Written by Emily Conley | Photography by Jana Blue Photography
Choosing the perfect wedding cake is more challenging — and more important — than you might think. Your cake is often a. centerpiece of your reception décor, which means it has to be as aesthetically pleasing as it is delicious. You’ll be posing next to it and photographed feeding each other the first decadent slice. You want a cake that complements your overall vibe and fits in with your carefully chosen color palette. You’ll need enough for everyone in a flavor combination that is appealing to your guests. That’s a lot to expect from one sugary confection, so let’s break it down and help make choosing the perfect cake for your big day simple and straightforward.
PICK YOUR CAKE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Cake tasting is often at the top of a couple’s wedding to-do list because it’s one of the more fun tasks. What’s better than trying seven different flavors of cake and frosting alongside the person you love most in the world? Sounds like a fun decision-making process.
But choosing your wedding cake too early in the process is a bad idea. Let’s say you’re obsessed with the look of a polished, formal fondant cake, so you pull the trigger and order it in solid white before you’ve done anything else. But then it turns out that you and your partner fall in love with a rustic venue and decide on a bright and playful color palette.
Now your white, formal cake is going to stand out — but not in the way you want it to.
When you choose your cake too early, you risk picking a cake that doesn’t fit your venue or style. But if you wait too long, you risk not having enough time for the lovely details you want or the perfect bakery you’ve dreamed of. We recommend booking your wedding cake vendor approximately nine months before your wedding date. This way you will have selected the wedding date, venue, florals and gown. Once those selections are made, you’ll be better able to work with your baker to design a cake that matches your style and color scheme.
One more reason you want to know your venue before selecting your wedding cake? Size. If you’re celebrating in a grand ballroom with soaring ceilings, you’ll want your wedding cake to be tall enough to make a statement. You can always add little columns to separate the layers of your cake and add height — or add in a faux foam layer or two. Trust us, no one will ever know!
ORDER THE RIGHT SIZE
It’s important to know just how many people are going to be at your wedding before ordering your cake. Not only do you want to make sure that you have enough cake to feed everyone at your reception, but you also want to ensure that the amount of cake you need is within your budget. You don’t need to have RSVPs in, but knowing the approximate size of your guest list will ensure you order an appropriately sized cake. No one wants to run out of wedding cake!
You will want to check the cake pricing at your bakery. Many bakeries charge by the slice, which can range anywhere from $2.50 to $8 per slice. The price of the cake will depend on how large the cake is, the kind of ingredients used and the overall design of the cake. When you’re first meeting with your baker, make sure you’re clear about your budget and make selections within your price range.
The following list is a guide for determining just how large a cake you will need, depending on how many people will be attending your reception.
Cake sizes and servings:
- 5-inch round: 8 servings
- 6-inch round: 12 servings
- 7-inch round: 16 servings
- 8-inch round: 24 servings
- 9-inch round: 32 servings
- 10-inch round: 38 servings
- 11-inch round: 47 servings
- 12-inch round: 56 servings
- 13-inch round: 67 servings
- 14-inch round: 78 servings
- 15-inch round: 89 servings
Use these serving sizes as a starting point but also check with your cake designer for their recommendations. You want to make sure that there’s enough cake for everyone to enjoy!
Your wedding cake is an important, focal element of your reception. The size of cake, decorations you choose, flavor combinations you select and type of frosting will all affect the final cost, so we recommend working with your cake vendor to design a cake that looks like a dream and fits your budget.
The process for finding an agreeable price tag for your wedding cake is much like all of the other vendors you’re going to be working with. First, do your research to get a feel for what you may want and can afford. Then email or call all potential vendors to obtain pricing and set up a meeting. Keep in mind that most wedding cake tastings come with a fee of around $25 per session. However, this price is often credited to your cake purchase if you choose that specific designer.
Always remain realistic about your budget, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you want an over- the-top cake but have a conservative budget, talk to your cake designer to see what techniques and decorations they recommend. Talking through the various options will ensure that both you and the cake designer leave the budget discussion happy.
BE TASTEFULLY BOLD
There are so many flavor combinations out there these days! Couples can choose from the basics, like chocolate, vanilla and red velvet, or mix things up with exotic fruits (passion fruit, mango or guava) and bold flavors (hazelnut, mocha or peanut butter). You’ll be amazed at the varied flavor combinations your baker can put into your cake!
Talk to your cake professional about what’s available and in season, and then taste everything. You don’t want to get too crazy and settle on a peanut butter and mango slice that looks amazing but doesn’t taste the way you’d like.
If you have several different layers involved in your wedding cake, you can try out different flavor combinations for each separate layer. Consider adding fresh fruit fillings, jams or curd to take your cake up a notch.
