My first wedding cake: how it all came together and the lessons I learned

I always thought that wedding cakes were grossly overpriced. Boy was I wrong. The astronomical costs of these cakes, unlike their counterparts for parties and other events, comes from the materials that actually go into putting these together.

A customer of mine ordered an elaborate wedding cake for her best friend. It was nerve wracking as I had never spoken with the bride and groom, there was no tasting, nor had they seen any of my previous work. In February my customer emailed me several pictures of what they wanted and flavor request.

I searched the internet and tried new techniques and recipes and priced out products from different sources. This project started coming together.

Since I knew that it would take the longest to dry, the first element to be created was the custom topper. Two white elephants dressed as bride and groom, trunks forming a heart. I always purchase my fondant because of the time it takes to hand make, and the inconsistent results I have had so far. Wilton brand is easy to work with and they have either vanilla (easiest to flavor) or chocolate (actually pretty tasty). First thing, I added a slight blueish hue to the white lump that would become the elephants so that the tusks on the “groom” would contrast. When I finally had my pieces formed and the trunks were set up enough I added the ears, tusks and wedding attire. The pair then sat to dry for two weeks. Total cost: materials-$12; labor-3 hours

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Photo credit Joe Turmes

Second, and most definitely most complex and time consuming element: sugar roses. This was requested to be a 4 tier cake to serve 75 with an anniversary tier. That meant 50 sugar roses, and I had never made a full and realistic rose. Bring on the research.

I watched many tutorials and tried some different methods with different products.

Rose Tutorial

Fondant took too long to dry between elements, gum paste is incredibly expensive and hard to dye, and modeling chocolate doesn’t get thin enough and when worked too much gets very greasy.

In the end, I made and dyed my own gum paste but found it too brittle when dry. I mixed it with fondant and this gave me the ability to roll it this enough for the desired realistic look while not drying as brittle as gum paste tends to. I will say that fondant is by far the easiest to work with of the three elements (fondant, gum paste, and modeling chocolate), but in the end a mixture of all three is what it took to achieve the color shape and sturdiness required.

Total cost for 50, 2 inch roses: materials-$40; labor-47 hours

Last element that I needed was obviously the cake. The order was for a pink champagne with whipped buttercream in a crackle finish royal blue. After trying and failing several times, I created and perfected this recipe for champagne cake. It was light and moist, yet had a dense enough crumb for the stacking weight and size of this cake. This was a massive cake; to complete it took 30 cups of batter and 17 cups of frosting. In the end my kitchen looked as though I had slaughtered a troop of Smurfs!

Total cost for 12inch, 9 inch, 7 inch, and 5 inch champagne cake tiers with royal blue frosting: materials $106.72; labor: 6 hours

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Photo credit Joe Turmes

The wedding day came. I had all of my elements boxed and ready to go the church. I arrived two hours before the wedding since I had no idea how long setting up this behemoth would take. I have a great assistant and photographer, Joe Turmes. Willing to photograph the cakes even though its completely different from his usual metal concert photography. We unpacked the individual cake tiers, the tools (lifters, gloves, paper towels, extra roses and pearls, smoothers, and extra frosting for emergencies), photography equipment, cake supports and foam separators that the roses were attached to. Very happy for the help since the bottom tier weighed about 20 lbs! It was like a surgery scene from a movie. I set the tiers and Joe handed me the elements or tools I needed so that I could concentrate on the task.  He obviously had time to snap a few set up shots that I was not even aware of!

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Photo credit Joe Turmes

Each layer came together with only minor disasters…a thumb print here, a rose petal disturbed the frosting there. Nothing I couldn’t fix, thankfully! The biggest disaster was almost mis-stacking my tiers. I put the 12 inch tier down, the rose separator, the 7 inch tier, the rose separator, then the 9 inch tier. Joe said to me “Something doesn’t look right” Hmm…no it didn’t. So we removed them and started over correctly. Like I said, nothing we couldn’t fix!

Total cost for delivery, setup, separators, support elements, misc. supplies such as pearls, cake boards and cake boxes: materials-$75; labor-4 hours

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Photo credit Joe Turmes

When it was all set, Joe took pictures of the final product, we cleaned up, took a deep breath and sigh of relief for successful delivery, and had celebratory brunch.

In the end, we never did meet the bridal couple, but I did get an email from them later that they enjoyed the cake immensely. All the work and hours were totally worth it because they were happy with their cake and I could make their special day complete.

Total cost: Materials $233.72; Labor 60 hours

This was a daunting task, and I learned so much! I feel much better prepared for the next wedding cake. Possibly the biggest lesson I learned was how much time and money actually goes in to creating these pieces. I have a much bigger appreciation for that. From a business standpoint I can confidently charge my customers the set price and know exactly where all that money is going. On this cake it was really just a guess and this couple received their wedding cake at below cost.

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