Taste the Cake
As you start setting up appointments, find out when each baker's next tasting is scheduled. At tastings, clients are invited into the bakery to sample exemplary cakes, ask questions, and review portfolios. This is an excellent opportunity to meet bakers and fully understand the range of their abilities.
If you're using fresh blooms, triple-check with your florist that they have not been sprayed with pesticides. Make sure all inedible decorative elements are removed before the cake is sliced and served.
Select a Style
Deal with the cake after all decisions about dress style and reception decor have been made. These elements can serve as a blueprint for the design and structure of your wedding cake. Choose a cake that's compatible with the style of the venue, the season, your gown, the flower arrangements, or the menu. If you want colorful accents (such as sugar flowers or icing ribbons), give your baker fabric swatches. The cake should be part of the wedding, not a glaring sideshow.
Size It Up
Generally, three tiers will serve 50 to 100 guests; you'll likely need five layers for 200 guests or more. If the reception is in a grand room with high ceilings, consider increasing the cake's stature with columns between the tiers. (A "stacked" cake is one with its layers stacked directly atop each other, with no separators.)
Price It Out
Wedding cake often is priced by the slice -- the cost varies, but generally ranges from $1.50 to $15 per slice (though this is a very general and loose estimate). The more complicated the cake (based on intricate decorations or hard-to-find fillings), the higher the price tag. Fondant icing is more expensive than buttercream, and if you want elaborate molded shapes, vibrant colors, or handmade sugar-flower detailing, you'll pay for the cake designer's labor.
Find Ways to Save
Order a small cake that's decorated to perfection but can only feed a handful plus several sheet cakes of the same flavor to actually feed the guests. Stay away from tiers, handmade sugar flowers, and specially molded shapes. Garnish with seasonal flowers and fruit for an elegant (but less expensive) effect. If you'll have a dessert table (or another sweet) in addition to the cake, consider a cake sized for half your guests. Servings will be smaller, but the fee will shrink too.
Get the Facts on Frosting
Buttercream or fondant? That's the main question. Buttercream is often much more delicious. But if you love the smooth, almost surreal-like look of fondant as much as we do, consider frosting the cake in buttercream first and then adding a layer of fondant over the entire confection.
Consider the Weather
If you're having an outdoor wedding in a hot climate, stay away from whipped cream, meringue, and buttercream: They melt. Ask your baker about summer icing options; You might want to go for a fondant-covered cake -- it doesn't even need to be refrigerated.
Mind Your Magazines
Keep in mind, magazines (like ours) have food stylists, editors, and assistants working nonstop to keep the cakes looking perfect. These people spend hours fixing the sweating, dripping, leaning, or sagging that can happen to a cake after it's been sitting for a while. And if what they do doesn't work, they can fix it with Photoshop. They also have the luxury of creating cakes from stuff that isn't edible -- most cakes in magazines are iced pieces of Styrofoam, which certainly doesn't taste very good. So don't expect your cake designer to be able to replicate exactly what you see in print.
Take Note: It's All in the Details
When it comes to decoration, adornment costs run the gamut. The most inexpensive option is fresh fruits or flowers that, in some instances, can be applied by your florist for a minimal fee. On the high end are delicate gum paste or sugar paste flowers, which are constructed by hand, one petal at a time. But here's the bottom line: All add-ons -- including marzipan fruits, chocolate-molded flowers, and lace points -- will raise the rate. (For the record, we think it's worth the cost!)
Encourage Cake Collaboration
If you want to garnish your cake with fresh flowers, find out if the cake designer will work with your florist, or if you are responsible for the blooms. If the florist is running the show, will she have time to adorn the cake? Be wary of elaborate floral accents if your reception space decor is labor-intensive.
Get Him Involved!
The popularity of the groom's cake, traditionally a Southern custom, is on the rise. The bride's cake -- the one cut by the couple at the reception -- is traditionally eaten as dessert. The groom's cake is usually darker and richer (often chocolate) and nowadays crafted to show off the groom's passions and obsessions. Give slices to guests as a take-home memento or cut and serve both for dessert.
Many bakers agree that the idea of a mini cake (where each guest gets his or her own) is a great idea -- in theory but not always in practice. Not only does each cake require its own decoration (often as intricate, if not more, than one that's four times its size), each will require its own box. Unfortunately, boxes don't come in mini-cake sizes. Often the bakery must construct individual boxes in which to transport these cakes. Multiply by however many guests you'll be having, and you'll see what a costly, time-consuming feat this actually is. That said, if you can swing it, they look amazing being passed around by waiters on sleek silver trays (and of course, they taste just as great too).
Get It On Display
Your cake will likely be on display before it's cut and consumed. Make sure there is a designated cake table that allows the most elegant presentation possible. A round table is perfect for round cakes, but a linear cake design may call for a rectangular table. Figure out your options. Once you have a cake table, have fun dressing it up: Drape it with sumptuous fabrics and decorate it with motifs, colors, and flowers to match the cake (your florist can help).
Top It Off
There are many beautiful and unique ways to top off your cake, so you can avoid plastic figurines (unless you're going for cool-kitsch). If you have an heirloom piece -- especially a fine porcelain antique -- work with your baker to integrate it into an appropriate design. A pair of sugar or gingerbread cookies can look charming atop a country wedding cake. Finely sculpted maple sugar or marzipan figurines are quaint. Other alternatives: a bouquet of sugar flowers, a cascade of icing ribbons, or even a sugar block carved out to reveal your new monogram.
Lock Down Delivery Details
Cake delivery takes coordination. Complex cakes may not necessarily be delivered in final form. Allow time and space for assembly, if needed. Refrigeration may also be required. For more on last-minute details, review our Points for the Contract
After the Wedding...
Avoid freezer burn! Even if you take the most painstaking packaging measures, eating the top tier of your cake on your first anniversary sounds far better than it tastes. Think about indulging on your two-week or one-month anniversary, and treat yourself to a fresh cake in the same flavor when you've survived the first year. If you must adhere to tradition, wrap the cake in plastic wrap, then bag it in an airtight baggie. Stay away from aluminum foil -- it might not protect against freezer burn as well as plastic wrap because it's not an airtight material.