Published On: Mon, Nov 6th, 2023

Why I made my own wedding cake — despite everyone’s best advice

Why I made my own wedding cake — despite everyone’s best advice
Why I made my own wedding cake — despite everyone’s best advice


The night before my wedding, a well-meaning friend asked me what time I was “getting started” in the morning. Without missing a beat, I explained that it doesn’t take long to make a batch of buttercream, and the cake layers wouldn’t need to come out of the freezer until noon to defrost, so I wouldn’t really have to do much until late morning.

I paused when my friend’s brow furrowed. She’d been asking, I realized a beat too late, about hair and makeup. Embarrassed, I told her I was handling all of that myself. In fact, I hadn’t thought much about it. Instead, my brain was filled with visions of wedding cakes: clean layers and silky-smooth ganache, crumbled streusel and glossy buttercream.

When I decided, about six months before my wedding, to make my own cake, I had only a vague notion of what that would entail. I announced the plan on a whim, after learning the average wedding cake in the D.C. area costs between $5 and $7 a slice. I was expecting 120 people, and I can multiply as well as I can bake. The cost made me twitchy.

So I called my mom and opened my favorite cookbooks. I hauled obscene quantities of butter and eggs home from the grocery, ordered a few spare 12-inch round pans and started testing recipes.

For a while, friends and family tried to talk me down. I ignored them until it was too late for a backup plan, at which point they quieted and I refined my methods. There would be three layer cakes: citrus-sesame, passion fruit-coconut and chocolate-espresso. Two would be single-tiered, and the third, the citrus-sesame, would be a multilevel project. I planned to construct each cake a few days in advance and then freeze it, according to the technique chef and writer Natasha Pickowicz lays out in her book, “More Than Cake.” (I used Pickowicz’s recipes for all three cakes.) That way, the day of the wedding, I’d only have to make buttercream, ice the cakes and decorate them.

See? None of this would be stressful, I told anyone who would listen. And almost everyone asked the same question in response: Why are you doing this?

On cue, I recited my math problem. But as I candied hazelnuts and charred Meyer lemons in a massive Dutch oven in the days before the wedding, I realized I was telling only part of the story. Sure, I was gobsmacked by the cost of throwing this party, but that hadn’t stopped me from hiring a photographer or buying a new dress. Ingredients weren’t free, and neither were the antique platters I purchased for displaying the cakes. It was time to call my own bluff.

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Wedding planning did not come naturally to me. I felt like I’d been cast in a play and expected to speak a language I couldn’t grasp. So I bristled. I did things out of order. My husband and I booked a wedding venue before we were engaged. We got legally married in our living room 10 months before our reception. I wouldn’t let anyone throw me a shower, citing the decade I’d spent stocking my own kitchen. I refused to wear a white dress to the reception, citing my borderline ghostlike complexion.

I bulldozed traditions, except one: cake.

I’ve always paid undue attention to wedding cakes, always been the guest racing off the dance floor, wobbling on heels, to try a slice. There’s nothing so beautiful as a spectacle of a cake and nothing more delicious than a good bite, late at night, with sore feet and a sweet tooth. I hoped my cakes might swing the spotlight away from me, but that’s only part of the reason I made them. More than anything, I wanted to take ownership of a tradition, to contribute a couple thousand calories of joy.

In the months leading up to the big day, I barely worried about the playlist or the weather. I focused my attention on buttercream and curd, scaling recipes up and then down. Friends taste-tested. And, finally, I made a multiday, hour-by-hour cake-baking schedule. I felt downright serene.

I started one week before the wedding, chipping away at my list of components, labeling plastic containers and storing everything from soaks to streusels in the fridge and pantry. Three days out, I assembled the layers and froze the cakes. One day out, I made two batches of buttercream, iced my two smaller creations and stored them in the fridge. I stuck a Post-it note to the door: “Don’t mess up the cakes!”

The larger one remained in the freezer, not yet iced and still in separate tiers. I checked on it before bed.

On the morning of my wedding day, I whisked a hot sugar syrup for 10 minutes and called it a workout. The steam curled my hair, and the heat flushed my cheeks. My mom cleaned up behind me, and my best friend kept me on schedule. I set one cake tier on the other and iced. At one point, my last cake still half-naked, I turned to the two most important women in my life and felt tears prickle behind my eyes. “I’m so, so glad I decided to do this,” I told them.

That night, I missed the cakes entirely. By the end of the party, the only leftovers were a few buttercream-smeared plates scattered on tables throughout the restaurant. I’d been too busy dancing, surrounded by my family and best friends, to grab a bite.

The wedding, in my memory, is a fuzzy home movie on fast-forward. I can’t recall who complimented my dress or commented on the flowers. But I remember every single person who grabbed me and raved about the cake.


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