Tips for Ordering a Wedding Cake
I can’t even remember what my first wedding cake looked like. It was quite a few years ago, we might have discussed flavours but not much comes to mind. What I do remember is walking into the reception eager to see my wedding cake and feeling absolutely crushed: there was no cake topper! Where were the bride and groom smiling happily from their place of honour?
When I remarried 20 years ago, I knew that this time I would get it right. The caterer was not impressed when I mentioned the wedding cake and insisted I order a croquembouche (a pyramid of cream puffs) as the tasteful way to mark the celebration. I dug in my heels and would not budge; this time there would be no mistakes and I had my tiered white wedding cake, complete with bride and groom.
From its humble beginnings as a sweet treat, the “cake” has achieved a celebrity status all its own. Wedding and celebration cakes have experienced a renaissance, they are no longer a delightful afterthought to a special meal. They are now superstars in their own right, as are the designers who create them. Today’s consumers have higher expectations than I did 20 years ago; yet when it comes to choosing the right cake, the task can be overwhelming and the possibilities endless.
Gone are the days of tasteless, sugary white wedding cakes sitting in the middle of sweet tables. The expression “no one eats the wedding cake” no longer holds true. Specialty cake shops are opening everywhere and clients now want “custom-designed” cakes to mark their special day. Armed with the knowledge that the cake must taste as good as it looks, where does one look?
Wedding cake options can be mind-boggling as brides-to-be try to choose between gorgeous, multi-tiered towers covered in sugar blossoms, stunning cakes draped with rolled fondant to resemble couture gowns, gravity-defying sculpted cakes, and one-of-a-kind creations intricately hand-painted, piped, and jeweled to resemble works of art.
Set the Budget
The selection of designer and style of cake is now as personal a choice as the wedding gown itself and most wedding professionals agree that the first decision you should make when planning your special day is budget. Custom-designed wedding cakes can cost anywhere from $8 to $20 per serving and prices are generally based on the intricacy of the design and number of cake tiers. When searching for a wedding cake, never lose sight of the fact that the wedding cake is meant to be eaten and shared with your guests; the quality and taste must be memorable. Lower-priced cakes are usually prepared with shortening and cake mixes while high-end cakes are made using premium ingredients such as whole eggs, imported chocolate, and butter. Also note that custom-designed cakes are usually priced on a per-serving basis.
Decide on the Design
Once the budget has been established, the next step is deciding on cake design. For most clients, the final product will be an expression of their taste and style. Glancing through magazines and browsing the internet for wedding cake ideas, you quickly notice that in the hands of a talented cake designer, anything is possible and certain styles begin to catch your eye. You notice unusual colour palettes or non-traditional cake shapes such as petals, hexagons, and squares. You also begin to pick out details that catch your eye, such as the piping on one cake, soft ruffles or cascading sugar blossoms on another. Do you love the look of romantic floral-themed cakes, the intricacy of hand-crafted details or the smooth clean lines of architectural cakes? Once you’ve discovered the look you’re most attracted to and have decided on a colour palette, you’re ready to set up a meeting.
Choosing a Designer
Finding the right designer requires some shopping around. This can be done online as most have detailed websites showcasing their skill level and personal style. Though you may be initially wowed by design, take a few moments to look at the following details since proper finishing is the hallmark of an industry professional:
- Are all the cakes on the site at the same level of expertise or do some look amateurish and at a lower skill level?
- Look at how individual decorations have been applied. Is the piping or finishing sloppy. Do you see royal icing peeking out behind decorations? Are the sides and top of each cake tier perfectly straight? Are the cakes perfectly centered one on top of the other?
- Other details to look for: Do the cake tiers sit firmly one on top of each other or do some tilt to one side? Is the fondant work smooth and clean or do you see cracks and indentations?
A professional cake designer places as much emphasis on clean, meticulous work as on the beauty of the design. No matter how lovely the theme, a sloppy cake will not hold up to scrutiny.
A final thought: though top cake designers charge top dollar for their creations, cake designers and decorators at all levels, from modest to high end, should always be proud of producing clean, neat, and perfectly constructed cakes, regardless of design and techniques used.
The Devil Is In the Details
Securing your chosen cake designer often depends upon availability so know the date of your function before calling. Wedding cake consultations should always include a cake-tasting component and some designers will limit the number of people attending. If appointments must be postponed or cancelled, don’t forget to advise your designer, as they’ve scheduled their days around client meetings. There is rarely a fee for wedding cake consultations, and less expensive, small celebration cakes are generally ordered over the phone and do not include a cake tasting or meeting. During your consultation, expect to taste at least three cake flavours with assorted filling options. If a special flavour not offered by the designer is requested, a fee is charged.
A number of questions must be answered in order to create a cake that meets the specific requirements of your celebration. These include the type of function and the number of guests. Cake slices differ in size depending on the occasion. Small two-by-one-inch slices might be perfect for a wedding but larger pieces are usually cut for less formal celebrations so order more cake than the cake servings chart dictates.
Be aware you will not require cake servings for each guest if there is a sweet table or other desserts are being served. The rule of thumb is often one-third less cake should be ordered than the number of guests attending as not everyone eats cake. The only time you should request an equal number of cake servings to guests is when the cake is served as a plated dessert following the meal. Other factors to keep in mind are what time the cake should be delivered to the venue as well as what time the cake will be cut and served. Cake delivery often takes place once the tables have been set and most of the vendors have left. Most wedding cakes are presented on a special table for the guests to remark over throughout the reception and are then cut during a special ceremony part-way through the event.
Other information you might bring to your consultation includes fabric swatches of gowns and table coverings, paper samples from invitations, photos of your wedding gown or images you have chosen from magazines or the internet. If you have a colour palette or pattern you want to incorporate into the design, bring samples to be left with the designer and arrange a viewing of the wedding gown if required. During the consultation, you’ll view the artists’ portfolio and decorated wedding cakes. Remember to always look for clean and careful finishing and application of decorative elements. A messy cake won’t look professional, regardless of design.
Designers generally ask for a 50% deposit to hold the date with the balance due two weeks prior to the event. As some designers do not accept credit cards or debit, it’s a good idea to bring a cheque to your meeting if you wish to book immediately.
Cake designers are generally booked for the wedding season well in advance so set up your first meeting at least six months before your wedding date.
Written by: Bonnie Gordon
The Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts offers
professional-level classes year round and continuing education classes
for hobbyists and experts alike! For more information, visit www.bonniegordoncollege.com
or call 416-440-0333. Reprinting of this article is possible with the
permission of Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts.
- Don't miss the great cake decorating tips from the Cake Walk judges in the slice.ca video centre.
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