Selecting your wedding cake is super fun. It’s the perfect excuse to sample all kinds of delicious yumminess! Traditionally, a wedding cake would have three tiers with generic figurines of a bride and groom on top. Job done. These days, however, the sweet factor has been turned up a notch and couples are getting imaginative. Now you can choose from a wide variety of tastes: from lemon to carrot to angel food to deep, dark chocolate. And fillings can run the gamut from liqueurs to exotic fruit purees to mocha-flavored mousse. There are so many fabulous flavors to choose from that many couples are selecting different combinations for each layer.
You may choose to go with a traditional tiered or stacked cake, or you might opt for an elaborate multi-flavored design that covers an entire table instead. You might prefer a brilliant red icing trim to match your roses. Or perhaps the “champagne” frosting style of cream on cream or white on white is your idea of true elegance. Then again, maybe cream on white, or white on cream is more to your taste. You get the idea!
Cake design has developed into an art form restrained only by your budget – and your baker’s style and technique. You can be as creative or as traditional as you like. Sit down as a couple and talk about your individual visions of the perfect wedding cake. What styles speak to you? What are your favorite flavor combinations? You may find that you have very similar ideas in mind. Then again, perhaps you’ll decide that this will be your first separate “his” and “hers” purchase. The important thing is to enjoy the truly mouth-watering selection process. Bon appetit!
- Food for Thought
- Icings & Decorations
- Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cake Designer
- Costs Involved
- The Contract
- Fun Ideas
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The wedding cake has been a highly anticipated ingredient of the marriage celebration since early times. Ancient Greeks threw small cakes at the bride and groom in the same way we toss flower petals or rice today. The Romans broke a cake over the bride’s head to symbolize fertility – and guests scrambled for the crumbs to share in her good fortune.
During the Middle Ages, newlyweds began sharing their first kiss over a stack of cakes that symbolized future prosperity. A 17th-century French chef decided to improve on the stacking concept by covering the cakes in icing. The towering tiers of many modern cakes take the frosted stack idea a step higher and are thought to mirror the unusual spire shape of St. Bride’s Church in London.
The groom’s cake is another symbolic tradition that’s been around for quite some time. It’s loosely based on the belief that a single woman who slept with a piece of wedding cake under her pillow would dream of her future husband. Visions of gooey frosting stains aside, this secondary cake is making a comeback. The groom’s cake can be served at either the rehearsal dinner or alongside the wedding cake at the reception.
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Food for Thought
- Decide on a particular style and size of cake before asking for quotes. You can always decide on a different design later, but you want to be sure that you are comparing costs apples to apples.
- Consider the surroundings of your reception when making your selections. Hint: buttercream melts quickly in outdoor summer heat!
Keep your guests in mind when making your flavor selections. Many people are allergic to the more exotic toppings and fillings such as coconut or poppy seeds. Consider using these ingredients on a single cake tier or a separate dessert if you really want to use them.
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Ask the reception site management for suggestions on where to place the cake and determine table options for its presentation. If possible, take pictures of the table and surrounding area to share with your cake designer.
- Make all other decorative decisions before designing your cake. That will ensure its compatibility with your theme, the site decorations, the menu, your gown and the flower arrangements.
- Many couples save the top layer of wedding cake to eat on their first anniversary. Don’t use aluminum foil – it allows freezer burn! Instead, bind the cake in plastic wrap and seal it in an airtight plastic bag.
- Make sure that your cake is large enough to offer at least one slice to every guest, especially if you plan on saving your top tier for later.
- Silk flowers, fresh blooms and greenery, ornate bows, strings of pearls, gold or silver leaf accessories, colorful balloons or beads, and swags of tulle or lace can add personality to your cake. Just remember to have the non-edible decorations removed before serving!
“Cake tops” (figurines on top of the cake) are very popular. The traditional ones include a bride and groom, lovebirds, bells or two wedding rings, but these days couples are getting more creative.
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The bride usually cuts the first two slices of the cake with the groom’s hand on hers. The groom feeds the bride, then the bride feeds the groom – some couples go for the “comedy smoosh”, whereas others are more delicate. For more on cutting the cake, visit
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Icings & Decorations
A super-smooth sugar icing that’s rolled out and draped over cakes. It has a matte finish, which makes it perfect for brocade work, appliqués and sugar flowers to be added on top. It can even help to preserve the cake and is an ideal choice if the cake is too big to refrigerate.
A buttery, soft icing that can be tinted any shade and blended with any ingredient to be spread onto a cake or piped into patterns. It melts easily, so if it’s on top of or in a cake, it should be kept in the fridge and bought out just before cutting and serving it. Read the debate of fondant verses buttercream.
A mixture of egg whites, sugar and a sprinkling of cream of tartar, a meringue is a fluffy but sturdy frosting. On wedding cakes, its main purpose is for sculptural piped decorations.
A truly decadent filling or frosting made from heavy cream and chocolate. Warning: humid weather and ganache don’t mix!
This is light and airy, and can be flavored with any extract. It dries hard and is best used to pipe delicate details.
A filling or icing developed with whipped cream for a light, silky texture.
Icing is squeezed through a nozzle to produce all kinds of pretty details – bows, ruffles, petals, leaves, shells, swirls, dots, and more! Royal icing, buttercream and meringue work well with piping.
A paste made from ground almonds and sugar, marzipan can be used to make all kinds of shapes – from flowers to fruit to… whatever you like!
Blueberries, strawberries and currants hold up really well. It’s best to use fruit that’s in season and kept whole – once sliced, the juices will run, which could mess up the design.
Edible flowers – like roses, pansies and violets – shouldn’t have been near pesticides if you plan to use them on the cake. Non-toxic flowers should be removed before the cake is served, while toxic flowers should be nowhere near the cake.
A sugary dough that dries very hard, it’s perfect for precise details like tiny flowers.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cake Designer
Can I get a custom-made design?
You want to know whether a baker will create a custom cake or only allow you to choose from a set selection of designs. Be sure to look at their portfolio to get an idea of their style and decorating skills. And don’t hesitate to ask about less expensive alternatives to the more lavish creations.
How do you make your cakes? How far in advance?
Clearly, the better the ingredients and preparation, the better the cake! Freshness counts too, so you want the cake made as close to your event as possible.
Who will set up the cake? Who will be serving?
Talk to your baker about how you’d like the cake table to be set up. You also need to determine who will cut and serve the cake. Ask if this service is included. If not, you’ll need to make arrangements with your caterer.
Does the price include the top cake tier?
Many bakers throw in the top tier for free, but be sure to ask.
Does the state health department license you?
A licensed cake designer has met all health department standards.
How do you handle rentals?
You may need pillars or columns for your tiers. Make arrangements to have these returned or picked up.
Do you provide a cake-cutting knife?
If not, you will have to buy or rent one.
Will you coordinate the cake delivery with the site management?
You or the designer will have to arrange for delivery and set-up of the cake. Consider the time needed for assembly and cake service as well as details like whether on-site refrigeration will be required.
How do you handle emergencies like personal illness or delivery problems?
Your wedding cake is an integral part of your celebration. A baker without a back-up plan is a not a good choice.
Will you coordinate decorations with the florist?
If you choose to adorn the cake with fresh flowers, make sure that the blooms are not treated with any type of harmful chemicals. Talk to your designer and florist to decide which one will decorate the cake and who will trim the table.
Wedding cakes come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. Cost is calculated per slice depending on ingredients and labor involved in creating your design. Average prices fall between $1.50 and $5 a slice, but an elaborate creation can run three to four times higher!
That means a five-tier cake that feeds 200 guests will cost at least $300 and could run up to $4,000 for a “couture” creation like those in the bridal magazines. You are primarily paying for the designer’s time, but the ingredients you choose, where you are marrying (costs are higher in big cities) and the complexity of the design can also influence the price.
Be prepared to leave a substantial (and usually non-refundable) deposit to reserve your date. Many bakeries are booked up to a year in advance. Fortunately, you won’t have to make your design selections this early. You are simply reserving the date. Final payment is usually expected two weeks or more prior to the wedding.
Ask your designer about delivery and set-up fees. Those costs are often – but not always – covered by the per-slice cost. Make sure you get a written breakdown of all services and fees.
Most caterers and reception sites charge a “cake-cutting fee” if the cake is brought in from an outside bakery. They charge per slice and it can be expensive so that you’re enticed to buy the cake from them. Sly devils!
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Your wedding cake is too important to be left to chance. Get all order details and service agreements in writing. And make sure that all your questions and concerns have been addressed before you sign. Your agreement with the cake designer should include:
- Reception date
- Cake style and flavor(s) of each layer
- Description of the decorations
- Description of the cake topper
- Number of layers
- Type of filling between each layer
- Frosting type and flavor
- Acceptable substitutions if a certain flavor, frosting or filling becomes unavailable
- Deadline for guest count including fees for any changes after this date
- Proof of licensing and liability insurance
- List of server duties including delivery, set-up and cake service
- List and description of any rentals plus terms for return or loss
- Exact reception location including street address and room name or number
- Exact time of delivery
- Total price including all rentals, service fees, taxes and gratuities
- Due date for deposit
- Balance amount and due date
- Disposal of leftover cake
- Back-up plan in case of an emergency
- Cancellation and refund policy
- Designer’s name, contact information and signature
The trend for cupcakes at weddings is increasingly becoming the norm – either stacked high instead of a main cake or in addition to. Or how about mini cupcakes on a stick? Genius!
For ideas, visit:
- DIY (sort of): Dolling Up Your Cupcakes with Ticings
- Cake on a Stick! Offbeat Bride Brings Us an Alternative to Traditional Cupcakes
For that certain je ne sais quoi, a macaroon tower (sweet treats made with sugar, egg whites, almond paste or coconut) will hit the right note. And they come in all kinds of gorgeously vivid hues, so you can go wild with your color scheme.
If sweet just won’t cut it, some couples go for a “cheesecake” consisting of stacked cheddar, goat’s cheese, stilton… or whatever other cheeses get your juices flowing.
Instead of – or as well as – a cake, a sweet table will give your guests the sugar rush they need to dance all night! Include desserts, pastries, candy, cookies or anything else laced with enough sweet stuff to put Willy Wonka’s factory to shame.
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Want your guests to remember your wedding as the one that made them feel special? Give them a mini cake all to themselves!
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