Step by Step Guide to Baking and Decorating a Wedding Cake

  • 01 of 10

    Step 1: What you'll need, and how-to cool and tort the wedding cake

    Slicing the Wedding Cake in Preparation for Filling and Frosting the Layers. Nina Callaway

    Start off by making sure you've read Getting Started on Making and Decorating a Wedding Cake, which includes a list of the tools you'll need, the wedding cake recipe I use here, and other helpful hints.

    Step 1: About two days before the wedding, bake the wedding cakes. Let the cakes cool for 30 minutes, then run a knife around the inside of the pan, turn pan upside down and slide cakes out. They will still be slightly warm. After the cakes completely cool, cover them in foil until ready...MORE to assemble.

    When ready, take the largest of the 3 tiers, and with a serrated knife cut into 3 equal layers. This seems tricky, but go slowly and you shouldn't have a problem. If you are not using a thick filling, such as the raspberries, preserves, and icing that I use, you may wish to level out each layer using you shouldn't have a problem. If you are not using a thick filling, such as the raspberries, preserves, and icing that I use, you may wish to level out each layer using a cake leveler.

    Please note: This cake makes a three-tiered cake, each tier containing three layers. To avoid confusion, I will refer to each of the three parts of the totally assembled cake as a tier, and to each horizontal slice of those tiers as a layer.

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  • 02 of 10

    Step 2:Filling the wedding cake layers with preserves and fresh raspberries

    Wedding Cake Layer spread with raspberry jelly and with fresh raspberries. Nina Callaway
    Once you have sliced the largest tier of the wedding cake in three equal layers, place the bottom third on a cardboard round circle, available from craft and baking stores. Spread a thin layer of raspberry preserves on top, and then add a layer of fresh raspberries. These need not be densely packed, but should be enough so that each slice will have several raspberries.
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  • 03 of 10

    Step 3: Adding Cream Cheese Icing to the Wedding Cake Layer

    wedding cake layer with raspberries and cream cheese icing. Nina Callaway

    Then add several spoonfuls of cream cheese icing, placed in dollops around the wedding cake bottom layer. Using an offset spatula, gently spread the icing over the raspberries, trying to create a level surface. If you have put too much on, you can gently smooth it down over the sides of the layer, but don't worry about getting the sides smooth at this point.

    Once you have done this, place the middle layer on top, and repeat the process. Finally, stack the top layer on top of that layer, to...MORE create a three-layer bottom tier of your wedding cake.

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  • 04 of 10

    Step 4: Icing the three layers with a "crumb layer" of icing

    wedding cake tier with crumb layer.
    When you have three layers of the biggest tier of the wedding cake assembled, so that there are two layers of raspberry preserves, fresh raspberries, and cream cheese icing between each layer, then you can place dollops of icing on the top of the assembled cake.

    Again using your offset spatula, smooth the icing down over the top and the sides of the cake. This is called your "crumb layer" of icing as it will catch all of the crumbs and seal them in. Place the tier in the refrigerator to...MORE firm up for 20 to 30 minutes, while you assemble the other tiers.

    Repeat the above process with each of the other two tiers, slicing each into three layers, placing on corresponding size cardboard round, and filling each layer with raspberry preserves and fresh raspberries before frosting with cream cheese icing.
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  • 05 of 10

    Step 5 - the critical step of adding support and stacking the layers

    wedding cake layer with straw supports. Nina Callaway

    At this point, you have three crumb-layer iced wedding cake tiers. You have the option of simply icing and decorating these tiers individually, and setting them up on a table decoratively, or using a tiered wedding-cake stand. This option means that you don't run any risk of collapsing, although you lose the drama of a three-tiered assembled wedding cake.

    This is also the point that I suggest you stop, and leave the remainder of the decorations for assembling the morning of the wedding, at...MORE the wedding site if possible. Be sure to bring all of your supplies, including all the rest of the cream cheese icing with you.

    The next step is to use plastic drinking straws to support the other tiers of the cake. Insert one straw into the center of the bottom tier, and make a mark with a pen about 1/8" above the icing. Remove this straw and use it as a guide to cut 4 additional straws of the same length.

    Reinsert the center straw, and insert each of the remaining straws into the bottom tier of the wedding cake in regular intervals, about 2 inches in from the edge. Then place the bottom tier on the serving platter.

    Place the middle tier of the wedding cake on top of the straws. It should thus provide a level surface for the middle tier to rest on. If it is uneven or unsteady in anyway, perhaps you need to either recut the straws, or add a little more frosting between the tiers.

    Repeat the process, measuring and inserting five straws in the middle tier to support the top tier.

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  • 06 of 10

    Step 6: Creating a smooth final layer of icing on the wedding cake

    wedding cake assembled but not decorated. Nina Callaway

    You should now have a mostly-assembled three-tiered wedding cake, although it's icing still looks a bit dodgy. You need to cover the crumb layer of icing with a smooth final layer of icing. To do this, start from the top of the cake and dollop some icing on the top, and on each of the horizontal tiers. Spread the icing into an even layer, covering all the tiers of the wedding cake.

    Then, get a large glass of warm to hot water, and a metal spatula. Dip the spatula in the warm water, then...MORE smooth over cake. Use the warm water frequently to help you remove any crevices or imperfections.

