It’s the centerpiece of the reception: the towering white tiered cake topped with miniature dolls of the bride and groom. But all bets are off once the dinner plates have been cleared from the tables at the reception. The happy couple slices into the cake whose every detail they planned out, only to smoosh it in each other’s faces.
Couples should plan to order their cakes at least four months prior to their wedding — perhaps earlier if they plan to wed on a popular weekend.
“Don’t want until the last minute,” said Jeanne Talman, owner of The Well Dressed Cake in Epping. For those who do procrastinate, or who experience a cake-related emergency, some bakeries have additional cakes on hand regularly, but the couple may not get the flavor or design they are seeking, said Jennifer Wojtaszek, general manager of Frederick’s Pastries in Amherst.
Talman suggests that couples order enough cake to serve 70 percent of their invited guests, as many will not attend. In case the number of attending guests exceeds the amount of cake ordered, Talman said, the couple can order a “kitchen cake,” which is a cheaper, undecorated sheet-cake version of the main wedding cake that is, naturally, kept in the kitchen. Cake cutting guides usually accompany most wedding cakes to ensure that the kitchen staff can stretch it to meet the number of people to be served.
On average, wedding cake servings are 4 inches tall, 2 inches wide and one inch thick.
“People say, ‘That’s so small,’ until they actually put it on a plate,” Talman said. “It’s actually a decent-sized piece of cake.”
A variety of cakes, fillings, frostings and fondants can be sampled at cake consultations, where cake designs are discussed and chosen. Some bakeries, like The Well Dressed Cake, charge a fee for customers who request to taste specific items at their consultation.
Brides should bring to their consultation anything that might help with designing the cake, such as photos of the linens, flowers, candles and dresses to be used in their wedding.
“You need to think about the statement you want to make with your wedding cake,” Talman said, adding that she sees as many brides attending consultations with their grooms as she sees with their mothers or bridesmaids.
“There are a lot more grooms getting more proactive and involved in the whole cake process, and it’s nice,” Talman said.
In the southern part of the country a groom’s cake is often part of the wedding tradition, a trend that Talman said is slowly making its way to New England.
“I really like it when people incorporate a groom’s cake because I really get a feel of the couple and their dynamic,” Talman said, adding that the cake is supposed to serve as a gift from the bride to her betrothed.
One of the most important aspects of designing a wedding cake is making sure it is sturdy, Wojtaszek said. Wojtaszek said she offers customers three options for tier dividers — columns, flowers or upside-down champagne glasses — and is wary of using anything she has not already worked with. Same goes with the cake topper, which, if deemed a potential hazard, could instead be placed on the table beside the cake. Some toppers that have successfully made their way to the tops of wedding cakes at Frederick’s Pastries have been a motorcycle-riding bride and groom, tinker toys, bobblehead dolls and Charlie Brown and the Little Red Haired Girl.
“Within the past few years, I think, weddings have gotten more intimate and personal than ever as far as decorations on the cake go,” Wojtaszek said.
Since fondant has become a household name thanks to TLC’s The Cake Boss, many brides are requesting it on their cakes in lieu of the traditional buttercream. Some bakeries include the fondant in their base price, while others may charge an extra fee per serving.
“I think buttercream takes longer and more skill and effort to get perfectly smooth than fondant does,” said Talman, who uses a thin layer of fondant, a sugar dough, over a layer of buttercream on all of her cakes. “You get the best of both worlds — the porcelain finish of the fondant and the creaminess of the buttercream,” she said. Fondant is a good option for cakes with very round edges, Wojtaszek said. “It’s easy to paint on,” she said. “There are no brush strokes left in the frosting.”
Talman said more brides have been opting for feminine-looking wedding cakes.
“They used to be simple, straight-up architectural cakes,” she said. “Now I’ve noticed that flowers and ruffles are making their way back into cakes, which is nice because that’s what I like to work with.”
Some brides opt to serve cupcakes to their guests instead of ordering only one towering cake.
“Cupcakes have been hugely popular. They make a great presentation,” Wojtaszek said, adding that one bride who ordered her wedding cupcakes from Frederick’s transformed a birch tree stump into a cupcake stand. Cupcakes, Talman noted, are a lot of work, especially for large parties. “If you’re talking a wedding for 200 people and you want little fondant flowers on top of them … I would have to make 400 to 500 flowers because people don’t just want one,” she said. Talman also said that many brides think going with cupcakes is the cheaper route but, as with cakes, the cost is contingent on the details. “They’re a lot of work,” she said. The fillings in cupcakes made at Frederick’s include tiramisu, cannoli cream, strawberries and lemon.
Wedding cake flavors have expanded way beyond that of traditional white cake. Frederick’s Pastries offers a bright purple version of its red velvet cake, and pumpkin and carrot cakes seasonally. Talman has created a line of boozy cakes, listed on her website as “Top Shelf Combinations,” such as If You Like Piña Coladas (coconut cream cake flavored with coconut rum filled with piña colada buttercream), Mojito Madness (vanilla butter cake with fresh lime zest flavored with lime and rum filled with minted buttercream and lime buttercream), the Mahvelous Mimosa Cake (champagne cake filled with a Cointreau blood orange buttercream), and Irish Coffee (mocha cake infused with a Kahlua syrup filled with a mocha buttercream spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream and vanilla buttercream). Among Talman’s other signature cake flavors are Caramel Macchiato (bold espresso cake filled with caramel buttercream), Mulled Apple Cider (vanilla cake scented with spicy cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and a dash of cayenne pepper filled with spiced apple buttercream) and Sweet Desert Rose (light chiffon cake scented with cardamom filled with alternating layers of rose water and pistachio buttercreams).
“I’m a foodie at heart so I really like the ‘out there’ flavors,” Talman said. “I’m not the one to settle for plain cake with vanilla filling or raspberry.”