TIERS OF JOY
Anyone planning a wedding knows how expensive it can be. The national average cost is more than $30,000, according to the latest annual survey by The Knot. And the cake -- would you believe? -- adds a thick $575 slice to the bottom line. In a large city, what passes as a moderately priced custom creation can easily reach four figures. What's the frugal alternative for the happy couple? A DIY wedding cake.
LET GO OF TRADITION
When I was planning my wedding, I wanted to serve wedding pies instead of a wedding cake, but my family was less than pleased. I gave in to their expectations, but almost eight years later, I'm wondering why I spent so much on a sweet trifle. I realize now that there are options besides the bakery down the street or the local wedding-cake professional -- much cheaper options, in fact.
One of the most cost-effective ways to end up with a magnificent cake at a fraction of the price is to do it yourself. That doesn't necessarily mean you personally. The task could be turned over to a friend or family member -- or several working alongside each other.
CONSIDER IT A GIFT
If there is someone you know with the skills to bake large quantities of cake, it can save a fortune, regardless whether there are 50 or 500 guests. Indeed, the cake might be offered as a wedding gift by the willing baker.
Regardless who actually makes the cake, this is not the type of project to start at the last minute. The design, recipes, ingredients, and supplies should be ready well in advance of the big day. A trial run (or two) will help work out any kinks in the plan and hopefully relieve any stress about the task.
For starters, the couple must set the guest list and determine how much cake is needed. A chart from dessert decorator Wilton can help with the calculations, from pan size for a given number of guests to the required amount of batter and frosting to baking time.
HIDE EXTRA CAKE IN THE BACK
Traditionally, the cake the bride and groom cut together feeds only a portion of the guest list. The cake that's passed around often comes from large sheets, seen only by staff back in the kitchen, and doesn't show up in pictures. These sheet cakes are simpler to bake and cheaper to make than the "cutting" cake, and most guests are none the wiser.
CHOOSE A SHAPE
With only a smaller cake to gussy up, the baker can be more ambitious. Layers or tiers are popular, and doable, choices for a DIY wedding cake. Wayfair offers up ideas for decorating wedding cakes (cupcakes, too) that serve 40 to 80 celebrants for less than $1 a serving. Consider the pans already in the cupboard -- even basic sheet cakes of different sizes can be stacked to dramatic effect.
GIVE IT A PROFESSIONAL TOUCH
Before frosting, use a serrated knife to shave down uneven edges of a sheet cake, taking care to keep the knife level to ensure a clean look. For tiered cakes, use corrugated cake boards (available in different sizes) to provide extra support for the upper tiers.
BE SMART ABOUT FROSTING
To make the dessert stand out, try a frosting color that contrasts with the color of the cake; pair white buttercream frosting with a chocolate cake, for example. If tinting the frosting, do it in large batches, because matching the tint from batch to batch can be tricky.
SHOP WELL IN ADVANCE
To pare cake costs even more, start shopping for ingredients far ahead of time and stock up when they're on sale. Perishables such as fruit can be washed, cut, and frozen until needed. For dry ingredients, use coupons and scour the weekly grocery ads to land the best prices. The same goes for any baking equipment you may need.
It may reduce stress to complete the wedding cake a couple of weeks ahead and freeze the results. In the end, you'll have a delicious finale to the wedding meal and some extra room in your budget.