wedding cakes

Wedding Cake Tips

Get the most for your money

By Roxanne Webber

Whether you like the tradition of serving wedding cake or just love good cake, here are a few tips from experts to help you get the cake you want—and maybe save a little cash.

Know Your Site’s Vendor Policies

Before you commit to your wedding site, check its policies: Many locations will only let you use bakers from their list of recommended vendors, or they may charge a steep cake-cutting fee if you use someone off-list (about $1 to $2 per serving!). Additionally, Jessica Bartl, owner of Jessica’s Cakes in West St. Paul, Minnesota, cautions that many event sites won’t accept a cake from an unlicensed baker, which means that anything DIY from friends or family will not fly.

Discuss Your Budget and Communicate

Catherine Ruehle, the owner and pastry chef at Sublime Bakery in Fort Worth, Texas, says it’s crucial that clients communicate directly with her and not through their coordinator, to avoid misunderstandings. She also says it’s important to discuss budget at the beginning of the design process.

Ask Questions

Different kinds of cakes have different requirements. If you’re getting a rolled fondant cake, for example, ask about the baker’s timeline for making it: Fondant doesn’t stand up well to refrigeration, so fruit- or cream-filled cakes may not arrive at your wedding as fresh as they should be. Sylvia Weinstock, owner of Sylvia Weinstock Cakes in New York, says she has “seen fondant cakes sitting on trays in hotels for several days not refrigerated.” Also inquire about how decorative flowers compare in price. Jamie Holder, owner of the Créme de la Créme Cake Company in Fort Worth, Texas, says that some flowers, like orchids, are actually cheaper for her to make from gumpaste than to buy fresh. Yet she says fresh roses are cheaper than handmade. If your cake design is going to include flowers, chat with your baker about the difference in price between fresh and hand-molded. Other questions to ask: Do they use cake mix or premade frostings? Do they make their buttercream with real butter or shortening? Does the price include delivery and set-up?

pretty cakes

Skip Fondant

“The biggest cost difference [for cakes] is between buttercream and rolled fondant,” says Holder. “[Buttercream] will taste better and save money,” she says, noting that she charges $2 more per serving for a cake with rolled fondant because of the extra labor involved. Buttercream has limitations, though: “If it’s sitting outside in 100-degree heat, it’s going to melt.”

Consider Decorating Yourself

Check with your baker: Sometimes you can get a price break on an undecorated cake and then decorate it yourself. If you go this route, do your homework to ensure you’re only using edible decorations (for example, know your edible flowers).

If You’re Planning on Multiple Flavors, You’ll Need More Cake

If you’ve chosen only one flavor of cake, Holder says not to order more servings than the number of people you are expecting. But if you do both a bride’s and a groom’s cake, or get different flavors on different tiers, she says to order more servings—people like to sample one of each.

Expect to Pay More for Fancier Flavors

“Most cake designers will upcharge on flavors that cost them more to produce,” says Ruehle. “Fresh fruit, white chocolate, pastry cream, and Chambord cream are flavors that we upcharge 25 cents to 75 cents per serving.”

Serve Sheet Cakes

Ellen Bartlett, the chef and owner of Cakes to Remember in Brookline, Massachusetts, says that you can save money at large weddings (more than 175 people) by ordering a smaller decorated cake along with several plain sheet cakes to tuck behind the scenes. “I offer backup cakes that are filled just like the tiered cake so all the guests receive the same delicious flavors while reducing the overall price per slice,” says Bartlett.

Check Out Local Bakeries

Custom wedding cake designers will be able to create your dream design, but you will also pay a premium. A local bakery may be less expensive, but be prepared to accept a simpler design. The upside is you’ll probably already be familiar with the shop’s work.

Put Bakery Cakes on Your Own Stands

If you aren’t attached to the idea of a tiered or stacked cake, you can save some cash by ordering simple cakes from a local bakery and serving them arranged on individual stands. Sarah Truesdell, a member of the site Offbeat Bride Tribe, is taking this approach, and suggests looking for pretty cake stands at thrift and antique stores, or on eBay, Etsy, and Anthroplogie. “They can be expensive if you get sucked into the collector-quality stuff, or anything really old,” she says. “But I’ve seen a lot that I like in the $15 to $40 range.”

Roxanne Webber is an associate editor at CHOW.

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