When To Delegate Making The Wedding Cake

With the average price for a wedding cake at more than $500 and climbing, it can be tempting to ask one of your chef-like friends to bake one for you (rather than doing it yourself). Face it, weddings are expensive, and most people do not have a venue owner, wedding planner, or dressmaker in their social network. But knowing a well-versed home baker or professional chef is increasingly common. And what better way to bestow a meaningful role upon someone important to you than by tapping them to help with the cake?

guest after all. 

Don't be fooled: Baking a wedding cake isn't easy. Even for a professional baker, it is a laborious project and the results can be "disastrous" if you lack a tried-and-true plan, says veteran Bay Area wedding planner Kathy Higgins. For example, beyond just the baking, somebody has to test, taste, transport, ice, garnish, display, cut, and serve the cake — all tasks that neither a couple nor wedding guest baker wants to worry about, and many of which are typically taken care of by caterers or event planner. (Photo courtesy of Abby Jiu)

But many contemporary wedding planners agree that cakes are no longer as important as they used to be. "The cake has become a more silent character at the wedding.  It is there to be seen not heard," meaning that the ceremonial cake cutting is often skipped today, says wedding planner Jessica Hester. Or perhaps there is no cake at all, and instead a tower of cheese rounds, pies, or cupcakes. "Most brides care so much more about having plenty of time to dance," says Hester.

If a cake is going to be a part of the wedding and a friend is being asked to make it there are two sets of perspectives to consider — for the bride, the fundamentals of making the request, and for the friend, there are the challenges of pulling the whole thing off. As such, following are tips for the bride and the lucky baker.

Be Confident in Your Choice It's a cliché, but there's truth in it: Use your common sense. If you're going to delegate cake-making to your friend, you should above all feel confident in the quality of your friend's cooking, specifically their baking, and hopefully, in your friendship, too. And remember, a great chef is not necessarily a great baker! If you have any doubts, hire a professional. 

For a master chef, quadrupling a cake recipe for a special occasion is not a major undertaking, but for an amateur baker without a commercial mixer or large pans, it can be daunting. Your friend might be better suited for a different role, such as a photo slideshow organizer or even a bridesmaid, in which case her bridal party duties alone could easily become overwhelming.

Consider the Size The larger the wedding, the more you're asking for, so a DIY cake is generally better-suited to a more intimate wedding. If it's a large, destination wedding, a professional should probably bake the cake, says Higgins.

Make the Request Thoughtful Have an honest one-on-one conversation in which you extend the invitation in a calm and clear manner — maybe take your friend to brunch. Emphasize the personal significance of the gesture and avoid putting the person on the spot — don't pressure them by needing an immediate answer or asking in front of others, except maybe the groom if they are close. You want them to feel honored, trusted, flattered, and confident. (Photo courtesy of istock/Nuno)

Pay Fairly Compensation is in order, financial or otherwise. Any non-professional that helps with your wedding is doing you a favor, and participation is expensive, whether it's a bachelor party indulgence, a bridesmaid dress, or cake ingredients.

Even if you're set on a homemade cake, get some estimates for a professional cake to estimate how much transportation and materials costs. Most planners say a couple should absolutely pay for cake ingredients and accept the homemade cake in lieu of a wedding gift. Or they should offer to defray some other costs, such as inclusion in a group rate hotel reservation set aside for family, a plane ticket, or a rental car. Or say thank you after the wedding with a simple note, event tickets, or a restaurant gift certificate, suggests Elizabeth Lowe of Lowe House Creative

Be Realistic Don't go all bridezilla here. "Always ask for, not demand, favors," says Lowe. "And also remember that it is completely within people's rights to politely refuse — they don't owe you a favor just because they're your friend." And if you know exactly what you want, share that information. Even if your best friend is making the cake, don't expect him or her to read your mind.

If you're the lucky baker, below are some tips about what to expect and what will be expected of you.

Be Honored Celebrate the couple and do your best to organize and give them what they want without overburdening yourself. Do this through a clear initial outline of what the couple wants and then ideally try to organize details with the delegated planner and catering team to avoid bridal micromanagement. 

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew Making a wedding cake is a big responsibility, so be sure to consider how the cake fits in with the day.

Obviously, with a larger cake, elaborate decoration, and quality ingredients will incur higher costs, and be trickier to transport and serve. Along with the bride and groom, establish exactly where and when to make, store, transport, probably store again, assemble, and finish the cake, keeping in mind temperature requirements.  

Do Your Research Test some recipes if necessary, and practice the chosen one. Know how far in advance you can make, wrap, and freeze cake layers. Decide where you will frost the cake (on site?), and ensure the space is the appropriate temperature to keep the cake from melting.

Consider the Climate (and Your Materials) Making a cake for a summer wedding? Avoid buttercream frostings and chocolate, especially those with minimal stabilizing chemical ingredients, as they are highly sensitive to heat. One cheat may be to use or mix in some store-bought frosting. The same goes for garnishes. Fresh fruits are expensive and highly perishable, making them susceptible to turn color and bleed even if they are fresh and top quality.

Shop Smart Consider the cake's size and how you're transporting it (especially if you're moving it alone). There are numerous reliable and reasonably-priced cake stands, domes, and carriers on the market and they can all be bought online.

Manage Expectations After you're tasked with making the cake, task the couple with researching what they want (flavor, theme, shape, size), as well as how they want the cake to fit into the day. Make a schedule, as early and detailed as possible. You may want creative license, and you may get it, but it is important that the couple be specific about any preferences in order to minimize potential disappointment and resentment.

Know What You Need Contact the venue to gain a thorough understanding of what the venue offers (refrigeration, space, distance between the kitchen and the eating space, available equipment, and cutting utensils) and how the couple wants the cake to fit into the flow of the day.  

Consider the finished product. How will the cake be displayed? Will there be supplemental desserts such as cupcakes or truffles, and if necessary, can another friend make these? (Photo courtesy of Flickr/HindsightBride)

Have Fun If you made the cake, you still have to have fun, too. Most planners agree that you're off the hook with the burden of setting up, cutting, and serving the cake — that's what caterers are for. (Unless the couple is on an extremely Spartan budget.) So you should make it to the dance floor along with everyone else.