Should I bake my good friend's wedding cake with little experience in such endeavors?
May 10, 2007 11:57 AM   Subscribe

As a recreational baker, am I crazy to make my best friend's wedding cake??

I am the designated cake baker for our group of friend's birthdays, celebrations, etc. This year I decided to tackle fondant icing for the first time ever. Well, one of my engaged friends was so impressed with the results she asked me to make her wedding cake.

Things to consider:
*I am a bridesmaid in the wedding, so I'll definitely have my share of responsibilities without tackling this additional one.
*She said she doesn't care what it tastes like, she just wants it to be cute. I can do cute.
*I would be transporting the layers 6 hours away to her hometown.
*I have never made more than a two tiered cake.
*I have a year to practice.

Sooo, thoughts?
posted by nataliecay to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO, don't do it.

there's enough sh*t to deal with while planning a wedding. it's far easier and less worrisome to pay someone else to deal with this - especially someone closer to the wedding site. and in the event of catastrophe, you don't want her to have animosity towards you.
posted by gnutron at 12:03 PM on May 10, 2007

The year to practice is a benefit, to be sure.

Sadly, you may have to think about whether you can be both a bridesmaid and the cake baker. Typically, the cakes are baked and semi-decorated a day ahead, then assembled and completed on-site. Depending on how big the thing is, the assembly can take a few hours...especially if you have to do a lot of detail work on the decorations...or have to do repairs.

I suggest you start doing some test cakes to get a handle on how long it will take you to complete a wedding cake. Then judge.

I will pray that the cake is for a small group.

Good luck. Take pictures!
posted by Thorzdad at 12:04 PM on May 10, 2007

I say, either be the baker or the bridesmaid, not both. Between the two, baker sounds more rewarding!
posted by footnote at 12:08 PM on May 10, 2007

It is very kind of you to consider this, but leave it to the pros and focus on being a bridesmaid.
But please send me leftovers.
posted by Dizzy at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2007

If you already have some experience and a year to learn, there's no reason you can't manage a good cake. The problem I see is that you're also a bridesmaid, and at the time you'll need to set up the cake, you'll be busy with bridesmaid stuff. Wedding cakes are generally not just delivered whole and plopped down in place; you have to do a fair amount of assembly and decoration at the reception hall. And what if something goes wrong? Are you experienced in fixing a falling-apart cake? You don't want your nice gesture to be remembered as a disaster in all the photos. I would say leave this one to the pros who have staffs and more importantly aren't members of the wedding party.

Maybe make a rocking shower cake and even a rehearsal dinner cake, but not the wedding cake.
posted by boomchicka at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2007

certainly the logistics of this situation have to be considered w/the six our drive and all. how easy is it to transport a cake that far? Will it melt if it is hot, where will you store it while you do your other duties? How far ahead are you travelling to the wedding site for your other duties and is that too far ahead to bring/store cake until wedding day?

maybe you could make it at her mom's house or a friend's house before hand in the town of the wdding?

but still, think of how nervy and stressful the whole wedding thing is for everyone, and imagine adding this stress to it all?
posted by Salvatorparadise at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2007

There are some good suggestions in this MetaChat thread. It sounds like fun, to tell the truth. You have plently of time to decide if you can pull it off or if you'd rather concentrate on one role - bridesmaid or baker.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
How do you know if you have the skills to pull off making a friend's wedding cake?

Practice, practice, practice!
posted by iconomy at 12:13 PM on May 10, 2007

I've been to weddings where the cake was made by a friend and it added that "special touch" to know that it wasn't the creation of an unaffiliated baker.

But! The combination of being a bridesmaid and being six hours away probably make it more trouble than it's worth.

On preview, what a lot of other people have said.
posted by flipper at 12:14 PM on May 10, 2007

I have done this so I can at least tell you its possible! We (three people) made a three tier kosher cake with a ying-yang cats on top, and then transported it from NYC to Boston. And I was the best man :)

The baking it self was easy, though I would *not* recomend doing this without a kitchen aid style mixer. It was, however, very time consuming. We spent about one full weekend baking and making frosting, call it 16 hours. Add to that a few hours to get the ingredients and baking supplies (we bought a lot of pans). Total supply cost was about $200.

