Cooking School

The secrets to amazing homemade wedding cakes

By: Valerie Howes

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©

Cooking School

The secrets to amazing homemade wedding cakes

By: Valerie Howes
Homemade wedding cake can be a wonderful thing -- delicious, more natural looking and, of course, budget friendly. It's a major undertaking, however, especially if you're in the bridal party and have other responsibilities for the big day. Anna Olson, host of new Food Network show Baking with Anna Olson and author of Back to Baking, shares her tips on making stylish DIY wedding cakes and keeping your cool.

How big should the wedding cake be?

A good home baker should be able to handle a cake with a 14-inch bottom tier and a 10-inch top tier, and that would feed 80 people. If more guests are expected, Olson advises calling in the pros. "It's a big undertaking, and you don't want to end up sobbing," she says.

For large weddings:
For large groups (up to 80 guests), Olson suggests making a vanilla or lemon pound cake. "Pound cake is the strongest if you're new to stacking tiers," she says. "It's stable and it's easy to transport." Pound cakes can be finished with buttercream or fondant and for decoration, simple royal icing or fondant flowers work well, as do fresh flowers, such as peonies, with the stems taped or in a vial on top of the cake. "Just don’t place fresh berries directly on fondant," warns Olson. "They will bleed and stain it."

For small weddings:
For a smaller reception, the Food Network host suggests making a strawberry shortcake-style wedding cake with simple buns or a basic vanilla cake and buttercream and sliced fresh strawberries inside then whole strawberries on top. "You could do that tiered with a 10-inch base and a six-inch top to serve around 40 guests," she says.

And for a very intimate gathering of up to 20, Olson recommends making a single classic European cake. You could do a torte with meringue layers or a torte with thin layers of sponge. "What I like about the smaller wedding is that you've already broken the rules, so there's no need to conform," says Olson. "You can make any cake you like -- even make an ice cream cake if you want."  
And for any size of group, there's nothing more manageable than making cupcakes. "It's a great way to offer multiple flavours, yet you can keep things consistent by making sure the toppings are the same," says Olson. As well as glamming up cupcakes with piped frosting and edible flowers such as pansies or roses, you can bake them in double layers of paper cups with pretty colours and patterns. For an elegant presentation, display them in a tiered rack.

How the weather will affect your wedding cake
When you're deciding what kind of cake to make, it's important to consider how long it's going to sit out, and whether it will be in an air-conditioned room or outdoors. In a cooler, temperature-controlled setting, your options are wide open.

"But if your reception is outside, stay away from mousse, cheesecake or anything that needs to be refrigerated," advises Olson. And be wary in general of working with meringue, caramelized sugar and spun sugar: they're very sensitive to temperature. "You can't change the weather, and the weather changes pavlovas," she adds.

How to transport a wedding cake
"Whenever I deliver a wedding cake, I transport it unassembled," says Olson. You can pack and transport each tier in a separate pastry box. Make sure you keep them level and packed in such a way that they can't move around. If you don't have a hatchback or SUV, just put the cakes on the floor of your car.

"And pick up a baby-on-board sign; you'll be taking corners and ramps very carefully," says Olson. Then budget about an hour to set up the cake at the wedding reception. If it's frosted, always bring a piping bag with extra frosting for last-minute touch-ups.

Whatever delicious wedding cake you decide to make in the end, be sure to give yourself enough time. You can bake the layers a week ahead and freeze them, so you’re not rushing on the day. And above all, celebrate what's unique about a homemade wedding cake and so appropriate to the occasion: it's made with lots of love.

Plan the most beautiful wedding you can imagine with expert tips and helpful advice from our special wedding planning guide. 

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Cooking School

The secrets to amazing homemade wedding cakes