Ladies, let’s get serious: You must have cake at your wedding.
I don’t care where else you want to go nontraditional or cut costs. I will support you to the death on almost anything else, and so will most of your guests. You can get married on the nude by a stranger who got his or her ordination on the Internet. You can replace the DJ with tambourines and conga drums handed out to your guests at random. You can even replace “I do,” with “Yeah, whatevs,” and, while there may be eye-rolling, most of your guests will remain serene.
But if you try to have a wedding without cake, everyone will have direct evidence that you and your groom were truly in love. Because your guests will have plunged their hands into your chests in order to rip out your still-beating hearts and show them to you.
OK, maybe I’m overstating.
But you do have to have cake, or your guests will be seriously bummed out.
(Yes, vegans, you can have one of your special cakes if you really must. I’m sure the soft weeping you’ll hear will be because your guests are so happy for you. Oh, calm down, I’m kidding. Cake is one of the areas where vegan substitutes are actually pretty tasty.)
I’m not saying you have to have an elaborate tiered cake, or even a professionally baked one. If you have a friend or relative who’s a master of tastiness, a home-baked cake will be perfectly welcome, or tiers of cupcakes can be a fun and festive change.
If you do decide to go with a traditional bakery cake, book your baker at least a few months in advance, and be sure to have a consultation (and, ideally, a tasting) before things go too far. You’ll want to make an appointment, and this will probably have to be on a weekday – you want a bakery that’s good enough to be busy with weddings on the weekends, right?
While you should not be charged a fee for the consultation itself, many bakeries will expect you to put down a deposit at the end of the consultation to reserve your wedding date. Very few bakeries will hold your date without a deposit.
At the consultation, talk with your baker (or cake designer, if we’re being fancy) about the type, flavor, icing, and design of your cake. A chiffon cake is a light sponge cake – you’ve most likely had it with fruit or mousse fillings. The heavier version of a traditional wedding cake is called a genoise – it’s a little drier, and used for richer fillings. Less often, you’ll see a croquembouche, which is not so much a single cake as a tower of cream puffs.
The flavor is of course up to you and your groom. If you’re thinking of having a cake with different flavors in the same layer or tier, definitely check in with your baker to see if he or she thinks they’ll work well together. If not, remember that you can use different tiers to separate flavors, or you can use the [[groom’s cake]] for bolder experimentation. (Speaking of bold experimentation, while meat cakes are both tasty and hilarious, they should not be put anywhere near your buffet without large, clear explanations.)
Your choice of icing will be influenced by the overall design of your cake. If you have an elaborate design that needs some artistry to hold things together or are looking for a particularly smooth look, your cake may include a layer of marzipan or fondant, either under the icing or on its own. Marzipan is a malleable confection made of sugar and almonds, which means you’ll pick up some almond flavoring if you use it. Fondant is a stiffly whipped mix that’s almost entirely sugar and water, sometimes with a little lemon flavor thrown in. It can be rolled out for a perfectly smooth, sweet layer that’s strong enough to hold any fripperies you may be adding on.
As for design, your cake is pretty much a blank canvas. Talk to your baker about your wedding theme or color schemes, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your cake designer, as the veteran of a bazillion weddings, may also have some good ideas you’ve never thought of. Anything you want to bring might be helpful – fabric swatches, pictures, or even the cake cutter if you already have it. Definitely bring your budget – a good designer will work with you to create a beautiful cake that suits your needs.
Depending on your region, you can expect wedding cake prices to start at around $2.00 per serving and go up from there. The overall trickiness of your design can affect the price of your cake, and mixing flavors may up the cost as well.
Columns and plates can affect your overall cost as well – some bakeries will rent them out to you, and some will use non-returnable disposable ones. Also check in about set-up and delivery fees; a bakery will usually charge them, while someone who bakes out of his or her home may not.
Sometimes you can save money on a set-up fee by getting a friend or relative to take a quick lesson and do the set-up for you, but Good Lord, do you really want to do that to someone? If I were to drop a tier of a friend’s wedding cake, I wouldn’t even be able to say goodbye. I’d just have to flee directly for the airport and start a new life of shame in a city where no one knew me. If you do decide to do this, choose someone with steady hands.
Most bakeries will expect you pay for the cake in full before your wedding, but many will allow you to make payments over several months leading up to it. Definitely keep copies of all paperwork, including the design you’ve agreed on, and talk to the bakery about their policy for postponements. Make sure you get contact numbers for the bakery and your cake designer in particular, and if you’re using a wedding planner, make sure he or she has those numbers.
Cutting the cake
Traditionally, you and your groom will make at least the first cut together – his manly hand over your dainty one, if you want the full image. If you’re planning on feeding each other, you’ll obviously want to cut the first two slices, and if you’re really going all-out you may want to break out a pair of toasting goblets for the perfect post-wedding-rush-pre-sugar-coma photo opportunity.
The cake cutter and toasting goblets are a good place to save money and boost sentiment. Use them as your “something borrowed,” ideally from a couple whose long and happy marriage you admire.
Remember that once you and your groom have done your bit, you’ll need to designate someone to take over the cutting and serving or you’ll be trapped there. It’s possible that your baker or caterer may provide someone, but expect to be charged a fee.
Scheduling dessert a year from now
Many couples like to preserve the top tier of their wedding cake so they can eat it on their first anniversary. This is a charming custom, but if you do it, throw everything in your preservation arsenal at that cake. Wrapping it in foil and throwing it in the freezer will not be enough. At least deploy some sort of plasticware.
Check with your bakery – if you don’t have superstitions or scruples in that direction, many will happily assist you in cheating on the anniversary layer tradition as part of their service. They can either make you a new “top tier” identical to your original one for you to pick up after your honeymoon, or bake you a fresh replica for the anniversary itself.
Happy wedding and happy eating!