To transport the cake we froze the individual sections, uncut and unassembled, and put them in several coolers for the car trip to Boston. We then assembled the cake in Boston and drove it (carefully!) to the wedding site, where we displayed it. The assembly took about three hours the morning of the wedding.

Lessons learned:

* A detailed schedule and checklist, posted on the wall during baking, was invaluable. With three people we created a cake assembly line that definatley saved time. We were working on three different cake steps for three different bits of cake at a time.

* Transport was surprisingly easy, but the cake took up a surprising amount of room in the freezer before hand.

* Assembly takes time, and must be done on the day of the wedding. Do not plan on doing anything on the day of the wedding except deal with the cake. As the best man, the only thing I did on wedding day was drive the cake from point A to point B, I did not have time for anything else.

* Don't leave the cake in a warm sunny place while the wedding happens. Buttercream everywhere. We were able to recover from this with some spare frosting that we had brought for just such an occasion.

So, the short answer to your question is yes, you can. But get help, especially on the big day.


(on preview: yes, this is hard. Its not impossible with help. It certainly is alone)
posted by Maastrictian at 12:17 PM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

[AnecdoteFilter] 40 years ago, my mom's roommate/best friend (a Home-Econ major!) made the wedding cake for my parent's wedding. She was so excited on the big day, she assembled the 3 tiers at home before she put the cake in the back of her car. Needless to say, once she arrived at the church there were no longer 3 tiers -- just a big pile of smushed cake. (My mom was a great sport about it, and we have photos of the bride spreading fresh icing across the pile of smushed cake.)

Which is a long way of saying that weddings are crazy and frantic, and that you'll have a lot of distractions (especially being a bridesmaid!) that could lead to mistakes you wouldn't normally make. Maybe you could volunteer to make a cake for the rehearsal dinner or bridal shower instead? That way you can contribute and they can enjoy your creation, but there's less at stake if something goes wrong.
posted by junkbox at 12:20 PM on May 10, 2007

Is your best friend low-key, open minded, comfortable with the possibility of mistakes? Is it a relatively small wedding? Do you deal well with stress?

I think it can work, but only if everyone's laid back enough not to flip out if something goes wrong, you're diligent to actually get it done, the crowd is small, and your expectations are reasonable.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:21 PM on May 10, 2007

Sounds like a huge task, especially with transportation, and you being a bridesmaid.

How about baking a cake for the bridal shower instead?
posted by radioamy at 12:23 PM on May 10, 2007

Nthing leaving it to the professionals. It sounds like there's a lot of room for things to go wrong (especially on a six hour drive). You want to enjoy your friend's wedding, not be fretting about the cake all day. Let someone else worry about the cake.
posted by boreddusty at 12:23 PM on May 10, 2007

I think it has to depend on you clearly understanding your BF's expectations (and, secondarily, how the expectations of the guests will be shaped). I made a cake for good friends that was far beyond anything I'd done (and if you're down with fondant you're ahead of me already). It was 4 tiers of 3 layers (with a both a marzipan ribbon and another interior layer), but because I had some lead time and was making sections ahead (some frozen) I knew it tasted good. What made me anxious was transporting it in layers, assembling it (with the whole interior dowel rod and platform construction) and then finishing the exterior with ribbon, gold dust, etc. But here's the thing--when I got to the casual, outdoor, cross-cultural wedding, attended by lots of funky artists, it really didn't matter that the whole thing listed to one side pretty badly. It looked both good and homemade, and was even reasonably photogenic (from one angle). In short, I knew that there was some tolerance, if not for failure, for less than "pro" aesthetics, and so in the end I had fun. If there's any up-tightness in the group, it won't be as easy for you and your friend to enjoy your gift.
--on preview, this is a long version of what croutonsupafreak said.
posted by Mngo at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2007

Don't do it. Even many professional bakers stay away from wedding cakes because there is just too much at stake and it is too easy for the bride to not like her cake.

