Know your limits. I told my brother and his fiancee that I just couldn't do the traditional tiered and elaborately decorated wedding cake. I didn't even frost my own wedding cake! I am not very good with the decorating and the piping and all that. Rustic is more my style.
They were happy to have multiple cakes, decorated simply with buttercream and flowers.
Keep your cake estimate low. Even when you are just serving hot hors d'oeuvres and bite-size sweets like we did at this reception, people just aren't going to eat that much cake. It's served at the end of the evening, a lot of people leave early, and they're already full. I dramatically overestimated how much we would need for this crowd of 200 guests; I made ten 4-layer cakes, and we only ate through about half. The rest went home with family, who didn't complain.
Keep the recipes simple. I really wanted to make my favorite buttercream, which includes cooked egg whites and is somewhat finicky. It is, however, light and airy. The work involved finally made me decide to just go with a plain American buttercream, which includes nothing more than butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and boiling water. This simple recipe tasted better than I expected.
Even when the recipe is simple, doing things in bulk takes time. And yet even that simple recipe, made in the quantities I needed, took hours -- an entire evening.
Make recipes you enjoy! One of the most fun things about making my brother's wedding cake was the chance to make his favorite raspberry cake - which has been his birthday cake of choice for years.
I baked all the layers the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings before the wedding and froze them. I defrosted on Friday evening, overnight into Saturday. I also made the vanilla and raspberry buttercreams on Friday night. Saturday morning I made a whipped chocolate ganache for the vanilla cakes, to balance out the sweetness of the vanilla cake and buttercream.
I assembled all of these at the reception venue in about four hours. Each cake needed a crumb coat, and then I let each cake chill for an hour before putting on the top layer. The final cakes got a sprinkling of coarse sugar and a few fresh flowers. They were displayed on my own glass cakestands, plus a couple others from a friend.
And that was it! The photos don't do it justice, unfortunately; it was very dim in the hall. But it was simple, not too difficult, and a gift from the heart. I know that many bakers could do fancier decorations, but this works for me, and it was so fun to do something so meaningful for someone I love.
Here are some of the recipes I used: