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Category: Discussion


Reflections on a cake

Thank you to everyone for having such nice things to say about the wedding cake I made. I’m definitely still learning and each time I come away with more knowledge on how I could have done it better.

pro shot of cake

This time, I kept a running spreadsheet as I was working so I could get a feel for what the actual costs and quantities were.

Here’s what I used:

  • 26 eggs
  • 6 lbs. powdered sugar
  • nearly a gallon of milk
  • 36 oz. shortening
  • 18 sticks of butter
  • 26 tsp. vanilla
  • 11 cups granulated sugar
  • 16 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
  • approx. 5 lbs. fondant
  • 3 oz. navy blue gel dye
  • and a cup or two of cornstarch

Crazy, right? Even crazier is that I bought more than I used of pretty much everything. I’ve got 3 boxes of butter chilling out in my fridge that I didn’t need, and an entire tub of shortening. Keeping a spreadsheet like this will help me to not over-buy in the future as I become more familiar with exactly how much stuff I need.

So, what does it cost to make a 3 tier wedding cake? This one was about $108. Nearly half of that is the price of fondant. I could have gotten the cost down if I’d payed attention to the price of some items and was more aware of exactly how much of each item I really needed. I think I could recreate the exact same cake for $80 if I had it to do over again.

You can see the jam!

That’s just the cost of the ingredients though. I spent around 40 hours on that cake, so if I were to charge someone $200 for it, that would have me making about $2.30 an hour after subtracting the ingredient costs. Not exactly lucrative. I’ll need to figure out how to get my costs down, and more importantly my time expenditure down, before I can even think about trying to use this skill as a source of income. I’m more than happy to do it for family and absorb all the costs myself, but I’m not interested in working that hard for spare change for people I barely know.

I’m making another cake in September for some friends of ours and I will be charging them the material costs this time, but still no labor costs. I’m still really happy to do this though because I see it as a gift we can give our friends, and it’s another trial run to see if I can lower my costs and time expended. I’m pretty excited to use this cake as my little “guinea pig” to show me if this is a viable business venture for me.

One great thing about making wedding cakes…leftover jam.

Strawberry jam dregs

I canned the rest of the strawberry vanilla jam and I’ve been putting it on everything. I can’t believe I’ve almost finished this jar! I’ve already bought some figs I intend to turn into jam too. I’m hooked!


Bryan & Caitlin’s wedding

The wedding was set in DeBarge Vineyards, way out in the middle of nowhere Lafayette, GA. Truly one of the most stunning settings for a ceremony I’ve ever seen.

Ceremony view 1Ceremony view 2

The owners of the vineyard built this grand outdoor event hall for their daughter who wanted to be married on the family property. Bryan and Caitlin were the first couple to actually pay to use the site, so they truly have a unique wedding experience! The unspoiled natural setting was breathtaking at every turn.

bunnies between the vines

The forecast threatened rain all week, but the sun was gracious enough to be out the whole weekend, highlighting the rolling green-carpeted mountains. Bryan and Caitlin exchanged their vows under a bright blue sky surrounded by family and friends.

Bryan and Caitlin's vowsKiss the brideHusband and wife

And Jeff made for a dapper groomsman!

Jeff as a groomsman

The wedding party…

Bryan and Caitlin's wedding party

And the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the finished wedding cake!

The finished wedding cake for Caitlin

I’m very proud of this cake, it came very close to the look I intended and Caitlin was very pleased. The poor thing though, it was over 80 degrees out the whole day and the fondant was starting to look shiny and the stripes were holding on for their dear lives!

Caitlin's cake topper

Posing with my cake

But the real question is: “How did it taste?”

Bryan and Caitlin cutting the cakeDelicious cake!

Delicious! The vanilla cake was still soft and buttery, the buttercream wasn’t melting in the slightest, and there was just the right amount of strawberry jam.

A cut in the wedding cakeYou can see the jam!

And Bryan had his very own groom’s cake in red velvet with a cream cheese icing. He’s a chemistry major headed to grad school in a few weeks, so this science themed cake was perfect for him.

Bryan's groom's cake

As the sun set, the mountains took on a shade of misty blue, and the light filtered through the rows of grape vines in golden ribbons.

Caitlin's bouquet toss

The newlyweds dashed off just before sunset on their way to a tropical honeymoon and a new life together.

Don't forget your sunglasses!

Thanks for allowing me to share this process with you again. It’s a lot of work, as you’ve seen, but for a result like this it’s hard not to want to do another one.

pro shot of cake



The finishing touches

I had everything finished except for the decorative stripes by the end of Thursday night. I knew I’d have only until 3pm on Friday to finish up before we needed to both be dressed, packed, and have the car loaded to head straight to the wedding site. We got up at 8am, and I thought, “Surely 7 hours is more than enough time to put a few stripes on a cake, right?” You see where this is going.