    You can decide how "rustic" or "perfect" you want your cake to be. I was making this cake for a casual affair, so I appreciated the hominess of a cake made with hand-made love. If you're going for the smooth look, be aware that you'll never get it as smooth as cakes covered with fondant, but that fondant is not a good idea for beginners. If you want this cake without fondant to be very smooth, be prepared to spend an hour or so on this step.

    A third option is to use a decorating triangle to add even ridges around the outside of the cake. Another idea 

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  • 07 of 10

    Step 7: Decorating the Wedding Cake - Simple and Easy Ideas

    Wedding Cake Decorated with Flowers. Nina Callaway

    Now comes the fun part - decorating the wedding cake! If you have experience with a piping bag, you may wish to add piped icing in a basketweave pattern, shells around the outer edges, or dots along the inner edges. I don't recommend this if you don't have much experience with a piping bag.

    Since this cake has a raspberry filling, you may wish to place fresh raspberries all around the inner edges of the tiers. When you are filling the layers, simply set aside the most beautiful berries...MORE for decorating.

    Another simple decorating technique is to pin a ribbon around each layer. Cut each ribbon to length and wrap around wedding cake tier, tucking the end under and securing with a pearl-headed pin. Make sure that the cake layers are cold and firm when you do this so that the buttery icing won't stain the ribbon.

    I've chosen perhaps the simplest and most elegant decoration of all - decorating the wedding cake with fresh flowers. Ask your florist to order extra unsprayed flowers for decorating the cake, matching those they will use in the bouquets and centerpieces. Then lay the flowers around the cake in an even fashion, or cascading down one side. The flowers seen below are pink and white roses and purple mini calla lilies. Mini calla lilies work well because you can wrap the stems around the tiers. For roses and other flowers, cut the stems short and insert them barely into the cake. If you have any trouble getting flowers to stick, use a hairpin!

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  • 08 of 10

    Step 8: Decorating the Wedding Cake Platter

    Decorating the wedding cake platter with rose petals - optional step. Nina Callaway
    Don't forget to consider decorating the wedding cake platter! You may wish to simply lay rose petals around the bottom, such as what is seen in this picture. You could also cover it in more fresh flowers, placed all the way around the bottom edge of the wedding cake. A third option would be to drape fabric matching your theme colors, covering any exposed parts of the platter. Or, you could place objects that reflect your theme - for example, cover the platter in seashells for a beach...MORE wedding.

    Of course if your platter is beautiful, you may not want to cover it at all!
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  • 09 of 10

    Optional Step: Adding a Monogram to the Wedding Cake

    Tracing a Monogram into a Wedding Cake. Nina Callaway

    While I don't recommend that beginners do piped designs on a wedding cake, it is relatively easy to add a monogram. To begin, use a toothpick to trace your monogram onto the cake, such as seen in the picture below.

    Take a small amount of icing in a separate bowl, and add food coloring until it becomes the desired color. Get a disposable pastry bag, or a disposable zip-top bag and cut off 1" of the tip. Insert the base end of the coupler inside the bag, a round tip on the outside, and...MORE screw on the ring part of the coupler. Using a plastic spatula, put in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the colored icing. Take a look at these tips on how to fill a pastry bag.

    Practice on a plate piping an even line, and following a pattern. Then simply follow the traced monogram on the wedding cake. Try to have a steady hand, and have confidence in your abilities. If for some reason you don't like the results, you can use an offset spatula to scrape off the colored icing, and then re-ice with the white icing. A second option would be to make some royal icing and pipe the monogram onto parchment paper, several times in case of breakage. Let it dry and carefully lift off of the paper. Spread a little more regular cream cheese icing on the area that you want the monogram, and press the royal icing gently into it.

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  • 10 of 10

    The Finished Wedding Cake! and a Schedule for Assembling

    final wedding cake, decorated with roses and monogram. Nina Callaway

    Here is the finished wedding cake, complete with roses and mini calla lilies decorating it, and a piped icing monogram.

    If you wish to make this wedding cake, here is a sample schedule of how much time it takes:

    1. Baking the cake: 1 hour of active time + 1 hour of baking
    2. Cooling: 30 minutes + several hours
    3. Slicing the tiers into layers: 5 minutes.
    4. Adding filling: 5 minutes for each layer, so approximately 30 minutes total
    5. Adding cream cheese icing: 2 minutes per layer, so approximately 15...MORE minutes total
    6. Creating a "crumb coat": 5 minutes for each tier, so 15 minutes total
    7. Cooling "crumb coat" layers: 10 to 30 minutes
    8. Creating supports with straws and stacking layers: 5 minutes
    9. Adding ​a final layer of icing and smoothing it: 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the level of smoothness desired.
    10. Decorating the wedding cake: the sky is the limit. It only took me 5 minutes to add the flowers seen here, but if you are creating elaborate designs it could take you much longer.
    11. The wedding cake platter: again, this will depend on what you choose, but can take as little as 5 minutes.
    12. Adding a monogram: 5 to 30 minutes, depending on your previous experience.

    If you were to make this wedding cake for a Saturday afternoon wedding, you might bake the cakes on Thursday night, then on Friday spend an hour completing steps 2-4. On Saturday morning, transport the cakes and supplies to the site, then complete the remaining steps.