Especially being six hours away and being a bridesmaid -- don't do it.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:27 PM on May 10, 2007

I have done exactly this. My first I transported the cake in a 4 hour ride in the middle of 9 days of torrential downpours (read cake & frosting destroying humidity), which fortunately stopped right before the wedding hour, and resumed for the reception. Here are the things to plan and consider:

-- Transport APART! You want to set anything with tiers up at the will not transport well! Transport each piece in a high-sides box you can cover, that doesn't allow cake to side about.

-- Where will you store the cake? Can it be stored at the reception venue? How far in advance? (day or 2 before, night before, that morning?)

-- You will have to get the cake setup. If you can store the cake setup at the venue, you may find time to do it yourself. Otherwise, and I recommend this for sanity anyway, find someone who can do this for you not in the wedding party. ( I have also been that person) The ease of finding this person depends on how easy you make the cake: anyone with some logical sense (Don't forget to assess that!) can put cakes on top of each other neatly. If piping is needed between the layers, you have to find or train someone to do it.

You will be able to train yourself in the year: I did that first one in a month's traing time. These other factors to arrange is what will make your decision for you. Best of luck if you decide to do it; it's a lovely gift for your friend!
posted by mattfn at 12:29 PM on May 10, 2007

Don't do it. Transporting the cake is a pain. You'll be busy as it is. And you'll need to buy supplies and practice. You could probably buy the cake and save money, if you consider the cost of practicing.

If she wants to save money, encourage her to contact a local baking school. Some of them do wedding cakes as class projects. Or they may know a recent grad who's starting up a cake business. We hired a recent grad who did the most amazing 3-tier cake with marzipan apple decorations plus 50 cello-wrapped marzipan apple favours for around C$300, including delivery.
posted by acoutu at 12:31 PM on May 10, 2007

Response by poster: WOW, thank you for all of the input. A few things to consider upon reading some of these.

I would definitely be using fondant on the cake and the density of fondant has a tendency to act as a seal which keeps cake fresh for a few days, so I was planning on making it two days in advance and then packing the individual layers to transport prior to assembly.

The wedding is at 6:30, so I should have enough time to assemble AND do the bridesmaid thing (getting hair done, etc.). What are the main time consuming factors in setting up the cake? I don't really understand why it should take three hours?

And coming from no experience, how hard is it to use the tiered stands with the rod in the middle?
posted by nataliecay at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2007

The deal breaker for me is the 6-hour transporation. A lot of things -- completely outside your control -- can happen in 6 hours. Don't do it.

However, I'd volunteer to make the cakes for the rehearsal dinner and the bridal shower.
posted by parilous at 12:57 PM on May 10, 2007

I would highly recommend making the cake two weeks in advance (and freezing it) rather than two days. The closer you get to the wedding the more things will tend to go wrong. Leave yourself time to cope with them, especially as a bridesmaid.

You don't have time to both assemble the cake and be a bridesmaid on the wedding day. This is impossible. One (or likely both) of these activities will run longer than you think. Things go wrong.

The reason it takes three hours (or did for us) was that the cake layers were uneven and had to be cut down, our first tier support solution did not go as planned, and frosting took longer than planned. The bottom tier of our three tier cake consisted of four quarter circle sections rather than one big section (for reasons of oven size, number of people fed, and transport logistics), which added to the time as well.

You can do this if you want to (and you should, I had an awesome time making the cake and being the best man). But you need to know that things will go wrong and will take longer than you plan for.

posted by Maastrictian at 1:02 PM on May 10, 2007

With a year to go, why not just try out a full rehersal of making a wedding cake, and see how long it takes and how complicated it is? There would be some expense involved, but if you are really into cake baking that's probably not a big problem. Have a cake party after.

I have never made more than a two tiered cake.

So? Just make a cute 2 tiered cake.

