Planning your Wedding Cake

Edible flower 3 tier wedding cake with cupcakes

Planning a wedding is both exciting and daunting. It’s all new ground, because this isn’t something you do very often in your life, so you’re learning all through the process. Planning your wedding cake should be one of the best bits of the process, because after all, you get to try cake. So here is my guide to making it easy and taking the worry out of it.

I’ve been a cake artist for over 10 years, and it’s sometimes easy for me to forget how some of the things I think are simple and basic knowledge are new to a couple planning their wedding. These are some of the questions and topics I find I get asked about a lot.

When should I book my wedding cake?

There is no simple answer to this, but I would say as soon as you can. Many cake artists get booked up over a year in advance. I know many planning guides say 6 months before the wedding, but if you have a certain cake designer in mind contact them as soon as you can just to reserve the date. You can always fine tune the details later.

I would say the minimum information you will need before booking is a date, a venue and an approximate guest count, or cake size wanted. This will give the cake designer enough information to get you booked into their diary, with discussions about flavours and design features coming later.

I’m scared by the jargon. I just don’t know what to say.

An experienced cake artist will not be worried that you don’t know the difference between a layer and a tier, but will understand and carefully get the information they need to make your perfect cake. However, if you’re still a bit on edge about it, here are a few pointers:

Layer – an individual layer of cake/sponge. For example a Victoria Sandwich has 2 layers. Most cake makers will make cakes with 3 or 4 layers inside each tier.

Fondant/Ganache/Buttercream – Fondant is the hard, sweet layer many cake makers cover their cakes with. Ganache is a mix of cream and chocolate that sets and can be used as a structural ingredient. Many cake makers use it under fondant to create a stable and smooth foundation. Buttercream – there are many types of buttercreams, but generally a cake maker will use either a classic buttercream made with butter and icing sugar, or a meringue buttercream where butter is mixed into an Italian or Swiss meringue. Buttercream can be used as a filling inside the cake and as a covering on the outside. Buttercream is not as structurally secure as Fondant or Ganache – i.e. it melts easily!

Flavours and Fillings – if you are having several tiers in your cake design, each tier can be a different flavour. Mix it up a bit, and don’t be afraid to have the flavours you want.

Portion Sizes – this will depend on when and how your cake is going to be served. Usually the venue or caterer will slice your cake. Unlike when you have a cake at home and take a triangular slice out of it, they will cut it into long rectangles. A dessert portion is usually 1” x 2”, and a finger portion when the cake is served in the evening as part of the buffet is 1” x 1”. The portion will be the entire height of the cake, so this will also factor when you design the cake and decide whether you want tall tiers or shorter tiers. But don’t worry, your cake designer will be helping with all of this!

Dummies or Fake Cakes – there was a time where it was bandied around by wedding blogs and magazines, that the way to cut costs was to have fake cakes. This really isn’t true. Fake cakes can create bigger cakes, but they usually won’t cut costs, because they aren’t any cheaper than the cake ingredients to buy, and they still have to be decorated. However, if you’re looking to have a big 5 tier cake, but only have 30 guests, then cake dummies will help you get the size without having wasted cake.

How much will my wedding cake cost?

This is pretty much up to you. However, what I will say is be realistic! If you are looking for a one of a kind cake, hand-baked, hand decorated, delivered and set-up by a cake professional, don’t expect to pay supermarket wedding cake prices.

Cake Makers are blighted by the comparison between their cakes and supermarket cakes. There is nothing wrong with a supermarket wedding cake, but it depends on the service and style you are looking for.

Many cake designers will have their ‘starting from’ prices on their website. However, these are exactly that ‘starting from’. So if you will be stretching yourself to afford the starting from price, don’t be shocked if the price doubles when the design includes a cascade of sugar flowers. Most wedding cake prices are based on the time it takes to design, bake, decorate, deliver and set-up the cakes. As with any profession experienced cake designers offering unique designs and a full service it will cost more.
It really is all about priorities. If the cake is a big deal to you then give it a budget it deserves and cut back elsewhere. If it’s not such a big deal, and it doesn’t get the money allocated to it then don’t expect a super duper, all singing and dancing wedding cake.

Personally I always say – no cake is better than bad cake. Don’t have a cake because you are expected to. Cut the cake from the wedding if you don’t want one and spend the money on something you love instead.

