Wedding Cake Basics

Martha Stewart Weddings, Volume 17 2001

A wedding cake symbolizes the abundance of blessings to come in your marriage. No bride and groom are expected to design their own cake, but you can certainly bring ideas to the person who will create a cake for you. Here is some information to help you get started.

When to Order
At least four to six months before the wedding, you should choose the cake's final design and reserve the services of a professional.

Who to Order From
You can order a wedding cake from the hotel or caterer responsible for the reception, hire a specialty-cake designer, or enlist the help of a talented amateur baker. When choosing a cake designer, familiarize yourself with the designer's style by looking at photographs and tasting samples.

Most bakers calculate a price by the serving, or slice, and then multiply that figure by the number of guests who will be attending the reception. Prices per slice range from just a few dollars to as much as $15, which means that a cake for 100 people could cost as little as a few hundred dollars or much more than a thousand. Payment policies vary. It is important to get a signed contract from each cake vendor that clearly explains its policy. Most cake makers require a deposit of between 20 percent and 50 percent of the cost of the cake. The remainder of the payment will be due a week or two before the wedding.

A basic cake made by a local bakery will be relatively inexpensive; a caterer or specialty bakery may make a more distinctive cake but will charge more. At the top end of the range are the magnificent creations made by well-known cake designers. Handmade flourishes, such as chocolate roses or crystallized-sugar flowers, are labor intensive and may be billed individually. Location also influences the price of a cake, just as it does the overall cost of living. In urban areas, such as San Francisco and New York City, you can expect to pay more than in other parts of the country.

A good way to reduce costs is to order a smaller cake to display, then feed most of the guests from sheet cakes. This can be accomplished discreetly; after the official cake cutting, have the cake whisked away to be sliced out of the guests' sight.


Flavor and Decoration

A snow-white cake is traditional, but the bride and groom should feel free to choose their favorite flavor. Chocolate, lemon-poppy-seed, and carrot cakes are appearing more frequently at weddings.

Flavors have personalities, too. Chocolate is rich and voluptuous, vanilla is light and pure, spices are sharp and autumnal, and lemon is bright and tart. Try to focus as much on the cake's flavor as on its embellishment; the best cakes strike a balance between flavor and flourish.

Buttercream is the most popular frosting for wedding cakes because it is light yet assertive. Unfortunately, it requires refrigeration and does not hold up well in heat. If the reception is outdoors in the summer, you should consider another option.

Fondant and marzipan are ideal for keeping larger cakes fresh when they become too large to refrigerate. Rolled fondant has a matte finish resembling porcelain. Marzipan, made of almond paste, is used in a similar manner as rolled fondant, and has a delicious, distinct flavor.

Royal icing dries very hard, so it produces delicate and long-lasting decorations. Gum paste is thick and malleable -- ideal for realistic reproductions of fruit, flowers, and other forms. Meringue can be used for sweeping, airy decorations and complements a cake of almost any flavor.

Shape and Decoration
A tall, solid shape is stately and imposing, whereas thin, floating tiers seem airy. Separating the tiers of a cake that is thick and heavy will make it seem lighter.

A few well-chosen details are usually enough; choose the ones that you think best express the desired style. A cake's design may be inspired by a detail of the bridal gown, such as lace, ribbons or bows, rosettes, coils of fabric, or a row of buttons or pearls. Any of these may be re-created in icing, gum paste, meringue, or marzipan and repeated all over the cake's surface or used as the starting point for the design.

If you're using real flowers, choose ones that echo the composition of the bridal bouquet or the table centerpieces. Make sure they have not been sprayed with chemicals, and treat flowers as garnishes unless they were specifically grown to be eaten.

Fresh fruit such as peaches, miniature pears, berries, or tiny champagne grapes may be either coated with sugar or used unembellished for a sensuous and colorful presentation.


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