I got up and immediately got to work setting up the dining room with everything I’d need to get it done.

Cake supplies ready and waiting

The first item of business was to continue dying that piece of fondant navy blue with the two extra bottles of dye I’d gone out for the day before.

I’m gonna go ahead and show you this totally unflattering photo of me still in my pajamas just so you can see how rapt Lucas was with the swishy noises my gloves were making while I was kneading the fondant.

Lucas is watching me dye fondant

I am so glad I decided to buy two extra bottles of dye, because I used every last drop of both of them and even still I wish I had been able to get it a bit darker. Really, I needed a drop of black to make it the right shade of navy, but I got it close. I spent a solid hour adding dye and kneading it in and then even more time kneading in cornstarch to dry the fondant out a bit since all that dye made it a little too sticky.

Then, I had to clean up the area, re-dust it with cornstarch, and roll out the fondant. I had Jeff do some quick math for me to figure out how long I needed to make the stripes by determining the circumference from the diameter. Stay in school, kids.

Measuring a strip of fondantThat's a long strip of fondant

The largest tier needed stripes over a yard long! I had a lot of trouble with the stripes breaking as I was adhering them. I did my best to get the longest pieces possible onto the front of the cake and then fill in the back and try to hide the seams. Turns out the surface of my table was uneven and it kept making uneven stripes when I tried to cut on it. I lost a lot of time re-rolling and re-cutting to get a nice even thickness.

Covered in cornstarch

I also spent a lot of extra time trying to make the stripes perfectly parallel. I realized after the wedding was over that I should have made templates to line the stripes up against for perfect lines. Now I know.

Wetting the fondant to apply stripes

To adhere the stripes, you just brush the surface with a little water, being careful not to let it run. The water partially dissolves the fondant sugars on the surface, which then dissolve and bond with the sugars in the stripes. I had lot of trouble with the dye from the stripes running slightly and making a bit of a blue halo. I spent a huge chunk of time blotting it with paper towels to absorb the excess moisture, and then literally shaving the smeared dye off with an exacto knife. You’re starting to see where that 7 hours went now aren’t you?

elephant skin on the cake

Here’s an example of that “elephant skin” effect I was talking about last time. It’s sort of wrinkly and cracked looking. This happens when either the fondant is too dry or has been handled too much. In my case, it’s the dryness from having to use cornstarch to keep it from sticking to the table. For my next cake I’m going to invest in an oversized silicone mat to roll fondant out on. You don’t have to use cornstarch with one of those, reducing the possibility of unsightly elephant skin.

The whole time I was busy finishing the cake, Jeff was busy getting everything possible packed and in the car so we could head out ASAP. I finished with about an hour to spare, just enough time to get myself showered and dressed and pack the the last of my stuff up. We both carried the cake tiers out to the car and secured them in the back, then headed off on our 2+ hour drive to Lafayette, GA.

Undecorated cake in the fridge

We got to the wedding site about 2 hours before the rehearsal was set to start. I immediately got to work stacking the cakes on the wooden pedestal the wedding site provided for me. I used a paintbrush to brush off the excess cornstarch from the outside of the cake. Then, and this will sound really weird, I brushed the entire cake with a thin layer of shortening. I did this because the fondant had gotten dried out from the cornstarch and I needed to add some moisture back. Shortening helps to smooth out cracks and imperfections, but at the cost of making the cake shiny. I hoped that it would dry out a bit in the fridge before the wedding the next day.

On Saturday, the wedding day, all the wedding party needed to be at the site by 3pm for group photos. I spent this time putting the final touches on the cake which would need to be brought out at 5pm just before the ceremony started. I was so tired! (BTW, I chopped all my hair off! It was not cooperating that day though with all the heat and humidity.)

There was a bit of stress the previous day because some extra flowers had been saved for me to decorate the cake with, but they were all refusing to open. Luckily, they somehow all magically bloomed overnight and I had plenty to work with.

I put a silver “T” for Tucker on top and used some leftover boutonniere pins to pin a few roses just underneath it. The last step was to adhere the bow. I took all the pieces out and shaved off excess material with an exacto knife, then stuck them to the cake with a little water. One of the bow tails cracked as it draped over the edge of the cake, so I made a paste out of cornstarch and shortening and painted it into the crack. You would never know it was damaged.

This is not the best picture ever, but you can see what the finished bow looked like when all the pieces were laying next to each other.

bow close-up

That’s it for all the prep work. Next is the wedding and the finished cake!