So you’ve called a few bakeries about the cost of wedding cakes, and now there’s a shooting pain in your left arm and the walls are swirling. Fear not. There are cheaper ways.
Baking It Yourself
It’s tempting to say, “Well, I’m a good baker. Why not?” And if you have experience with wedding cake decorating, it’s doable. In fact, I did it myself. But if you don’t have experience, you should think very hard before committing.
First, remember that cheaper doesn’t mean cheap. Take the recipe you plan to use and multiply it by (for a 150-guest wedding) eight. For my chocolate mud cake, that’s 16 sticks of butter and 64 ounces of dark chocolate. It adds up.
Then add (as relevant) the cost of hiring tins, buying dowelling and cake boards to support the top tiers, equipment you don’t have like a tilting turntable or piping nozzles, gel food coloring, fondant, gum paste, and pre-made cake toppers or floral arrangements. You might also want to include the cost of practice cakes and icing.
If it still seems worth it, next consider the stress. A sturdy, boozy fruit cake sealed in fondant can be made months before the wedding, but an airy sponge cake iced with whipped cream will have to be assembled on the day (and will take up a lot of the caterer’s precious fridge space!) The cake will also have to be transported very carefully to the reception area. Is this something you want to spend time and energy on during the big day?
Finally, bear in mind that wedding cakes are a different ballgame to regular cakes. You’ll need to learn how to bake a huge, quadruple-recipe cake without burning the edges or undercooking the middle. You’ll need to know about the interior scaffolding, which holds up a tiered cake. You’ll need to know how long various frostings can sit at room temperature without weeping or melting, how to prevent fondant from cracking and buckling, how to crumb down a cake, and how to transport it safely.
Fortunately, there is a plethora of tutorials available online to teach you. With the right recipe, a lot of practice, and a generous allocation of time, you can do it!
Hiring Someone Else to Bake It
Know a friend who makes wedding cakes? Call about your friend’s rates. Or try student rates. Patisserie students are often keen for practice and spare cash.
You can even split the job. I once iced a wedding cake baked by the mother of the bride. You might have an artist friend who could mold the cake topper, or a florist friend who could design sprays to adorn a basic iced cake from the supermarket!
Cheating on the Cake Size
You can save a bit of money by cutting a petite, delicate wedding cake, taking it out the back to slice, and supplementing it with slices cut from a rectangular slab cake. Most bakeries will charge less for this kind of “supplement” cake, or you can bake it yourself.
Alternatively, opt for a smaller bride’s cake and a groom’s cake. Order the groom’s cake as a birthday cake. It will be far cheaper! And, it lets guests choose a slice of one or the other.
Make Air the Chief Ingredient
If you make the cake yourself, you want a dense, heavy cake recipe that will stay moist for several days, so you can make it ahead. But fruitcakes, carrot cakes, and chocolate mud cakes contain expensive ingredients.
If a baker’s making the cake, time isn’t an issue, so you can save by choosing a cheaper recipe. Sponge or angel food cakes are generally cheapest, and can be sweetened with a syrup and filled with all kinds of flavors.
Make the Wedding Cake the Dessert
Too often wedding cake is an afterthought. The bride and groom cut the cake towards the end of the reception, and the kitchen takes half an hour to slice and plate it up. By that time, everyone’s full of dessert and halfway out the door!
Instead, why not make the cake the focus of the wedding dessert? I’ve attended a lovely wedding in which the cake (chocolate mud) was served with coulis, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream as the sole dessert. No complaints heard!
Try a Non-Traditional Cake
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Individual cupcakes are a fun alternative to one large cake. They lend themselves particularly well to job-sharing, as they’re not intimidating to bake but do take some time to frost, depending on the number of guests.
Use a Fake Cake
It sounds bizarre, but people do it! Get your baker to ice a “dummy cake” made of Styrofoam blocks. The baker will add a wedge of real cake in the bottom tier for the cake-cutting ceremony. Slab cakes are sliced up to serve. A few bakers even offer “reusable” fake cakes!
If all else fails, here’s a last, unromantic thought. Would anyone really notice if you skipped the cake completely?