From what I’ve learned in the past two weeks or so, wedding cake is all about deception.
You know that fancy, three-tier masterpiece everyone “oohhhs and ahhhs” over until the bride and groom smash it into each others’ faces?
That’s probably not the cake that you’re eating.
Shocking, I know. I never knew the “back-up cake” existed until a few weeks ago, either.
As with everything else wedding related, I suffered some serious sticker shock with the price of some eggs, sugar and flour and a little pretty white frosting. $7.50 a slice? Like, you mean one piece of cake … for one person. After all, a box of Betty Crocker is up to what, $1.50 these days? Maybe we can have wedding pie.
Ideally, you should order the cake at least six months before the wedding, but some websites suggest six to 10 months. Bakers book up just like DJs and caterers, and the more elaborate the wedding cake, the better it is to get it in the books. It’s best to start considering what you would like soon after you’ve chosen your reception site and the style of your wedding. You still can (and should) start to research wedding cake bakers as soon as possible. The research and selection process of finding a quality baker can take time. Also ask if your caterer does cakes. Some offer packages with the meal.
Your cake is often the focal point of the reception and a one-of-a-kind, making it a great opportunity to carry through the theme of your wedding. And while you want your cake to be absolutely delicious, you want it to look amazing before you smash it all over your future husband’s face.
I had no idea what I wanted my cake to look like, so the first thing I did was look at pictures online. There’s modern, square designs with fondant and bright colors; traditional white cakes with fluffy icing and lots of layers; and simple two-tier cakes with just a few ribbon embellishments.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I want to tie in our theme of books and our colors of teal and grey, but I want to keep the design simple and sophisticated. I found that I really like the look of fondant, but I’m not a fan of the taste. And I also really like the way piping can add a simple but elegant appearance.
Take a lot of pictures with you when talking to bakers or going on tastings, so the designer can get an idea of what you want your cake to look like. Find stuff you like online, such as on Pinterest, and take a laptop or other mobile device with you to the meetings that’s easy to show off what you like. I have all of my favorite cake designs on our Pinterest cake board, and I’ve found that’s the easiest way to show my potential cake people what I have in mind.
Also, take any and all information you have about your wedding: color swatches, an invitation, pictures of what your centerpieces will look like, a picture of your dress. Anything can be used as a starting point and provide inspiration.
Frosting or Fondant
Fondant is a special type of icing that is a sugar dough that’s rolled out and smoothed over the cake after it has been covered with buttercream icing to prevent moisture loss. The buttercream also helps the fondant stick. While it might look smoother and more fun, is hard to work with and usually costs more than going with regular icing. Personally, I prefer the taste of frosting over fondant, but it is harder to do intricate designs.
If you do decide to go with buttercream frosting, be cognisant of the fact that it will melt if the temperatures gets above 80 degrees. If your wedding is outside, your cake should NEVER be in the sun. It’s usually a good idea to have the cake inside.
“Buttercream and chocolate icings tend to melt in high temperatures, while a fondant coating will stay resilient no matter how hot it gets. The fondant coating can be peeled off to reveal the cake and interior icing and filling for those who don’t like fondant,” said Chef Paula Harper, The Yummy Tummy Cafe in Atlanta.
Fake it til you make it
Many brides will opt for a smaller, fancy display cake and use back-up cakes for the rest. One cake designer assured me that their backup cakes were made the same height and with the same fondant as the display cake, so guests would never know the difference. I never knew I was eating fake cake all these years.
Go in with a budget, and make sure your baker knows that budget. Many bakeries will work with you to get you a cake you want for the amount of money you can afford. This may mean going with a smaller display cake, but if done properly, it will still look just as nice. Make a smaller cake look more extravagant and a little larger with a fancy cake stand. This adds decoration while giving the cake some height that it would normally have if it were three, four or five tiers.
