How to Bake Your Own Wedding Cake

updated Oct 23, 2020
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Make your own wedding cake illustration for Crate and Barrel wedding package

When I told people that my now-husband and I were planning on baking not one, but three wedding cakes for our semi-DIY wedding reception in 2018, reactions ranged from stunned silence to varying takes on “Have you lost your mind?” 

For many, the idea of making your own cake adds an unbearable level of stress to an already-hectic day. However, for me, an avid home cook and baker and somewhat of a control freak, it was the only way I could ensure we would get the dessert we wanted without breaking the bank. 

And really, at the end of the day, it was easy. Honest! With a bit of research—and, okay, a whole lot of planning—a homemade wedding cake is totally achievable, can be a lot of fun for you and your partner, and has the bonus of giving you some serious bragging rights (“Wait, you made this cake!? It’s so good!” –every guest at your future event). 

Here’s how I did it, and what I learned along the way. 

Tip #1: Figure out what cake factors are really important to you.

First things first, sit down with your partner and decide what you want your wedding cake experience to be. Do you want a beautiful centerpiece? Or is the cake more of an afterthought—just a nice, sweet snack toward the end of the evening? Do you have flavors in mind? A design? You may have a super specific vision in your head, or you may want to pull up Instagram and Pinterest now and start brainstorming. 

My husband and I cared most about offering different flavor options to our guests, and neither of us was particularly concerned about the cakes being elaborate centerpieces. So, we settled on making three separate sheet cakes that could be simply decorated and easily served.

Tip #2: Be honest with yourself about your abilities. 

Don’t go for a Sylvia Weinstock masterpiece if you’ve never even assembled a tiered cake before. 

I knew I was a good baker but that decorating wasn’t my strong suit, so we ended up choosing cocktail-themed cakes that delivered on flavor but were simple in design: a gin and tonic-inspired citrus cake with a gin glaze, lime curd, and meringue topping; a martini-inspired chocolate cake studded with vodka-soaked cherries; and a Dark and Stormy-inspired spice cake soaked in rum with brown butter icing.

Tip #3: Write everything down. 

Once you have your cake blueprint, start making lists. And then make some more lists.

In our case, we found recipes and wrote down all the ingredients we’d need, doubling up on everything in case of a baking fail. We did serving-size math to determine how large our cakes would need to be for our nearly 100 guests. And then we made sure we had the right number of cake pans, as well as all the tools we would need for decorating, and noted what we still had to buy or borrow. Lists on lists will save you!

Tip #4: Scheduling is your friend.

For your timeline, I recommend reverse engineering—as in, working backward from the day of the reception and thinking realistically about your other time commitments. Put another way: Make sure you won’t be up baking at 2 a.m. the night before your wedding! 

Many cakes can be made as far as a week ahead of time and frozen, so we scheduled a full baking day for seven days before our Saturday event. Once the cakes were baked, we tightly wrapped them in plastic wrap and then foil and tucked them away in the freezer. On the Monday before the wedding, we made the frostings and curd and popped those in the fridge. On Thursday, we took the cakes out of the freezer and let them defrost overnight in the fridge. First thing Friday morning, we got to decorating. 

Splitting the work over a few days left us free to actually hang out with our family and guests and get the venue ready in the days leading up to our wedding. And also, you know, sleep.

Tip #5: Have a contingency plan. Maybe two or three.

In my past professional lives, I’ve been both an event planner and a caterer. I can promise you that, no matter the size and scope of your wedding, you will experience at least one hiccup. So when you are baking your own wedding cake and you can’t rely on the caterer to fix any issues, backup plans made in advance can be lifesavers. That includes enlisting a trusted friend or family member to be your point person should you need to activate said plan(s).

For our three cakes, we bought double the ingredients in case we needed to redo any of them. We also knew that, if it came down to it, we could just abandon one cake and have two. And if all else failed and something catastrophic happened to all three cakes, well, there was a 24-hour supermarket down the road and our guests could make do with boxes of Krispy Kremes and extra champagne. 

As it turns out, we did have a minor cake disaster. Our rum-soaked Dark and Stormy cake was a bit too rum-soaked, and an entire corner crumbled as we transferred it onto the serving platter the morning of the wedding. No big deal, though: We took a handful of flowers and made a cute little arrangement to cover up the damaged corner. It looked like we had planned that as decoration all along, and no one was the wiser. 

Tip #6: Be COVID-19 safe.

All of the pandemic safety measures you’ve taken for your wedding should of course extend to the cake. So while this probably goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: If you’re baking a cake for others in the COVID-19 era, make sure you practice extra-good kitchen hygiene

An easy way to cut down on the amount of human interaction with the cake during the celebration is to designate an official cake-cutter to cut and serve the pieces. Once you and your new spouse have smiled for photos with the confection, have this trusted person (you can make sure that they have been tested and are wearing a mask and gloves) take the cake away and plate it. Think of it as a whole new role for your wedding: a cake usher!

For us, being able to share our homemade cakes with our guests added an extra level of personality to our celebration. What had seemed like a daunting task turned out to be not-that-hard and so, so worth it.

Plus, remember that if your cake baking fails spectacularly, you can always bust out the doughnuts and champagne.