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Wedding Cakes: 12 Wedding Cake Dos and Don'ts

From hiring the right baker to choosing the appropriate colors, here's how to get a perfect wedding cake.

The cake is such a uniquely challenging part of planning any wedding, since it has to both look wonderful and taste great. As you make your selection, learn the characteristics you should seek out (as well as the ones you need to avoid).

Do Your Homework

Look at tons of wedding cake photos so you know your options. If you have a custom style in mind, cut out pictures, snip fabric swatches, and pull from other resources. Before you start sketching out cake plans, learn about a few basic terms, such as fondant and buttercream. (Fondant makes for a very neat, put-together design but doesn't taste amazing; buttercream tastes great but can't be molded or colored like fondant.)
Hint: While fondant is normally draped over a cake that's been frosted with buttercream, a high-end baker can roll out the fondant in a thin layer. That way, the fondant looks superb while buttercream dominates your taste buds.

Do Personalize Your Wedding Cake

One of the first things guests notice when they enter the wedding reception is the cake, so make sure it fits the decor and suits your style. You can use any inspiration point to start with, from your wedding colors to your reception space -- even the lace on your gown. For a country club wedding, go for preppy pleated fondant or a square cake trimmed with ribbon. Foodies? Find one that tastes great, like a chocolate cake covered with buttercream and crushed pistachios.
Hint: An easy way to personalize your cake is to monogram it. Having your wedding monogram written in scroll-like buttercream on the middle tier or frosted onto an oval piece of white chocolate and set off-center on the bottom tier will serve as a personalized stamp of approval.

Do Book Your Wedding Cake Baker Early

Cake bakers should be booked four to six months before your wedding, though some reputable bakers are hired up to a year in advance. If you have someone in mind, don't wait. Secure their services now, then nail down the specifics later. Some reception sites may require you to use their catering services, but stringent cake rules are less common. Definitely ask your caterer if someone on their staff is an experienced baker.
Hint: When interviewing prospective cake bakers, there are a few important questions to ask. Find out how far in advance they make their cakes prior to the wedding day, who exactly will be baking and decorating your cake (it's not always the same person), and how willing the baker is to work within your budget.

Do Schedule a Time to Cut the Wedding Cake

Traditionally, the cake cutting signifies that the end of the reception is near (and cues the elder attendees that they can politely slip out), so couples typically wait until an hour before the party ends to cut it. If you don't want to interrupt your dance party, however, cut it at the beginning of the reception right after you make your grand entrance while everyone's eyes are on you.
Hint: If you cut the cake toward the end of the evening, you could opt to serve an additional dessert with the cake slices. Choose something light, like sorbet for a summertime wedding or chocolate mousse in the fall or winter.

Do Get Wedding Cake Baker References

Find a cake baker who can deliver precisely what you want within your budget. Do some research: Ask recent brides whose cakes you liked for suggestions and check bakers' websites to see if there's a cake similar to what you're seeking. Then make appointments with a few bakers to determine which one you like best.
Hint: Before you place an order, your cake contract should include contact info for the vendor; wedding date, time, and delivery location; delivery and setup fees; total amount due; cake design specifications and flavors; plus their cancellation and refund policies.

Do Eat a Piece of Your Wedding Cake

Couples often don't get a chance to eat their own wedding cake. Ask your caterer to save some for you. Share it with your new spouse as a snack that night or taste it at the postwedding brunch. You deserve to enjoy the cake you worked so hard to help create.
Hint: If you're planning to keep your top tier for your one-year anniversary, make sure that your caterer wraps it in tin foil and packages it into a tight storage container for the freezer.

Don't Overdo the Wedding Cake Add-Ons

Flowers and other additions like polka dots and stripes are great, but use them in moderation. Whether you're going for large sugar flowers like tulips or small ones like stephanotis, don't overwhelm the cake. Make sure your cake design allows for breathing room on the top or bottom tiers so your cake doesn't look smothered.  >>
Hint: Sugar flowers can be beautiful whether molded into something small and dainty or large and lush. When it comes to fresh flowers, stick with the heartier blooms like roses, dahlias, and calla lilies, which are less likely to wilt and more likely to hold up during the evening.

Don't Choose an Inedible Wedding Cake Color

You want your wedding cake to coordinate with your wedding day colors, but remember it's a dessert that your guests will be eating. Instead of a bold red cake with gold accents, go for a white or chocolate cake with a few red and gold accents so it will taste better. If you're having a blue and green wedding, for the best flavor, get a white cake with blue ribbon trim, or ask your baker for green-frosted accents or flowers.
Hint: Consider your frosting options when choosing a color. Both buttercream and fondant can be dyed just about any basic shade, but you'll get a wider color spectrum with fondant.

Don't Make the Wedding Cake Yourself

Unless you're a pastry chef -- and even if you are -- think twice about making your own cake. You'll have enough to handle without having to worry about whether the cake is moist enough or decorated just right. Even if you want a very basic cake with simple trim or dots, it's best to stick with the DIY to escort cards and favors and hire an experienced baker, if only to give yourself some peace of mind.
Hint: A relative or friend may offer to make the cake for your wedding, but be wary. It's better to politely decline the offer up front than to be disappointed with the cake later. Unless you've seen your friend's or relative's work and are absolutely certain that you like it, think twice before taking them up on their offer.

Don't Choose a Generic Wedding Cake Topper

Consider your cake a great piece of art. Just like you wouldn't put a Picasso in a plastic frame, you should avoid completing your cake with a generic bride and groom topper. Instead, pick something that's "you." If you have an heirloom piece -- say, an antique brooch -- work with your baker to incorporate it into your top tier.  >>
You can also consider using your mom and dad's (or even grandparents') cake topper as your "something old." Look to your locale as well. A cluster of coral can look stunning for a beachside celebration, or try a fondant snowflake for a winter wedding. Some other potential ideas: having a cascade of icing ribbons or using sugar letters to reveal your new monogram.
Hint: Still not into the cake topper idea? Simply don't use one at all. Some cake designs look great without a topper. Do it this way and you won't distract from the pattern on the cake.

Don't Ignore Your Wedding Cake Flavor

What's inside the cake counts too. Nix the standard chocolate-and-vanilla idea and have fun with your cake flavors. From mascarpone and red velvet to blackberry and orange-chocolate, there's a flavor to please virtually every couple's taste buds. You can also base your flavors on the season -- heavier combinations like chocolate with mocha-praline filling would be perfect for a celebration during the winter, while lighter sponge cakes with fruit, curd, and preserve fillings are ideal for a summertime affair.
Hint: Be aware that the expensive ingredients involved in making couture concoctions as well as alternating layers of flavors will potentially up your price per slice considerably.

Don't Forget About Transportation

You'll want to be certain your baker has a sound way to transport your cake to your reception site (appropriate boxes, packing materials, and so on) and that it will be sufficiently insured in case of any mishaps. To make sure that this happens, you need to include all the transportation and travel details in your contract.
Hint: Designate a place to put the cake once it arrives at your reception site. If it's arriving several hours before the reception, you'll require refrigerator space at the venue. You should also have someone on hand who can transport the cake to the cake table right before the reception is scheduled to begin so the cake is in top form.

-- Anja Winikka