Having said that, if the bride is the really fussy sort that is going to stress out if the cake isn't 'cute' enough, skip this.
posted by yohko at 1:03 PM on May 10, 2007

I've done it for four different weddings--three times as the baker only and once as both baker and bridesmaid. You can manage it. Maastrictian has great tips-- here a re a few more that might help:

- Practice frosting and decorating small cakes ahead of time. You want to get really smooth sides. best way of achieving this is on a cake wheel, but you can also use a sturdy lazy susan

- You can cheat and order unfrosted layers from a good bakery in the flavors and sizes you want (I did this one when the distance to transport was just too crazy)

- You can assemble and frost the cake the night before, so long as you have room to refrigerate it

- See if you can get into the venue the night before to prep and store the cake. If not make sure you have some spare frosting and the proper utensils for repairs if you have any issues with transport on the day of the wedding

- If you decorate with fresh flowers instead of piping out flowers you'll cut the time you need to spend on the day of the wedding considerably-- your only fancy piping will be shell borders

Good luck!

On preview-- the
And coming from no experience, how hard is it to use the tiered stands with the rod in the middle are a pain in the butt. Seriously. Too much potential for leaning.
posted by idest at 1:06 PM on May 10, 2007

You didn't mention was the time of year. Is it summer? If so, you'll want to make sure the cake doesn't get too hot on the ride there. Fondant's much more forgiving than buttercream but it can still melt, and six hours in the car is pushing it.

Another question: how big is the cake? How many people is it supposed to feed? The smaller the cake the easier it'll be to transport and assemble.

Lastly, for the three hour window. That's probably a fair estimate. The actual assembly of the cake won't take that long, but it's all the other stuff. Finding the venue. Finding a place to park. Finding someone to let you in. Hauling in the cake. Hauling in your tools (dowel rods, icing tips, spare frosting, etc). Then setting up and decorating the cake. And finally, packing up all your stuff and getting to your hotel or wherever it is you're supposed to go. It'll take longer than you think. Give yourself a big window.
posted by Atom12 at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2007

No, not actually insane but consider: there's a reason people pay pros to do things like make cakes, organize, and take pictures. It doesn't generally have to do with available skill sets but wanting friends and family to relax and actually enjoy themselves on the day.
posted by scheptech at 1:11 PM on May 10, 2007

I'll nth the suggestion to leave it to the pros. A good baker should be able to accomodate custom cake designs, as long as they don't defy the laws of physics. You and the bride could design a cake with the right amounts of cute.
posted by Xere at 1:25 PM on May 10, 2007

If the choice is between a professional and you, don't do it. Echoing gnutron, it's easier to pay somebody else, and you avoid the animosity of a frustrated bride or her family if things go wrong. Even if things go right, you may end up feeling stressed or unappreciated. No one notices a good cake for more than a few seconds; they're focusing on the bride and groom.

On the other hand, if it's a choice between you making the cake and the bride's mother making the cake, go for it. You'll be taking a big stress off of the family, so there's much less chance of long-term animosity (though you still may feel stressed or underappreciated).

If your cake is unique (fondant frosting?), it might be appreciated even if it's not up to pro standards. My parents' wedding cake was baked by my dad from a traditional New Zealand recipe (fruitcake, ugh!), and was small and undecorated except for plain white frosting, unevenly applied. I can tell you more about his wedding cake than about mine, though, despite his cake being a year older than me.

In summary, it's not worth it to compete with a professional, but if you can offer something unique, it might be worth it
posted by rossmik at 1:29 PM on May 10, 2007

Were I to volunteer to do such a thing, I'd make a small cake for the pictures and large sheet cakes for the serving. I'd also decorate it with fresh flowers instead of piped. You can do a knockout with small and pretty and it'll be so much easier to transport and set up.

