Now that you know the story, here is a collection of tips I learned from attempting this project, as well as a big THANK YOU to all the resources I used to pull this off.
Use the freezer. Most blogs and cake sites I read recommended freezing the layers (for up to a week, wrapped in plastic), but a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour. The latter is the “flash freezing” technique, which I found to be the best trick for making frosting a breeze. Allow your cakes to cool, then place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and slide it in the freezer. When you pull them out to begin frosting, you’ll notice a big difference.
Swiss Buttercream. It’s true about the Swiss Buttercream—it will come together (yes, even if it separates). Just turn on your mixer and leave it alone. Leave the kitchen all together and when you return, it will have survived the curdled soup phase and look beautifully creamy. I panicked the first time (and even the second time) when I saw it lumpy in the bowl of my mixer, but magically, it will reach the consistency you need.
The all-important crumb coat. This is a thin coat of frosting that will cover any crumbs and ensure a smooth surface for adding the top layer of frosting. Put your cake back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to let crumb coat chill and harden before spreading on the final layer of frosting. It's truly the key to making your cake look like it came from a professional bakery.
Fondant. Fondant can be made at home, but I wasn’t about to add another thing to my to-do list this late in the game. With no shame, I bought boxes of the stuff at Gloria’s Cake Supply (fondant can also be found online). To roll fondant, first measure the amount you will need. Add the width of the cake plus the height of the two sides (in my case, 8+4+4 = 16. Wilton’s recommends adding another 2 inches, so my total was 18 inches).
Since my counter tops are tiled and not perfectly smooth, I cleared off my kitchen table, dusted it with powdered sugar, and spent the next ten minutes getting an upper body workout. Continue to roll and measure until the fondant is about ¼ inches thick and the width you need. Use your rolling pin to pick it up and gently drape it over the cake. Start by smoothing the top of the cake, then work your way down the sides, gently removing air bubbles as you go.
Ideally, fondant should be placed on a chilled frosting layer (I accidentally bypassed this step, considering later that it might have been useful. Thankfully, nothing was ruined). After the crumb coat, frost your cake, and if you’re planning to use fondant, stick it in the fridge again for 30 minutes before applying the fondant.
A brief plug for You Tube. Watching videos of cake decorating/frosting was especially useful for a first time wedding cake baker. Learn how to swivel your icing spatula or flatten fondant, and you’ll have an edge when you attempt these techniques yourself.
Smitten Kitchen. Deb made a wedding cake last year and her detailed posts gave me confidence to attempt one of my own. The Swiss buttercream and vanilla buttermilk cake recipes are adapted from her site.
Baking Supplies. If you live in a major city, there is likely a restaurant or baking supply store in your area (so Google!). LA folks: Head to Gloria’s Cake & Candy Supply in Culver City for all your baking essentials. For online shopping, Wilton’s, Gloria’s, and Amazon all have a large selection of products.
Here are a few more tools that will make this whole process easier:
Cake boards. Cake boards come in a range of materials from basic cardboard to gold and silver-coated boards that will give your cake a professional look and feel. Boards are generally inexpensive (under $1 for the cardboard variety, and depending on the decorative version you choose, anywhere from $2 to $10).
Cake boxes. Essential if you’re transporting your cake anywhere. If you aren’t making a tiered cake to be assembled on site, you can make the cake, frost and decorate, and slide it (on your trusty cake board) into the cake box.
Icing spatulas. A regular butter knife just won’t cut it for frosting cakes. Again, relatively inexpensive ($8-$30 depending on brand), it’s worthwhile to invest in icing spatulas if cakes or cupcakes will be in your foreseeable future.
Parchment paper. Lining your baking pans with parchment paper (you can cut them out yourself or buy pre-cut liners), will ensure your cake will turn out with ease. Also, an invaluable tip: Before frosting your cake, slide pieces of parchment or wax paper under the cake to protect it from falling icing. When you’re finished, gently pull them out to reveal a clean line between the cake and your board.
Looking for recipes? Find them here.