Do-it-yourself wedding cakes

Tips for Doing it Yourself Wedding Cakes:

  • Let the bride and groom guide the design process, but stay within your comfort zone.

  • Avoid overly fragrant flowers; the icing will absorb the aroma.

  • Get advice at your favorite cake supply store - San Jose's Cake Works, for example, or Berkeley's Spun Sugar - or read "Wedding Cakes You Can Make" by Dede Wilson.

  • Allow plenty of time and enlist plenty of help.

  • Consider purchasing a thin plastic mat for moving layers and a cake leveler, a $3 cutting tool. Measure your oven before investing in large, professional quality cake pans. Measure the width of every doorway, from kitchen to reception hall.

  • You will need your entire refrigerator to chill and store cake tiers. Freezing layers makes cutting and icing easier. Pipe a bead of frosting along the outside edge of each torte layer before you spread the filling inside. Apply a crumb coat - a very thin frosting layer - and chill the cake well before applying the final frosting.

  • Test your recipes beforehand. The Crowleys use Duncan Hines cake mixes for their cakes; the Browns favor Gourmet magazine's classic white cake and marshmallow fondant (Google "Gourmet magazine marshmallow fondant" for the recipe).

  • Transport decorated layers separately, marking the fronts so they stack properly. Tuck a square of nonslip shelf liner or soft foam under each to prevent sliding. Bring extra frosting and flowers for touch-ups, and assemble the decorated cake tiers on site.

  • Double check who will be serving the cake. The caterer may charge a slicing fee, and the restaurant or hotel may have liability concerns with a non-bakery cake.
Make a Wedding Cake? Yes, We Can!
By Lee Crowley and Nancy Crowley

It's very rewarding to be invited to help make somebody's dreams come true. We began this process when Nancy's son announced his engagement. A college friend who made all of her family wedding cakes inspired us to think, somewhat naively, we could do that too.

As sisters-in-law, we have been cooking and baking together for nearly 40 years -- a tradition of fun and good eats that began the year we both married into the same large family. We suspected that it would be a little challenging to make a wedding cake but never suspected how much fun and satisfying it would be.

First we experimented with a 3-tier Engagement Party cake. We bought a book, studied the baking and construction of tiered cakes, and bought three round cake pans. Our engineer husbands were in charge of the cake's infrastructure. The proposal took place while the bride- and groom-to-be made a snowman.

She was sent off to look for snowman eyes and he put the engagement ring on one of the snowman's twig arms. When she returned, he went down on one knee & pointed to the snowman's arm -- Surprise! The Engagement Cake, a tribute to this romantic proposal, was a hit: 3 tiers frosted with white butter cream and covered with white chocolate curls to evoke a snow-covered mountain with a Lenox snowman sporting a ring on its arm as the cake topper.

It was a success and we were delighted when this couple asked us to help them stay within their wedding budget by baking their wedding cake.

That's how 'Aunties and Company' was born. Lee and I (Nancy) are the aunties and the company is Jim and Jerry, our respective husbands, along with a multitude of family members who have contributed their time and talents, and lots of laughter, along the way. We have made seven wedding cakes for niece/nephew weddings, and the eighth is on the drawing board (we have 33 nieces and nephews).

An enterprise that began as a way to help a young couple manage their wedding expenses is well on its way to becoming a family tradition. Don't think you have to stay home to have this much fun - five of our seven cakes have been baked hundreds of miles away from our home kitchens. No matter the flavor or size or shape of the cake, the most plentiful ingredient is love.

Cake #4 ("Crash Cake"): Nancy baked and froze the cake tiers in San Jose; Lee made a luscious Italian meringue butter cream frosting in Menlo Park and froze each batch. We packed two cars with all the kitchen equipment and ingredients we might possibly need to make the fillings, then assemble, frost, and finish the cake on Friday at the hotel in Ontario, California where the reception would be on Saturday.

On the trip south, Jim and Lee were rear-ended by a runaway semi-truck on a downhill section of the Grapevine. Jim and Lee were OK, but the contents of their crushed car, including suitcases, frosting, fillings, kitchen equipment, etc., were strewn across all lanes of southbound I-5 - a total loss.

The accident occurred during the night. When the paramedics arrived, they couldn't figure out why they were slipping and sliding…and what was that sticky red stuff on Lee's back? She didn't appear to be bleeding (thankfully!). It was a mixture of butter cream and raspberries! On Saturday, the hotel catering staff offered their own butter cream frosting and a mixer for blending fillings - and the cake production went forward without any additional hitches.

About Jackie Burrell:

Jackie Burrell is Food Editor for the Bay Area News Group (Contra Costa Times, San Jose Mercury News, and Oakland Tribune) you can Follow her on Twitter

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