Cake tasting. Those two words might very well be the two most beautiful words in the English language. No wait. Maybe it’s buttercream frosting. Let’s face it, there are not going to be too many times in your life when you can while away an afternoon sampling wedding cake, guilt-free. With all the sometimes-grueling decisions you are faced with when planning a wedding, choosing your cake is hands down the most fun! Consider the following topics and tips to help you navigate the sweet path to your personal confection perfection.
Do you have an idea of how much of your wedding budget you would like to appropriate for the cake? What is the number of guests expected at the reception? Most bakers price wedding cakes by the slice, which could vary from $1.50 a slice all the way up to $15 or more a slice. Generally, three tiers will serve 50 to 100, and you’ll likely need five layers for 200 or more guests. Just keep in mind that all bakers are different and may have different pricing policies.
Naturally, the more complicated the cake, the costlier it will be. Labor-intensive details such as fondant icing, flourishes of sugar-paste flowers, an abundance of piping, and elaborate shapes, will result in a higher price. For cost-cutting measures, you could serve your guests “half-servings.” Or you could order a smaller version of your dream cake to have on display and to use for the cutting-of-the-cake photos. Then for the guests, you could have sheet cakes made with the same ingredients and frosting as your display cake. The sheet cakes could be “hidden” in the kitchen and sliced up by the catering staff.
Another option would be a “deconstructed” wedding cake. Instead of the time-consuming process of stacking multiple cakes into a tower structure, the cakes are displayed as individual mini-cakes.
Bear in mind that not everyone will eat cake. They may have overdone it on the yummy crab dip or they can’t be lured from the dance floor where they’re basking in enthusiastic applause for their impressive moves.
It’s important to have decided on a budget before meeting with the baker. You don’t want to slip into a sugar coma and lose your ability to think sensibly.
What is your vision for your cake? Before your bakery consultation, think about what you like and explore your options. If you’re in need of a little inspiration, do you dare check out the gazillion cake photos on Pinterest and risk wedding cake photo overload? Some brides have an overlying theme for their wedding and choose to have the cake design follow suit. You may wish to coordinate with the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses. Or choose to complement the venue or environment. It’s no surprise that beach-themed cakes are popular on the Outer Banks!
If your ceremony will take place in a garden you might choose to decorate the cake with real seasonal flowers. Hydrangeas in blue, pink, lavender, or white are particularly lovely and large – two or three will provide maximum impact. Also, look to the bridesmaids’ bouquets for inspiration.
A traditional cake is round. Square cakes are unique and provide lots of surface area for creativity. A square cake will generally feed more guests because it can easily be cut into uniform pieces. Oval shaped cakes are on the rise. Does anyone fancy a three-dimensional cake?
Choose a Reputable Bakery
Allow enough time to choose your wedding cake – about 3 to 4 months. Begin your search online. Check out the websites of local bakers and prepare to be amazed as you view the marvelous creations of the talented bakers here on the Outer Banks. Their cakes rival anything you would find in a large city. Read customer feedback and reviews.
Perhaps you’ve attended a friend’s wedding recently and found the cake served at that event to be delectable. Make an inquiry to determine the responsible baker. Also, check with your caterer as they might provide wedding cakes.
When you find a baker whom you feel will meet your needs, arrange a meeting for a cake consultation. Share some of the details of your wedding, especially the reception venue, and let them know what you envision for the cake. Take along color charts, fabric swatches, photos, etc., to better convey your ideas. If you’re still not sure what you want, ask the baker for suggestions.
If you feel the baker and her staff are receptive and appear to be eager and willing to please, you may have found the ideal baker. On the other hand, if they don’t take time with you or you feel rushed and they avoid answering your questions, you will want to continue searching.
Please do not wait until the last minute! Your choices will be limited if you do. A wedding cake is a work of art and the baker will need plenty of time to devote to your custom creation.
When you go to the tasting, resist allowing too many tagalongs. The more people accompanying you, the harder it is to agree on a design and taste. You may want to limit it to you and the groom. It could serve as a nice relaxing outing for the two of you and a welcome break from all the frenetic planning.
Don’t settle for a cake that looks better than it tastes. Make sure you’re happy with the taste of the cake as well as the frosting. You should avoid choosing something too unusual as the guests might be turned off by an unrecognizable flavor. You will likely pay a substantial amount for the cake so at least make it an enjoyable experience for everyone and avoid oodles of leftover cake.
Find inspiration in the flavors of the season. A summer wedding could feature a strawberry shortcake. Marrying in the fall? Consider a pumpkin or spice flavored cake. Standard flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and lemon are still crowd-pleasers and are less expensive than exotic flavors.
You may wish to choose the flavor based on a special memory such as the carrot cake your grandmother used to make or the raspberry cake with white chocolate frosting the two of you shared on a special date. Coconut, mocha, banana walnut, red velvet. If you can’t reach an agreement on the flavor, you could choose assorted flavors for each layer, providing they’re complementary of each other. If you simply cannot decide on just one cake, then how about lots of different cakes? Guests will love the variety.
You are no longer limited to the plastic molded wedding couple who has dutifully kept vigil atop many a wedding cake. Now, there are modern and personalized options available, such as a couple that looks just like the two of you, with matching hair color and striking a variety of casual poses. Using a special heirloom such as your parents’ cake topper adds a touch of sentimentality. A simple spray of flowers, a meaningful quote, or monogram are popular as well. No pressure, though. You can always go topless!
Determine whether you want to offer gluten-free or vegan alternative cakes to accommodate any family members or guests with food restrictions or special diets.
The cost of the cake may or may not include the delivery fee. This is not an appropriate time to try to save money by having a family or friend pick up the cake. Cake delivery and setup can be quite a complicated affair. It is best left to the professionals. In most cases, they have a specially equipped cooled van to use for delivery. Some of the more elaborate cakes are often assembled after delivery.
Ensure that there is a reserved place of honor and a stand for the cake and that the baker or delivery person is aware of its location – you certainly don’t want to move the cake once it’s been assembled. Is the room temperature cool enough to accommodate the cake being on display for a few hours? Whipped cream, meringue, and buttercream do not fare well in excessive heat. If you’re using a wedding planner, make sure she coordinates with the bakery to finalize a plan.
Skip the Cake
What if you’re not a cake person? There’s no shame in that! There is no wedding law that says you must have a cake. There are plenty of alternatives for satisfying your guests’ sugar cravings.
Swap the cake for whole pies or mini pies in a variety of flavors. A tower of pastel-colored macarons makes an elegant statement on a dessert table. Cupcakes are still riding the wave of popularity. Popsicles and ice cream sandwiches lend a retro flare and assorted donuts arranged in whimsical displays are enjoying time in the dessert limelight.
Rest assured, whatever confection you ultimately choose, it will be the perfect sweet ending for your day of celebration. And the perfect sweet beginning for your new life together. ♥
Top feature image courtesy Lori Douglas Photography.