Also, think about your guests with dietary restrictions. Whether they’re vegan or gluten-free, everyone deserves a slice of wedding cake. However, it’s not necessary to make the entire cake gluten-free or vegan. Ask your bakery if it’s willing to make the top tier gluten-free and the rest of the tiers traditional cake. Gluten-free cake can still be covered in buttercream frosting and the whole cake can still look cohesive. Unfortunately, though, cream made from vegan butter doesn’t hold up well and can cause the design of a cake to go awry. If you are vegan, opt for a vegan cake on the side and serve a traditional wedding cake to your guests. If you do opt for one of those non-traditional choices, there is likely to be a price difference. Always mention your dietary restrictions in your initial call or email to the bakery.
When the cake flavors are selected, it’s time for the icing on the cake — literally. There is a lot to consider when choosing the type, color and consistency of your frosting. You’ll want to make sure that your cake designer knows what you want your wedding cake to look and taste like before deciding on the frosting.
For example, you might like the way fondant creates sharp, clean edges, but you’re not fond of the actual flavor. Buttercream makes for a better tasting cake, but it won’t create as clean of a look. If your wedding vibe is sleek and elegant, you may choose to forego the taste in favor of the aesthetic appeal of a fondant icing. Whatever you decide, make sure the cake will still tie into your overall theme.
Another thing to consider when picking the frosting is color. If you select darker shades, like black, blue or purple, you could end up with stained teeth in your photo after sharing the first bite with your spouse. Consider choosing a lighter accent color that won’t leave noticeable traces behind.
CONSIDER THE WEATHER
It’s your wedding day — lovely, sunny and 82 degrees. What a perfect day! The bakery drops your cake off a few hours before the reception begins, placing the delicately decorated, absolutely gorgeous cake on a table under your outdoor tent. You catch a glimpse of it as you pass by on your way to get ready and it’s everything you dreamed it would be.
But four hours later, as you walk into your reception tent to peek at everything with your partner before the guests come in, you’re horrified to find a melted puddle of meringue where your perfect cake used to stand.
Choosing the right frosting for the season, weather and venue is a big deal! Even though they taste and look incredible, frostings like meringue, whipped cream and buttercream will melt in warm temperatures. If you’re having an outdoor reception or getting married in a warm climate, choose something sturdy like fondant, ganache or cream cheese frosting.
Make sure you talk about the expected temperatures and the logistics around where your cake will be stored. Is there a fridge on site that is big enough to accommodate your three-tiered cake? Is there air conditioning in the room where the cake will be displayed? Does the frosting you want require any special conditions? Talk through all of the options and work with your cake pro to make the best choice!
The last thing anyone wants is to see their wedding cake melted into a pile of sticky sugar.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
Once you’ve got your flavor combinations sorted and the right kind of frosting chosen for your venue and weather, it’s time to have some fun! Wedding cakes can be decorated in any number of styles — from rustic “naked” cakes to highly-decorated fondant showpieces. The type of decoration you choose should fit with your overall theme and style.
A fresh element can take your cake from average to outstanding. Consider adding cascading flowers in your wedding colors or fresh fruits as decoration. We’ve seen wedding cakes topped with figs, sliced strawberries, blueberries and even whole pears. If you do use fruit as a decoration, make sure it matches or complements the flavors inside your cake. When it comes to flowers, you can add a subtle bloom or two or go all out.
Want something romantic? Fondant lace and sugar paste flowers are delicate and lovely. Or go over-the- top with a hand-painted watercolor masterpiece that guests will be sure to remember. Intricate details are another reason to make sure you order your wedding cake early enough — these gorgeous details take time!
You have so many options when it comes to decorating your wedding cake. You should always talk to your cake professional to see what they recommend and what they are capable of doing. Some pastry chefs can create absolute works of (edible!) art.
It’s also important to keep your style and personal taste in mind. You can go bold, romantic, delicate or keep things simple with a cleanly iced cake and cake topper. When it comes to toppers, there’s always the original “wedding couple” option, but there’s so much more to choose from these days. We’ve seen cakes topped with a couple’s monogram, a saying (like “always and forever”) and even custom- created figures to look like them and their favorite pets. Toppers not your style? You can always add extra flowers or fruits.
MINI AND MARVELOUS
Sure, when you think about wedding cakes you typically imagine a soaring, stately tower of layered cakes and frosting. And listen, we love massive, impressive wedding cakes! But sometimes, a mini option can make an even bigger impact. And having a mini option is the perfect solution for meeting specific requirements or Covid restrictions.
Imagine if instead of one large wedding cake, everyone was served their own mini version! These tiny creations can be served on plates like traditional wedding cake, or in cute alternatives, like individual ramekins or on their own little cake stands.
Mini wedding cakes open up all kinds of possibilities: lots of flavor combinations, different colors or types of decorations and even other kinds of dessert designed to look like a wedding cake. You can also get creative with how you arrange or display the mini cakes. The sky is truly the limit with these little whimsical creations.
