You might not know much about wedding cakes (besides the obvious fact that they’re delicious), but the more informed you are, the better your decisions will be. Help pick your perfect confection with our top tips, below.
You have to go in for a tasting.
At tastings, clients are invited into the bakery to sample exemplary cakes, ask questions and review portfolios. This is an excellent opportunity to meet bakers, bond with them and fully understand the range of their abilities. Picking your baker is a big deal—you’ll want to get to know their personality and make sure they’re genuinely excited about your wedding day too.
Picking your cake style should be one of the last things you do.
You may love a rustic semi-naked cake, but if you’re hosting a black-tie ballroom wedding, that style may not jive. Deal with the cake after all decisions about dress style and reception décor have been made. These elements can serve as a blueprint for the design and structure of your wedding cake. Choose a cake that’s compatible with the style of the venue, the season, your gown, the flower arrangements or the menu. If you want colorful accents (such as sugar flowers or icing ribbons), give your baker fabric swatches. The cake should be part of the wedding, not a glaring sideshow.
You need to finalize your guest list (and size of your space) first.
When deciding what size cake to order, first look to your guest count. Generally, three tiers will serve 50 to 100 guests; you’ll likely need five layers for 200 guests or more. If the reception is in a grand room with high ceilings, consider increasing the cake’s stature with columns between the tiers. (A “stacked” cake is one with its layers stacked directly atop each other, with no separators.)
Wedding cake is often priced by the slice.
The cost varies, but generally ranges from $1.50 to $15 per slice (though this is a very general and loose estimate). The more complicated the cake (based on intricate decorations or hard-to-find fillings), the higher the price tag. Fondant icing is more expensive than buttercream, and if you want elaborate molded shapes, vibrant colors, or handmade sugar-flower detailing, you’ll pay for the cake designer’s labor. (For the record, the average amount couples spend on their wedding cake, according to our Real Weddings Study, is $540.)
There are tons of ways to save.
Order a small cake that’s decorated to perfection but can only feed a handful plus several sheet cakes of the same flavor to actually feed the guests. Stay away from tiers, handmade sugar flowers and specially molded shapes. Garnish with seasonal flowers and fruit for an elegant (but less expensive) effect. If you’ll have a dessert table (or another sweet) in addition to the cake, consider a cake sized for half your guests. Servings will be smaller, but the fee will shrink too.
Choose the right frosting.
Buttercream or fondant? That’s the main question. Buttercream is often much more delicious. But if you love the smooth, almost surreal-like look of fondant as much as we do, consider frosting the cake in buttercream first and then adding a layer of fondant over the entire confection. You can also go for ganache—a decadently rich frosting with a fudgy texture made from chocolate and cream. Even though it’s dark brown in color, you can ask your baker to make it wedding worthy with colorful fruit. (A white chocolate version, however, can be dyed practically any shade.) Don’t count out swiss meringue either—it’s icing made by whipping egg whites together with sugar. Even though it’s less popular for wedding cakes, it has a light and fuzzy appearance that make it look instantly whimsical and romantic. (And your guests will love the airy mashmallow flavor, which pairs perfectly with fruit-based cakes and fillings like lemon, raspberry or strawberry.)
Always consider the weather.
If you’re having an outdoor wedding in a hot climate, stay away from whipped cream, meringue and buttercream: They melt. Ask your baker about summer icing options; you might want to go for a fondant-covered cake—it doesn’t even need to be refrigerated.
Don’t set your expectations too high.
Keep in mind, magazines (like ours) have food stylists, editors and assistants working nonstop to keep the cakes looking perfect. These people spend hours fixing the sweating, dripping, leaning or sagging that can happen to a cake after it’s been sitting for a while. And if what they do doesn’t work, they can fix it with Photoshop. They also have the luxury of creating cakes from stuff that isn’t edible—most cakes in magazines are iced pieces of Styrofoam, which certainly doesn’t taste very good. So don’t expect your cake designer to be able to replicate exactly what you see in print.
It’s all in the details.
When it comes to decoration, adornment costs run the gamut. The most inexpensive option is fresh fruits or flowers that, in some instances, can be applied by your florist for a minimal fee. On the high end are delicate gum paste or sugar paste flowers, which are constructed by hand, one petal at a time. But here’s the bottom line: All add-ons—including marzipan fruits, chocolate-molded flowers and lace points—will raise the rate. (For the record, we think it’s worth the cost!)
Think about adding a second cake to your reception.
The popularity of the groom’s cake, traditionally a Southern custom, is on the rise. The bride’s cake—the one cut by the couple at the reception—is traditionally eaten as dessert. The groom’s cake is usually darker and richer (often chocolate) and nowadays crafted to show off the groom’s passions and obsessions. Give slices to guests as a take-home memento, or cut and serve both for dessert.
You can always go mini (but it’ll cost you).
Many bakers agree that the idea of a mini cake (where each guest gets their own) is a great idea—in theory, but not always in practice. Not only does each cake require its own decoration (often as intricate, if not more, than one that’s four times its size), each will need its own box. Unfortunately, boxes don’t come in mini-cake sizes. Often the bakery must construct individual boxes in which to transport these cakes. Multiply by however many guests you’ll be having, and you’ll see what a costly, time-consuming feat this actually is. That said, if you can swing it, they look amazing being passed around by waiters on sleek silver trays (and of course, they taste just as great too).
You need to think about display.
Your cake will likely be on display before it’s cut and consumed. Make sure there’s a designated cake table that allows the most elegant presentation possible. A round table is perfect for round cakes, but a linear cake design may call for a rectangular table. Figure out your options. Once you have a cake table, have fun dressing it up: Drape it with sumptuous fabrics and decorate it with motifs, colors and flowers to match the cake (your florist can help).
Your cake topper options run the gamut.
A classic figurine is an ever-popular choice, but more couples are using the cake topper (and even cake stand) as a moment of personalization in their day. Choose something that represents you as a duo, like a clay model of your pet, figurines of your favorite comic action heroes or a chic monogrammed acrylic pedestal. If you have an heirloom piece—especially a fine porcelain antique—work with your baker to integrate it into an appropriate design. A pair of sugar or gingerbread cookies can look charming atop a country wedding cake. Finely sculpted maple sugar or marzipan figurines are quaint. Other alternatives: a bouquet of sugar flowers, a cascade of icing ribbons or even a sugar block carved out to reveal your new monogram.
Cake delivery takes coordination.
Complex cakes may not necessarily be delivered in final form. Allow time and space for assembly, if needed. Refrigeration may also be required.