Some websites and magazines suggest using Stryofoam cakes as a less expensive option as filler on the top tiers. However, this usually isn’t completely accurate. What makes a wedding cake cost what it does, is the amount of labor and time it takes to make it look amazing. Whether that’s decorating Styrofoam or actual cake, a highly skilled decorator still has to be paid the same wage. According to RealButterCream.com, “Styrofoam is also more difficult to work with and is more expensive than the ingredients in a cake. If you are looking to save money on a wedding cake, you should choose a simple design for your cake. You may also save by going with a smaller cake, and making up the difference with ‘extra servings’ cake.”
Your wedding cake should be just as delicious as it is beautiful. There are dozens of combinations of cake and frosting flavors, but be aware that more flavors there are, the more difficult it is to serve them all. You will need to cut more layers of cake to get to the different flavors.
Because our wedding is in the fall, I have my heart set on pumpkin spice as one of our flavors. Christian and I went to a cake tasting last Sunday, and I’m definitely sold on the pumpkin. I also want to do cream cheese icing. My personal favorite is white or almond cake, so that’s a must, as well.
Cake tasting has been my favorite part of the planning stage so far. From the two that we’ve had, the bakers have been great about offering ideas and a huge variety of flavors. To keep our costs down, we are going with more common flavors of cake and icing, but some bakers offer dozens of different flavors.
Most bakeries won’t charge extra for your standard flavors of cake, but there are some really adventurous, tasty flavors if you want to experiment. Some offer “spirited cakes” with liquors like amaretto or Bailey’s Irish Cream incorporated into the flavor of cake or icing. Gourmet flavors are also something to consider. These can be flavors like mocha toffee crunch or cookies and cream. If cost is a concern, make the smaller tiers the more exotic flavors and the larger tiers the more common flavors, such as chocolate or vanilla.
Saving the top
Christian and I have decided that we’re probably not going to save the top of our wedding cake. I know what periogies are like after three months in the freezer, and I’m not sure I want to attempt eating a cake that’s been in there for a year.
One baker at theKnot.com suggests saving it for the end of the reception when you’re probably drunk and hungry. Or put it in your fridge for when you get back from your honeymoon. Relive the big day a week later! Mark Brickman, of the Barker’s Man Inc. in Alpharetta, Ga., also suggests cutting it into thirds and enjoying it on your anniversary date for the first three months.
Don’t pick up your own wedding cake. It takes special skills to carry a three-tiered wedding cake, and most bakers make you sign a clause saying you are responsible for whatever happens after that cake leaves the building.
Remember, some bakeries charge per mile, so if you find a bakery you MUST HAVE more than an hour away, you’re probably going to pay for it. Also, some bakeries charge extra to deliver on Sundays, as I’m finding with a Sunday wedding. Something to consider when finding a cake place.
A thought on cupcakes
Cupcakes are the latest trend in wedding desserts. If you want multiple flavors, this may be the easiest way to go about it. I am pretty traditional and very stubborn when it comes to wanting a full cake. I like the look and the taste better, and you get way more frosting with a slice of cake.
However, if you decide to go with cupcakes, you need to consider flavors of cake and icing, quantity and what you expect from the look of the cupcakes in your wedding photo. Does your baker provide cute stands or will they just be lined up on a table? Cupcakes provide a visual challenge that weddings cakes don’t. The little details, like stand decoration, become so much more important when you don’t have a cake to focus on.
“Lighting, lighting, lighting! When you’re planning where your cake will be at the reception, take lighting into consideration. If there is no spotlight lighting on your cake, when the ballroom lights are dimmed, your cake will be lost in the room! Sometimes we will spend a considerable time making a beautiful shade of pink (ie: to match the bridesmaids’ dresses) and then the ballroom lights are dimmed and what was pink, now looks beige! You want your cake to stand out the whole evening!” — Nadine Moon, Who Made The Cake, Houston, TX from theKnot.com
Make sure you call two weeks before your wedding to confirm that everything is clear and that your cake order has not been lost.
Don’t forget to do your research. Use websites like weddingwire.com and theknot.com to find reputable bakers and how they rated with other brides. You don’t want a baker who will make a disaster our your wedding cake!