How you display your wedding cake is just as important as how it’s decorated and how it tastes. You want to consider the logistics as well as the location — will everyone at the reception see it?
You and your spouse will most likely cut your cake in front of your guests, so you want to position the cake in a central, easy to see location. If you’re serving your cake from the same place it’s displayed, you’ll also want to make sure there is enough space and clearance for guests to walk around.
Remember you’ll need someone appointed to actually cut the cake to serve your guests, too! As simple as it sounds, who can’t cut a cake, right? This is actually a tricky task, especially if you have several layers or fancy decorations to work around. Most wedding planners or day-of coordinators should be able to handle the cake cutting — but make sure you ask before assuming they’ll handle this for you. You can also check with your venue coordinator or caterer to see if this is a service they provide. Be prepared to pay an additional “cake cutting fee” in some cases.
If you want to use a special cake cutter — passed down from your parents or a new one engraved with your names and wedding date, for example — make sure you plan on having those items close at hand or stored with the wedding cake. Want to use special plates or have any other items for your cake cutting? Plan for those to be brought in as well.
Do save the top tier of your wedding cake. Back in the 19th century, the top tier of the wedding cake was preserved to celebrate the christening of the couple’s first child. Today, the tradition has adapted to celebrate the couple’s first wedding anniversary. Just make sure you wrap your wedding cake properly to avoid freezer burn, and appoint someone (your caterer or event coordinator) to store it for you until the following day or when you return from your honeymoon.
You’ll also want to consider the aesthetics of your cake presentation. If your reception space is quite dark, you may want to plan for a spotlight or special uplighting to highlight the cake area. And small details matter, too! Make sure the linens on the table don’t clash with the color or decorations on your cake. Thinking through the smallest details (and a wedding planner is a pro at doing that!) will result in a flawless, beautiful experience all around.
PLAN THE DELIVERY
What if you go through all of these painstaking details and make all the right choices, only to find your wedding cake is MIA? Yikes! Avoid this calamity by making sure the cake delivery is scheduled and part of your wedding day timeline.
Some questions you may want to ask your cake professional:
- Is delivery included in the price of the cake?
- Do you insure deliveries?
- Who specifically will deliver the cake on the day?
- What happens if the cake delivery is delayed?
- Do you provide the cake stand?
Try to avoid transporting the cake yourself if at all possible. There’s a lot to consider once the cake leaves the bakery and makes it way to the venue. Leave the delivery up to the baker so you don’t have to worry about the cake arriving safely.
Plan to leave extra time for your cake designer to make last-minute adjustments before the rest of your guests arrive. Most professionals suggest that getting the cake to the venue about an hour to an hour and a half before the reception begins is ideal.
You’ll also want to work with your wedding planner or coordinator to follow up on the delivery schedule and make sure everyone is on the same page. This includes confirming with the cake pro what time the cake will be delivered, where it will be set up and what will need to be done once the cake is delivered — like placing flowers or adding fragile decorations.
Your wedding cake is an important element of your wedding, so make sure it arrives on time, in one piece and in the right place.
TRUST THE PROS
As with almost every element of your wedding, it’s important to work with seasoned professionals who know what they’re doing. Unless someone is a professional wedding cake baker, you probably won’t be pleased with the results. Your Aunt Molly might make the best birthday cakes ever … but do you really want to trust her with your wedding cake?
If you have a friend who really wants to contribute, but isn’t a professional, consider having them make an additional dessert or treat for guests. You could serve late-night milk and cookies, send guests home with treat bags filled with homemade candies or display their pies on an additional dessert table for guests.
You’ll also want to be selective about the cake pro you choose. Just because someone else used a bakery and loved them doesn’t mean they are necessarily the right choice for your wedding cake. Visit a couple of different bakers and shops to get a feel for style and flavors. Choose the pro that understands your vision and can deliver the flavors and decorations you and your partner want.
Once you’ve chosen your cake pro, make sure you double-check every single detail before signing off on your cake. It’s worth it to go over the flavor combinations, size, price, and decoration details and ensure you’re getting what you’re expecting.
For the cake designer, setting up a cake tasting appointment can take two-and-a-half hours at the very least. However, on the day of the tasting, you can look forward to spending about an hour at the consultation. The first half of the meeting is typically spent confirming details and specifications, as well as going over the design of your wedding and any ideas you already have for your cake. The last half hour is then usually spent on everyone’s favorite part — tasting and rating the cake flavors and options. Do be prompt — many cake designers schedule tastings back to back and there is nothing more awkward than encroaching on another couple’s tasting time.
Wedding cake tasting should be a fun part of the wedding planning process! If you do your homework, ask the right questions and arrive at your appointment prepared, you’ll be much more likely to end up with a cake that meets your expectations for looks, taste and cost. Once you have the logistics accounted for and your questions answered, all that’s left to do is find the perfect flavor combinations. And that’s the kind of work we certainly don’t mind doing.