Our step-by-step guide to planning, baking, assembling, and serving a delicious, handcrafted wedding cake
A beautiful, many-layered cake is the perfect symbol for a wedding: like the happy occasion itself, it’s sweet, festive, and, above all, meant to be shared with those you love.
A handcrafted wedding cake is perhaps the most special gift you can receive from a beloved friend or family member who loves to bake. And making an exceptional wedding cake is a project that almost anyone can take on; you don’t need professional baking experience or a background in architecture to construct a cake that’s delicious, stable, and beautiful.
Each step of making a wedding cake is easy, but the whole procedure might seem daunting. Our countdown breaks down the process, step by step:
1 week ahead
- Bake orange sponge cake layers (recipe follows). Let cool completely, then wrap airtight and freeze.
1 day ahead
- Thaw cake layers at room temperature.
- Make Grand Marnier-marmalade filling (recipe follows).
- Make 1½ recipes Grand Marnier whipped cream (3 quarts, measured after whipping, recipe follows).
- Split cake layers (step 1 of Wedding Cake Assembly); sandwich with marmalade and cream (step 2). Frost layers with first coat of cream (step 3); chill until next day.
2 to 4 hours ahead
- Make remaining 1½ recipes Grand Marnier whipped cream (3 quarts, measured after whipping); chill until ready to use.
- Frost each layer with outer coating of cream (step 4).
- Chill until ready to stack layers; transport layers to serving site before stacking.
- Insert supports in cake layers (step 5) and tier, garnish, and decorate cake (steps 6 and 7).
- Chill until ready to serve. If finished cake does not fit in refrigerator, chill layers until 2 hours before serving, then assemble. For an outdoor wedding or if weather is hot, keep cake in a shaded or cool area, or chill until ready to serve.
What you need to make a wedding cake:
- Round cake pans (6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-in. diameter) with sides at least 2 inches high. Nonstandard pan sizes are available at cake decorating supply stores and Sur La Table.
- Cardboard cake rounds (6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-in. diameter), sold in cake decorating supply stores.
- Plastic drinking straws (cut off the flexible portion if necessary) or 1⁄4-inch wooden dowels (sold in hardware stores; you will need pruning shears to cut them).
- A narrow, flat-bladed offset or icing spatula.
- A pastry bag and a plain 1⁄4-inch tip for piping cream at base of each layer; decorative tips for piping any embellishments on the finished cake.
Wedding cake recipe: Orange Sponge Cake
Prep and cook time: About 6 hours to make all layers (or about 1½ hours per layer)
Notes: For the 12-inch layer, you will need to use a hand-held mixer to beat the egg whites (step 3), unless you have an extra-large standing mixer. Depending on the volume of your beaten egg whites, you may have batter left over from one or more cake layers; bake extra batter in muffin tins to make cupcakes.
Makes: Four cake layers
For the 6-inch layer
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1⁄4 cup (1⁄8 lb.) butter, melted
- 1⁄2 teaspoon orange extract
- 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
- 1⁄8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1⁄2 cup superfine or granulated sugar
- 1⁄2 cup cake flour
For the 8-inch layer
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1⁄2 cup (1⁄4 lb.) butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 cup superfine or granulated sugar
- 1 cup cake flour
For the 10-inch layer
- 9 large eggs, separated
- 3⁄4 cup (3⁄8 lb.) butter, melted
- 1½ teaspoons orange extract
- 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
- 3⁄8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1½ cups superfine or granulated sugar
- 1½ cups cake flour
For the 12-inch layer
- 12 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup (1⁄2 lb.) butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons orange extract
- 4 teaspoons grated orange peel
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 cups superfine or granulated sugar
- 2 cups cake flour
1. To make each cake layer: Butter the bottom of the appropriate pan. Line the bottom with cooking parchment or waxed paper. Butter paper and dust with flour.
2. In a bowl (at least 3 qt. for 6- and 8-in. layers, 5 to 6 qt. for 10- and 12-in.), stir together egg yolks, melted butter, orange extract, and orange peel.
3. In a large bowl (at least 6 qt. for 12-in. layer; see notes at top of story), with an electric mixer at high speed, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until mixture holds very soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, beating until sugar is completely dissolved and whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Add whites to yolk mixture and sift flour over whites; using a flexible spatula, gently fold in, deflating the batter as little as possible.
4. Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread level (pan should be about 3⁄4 full). Bake in a 350° oven until top springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 30 minutes for 6-inch layer, 35 to 40 for 8-inch, 45 to 50 for 10-inch, and 50 for 12-inch. (Smaller layers may be baked simultaneously; bake the 12-in. layer by itself.)
5. Set cake layer on wire rack to cool completely. Run a knife around edges of cake to release. Invert layer onto matching-sized corrugated cardboard round. Peel off paper.
Grand Marnier Whipped Cream
Prep time: About 5 minutes
Notes: Be sure your cream is very cold before whipping. The cream may be whipped up to 2 hours before using; cover and chill. You will need a total of at least three full batches: half a recipe (1 quart, measured after whipping) to fill cake layers (step 2 of “Wedding Cake Assembly”), one recipe for the crumb coating for all layers (step 3), one recipe for final frosting of all layers (step 4), and at least half a recipe for piping (or up to a full recipe for more elaborate decorations).
Makes: 2 quarts (8 cups)
- 1 quart whipping cream (see notes above)
- 1⁄4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange flavored liqueur
In a large bowl, with a mixer at high speed, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and Grand Marnier; beat until cream holds stiff peaks.
Grand Marnier–Marmalade Filling
Prep time: About 5 minutes
Makes: About 3½ cups (enough for a 4-tiered wedding cake)
- 3½ cups orange marmalade
- 1⁄4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
In a bowl, stir marmalade and Grand Marnier until well blended.