(Both my aunt and I had the same wedding cake - a small two-tiered carrot cake with red rose petals scattered on top for cutting and serving the bride, groom, and attendants, sheet cakes of the same type to serve everyone else. Lovely, and got a lot of compliments for being different from the usual.)
posted by Melinika at 1:39 PM on May 10, 2007

Don't do it.
posted by caddis at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2007

How about serving cupcakes? I've been to two weddings that served those instead, and they went over beautifully. (see?)
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:53 PM on May 10, 2007

My mom made a cousin's wedding cake once. My stupid cheap aunt bought generic cake mix after my mom specifically told her to buy brand-name. When she (my mom) tried to stack the layers, they all started cracking. She had to go buy brand name cake mix and start all over. Buy brand name cake mix - now isn't the time to be cheap.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:15 PM on May 10, 2007

Oh...if you're going to use fondant, be sure to find a high-quality, edible kind. I say "edible" because a lot of fondants tend to be more like thick, inedible plastic.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:37 PM on May 10, 2007

there are a lot of people suggesting you leave it to the professionals. i will say that last year i made the wedding cake for two of my best friends and i'm so glad i did. best wedding present i've ever given. use the year to practice and have fun with it.
posted by ms.jones at 2:41 PM on May 10, 2007

If you want to help out your friend but don't want to be too responsible for a mistake, why not offer to make sheet cakes? A friend of mine had a small tiered cake for the ceremonical cutting and photos, but then had them bring out two large sheet cakes, which is what most of the guests ate. It was cheaper that way, rather than paying for a huge tiered cake to feed everyone. Your friend could have a pro do a small tiered cake, and you'd just have to worry about the sheets. You could still do fancy fondant frosting and decorate them. It might be a nice compromise.
posted by christinetheslp at 2:56 PM on May 10, 2007

I'd just like to chime in with another anecdote - I did a work-friend's wedding cake, transported it, set it up etc.

Firstly, you have to be business-like about this - sketches, photos of similar cakes to ensure that everyone is on the same page, payment for equipment and materials. Costs can go amazingly astray, so keep receipts etc.

Secondly, plan on having many sleepless nights about "getting things right". On the day of the wedding I had to complete the final decorations and couldn't get it right. Total mess. The stress that this caused was immense.

When it was eventually finished, it looked great - just not exactly as originally designed. Bride looked at it, said it was fine, great etc, and I have never heard from her again.

So, lastly, be aware that brides do strange things - and while they may say "oh, it'll be fine", if you mess up their fairytale, the friendship may suffer.

I have sworn never to do another "event" cake as long as I live.

YMMV. Good luck!
posted by ninazer0 at 3:23 PM on May 10, 2007

Yea, do it if you want but ask your friend this:

"If I totally mess things up, and you end up with no cake on your wedding, are we still going to be as close as we are now? or will you hate me forever?"

Depending on the answer to that, make the cake!
posted by unexpected at 3:42 PM on May 10, 2007

There was a really good article in the Washington Post magazine a couple years ago, by two people who actually did this. They basically practiced making cakes over and over again for months, until they got it right.
posted by clarissajoy at 5:50 PM on May 10, 2007

It seems like from the comments that problems arise in the setting up of the cake, and in transportation.

Maybe you could make a series of small cakes. It seems like they might transport better, and you don't have to worry about leaning layers or stacking or anything.

I just went to a wedding where the bride was vegan. She had like 6 cakes made from a vegan bakery, all in different flavors. (Penaut butter cup!) They were delicious and it was fun sampling all the different flavors.

But then again, your friend said she wanted cute, not flavor... hehe. But I was just thinking cute might be more manageable in smaller cakes. :) Then you could maybe have different themes or something, who knows...
posted by thejrae at 7:12 PM on May 10, 2007

You have a year to practice? Great! That should be more than enough time to make a few practice cakes so you can be sure you've got everything right--and so you can see ahead of time exactly how much work and time it will take. You could even practice driving it around and stuff, to make sure you have something that can keep it steady.
posted by Many bubbles at 7:39 PM on May 10, 2007

It isn't crazy. My Dad (and, collaboratively, my 6 and 8 y/o cousins) made my sister's wedding cake last year. As long as she is expecting this to be a labor of love, something that expresses your affection for her and is representative of your years of friendship rather than three years at the Culinary Institute of America, you're good.

