For couples who have never planned a wedding—or worked in a bakery—few elements inspire the same amount of sticker shock as the wedding cake. With the average wedding cake ringing up at $4.50-$6.50 per slice, according to Orlando-based baker Danielle Cribb of Sugar Sugar Cake Boutique, the cost of serving an elaborately decorated dessert can quickly skyrocket.
One popular way to keep those costs down is for the newlyweds to cut a small decorated cake while offering a pretty dessert table with lower-priced sheet cake for the rest of the guests. But for couples who don't want to give up the look of a towering tiered confection, dummy cakes are another common request: Made of Styrofoam cylinders decorated to look like edible tiers, dummy cakes can provide a showstopping photo op without all the baking. Some couples choose to have one real layer to cut into with additional dummy layers for visual impact, while others display an entirely fake cake and use a cupcake or another small dessert for the cutting ceremony.
But though replacing layers of cake with faux tiers sounds like a budget-friendly move, that's not exactly true, says Cribb. She's worked with multiple couples who requested a dummy cake but changed their mind after seeing the rather small price difference. "Couples definitely think they are going to save tons of money, but unfortunately that isn't the case," she says. "I don't charge the full amount if it's fake, but I charge close to it. You are saving some ingredient costs and labor, but the cake artists are still having to stack and decorate those tiers." And the decorating is what you're really paying for, says Cribb: "Sometimes ingredient costs can be cheaper than the Styrofoam purchased to create that fake tier."
But dummy layers do have their benefits, especially for couples looking for an over-the-top dessert. "The pros of using dummy tiers is that you can get crazy extravagant with the décor and size of the cake," says Cribb. The foam tiers are lighter, so they're more stable, and they're easier to stack perfectly straight. "Dummy tiers also work great if you are delivering to a venue that is tricky and not easy to get to, or that is far away." And when it comes to decorating the dummy cake, couples don't have to compromise on their vision—they can even upgrade it. "You can do anything with a dummy cake that you can do with real cake," says Cribb. "There are certain designs out that there work better if using a fake tier—an example of this is the popular geode cakes. When you are carving into a cake like that, you can compromise the stability."
Another benefit: Fondant hardens over time, which means couples can bring a dummy cake home with them and display it for weeks—or even months—after their wedding, says Cribb. Store your favorite tier on a glass-covered cake plate in your china cabinet, set the entire stack on a side table, or preserve it in a tightly-sealed see-through box: Just think of it as a beautiful way to eat your cake and have it, too.