Dessert Ideas Beyond Wedding Cake

From mini cakes to full-on Viennese dessert buffets, here's how to end your wedding on a (sugar) high note.
Assorted dessert bar
Photo by Chelsea Nicole Photography

As you're planning the wedding reception menu, know that it's not just about wedding cake anymore. In fact, the latest trend is to cap off your nuptial meal with totally scrumptious confections that are all about who you are as a couple, while giving your guests a sweet reward.

Come Up With Dessert Possibilities

Here's the fun part of adding a dessert to your menu: research is required! Seek out your favorite delectable delights and sample the goods (so many treats, so little time). To put you on the express path to indulgence, here are a few key questions to ask yourselves:

  • Where do you go out to eat? Maybe there's a special dessert on the menu at your local haunt that you always order-and always find yourselves fighting over that last bite.
  • Is there a regional specialty that signifies where you live now or where you grew up? If you're from Ohio, you definitely know what buckeyes are: peanut butter balls rolled in chocolate designed to resemble the nuts that fall from the state tree. Paired with a special ice cream, these would be delectable.
  • What are your favorite candies or childhood indulgences? If you grew up on the seashore you may have fond memories of saltwater taffy on the boardwalk. Don't rule it out. You can even base a dessert on a beloved candy bar like GooGoo Clusters (think chocolate, caramel, peanuts, and marshmallows).
  • What's your comfort food when you need something rich to soothe your soul (and belly) -- is it a hot fudge sundae? Milk and cookies? Any seemingly simple treat can be transformed into a witty (not to mention delicious) wedding dessert.
  • Did you travel somewhere special together and discover something wonderful? A getaway to France may have inspired a perfect-for-an-October-wedding apple tarte tatin. A cross-country road trip spent noshing on Krispy Kremes could spark some dressed-up variations on the humble (yet legendary) donut.
  • Is it important to incorporate something from your ethnic background? If you're Italian, you gotta have cannolis -- but why not do mini ones with a variety of creams from ricotta to French? Likewise, Latino couples might opt for a creative spin on the traditional flan.

Skip Wedding Cake Altogether

If you're not a wedding cake kind of couple, don't feel obligated to have a four-tiered, fondant-covered masterpiece. Some brides and grooms are opting out of serving a traditional wedding cake. Cupcakes on stacked tiers with the top tier as a small cake is a cake like alternative. Down South, there's a trend to forgo the groom's cake and do mini pastries, logo cookies with the bride and groom's photo on them, or miniature wedding cake cookies instead. Other options:

  • Serve individual cakes in the shape of, say, an open Tiffany-style box filled with cream and berries.
  • Have a dramatic chocolate fountain, actually shaped like a three-tiered wedding cake. The word on the street, however, is that the fountains can get messy if not manned properly, but no one ever said indulgence was a tidy business.
  • Can't live without a grand wedding cake? Wedding cakes are gorgeous, but who says you can't pair yours with treats? If you choose a cake with light and fruity fillings, try richer desserts (chocolate, anyone?).

Decide How You'll Serve Dessert

Dessert is king, so why not serve it regally? Even if you're doing a seated meal, a dessert station gives guests a chance to circulate a bit. And indulge! We've seen stations that range from totally elaborate Viennese tables with every confection imaginable to simple themed offerings. Case in point: the candy bar. Many caterers include the sweets the couple loved from their childhood-like malted milk balls, jelly beans, and caramel popcorn. Empty bags are available for guests to take home their favorites. More trends:

  • Truffle stations -- where an assortment of individual chocolates is offered -- will dazzle chocoholics. Have chocolate cordial cups filled with a delicious liqueur alongside truffles. Even a table chock-full of a variety of beguiling plated desserts makes a stylish presentation (think of gazing into a pastry-shop window). Some couples take this one step further by offering homey butterscotch or rice puddings in petite demitasse cups.
  • Mini desserts passed on trays like hors d'oeuvres at the end of the meal will make a statement. Or have fancy flourishes added to the table: It's a nice finishing touch that can be as simple as pouring a special sauce or whipped cream on ice cream or as over-the-top as serving a flaming dessert.
  • Love ice cream bars? Have a cart -- like the ones sidewalk vendors use -- positioned in a corner of the dining room so that guests can dig right in after dinner. That way, you can have your cake, or ice cream, or pie...and eat it too.