Yes, You Can Make a Wedding Cake

Ever scroll through a friend’s wedding registry and feel uninspired by the cavalcade of appliances and trinkets? Consider going rogue and asking the couple if you can give them something major: a wedding cake.

With their vertiginous tiers, sculpted sugar roses and fondant as smooth as clay, professional wedding cakes are engineered to look good for long stretches of time — some even come with a sneaky Styrofoam layer — but they can fall short in flavor. A more personal homemade cake subverts expectations, and can feel less formal in the best possible way: big, exuberant and celebratory.

Baking a tiered wedding cake may seem ambitious, but you can break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks over a few days. In this recipe, everything — the tender chiffon cake layers, the sturdy buttercream, the flavorful citrus compote, the sesame crunch — can be refrigerated for days or even frozen for weeks, to no ill effect.

On the big day, the cakes are frosted and transported unstacked to reduce any anxiety-inducing bumpy car rides, then assembled and decorated on site. Elegant, edible décor is added in the final moments.

Worried about teetering cakes? Lots of thin, stacked layers are more structurally sound than a few thick layers glued together with icing. So, here, citrus syrup-soaked cakes and creamy filling are tucked into plastic wrap-lined pans, ensuring straight sides and a flat base.

Nervous about drooping frosting the day of the wedding? These cakes freeze overnight and gently come to temperature on the big day, which helps keep the finish cool and in place. And, because there’s no butter in the batter — the cakes are leavened with billowing egg whites — the layers don’t get crumbly and dry as they thaw under the sturdy Swiss meringue buttercream.

While more labor intensive than its American cousin (butter and confectioners’ sugar whipped together), a Swiss meringue buttercream is ideal for enrobing tiered cakes because of its heft and stability.

To make it, egg whites and sugar are whisked in a double boiler until emulsified, thick and hot; the mixture briefly cools before receiving a generous amount of butter. It’s then whip-whip-whipped until a silky buttercream emerges. Like the cakes, the buttercream (and the citrus compote) can be frozen and thawed at your convenience. Thaw them in the refrigerator the night before you’ll use them, then set them out at room temperature for an additional hour to let them become spreadable. (It doesn’t hurt to re-whip, either, for an optimally buoyant, glossy texture.) The crunch can be pulled directly from the freezer and scattered onto the cake layers.

If you’re not up for that big of a project, you can still offer to make something smaller — but still special — for the wedding.

Inspired by the Victorian-era tradition of groom’s cakes, this tender cocoa and olive oil cake is baked and served right out of its pan. Still popular in the American South, groom’s cakes — typically with a more robust flavor profile, like chocolate and aged spirits — are a cheeky addition to more classical wedding dessert spreads, a chance to get weirder, boozier and more playful.

Instead of thin, alternating layers of cake, buttercream and jam, this sheet cake is soaked with a whiskey- and coffee-spiked milk, then topped with a glossy boiled caramel glaze and a final dusting of cocoa powder.

Like any homemade gift, a D.I.Y. wedding cake is emotionally rich, allowing the effort, the care and the creativity of its maker to come through. Imperfections are inevitable, but they’re also kind of the point.

Sure, ordering a toaster oven is faster — but memories of a homemade wedding cake will outlast any appliance.

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