There's more to getting the right wedding cake than deciding between buttercream or fondant.
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Choosing a Cake Maker
Before you begin making appointments and tasting every flavor, filling, and frosting known to man, there are a few important questions you need to ask your potential wedding cake baker. Weighing the answers to each will be the first step to getting the cake of your (sweetest) dreams.
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Are You Free on My Wedding Date?
In-demand cake makers may be booked a year in advance, especially during the height of wedding season, but for most, the sweet spot is between three and six months before your vows. If she's available, ask how many cakes she's booked to create for the same day—a good pro should have ample staff in place to handle multiple deliveries and set-ups.
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Most often, a baker will charge on a per-person basis. Depending where you live (the highest fees tend to be in bigger cities), this could range between $4 and $15 for each guest. Also affecting cost: how labor-intensive the design of your cake is. A four-tier confection with lots of flourishes, like sugar flowers or intricate piping, will up the fee by a few more dollars per person. On the other end of the spectrum, a simple cake adorned with fresh, seasonal flowers will always be more affordable.
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Do You Specialize in a Certain Kind of Cake?
If you have a specific flavor and filling pairing in mind, or know you want hexagonal-shaped tiers, it's in your best interest to find out whether your baker can pull it off. Ask for a menu of flavor and frosting options before you schedule a meeting.
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When Can I Come in for a Tasting?
All bakers worth their sugar offer tastings—if yours doesn't, keep looking. After poring over the menu, decide which flavors you'd like to try, or ask the baker for her recommendations. Some will let you drop in at your leisure to sample the goods, while others only schedule mass tastings for several people at once.
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Do You Have a Portfolio I Can Check Out?
Similar to tastings, the majority of bakers have portfolios. Looking at photos of their work is important to get an idea of whether your sensibilities mesh. While most bakers can tackle any task from a simple two-tier white cake to a meticulously designed fondant tower, the portfolio highlights their strengths and outlines their style.
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Can You Design a Custom Cake, or Do I Select From Set Designs?
By the time you book a baker, you should already have a good idea of what your wedding will look and feel like. Inspiration for the design of your cake can come from the venue, your wedding dress, the colors or motifs in your stationery, or any other detail you want to play up. That said, you want a baker who can create a custom cake that works with your vision rather than one who only offers a small selection of preset cake designs.
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Do You Offer Both Fondant and Buttercream Frosting?
Bakers will know whether fondant or buttercream, along with other icing options like meringue, is the best fit for your cake. Time of year matters, too: Buttercream and whipped cream can melt if served outdoors on a warm day, while the smooth texture of fondant can withstand heat and humidity.
Photography: Amber Gress
There's no rule that says you must have one showstopping, four-tier extravaganza on display. You could, instead, opt for one smaller cake per table, or even individualized mini cakes to serve to each guest. But smaller doesn't always mean less expensive. "The labor that goes into making 15 small custom cakes is not remarkably less than what goes into a single larger project," says Jason Schreiber, a New York City–based pastry chef. "It may even take longer to execute, depending on the design, adding to the overall cost."
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What Should Be Outlined in the Contract?
Once you have decided on the cake's design, flavors, and fillings, it's time to sign on the dotted line. Read the contract thoroughly, making sure it details the exact design elements of the cake, the cost per person, the delivery time, explicit directions to the reception site, and all necessary contact numbers. If fresh flowers are being used to decorate the cake, the contract should also stipulate whether the baker or florist will order them and who will place them on the cake.
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How Much is the Deposit?
Most cake makers require a deposit of 50 percent when you sign the contract, with the remainder of the payment due a couple weeks before the wedding or upon delivery of the cake.
Photography: Alixann Loosle Photography
Delivery and setup of your cake typically carries a flat rate of $50 to $100, depending on distance and the size of the cake. The baker or staff member will assemble the cake on site. They may also be able to decorate the cake table; just make sure to discuss this in detail and well in advance.
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Are There Any Additional Fees?
Sometimes there may be a few hidden charges. For example, the contract may cover a 10-mile radius for delivery, with a per-mile charge for longer distances. Also, your caterer or venue will most likely charge a fee for cutting a cake that is brought in from an outside vendor, with prices typically ranging from $2 to $5 per person.
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Do You Provide a Cake Stand and Knife?
Most caterers will already have the proper supplies for you, but it doesn't hurt to double check they have the ones you may require. If not, ask your baker if they provide or rent the supplies and what the fees are. Some bakers provide a flat silver tray and others just place it on a piece of baker's cardboard. You could also supply your own—just double-check with your baker what size stand you'll need.
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Will You Preserve the Top Tier of My Cake for My First Wedding Anniversary?
Traditionally, couples take home the top tier of their cake and store it in their freezer until their first anniversary. If this is something that you'd like to do, make arrangements for getting the cake to your house and ask your baker for instructions for airtight wrapping. You might also ask your baker if he can make a smaller version of your wedding cake that you can enjoy later.
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