Like the best marriages, wedding cakes are built on firm foundations. The former rely on trust and love, the latter on sturdy separators and dowels. Knowing how much work goes into creating either one just might spoil the romance.
But once you understand the architecture of a wedding cake, the prospect of making one yourself becomes much less intimidating. Basic skills and supplies, patience, and time are all you need to create a classic cake. An industrious bride can do much of the work in advance and recruit helpers for assembling and decorating it on her wedding day. A keen amateur baker can offer to make a cake as the most personal of wedding gifts.
Still, making a wedding cake is not for the faintheart. Though no one skill is difficult to master, each step must be executed precisely: The layers must be perfectly straight, the dowels perfectly even, the icing perfectly smooth. Practice well before the event, and don't be too ambitious with your first. Once you've mastered basic cake construction, experiment with different shapes, colors, decorations, and designs.
The cakes in this article, made by Martha Stewart and wedding cake designer Wendy Kromer, are elegant enough for any party but simple to make. Both are constructed from tiers of yellow cake with apricot-jam filling; one is finished with Swiss meringue buttercream, the other with rolled fondant. Buttercream is versatile but not the best choice for an outdoor wedding in the summer -- it can melt in the heat. Fondant is easy to work with and produces a porcelain finish; it holds up well and even helps preserve a cake. Both cakes are decorated with fresh flowers, an inexpensive and romantic adornment.
The cake layers and buttercream can be frozen for several weeks. Jam filling keeps well in the refrigerator. Store-bought fondant is ready when you are. The day before the wedding, completely prepare the tiers, then refrigerate overnight.
To transport tiers, put each one in its own box (with double-sided tape between the box and cake round), and place on flattest surface in your car, away from direct sun. At the reception site, assemble and decorate the cake. Real flowers should be added as close to serving time as possible so they look fresh.
After all your hard work, not much time will pass between the instant the cake is finished and the ritualistic first cut. Take a moment to appreciate your creation -- everyone else will, too.