A few weeks ago I shared images of some amazing wedding cakes, and thought it might be an apt time to take a look at the before and after of our own wedding cake preparations, for those also wondering how to tackle the task. So how did we go about it, for everything from choosing the vendor, deciding the sizes, narrowing down the flavors and designing the look? And – most importantly – how did it turn out?
Part 1: Vendors, Dimensions and Tastes
The first step was, of course, gazing dreamily through the cake photo galleries of wedding websites. My groom and I knew that we wanted something round, and with at least three tiers for a grand look to match our decor theme of “formal elegance”. Although a cupcake tower could be funky, it wouldn’t fit so well with our theme. The Reflective Groom was also keen for the wedding cake to be served ahead of the dessert course, so that we had a formal three-course meal ahead of sweets, as is traditional in his culture. We also were not at all fussed about saving pieces of the wedding cake to eat together on our first anniversary; with our wedding being on the other side of the world to where we live, it would just be a hassle to transport it back.
The first challenge of course was that neither of us had any idea how large a cake we would need, meaning we wouldn’t really know what kinds of quotes to request from potential cake makers. We were aiming for 70-80 guests at our big day, and obviously did not want to run out of cake. In searching online for advice, I found several guides to portion sizes… and a little gem of information that when you serve wedding cake as the dessert course (ie, “dessert” size) these pieces should be bigger than when you serve the cake after that with coffee (ie, “coffee” size), because in the former approach their part of the meal rather than an addition to it. These guides suggested that for a round cake served with coffee, tiers of 5, 7 and 9 inches would cover us for 94 servings – more than enough for everyone, and even plenty for some guests to take a second helping!
With those pointers, we now had enough information to approach cake makers for price quotes. I found potential vendors through local wedding directories and search engines, and applied our usual supplier criteria of 1) products that look awesome, 2) good customer reviews or industry awards, and 3) reasonable prices. In the case of cakes, the flavors on offer and ability to deliver the cake to the venue (neither of us fancied attempting to collect and assemble a three-tier wedding cake ourselves) were also a key decision factor.
Our conversations with suppliers turned up some differences in how wedding cake vendors quote their fees. Some included delivery in their overall price, some included ribbons and sugar flowers for the top tier. Others charged a premium if you wanted more than one cake flavor, pillars between the tiers, or cream filling. It almost felt like you had to have designed your whole wedding cake before you got in contact with the vendors!
So, after we’d finished all our cake vendor research, we found a supplier who not only seemed to have the most beautiful cakes, most wedding industry awards and best variety of flavors, but also the best price. We sent an email to confirm that we would like to use her services at our wedding, and… she wrote back that since we’d last been in touch a week before, she had booked up for our wedding date. Thirteen months ahead of the wedding! A good lesson for other couples to work first on snagging the vendors that can get booked up. We scrambled to move to our #2 cake maker and lock in her services. However, for a three-tier cake she offered only 6, 8 and 10 inches. It would be more than we would need for our guests, but we already had our minds set on the three-tier configuration, so simply went ahead with that suggestion.
A few months later, after we had locked in our other wedding vendors, we returned to the task of the wedding cake to look at flavors. Our cake maker offered seven options: chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, carrot, coconut, citrus and fruit cake. The Reflective Groom and I immediately ruled out fruit cake, as most people our age (including us!) are not fans. We doubted whether coconut and citrus would be popular with everyone, and also eliminated them. My groom is not a huge fan of white chocolate, leaving us with chocolate, caramel and carrot, which we figured would be crowd-pleasers. Being on the other side of the world, we sent in my sister and a bridesmaid to do a tasting at the cake maker’s home bakery (fortunately there was no charge for the taste-test) and they were very happy with all three of our choices.
On flavor, we also asked about icing/frosting options for the cake. Our cake maker replied that she used only ready-to-roll vanilla fondant, so that was ultimately what we had to go with. We had heard that fondant doesn’t taste so awesome, but crossed our fingers that the vanilla flavor would negate that. We checked, too, about cake filling options; she advised that filling doesn’t work for tiered cakes, as it makes the cake less sturdy. This seemed a little odd as several other wedding cake makers we’d researched did offer fillings, but we didn’t want to force the baker into making something she wasn’t experienced with.
“Wonderful!” I said to the Reflective Groom after all of this was settled. “We have the flavors and sizes of the cakes all sorted out now.”
“Great!” he replied. “So what was the size again? How tall is it?”
“Um… how tall? Well, she mentioned the diamaters but, er, I, um… don’t know.”
The cake measurement guides had got me all caught up in what shape and width of cakes feed what number of people, but there had been nothing there about the heights. I checked in with our cake maker the tier heights that she had quoted us for. “Our standard size, of course,” she answered via email. “Three inches for each tier.”
Three inches? So our whole wedding cake was going to be nine inches tall? That would barely even be visible from the other side of the room! :S We went into Defcon 5 figuring out how to make the cake taller. We looked at arranging a decorative cake stand to rest the cake on, but the baker didn’t offer them and they were expensive to hire or buy, plus might make things less stable. The baker said that she could instead make each tier double or 1.5 times the standard height (of course making the price of the cake 1.5 to two times higher); we decided to go for the latter to get our total height to a decent 18 inches. We asked if she could do fake, styrofoam tiers; she said she could but we would still need to pay for the foam and the decoration for that tier. The Reflective Groom and I dismissed the styrofoam option, as we worried that it might not leave enough actual cake for our guests to eat.
My groom mentioned that he was keen to have pillars between the tiers, which are traditional in wedding cakes in his country, and which would also help out our height issue. Our cake maker offered pillars in heights of three, five or seven inches for an extra cost, but said we could only do one level of pillars – not two – as more that one would make the whole cake unstable unless we used the sturdier fruit cake. (Again, we couldn’t figure out why bakers in one country could manage this, but others couldn’t.) For the same reason of stability, we would need to have only one tier of cake on top of the pillars. Our baker suggested that if we were going for each tier being double the standard height, only the 7-inch pillars would be visually proportionate. To check that we were happy with the final height of the tiers and pillars, we made stacks of DVD cases on a table to measure up how the final wedding cake might look on display on the day. After a few collapsed DVD towers, we settled on the 6-inch tiers, plus the one level of 7-inch pillars. Phew!
Tune in next week for Part 2: Design, taking a look at the look of the wedding cake and how we tackled that task.