Homemade wedding cakes bring a special touch

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. _ Martha Stewart has some stiff competition. Turns out lots of brides, grooms, aunts and parents have channeled their inner Martha to bake their own multi-tiered cakes.

For some families, the cake becomes a way to celebrate ancestry. Sunnyvale, Calif., bride Sandy Wambold baked English fruitcakes. Bridegroom Dave Hedges made a traditional Danish Kransekage, a stunning, stacked almond ring cake, when he married Angela Elsey in San Jose.

For others, it's a loving gift to a newly extended family. Los Gatos, Calif., resident Wendy Barnett's father-in-law made her cake — a sumptuous chocolate, with coffee crunch brickle and hundreds of handmade, white chocolate flowers.

Of course, there are reasons home bakers find wedding cakes so intimidating. They're undeniably big.

And transporting an unstable cake can be a scary thing.

Wedding cakes need a supporting cast, agrees Diana Blazick Serriere, who married her high school sweetheart. Her friends delivered her homemade cake to the reception, the florist put on the final touches, and the photographer captured the entire production, from batter to first slice.

Wedding cake tips

* Let the bride and groom guide the design process, but stay within your comfort zone.

* Avoid overly fragrant flowers; the icing will absorb the aroma.

* Get advice at your favorite cake supply store or read "Wedding Cakes You Can Make" by Dede Wilson.

* Allow plenty of time and enlist plenty of help.

* Consider purchasing a thin plastic mat for moving layers and a cake leveler, a $3 cutting tool. Measure your oven before investing in large, professional quality cake pans. Measure the width of every doorway, from kitchen to reception hall.

* You will need your entire refrigerator to chill and store cake tiers. Freezing layers makes cutting and icing easier. Pipe a bead of frosting along the outside edge of each torte layer before you spread the filling inside. Apply a crumb coat — a very thin frosting layer — and chill the cake well before applying the final frosting.

* Test your recipes beforehand.

* Transport decorated layers separately, marking the fronts so they stack properly. Tuck a square of nonslip shelf liner or soft foam under each to prevent sliding. Bring extra frosting and flowers for touch-ups, and assemble the decorated cake tiers on site.

* Double-check who will be serving the cake. The caterer may charge a slicing fee, and the restaurant or hotel may have liability concerns with a non-bakery cake.