I made a wedding cake for my daughter's wedding, 3 tiers, 6 layers, chocolate butter cake with dark chocolate raspberry ganache filling, and white chocolate buttercream crumb coat under fondant.
I did it in july in the 90 - 100 degree heat, with no air conditioning. The wedding reception was in a plant nursery that had a nice outdoor space with two small refrigerators. (I had to empty one of them of all the shelves to be able to store the cake and had to measure it carefully to be sure that the box i would bring it in could be made to fit)
I started doing test cakes beginning in april. By late may i had chosen the cake. (I used rose levy beranbaum's cake bible, because it specifically gave recipies for wedding cakes, because some of those i tried would not have held up to the heavy frosting and filling. They were too soft. In june i began baking.
Consider how much time you can actually dedicate to the project. I work full time so it needed to be done on weekends, and in between i was trying to do all the other preparation, buying dishes, figuring out cheap tablecloths (ikea single sheets and some flea market embroidered ones), buying over a hundred liters of mineral water and finding several large wash tubs to keep them in under water, with some of the bottles having been frozen to keep it all cool), arranging for a reasonable bulk wine, buying wine carafes, a million tiny details i had to do myself. No bulk stores available here. A friend catered the food. The whole wedding was less than 1000 euros, and about 75 guests. Anyway, you can imagine what a lot of work. Most of the guests were coming in from the UK and the states and some were my personal friends (most were the friends of the bride and groom, as it should be) and i also wanted to spend time with them. So if this is not a wedding you have to organize yourself, and if you're just doing the cake and have plenty of time i think 3 days should be ok. But to give you a realistic idea of the bulk of work I'll break it down:
- Baking the layers: I began this about a month in advance. I have a small kitchenaid, and had to do only one or two layers at a time. I cooled them completely and then wrapped very carefully in plastic wrap and then foil, and i froze them.
- I prepared the raspberry reduction for the ganache filling, which was the most time consuming and annoying part. Took many hours, if i remember). - so i had it in advance and it was cold in the fridge. Your filling may not require so much time
- Filling the layers: On the two or three days before the wedding, i started filling two layers, still frozen, and put each pair with its filling on the cardboard bases (slightly smaller than the cakes), wrapped again very well and put back into the freezer. (90-100 degree heat in my kitchen, so no way i could do this without everything else being cold)
- Assembling the tiers - crumb coat and fondant: The last day before the wedding i made the crumb coat, put the crumb coat on a tier (two layers stuck together with ganache) and put the fondant over that. (I strongly recommend a crumb coat - a coating of frosting under the fondant. It keeps it from picking up crumbs, from the color showing through and it sort of glues the fondant to the cake and makes it smoother.) I inserted the straws in the two lower tiers (drinking straws cut to the height of the tier, about 6 in a circle slightly smaller than the cardboard of the layer above), Each tier went back in the freezer.
- assembling the cake: day before the wedding: When i finished the tiers, i put them all together. They were still frozen so i could work pretty easily. THe whole thing would have just slid around if i hadn;t. I also drove a dowel through all three tiers (the cardboards i used had a hole in the middle). That prevented some sliding. But i found that with the incredible heat the fondant was slippery. (I probably should have used boiled fondant, which actually tastes good, but i made the one with powdered sugar and (yuck) shortening, because i wasn't certain of my skill at the boiled one, and it would be too late at that point) but the fat in it melted and the layers were slippery. In the end i also had to insert a series of toothpicks around the layers, which i decorated over with a piping of royal frosting (and warned the guests about). If it hadn;t been summer, or if i had had airconditioning at home and at the wedding site, i wouldn't have needed them.
- Then i decorated the rest, with a few tendrils coming down from the top randomly around over the layers.
Many of my daughters friends were at the house and helped me with the heavy lifting and the strategic stake through the heart of the cake, and since she studied industrial design, so many of them were industrial designers, they devised a box from old corrugated cardboard boxes, that would fit the cake, keep it from sliding around in the car, and would fit the fridge, so we could carry it. We transported it to the wedding site and put it in the fridge. The caterer took it out when the reception began and it was completely defrosted by then.
People said it was the best wedding cake they ever had, and some said it was the best CAKE they;d ever had. Well worth the effort.
It's a really gratifying project. You just need to be experienced enough with every stage of it (cake making, frosting and filling making, laying fondant and smoothing it, assembling, and being able to troubleshoot as you go, and adapt if necessary on the spot.
I hope others give their experiences, since they will all have come across different problems.
I also had previously made a wedding cake for a friend - they wanted gingerbread - and i had never made one before. I did the layers and froze as this time, it was summer, as this time, and i hadn;t read about wedding cakes before. It was much appreciated, but luckily only 3 layers so the weight was not too much (didn;t use cardboards and straws) and i didn;t know about crumb coats. The outside was cream cheese frosting and it kept picking up the crumbs. If i had known i would have done a simple buttercream under the cream cheese, in a very thin layer, to trap the crumbs, and then let it harden before putting on the cream cheese frosting. It was not spectacular or anything, but she was happy with it. I did the frosting the afternoon of the wedding, which was a problem. Should have done it the day before.