If, on the other hand, what she wants is that gorgeous cake that was on the cover of that bridal magazine last May, this might be a request to decline.
posted by arnicae at 9:00 PM on May 10, 2007

It really depends on the bride and her family. Envision a scenario in which, for whatever reason, you pretty much screw up the cake. Will they A) laugh it off and enjoy the wedding regardless, or B) react as they would if a professional vendor screwed up the cake? If you think the answer is B), then even if you're pretty sure you can make a perfect cake, don't do it.

Another way to think about it: will they be saying A) "Our daughter's friend nataliecay is making the cake, isn't that great"? Or B) "I hope the cake will be OK--she's having some friend of hers make it"?
posted by staggernation at 9:15 PM on May 10, 2007

It can be done. I've done it--twice, even. But between the bridesmaid factor and the six-hour transport factor, you're just begging for a catastrophic meltdown of some kind. I'd consider carefully before committing to being both the baker and a bridesmaid.

If you're bound and determined to do it, I'd advise a few things:

Think about alternate ways of displaying the cake. When I made my mother's cake, I wasn't confident enough to actually stack the layers on top of one another. Instead, I made three graduated-height pedestals out of floral foam, tossed a cloth over the whole thing, and displayed the cake(s) that way. It looked great, and was much less hassle than stacking layers (as I learned when I made the second wedding cake).

Also, look into gumpaste decorations. Like fondant, it lends itself very well to making things ahead of time. The only caveat is that the results are rather brittle, so you have to take that into account when transporting your cake.

Oh, here's a pretty good recipe for marshmallow fondant. Unlike purchased fondant, you'll actually want to eat this stuff.

Good luck!
posted by Vervain at 9:32 PM on May 10, 2007

Will you have fun doing it?

If yes, then make sure you use support dowels inside the cake to support the layers. Years ago, working as a caterer, I spent an hour pasting together a cake that took a suicide dive off it's table. No internal supports. It scarred me.
posted by pointilist at 11:33 PM on May 10, 2007

If your friend would be into having cupcakes, I would second roger ackroyd's idea. I had a Cupcake Tree at my wedding. My mom made lovely chocolate cupcakes with a cream cheese filling a week or so ahead and then froze them until the wedding. They were fantastic and a big hit.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:53 AM on May 11, 2007

What kinda cake are we talking here? Traditional? A fruitcake then. They're heavy from the word go so your tiers will need to be structurally sound. My mother got into this (right into it as is her way with all things domestic)

I remember watching her. The most icing I had ever laid eyes on rolled out into thick sheets and laid on so smooth. Endless tiny wires with petals made with icing (slightly different mix to the 'blanket' type if I remember correctly) coloured with food dye added with the vaguest touch with a toothpick.

And that beautiful filigree/lattice/lace edging. Miles of it piped out like calligraphy. When it sets you kinda glue it on with very soft icing. What a bastard and a half that is just to watch! Looks tremendous though... and she is pretty keen. I say quick, bail! Get out while the getting is good

But if you weren't even entertaining that kind of drama... Actually scratch most of that you've got a year! You know what, I think you can do this. (But 6 hours in the car ain't likely to fly) And a prearranged deadline to execute backup plan b may not go astray either, if only just to de-stress and free up all your disgustingly good cake creating energies. Forget what she said, it is just going to have to taste good, these things just can't be helped? Can they :)?

What does she mean by cute though? (Get reference pic/s!!) And I'm seeing mum tomorrow so I will pick her brain for you. Maybe raid her pantry too... for cookbooks - for you :) And yeah one post might not be so good... depends on weight and structure? Seriously do you have a friend in construction that would barter for test cakes? If you say you're making packet cake though, I'm out :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 2:55 AM on July 28, 2007

« Older Sexist songs? (Jazz and lounge edition)   |   SOLAR SCREEN Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.