What flavour should a wedding cake be?

ANY FLAVOUR YOU WANT!!!! Don’t be fooled into believing your wedding cake has to be a certain flavour, because it doesn’t. You can have anything from vanilla with jam and buttercream, to carrot cake with raspberry jam if you so wish!

The only thing that will restrict the flavour of your cake, is whether it needs to be kept in a fridge. Wedding cakes are often on display for a few hours, so things like cream cheese frosting, that needs to be refrigerated can cause problems. But your cake designer will know all about that kind of stuff!

For more help with planning your wedding cake flavours, check out My Top 5 Wedding Cake Flavours.

Can I have more than one flavour for my wedding cake?

Absolutely! I get asked this question a lot!

Cakes aren’t just there to look pretty, they should taste good as well. I always advise that each tier can be a different flavour. Of if you are having very tall tiers (known as double barrel, where they are effectively 2 tiers the same size joined together) you can have the top one flavour, and the bottom another.

How do I design a wedding cake?

Generally, you won’t, well not completely, your cake maker will.

Choose a cake maker by the style of cakes they make, and go to them with inspiration that they can convert into your perfect design. They will ask lots of questions from how many guests, what flavours you like, what colours your having at the wedding, if there is a theme, if you want flowers etc etc and convert that to a perfect design.

Personally I don’t want a couple to come to me with a photo of a cake and ask me to remake it. I don’t want a couple to have someone else’s cake, I want them to have their own cake. I ask my couples if they have a mood board for their wedding, or if they would like inspiration taken from their stationery, or their florals etc. I want to get to know the couple and what is inspiring them for their wedding design, and then I can make a cake perfect for them and their day!

Do I need to consider the Wedding Venue?

YES, absolutely! The cake design needs to suit your venue in 2 different ways. Firstly visually. Is it a barn? Is it a grand hotel? You chose that venue for a reason, and your cake design should reflect that. It’s all part of the overall wedding design.

Also, please consider where in the venue your cake will be presented. Many a time I have arrived at a venue to find the cake table stuck in a corner, next to a radiator, with a fire extinguisher behind it – none of which is great for your photos. Personally I ask the venue to move it, but many cake makers don’t have the cheek that I do. You are paying a lot of money for this cake, make sure it gets the presentation and attention it deserves.

Secondly, your wedding venue needs to be considered in regards to the delivery, set-up time and ultimate condition of your cake. For example are you having a marquee wedding, in the height of the summer and want a buttercream cake? Well, this has to be considered. Marquees get hot, buttercream doesn’t like heat, so the questions that will be asked will include things like – can the cake be delivered as late as possible? or is there somewhere cool the cake can be displayed instead of inside the marquee?

2 small gold and buttercream wedding cakes
Photo by Marta Demartini

When is the Wedding Cake cut?

It’s entirely up to you!

Traditionally a cake is cut after the speeches, and then sliced for the evening food. However, I have heard of cakes being cut as soon as the couple come into the reception and then it being used as dessert, or immediately after the ceremony and being served with tea and coffee instead of canapes and cocktails, or at a festival wedding I delivered to the guests who helped themselves after the hog roast. It really is completely up to you!

Also, don’t be told you’ve got to both stand next to the cake, knife in hand, waiting for a photo. Cake cutting photo’s can be awkward, and if you don’t want to do it, then you don’t have to. When people ask me about the ‘cake cutting’ photo, I always recommend they talk to their photographer. They are the ones with the experience, and have also got to know how you react in front of a camera! Ask what they recommend for you if you don’t want that traditional cake photo.

Can I have fresh flowers?

Yes, but some are poisonous, so be very careful.

If you want to make sure everything will be safe then ask for edible, organic flowers. They cost more but at least you know no-one is going to get an upset tummy.

If you want to coordinate your wedding flowers with the cake flowers, your cake designer can help. Personally, if this happens with one of my cakes, I speak to the florist and ask them what flowers to expect so I can do my research. I ask them to leave the stems by the cake table. That way I know I can decorate the cake in a way I know will be food safe. Some flowers are very dangerous, such as cala lillies, so always ask you cake maker to check before adding them.

I know all this sounds daunting, but really, choosing and designing your wedding cake should be fun! As a cake designer I try to encourage you to eat cake and chat about your wedding, and I will do the rest!

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