Visions of wedding cakes dancing in your head? Here’s what you need to know to get it right.
Step 1. Finding Your Cake Mate
Which baker is for you? You want someone who is open to your ideas and capable of delivering what you’re looking for within your budget. Your caterer will most likely have relationships with a few bakers, and it’s a great idea to meet several (every baker has a unique style) in order to make the best decision.
Before setting up appointments, do a little research on each baker by checking out his or her website. At the meeting, discuss time and place of the wedding; degree of formality; colours; what your gown is like; and any other important details. Feel free to bring pictures of cakes or swatches of fabric you like. If you like a particular photograph from the baker’s portfolio, make sure it represents work done by current staff. When you think you’ve met your match, book the baker to secure her services (often a deposit is required at this time). Locking in your cake maker should be done as soon as you can before your wedding — some top bakers book up to a year in advance.
Step 2. Getting Personal
Now for the fun part — devising a style. Ask yourself these questions: What is your reception space like? What are your wedding colours? Do you want something extravagant? Or do you want something playful, whimsical? Are you classic types? Or is your couple motto The simpler the better? How do you want to personalise your cake? Your baker will take this information and come up with a sketch of the proposed design, and you just might find her zeroing in on a piece of lace or the beading on your wedding gown to use as a key element.
Cakes featuring sugar or buttercream interpretations of feathers, draping, monograms, and embroidery are popular, as are more modern, squared-off cakes with different shapes on different tiers. Have a sculpted cake constructed in the shape of your home, dog, or even your car! When you’re working with a talented pastry chef, the sky’s the limit.
Step 3. A Matter of Taste
The biggest misconception about wedding cakes is that they are designed to look good but taste less than fabulous. We’ve taken the taste test from several top bakers (lucky us) and beg to differ. Far from the cake being just a showpiece, it’s what’s inside that counts. You’ll taste lots of samples along the way (forget the diet — this is “research”), and you might be surprised to find this isn’t average chocolate cake because of the…fillings! Yes, interspersed between layers of moist cake, you could find fresh fruit, custard, or ganache (a fancy word for a concoction of chocolate and heavy cream). And once cut, each piece — with horizontal layers of different-hued flavors and fillings — makes a dramatic statement on the plate.
Don’t be confused by insider cake talk. Learn the basics, so you’ll be sure to ask for exactly what you want. When it comes to icing your cake, you’ll have a number of delicious and gorgeous choices. Buttercream, made from butter and sugar is smooth and creamy, and it stays soft so it’s easy to cut, colour, and flavor. It’s also easily shaped into swags, borders, and flowers. Fondant, another popular option is made of sugar, corn syrup, water, and gelatin, and is rolled out with a rolling pin before it’s draped over the cake. It makes a smooth firm base for decorative details, and it has a porcelain finish. Other icing choices include marzipan, a paste made from ground almonds, used in sheets like fondant; whipped cream, a sweetened whipped heavy cream (great with fruit fillings); and ganache, a rich mix of chocolate and cream.
When it comes to the details of your sweet tower, the options are numerous too. Here are a few ornamentation techniques you’re likely to encounter: Gumpaste, made of sugar, cornstarch, and gelatin and used to craft lifelike fruits and flowers; cornelli is an elaborate piping technique that yields a lacelike pattern; pulled sugar is a technique in which boiled sugar is manipulated and pulled to produce flowers and bows; and dragees are edible sugar balls coated with silver or gold.
Step 4. So Happy Together
Top designers are seeing a trend for more complex flavourings such as coconut-key lime, blood orange-mango, and chocolate hazelnut-mocha. (Are you drooling yet?) Your selection of flavors may be based on the season, with heavier combinations like chocolate cake with mocha praline filling perfect for winter weddings and lighter sponge cakes with fruits, curds, and preserves more ideal for a summer affair. Some flavorful combinations we especially like: chocolate-banana cake layered with custard and brushed with banana liqueur, white cake with raspberries and cream, and almond cake with apricot preserves brushed with rum.
Step 5. The Price Of A Slice
Be prepared to pay up to £12 per slice. If this gives you a bit of sticker shock, realise the more complicated the cake, the more you’ll pay. Fondant icing is generally more expensive than buttercream, and if you want elaborately molded shapes, vibrant colours, or handmade sugar-flower detailing, you’ll pay for the cake designer’s time and labour. A good cost-cutting option is to order 10 to 15 percent less cake — guests are served smaller servings, which you can supplement with ice cream or fruit. Or have the cake of your dreams made on a small scale for a price you can comfortably afford, and then order sheet cakes of the same flavor to be cut in the kitchen (some but not all designers will do this). Though it sounds like a classic “bait and switch,” no one will know the difference because the taste will be the same as the original — delectable.
Step 6. It’s Showtime
Just as you would with a fine painting, once your masterpiece is a reality, you must make certain that great care is taken transporting it in one piece to the reception site. Most cake designers prefer to deliver the precious cargo themselves, and we think paying the extra delivery fee is worth the peace of mind that the cake will arrive in top form. Make certain that the baker has a contact person at the reception site so he or she can give the catering manager or event planner any pertinent information on handling it — it might have to be refrigerated or stationed in a cool, out-of-the-way location in the reception room. Most importantly, don’t forget to marvel at the culinary tour de force before taking a cut — those delicious details will surely be your reception’s icing on the cake.