, carefully place your top tier on top of your base tier. Unless it's been incredibly humid, the overnight drying time should have made the tiers safe to handle without messing up thier smooth surfaces too much. Any small marks can be rubbed out, or covered with flowers or a little imaginative piping.

Position the top tier centrally on the base tier, and decide where you want your side flowers. Insert a posy pick into each place and push the stems of the flowers into a pick. Adjust the positioning until you're happy.

You might find that with all the small adjustments, some of the red colouring has rubbed off onto the white cake surface. This can be cleaned off by brushing on a little clear alchohol, such as vodka, and wiping it away.

Once the flowers are arranged and the cake is clean, you're done! Take a picture and feel proud.

If you are transporting the cake to another venue, separate the tiers again and put each in a cake box with plenty of tissue paper for cushioning on the journey. Restack the cake once at the venue, with some royal icing between the tiers to keep the strcture secure.

Step 21: Notes

  • I am from the UK, but went through an Ace of Cakes obsession a few months back so use fondant (US) and sugarpaste (UK) fairly interchangeably. Sorry if it gets confusing.
  • My initial ambition was for this to have been a comprehensive guide to making a wedding cake, from planning to set up. It ended up more of a specific cake tutorial, but I hope I got enough general tips in there to give people some inspiration.
  • Things I wished I had time to cover but didn't: buttercream, ganache, royal icing, poured fondant, other types of sugar flowers (roses, lillies, cala lillies, chrysanthemums), stands, pillars, mini cakes, cupcake towers, chocolate decorations... It's a long list, but it will have to wait until next time.
  • I made a round tiered cake. If you fancy making yours square then go for it, but be warned the corners can be a pain to ice. Square cakes are more easily served up, and you get a few more portions out of them, which can be something to consider.
  • The portion guide provided is a rough one for small portions typically served at weddings. Adjust according to your prefernces and your guests appetites.
  • All of the cake decorating equipment can be found at cakecraft stores, or on the internet.
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